Pride Goes Before a Fall

The following is a post that my good friend Gavin “Sparky” Boyles was kind enough to write up about his experience at the Stone Cat 50. Enjoy.

1) “Get ready to run smart”
That’s what trailgoat told me before the Stone Cat 50. It was my first 50, and he had kindly volunteered to shepherd me through it. And he had just run Mountain Masochist a mere seven days prior, so going in I figured I would just run with him for a while (maybe the whole 50 miles), have a great time, and get an easy first ultra under my belt. After all, I thought, he was aiming to run eight hours, which works out to 9:00/mile pace. Piece of cake, I thought. Just a jog through the woods, likely with beer en route.

Even though I had mostly convinced myself that Stone Cat would be a piece o’ cake, I did do some long runs to prepare. At least I thought they were long. The longest was a 2:57 marathon (plus two-mile warmup) that I took only semi-seriously because it was only three weeks before SC. Somehow, I convinced myself, a 28-mile long run (entirely on flat roads) was adequate prep for 50 miles of trails. I had also done some “long” intervals like 3 x 5k on the track, 2 x 30 minutes at 6:00 pace during a hilly 24-miler, etc. What I hadn’t done was anything very closely resembling the race! Like, say, long slow runs on trails.

But I didn’t know that yet, of course. So I did a week of tapering. Feeling great, I drove down to Logan (“Eek!” says the country mouse caught in Beantown traffic) to pick up trailgoat. Spent a nice night in Gloucester hoping it wouldn’t rain. It didn’t. The day dawned beautiful and cool: my favorite running conditions!

2) Actually run kinda stupid.
On race day, I was feeling super-optimistic mentally and well-rested physically. I ran with Bryon for about six miles of the first loop, all the while mostly ignoring the fact that he was prudently dropping back a bit on each uphill. When a guy I had beaten at the semi-serious marathon caught us at six miles, I thought surely I must be going too slow, so I picked it up to go with him (he ended up DNFing as well). For some reason I thought it was okay that I was dropping trailgoat. Sometime before the end of the first loop, marathon pal stopped to attend to some business in the woods, and I cruised through 12.5 alone in 1:46:30 or so. I felt great!

And when I passed Bryon going the other direction about a half-mile from the finish line it honestly didn’t occur to me that maybe I shouldn’t have built up such a big lead. Did. Not. Occur. To. Me. In fact, I picked it up a bit for the first half of loop 2. Still feeling great. Then, somewhere around mile 24 my hips started to ache a bit. Nothing bad at first, just little pangs, and I came into the finish-line area still feeling totally optimistic about finishing up well. The second lap was 1:53, and I was 3:40:10 at the halfway mark. This time I passed trailgoat even farther from the finish line, but still didn’t register that this was probably a bad thing.

Soon after passing trailgoat, my hips really started to give me trouble. I walked up the course’s largest hill at mile 26, still internally convincing myself that I was only walking to conserve energy, not because I couldn’t run anymore. At the top of the hill, I was forced to come to my senses when I tried to lift my left leg over a very tiny fallen log (we’re talkin’ pencil size) and almost fell before grabbing the leg with my hands and lifting it over.

3) Uh-oh!So, I started walking. Within a few hundred yards it wasn’t even walking so much as lurching from tree to tree. Dozens of people passed me in the next mile or so before I reached the double-track leading into aid station 1. At least two of them were just starting their second lap. Both went on to finish. Everyone who passed asked if I was OK; must have looked worse than I thought!

On the double-track section I tried several times to run, but that aggravated the mysterious hip thing, and eventually left me unable to stand up straight for more than a few seconds at a time. Trailgoat passed me somewhere in here, and nicely stopped to see if I was okay. Nope. But, nothing anyone else could do at this point, and he kept rolling towards the bartender. I finally reached the aid station after forty-five minutes or so of Quasimodo-style staggering. When I got there, the shame of dropping out prompted me to just eat a bunch of food and keep on staggering along the trail beyond the aid station. I think I even said something optimistic like “only twenty to go.”

It wasn’t long before I realized that it would take me several hours to reach the next aid station. So I staggered back to #1, and they swung into good-lord-this-guy’s-a-mess mode. By this point I was extremely cold from moving so slowly for so long, and I think they were responding to that more than my inability to walk upright. Either way, I was very happy to accept some food and hot cocoa. Again declined the liquor, to my lasting regret.

Anyway, after a half-hour or so of very welcome coddling at aid station 1, I was sitting in a car driving back to the start. DNF. I mostly moped around while I waited for trailgoat to finish. Saw Jack Pilla cruise in at 7:02 looking full of run. Talk about inspirational! By the time trailgoat rolled in at 7:58, I had gone from thinking that I would never do an ultra again to plotting how to prepare for next year’s Stone Cat. Because the bottom line is that I had a grand old time running through the woods!

So thanks, GAC, for a phenomenal race, and for the beer! And thanks to trailgoat for convincing me that this is something I can do (and maybe, eventually, do well)!

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