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Dead Man Walking

Posted Mar 03 2009 4:23pm
Sometimes things just don't go your way. I had been anticipating this year's ITI since I dropped out of the same race one year ago. This was to be "my year." This is what I told myself for the past 12 months. I was determined to go into the race as ready as ever to have a successful race. That's not the way it played out though.

Everything was good through the end of January but then when I got sick and injured my calf in early February I was slightly thrown off in my race preparation and never got fully back on track. The last week before the race I was feeling like my legs were a bit "off", but I still felt like maybe I could pull it all together and make it happen. Then Saturday, one day before the race the sore throat started, followed by headaches, congestion, and overall body fatigue. Sunday morning I felt pretty horrible, but I didn't let it get me down too much cause I knew there was nothing I could do about it? I knew that starting one of the toughest races in the world in the midst of an illness was not at all a good thing, but certainly after a year of preparation I wasn't going to pull the plug without giving it a shot.

I thought maybe, just maybe, I could grind out a tough day or two, sleep a lot at the first two checkpoints, and maybe be able to recover enough to basically "restart" my race feeling healthy by Tuesday or Wednesday. It was pretty much the only option I had.

The 60 miles I was out on the trail were long and hard. I had almost no energy and I just couldn't bring myself to take in enough calories and water. I basically felt too weak to eat as often as is necessary. The temperatures dropped to about -20 during the night and there was a stiff wind most of that time. It was the coldest weather I had ever been out in for that much time. I was able to keep plenty warm though and was able to make it to Yentna Checkpoint (mile 60) in just over 14 hours time. This was almost all walking. I would try slow running to warm up and to try to cover ground a little more quickly but I just didn't have the energy to run for more than 20 or 30 minutes at a time. The trail conditions were slow with lots of windblown snow drifts but more than anything I was just not feeling good.

My plan upon arriving at Yentna was to eat as much "real" food as I could and sleep as long as my body needed and then get up and move onto Skwentna (mile 90) and do the same thing there. First I ate and then I was getting ready to sleep when Jill woke up and told me she had fallen through ice on Flathorn Lake and had likely frostbitten her toes. At that point she was still deciding whether she could continue on or not (we both knew she couldn't but that's something that takes some time to sink in). Either way we knew she couldn't do so without getting her wet boot dried out so we decided to try to sleep on it for several hours and deal with it all when we woke up. Neither one of us could sleep. Her toes were finally thawing out, causing horrible pain, and I was so congested that I felt like I was constantly choking and gasping for air. Multiple times in the night I moved to open a window in the room we were in before remembering that it was 20 below zero outside and that it wasn't the window keeping oxygen from getting into my system but rather my congestion.

I guess I got about an hour of actual sleep. I felt even worse when I woke up. The typical body aches that you get when you have a good head cold become pretty severe when you spend 14 hours dragging a 30 pound sled over 60 miles of snow covered trail at 20 below zero. Imagine that. My back and neck were throbbing, my head was pounding, and I felt like I hadn't had anything to drink in days, even though I drank about a gallon of water just in the time that I was "sleeping". On top of this my left knee which had been bothering me a little bit out on the trail had stiffened up quite a bit while I was sleeping and seemed like it would also likely be a concern as I moved forward down the trail. The reality was slowly sinking in that my chances of making it almost 300 more miles in this condition were very near zero. Even more important was the reality that enjoying hardly any of these miles further down the trail was even closer to zero.

Jill had decided that she was dropping out and was planning to get a flight out of there as soon as possible to get her foot checked out. I could have pushed on to Skwentna, becoming even more miserable, in hopes of somehow turning pain and weakness into strength. I decided instead to finally accept the writing on the wall and fly out of there with Jill and Riccardo Girardi who was also scratching with a knee injury.

I still can't really believe how many things just didn't seem to work out for me in the lead up to this race. Getting sick on Saturday and then feeling as bad as I did on Sunday just kind of seemed like a joke at the time. A joke that I thought would go away if I ignored it. Not so.

I still have lots of thoughts to process about this race, and more specifically my future with this race. Mostly I feel like I just need to let this race lie dormant for awhile and maybe give it another shot in several years, but the thought of not giving it another shot again next year seems to be a tough pill to swallow right now.
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