Sunday, July 5, 2009

Finger Lakes Fifties

This was my third year participating in The Finger Lakes Fifties held in The Finger Lakes National Forest in Hector, NY. The event offers a 25k, 50k, and 50-mile option on a pretty mild and very scenic course that always has the potential for high temperatures.

This year happened to fall on the fourth of July and I was really excited to be back racing at my first ultra since H.A.T. 50k in March. I decided to sign up for the 50-mile but being that it is a multi-loop course I kept telling myself that I would stop at 50k if I felt any disturbances in my outer knee iliotibial band area.

Well, I left the forest Saturday with a taste in my mouth that I have yet to experience in a race of any length. RESULT: DNF.
As I sit here the morning after I am still finding it hard to swallow.

Race day morning we arrived at the campsite and start/finish area and I was excited to see many friends. Maureen (who was attempting her first 50-mile) and I got our little "pit stop" area all ready to go in the same place I did last year. Everyone knew that with all the rain that we have been getting recently that the course was going to be a mess. Little did we know how exponentially worse it would get when hundreds of feet came through it multiple times.

The first loop Jack Pilla and I decided to run together at a pretty good pace just as we did the previous year. This time was a little different. We didn't have Leigh Schmitt to pace us and Jack was doing the 50k in preparation for Vermont 100 in a couple weeks. Just like last year we came through the 15.69 mile loop in 2:05 give or take and made a quick transition for our second loop. We couldn't believe how much more energy was needed in navigating the extremely mucky conditions.

Shortly into the second loop I let Jack go because I knew he was intending on going for the 50k masters record and I just wanted to run my own race and pace myself smartly. My second loop was a little tough. Around mile 23 I felt a little bit of a hamstring cramp as I climbed over a downed tree. Also, at one point in the second loop I reached back to grab my electrolyte drink out of the holder to find out that it was not there. I quickly turned around to back track and came across a 25k'er that told me it was about 25 yards back. It was tough to be back tracking in a race but I figured if it was that close I might as well grab it especially since the temperatures were now rising.

As I came to the end of the second loop around the 30-mile mark I evaluated how I felt and besides the fact that I craved some "real" food my leg felt good so I decided to go on for a third. As I came through the campsite area Erica handed me my hand held bottle with HEED and some avocado, carrot, cucumber brown rice sushi rolls that I rolled up the night before. Jack (who won the 50k with ease and just missed the master's course record) hooked me up with a couple S-caps. My brother Jamal walked down the trail with me as I stuffed down roll after roll and I explained that I felt fine excluding the fact that I needed calories. He told me that I was in first place by about 20 minutes at that point and urged me to just relax and run well and reminded me to save myself and stop if I feel any complications regarding my leg.

About fifteen minutes after I choked down the food I started feeling much better. It was amazing how much better I felt. I went to turn on my IPOD that I had been looking forward to listening to but apparently I must have accidentally hit the power button earlier in the race because the battery was dead...dohhh!!!

No big deal...I packed it away in my Race Ready shorts and continued running and was excited to be feeling so well after 33 miles. The long downhill to the "Morgue" aid station was run at a sub 8-minute pace and when I arrived was happy to see John and Ian and briefly chatted with them as I grabbed a few pretzels for the road. Ian commented how muddy my legs were basically being totally caked from the knee down on both legs. It was kind of cool but I have never run in those types of conditions before and I think that it was a contributing factor to what was about to happen.

At around mile 37 I started feeling a little something in that general area down below the knee. Maybe it was denial but I thought that it wasn't in the usual area so I massaged it, stretched a little and it went away. I felt like maybe it was just a little crampy discomfort and now that it was gone I continued to motor on through the extremely squishy, quicksand-like mud. I figured out mathematically that I could finish under eight hours and for these conditions I thought that was still a respectable time. Last year I was close to finishing under seven hours (7:02) and I realized how much this mud really slowed us down. Not only did it slow us down but it caused us runners to twist and turn and use all sorts of different muscles that we're not used to recruiting for running.

As I entered the horse camp area I started feeling a little pain and this time I was sure that it was in my IT Band area. It wasn't an overwhelming pain so I slowly trotted on to the next aid station through the open horse trails. As I came up behind some horse back riders the painful friction started to be more intense and even a slow run was becoming more and more difficult.

I came to the "Outback" aid station where Dave Jones and Evan Kurtz encouraged me. I asked if they had any Ibruprofen and let them know that I may be dropping at this point...right around the 40-mile mark. I took some Advil, sat down and stretched for a couple of minutes, and then second place runner Derrick Spafford came in to the aid station and took the lead. I got up a couple minutes later and told Dave and Evan that I would try going on but may be back for a ride if I need to drop out. I was thinking that maybe I could alter my stride and finish off the last ten miles with a straight legged hobble mixed with walking. As I got up into the pasture walking alone became so painful that I immediately let out some cuss words and turned back to the aid station. Total bummer :(

Many people told me that I made the right decision this weekend but I can't really take the credit. I didn't really have the choice. My choice would have been to finish what I started. In hindsight if I continued to walk the rest of the way I probably could have finished painfully. Ten miles probably would have taken at least three hours and honestly it was just not that important to me and to risk permanently messing up my leg. Man, it's still a tough pill to swallow though!

I tried really hard to keep a positive attitude about the whole situation and am still trying to not beat myself up too much. Thanks for all the encouragement from friends and family. Congratulations to Maureen for finishing and winning her first 50-miler! Karen Grover for completing the 50k! Jack Pilla for winning the 50k, Derrick Spafford for running and winning a very solid 50-miler, and all the rest that toughed it out through the trail conditions whether it was one, two, or three loops!

Great to see everyone! I'm still washing mud from my body! Thanks again to Chris and Joe Reynolds for everything from the race's blog site, great course marking's and mowings to food, shirts, and just overall enthusiasm. The volunteers were awesome usual. This is a great race and I hope to plan a visit in the future around this event. You guys rock!

Time to rest up and start the arduous rehabilitation process again and hopefully re-surface again in the near future for some more adventures in trail running. It's all part of the gig I guess. I am human and when we're involved in extreme sports like this injuries are bound to happen.

Back to the drawing board.

Recover well everyone and enjoy the summer!


Gallow said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. I wish I had some words of comfort, but realize it's an internal battle. All I can say is hang in there. You're an incredible runner.

Erica said...

I am so glad to have you in my life - sharing your experience, strength and hope. You are an amazing athlete Yassine, and it's the defeats that make the victories that much sweeter. I have no doubt that you will be back stronger than ever! Keep blogging!

Derrick said...

Hey Yassine,
It was nice meeting you at FL50's and wished we had more of a chance to chat after. Sorry to hear about your ITB. Hope it's improving now and you're able to get back out on the trails.
All the best,