“I just took my second nap. They’ve both been about 10 minutes. I have a marathon left to go, and 10 hours to do it in. My feet are pretty beat up. But… the rest of me feels kind of ok, uh, so I’m just going to keep going until I don’t feel ok. And then I’m going to keep going until I’m done.” - Eugene Day, Hamster Endurance 2022
I really wanted that 2022 buckle for hitting 39 laps (101.4 miles). Coming off the hamstring injury in January, I trained as hard as I could.
And then in mid July, four weeks out from the race, I re-injured the hamstring that blew up in January. At that point, I figured there was zero chance I’d stand at the start line of Hamster Endurance. After a week of frantic rehab, cross training, and a lot of PT exercises, though, I could run on the leg. Not fast, and I didn’t dare try for far.
The last big volume week, two weeks out from the race, all my long training runs turned into very long kinda fast walks. “It’s all about time on feet”, I told myself. And I kinda sorta believed it. Ok, I mostly believed it. Ok, ok, I believed it just enough to pretend I believed it.
So on this past Saturday at 8am I was standing in a little crowd of runners at Lake Padden. I knew, in my heart, that the odds were pretty low that I’d be able to make it to 100 miles. A sensible person would not have set out to run 100 miles three weeks after re-injuring a hamstring. There are surprisingly few sensible people in the starting huddle of an ultramarathon.
When the race director asked the assembled who was trying for a 100 mile buckle, I raised my hand. I told myself I didn’t need easy, I just needed possible. I was planning on a whole lot of walking and just a smidgen of very careful running. I thought of this as my Very Cunning Plan.
It didn’t work.
I got to 10 laps/26 miles and was still thinking things were working except that I had a queasy stomach. I stepped up the rate on hydration. The queasy stomach just got worse and worse. By lap 18 or so (call it 47 miles), I was on the verge of throwing up at the top of every climb.
The aid station volunteers and race director mounted a valiant effort to help me solve this problem. I’d roll into the aid station, they’d propose some food to try or some other solution, and I’d try it, and then head out on a lap. And then, 2.6 miles later, I’d be back at the aid station and they’d propose another solution. Ultramarathon aid station volunteers are the very best of humanity.
Somewhere in the middle of lap 24 I stumbled and planted my foot in some weird way. After the race I figured out what had happened was that I’d tripped over my own trekking pole (I now have a spectacular bruise that covers the entirety of my right shin). I nearly did a face plant, and in the recovery from the trip, I planted my right foot in a bad way and gave the entire leg a bad twist.
Finally between lap 25 and 26, 65 miles in, the aid station crew managed to persuade me to eat some noodles in chicken broth. In that peculiar ultrarunning way, the noodles were both disgusting and the most wonderful thing I’ve ever eaten. I laid down for a bit hoping to dispel some of the mental fog. I must have slept for a bit because I remember the race director waking me up, giving me a little pep talk, and shooting me down the trail.
Amazingly, my stomach felt better. For the first half of the lap, on the flat, I felt pretty good. Ok, maybe not really pretty good. But pretty good for 66 miles in. The problem now was not the nausea, it was the hamstring. Up to this point, on the uphills and especially the one big hill, the hamstring warning light would occasionally flicker. But the light would go out in a few strides, and I just carried on.
But that stumble when I tripped over my own pole had clearly messed up my hamstring. On the climb up the one big hill the warning light came on and stayed on. The remaining half lap with each little climb I tried to find a way to get around the problem. Poling hard seemed to help some but the hamstring was pretty clearly not happy and I still had 13 laps/34 miles to go.
And then on the flat 1/4 mile just before the aid station, every right foot landing hurt. All I could think of was Susie the PT warning me about how difficult hamstring injuries can be to heal. Did I really want to try for another 34 miles knowing that for sure I would be making the hamstring worse and putting running this winter at risk?
Nope. I pulled the plug at the end of the lap. 67.6 miles.
I knew, when I was standing in the little huddle at the start, that the odds were against me getting to 100 miles this year. A sensible person would probably not have risked running.
I seem to have avoided the worst possible outcome, as the hamstring feels sort of ok and unless I’ve been sitting for a while I can get full knee extension. If I’ve been sitting for a while, the hamstring is pretty tight but after a few minutes of walking around I can walk more or less normally except my right ankle is stiff from the bruise that runs down my shin right to the ankle.
Things that worked:
Things I did wrong or which did not work well:
As for Hamster Endurance Runs… The race director, Gretchen Walla, is amazing and puts on such a stellar race event.
The crew of volunteers she assembles are fabulous and go above and beyond to help the runners. Despite the suboptimal outcome I’m so glad to have run, it was another amazing experience.
More thoughts later as I unpack the experience.