In June, 2017, I registered for the 2018 Pistol Ultra 100 mile race to be held March 17/18, 2018. The training cycle started in mid-September at 40 miles per week, peaking at 80 miles per week in late February. All went well, and this training cycle went much better than my previous training cycle for the 2015 Umstead 100 mile race. I was less fatigued and had fewer aches and pains. Unlike the previous training cycle, I was on the optimal medication and dosage for my hypothyroidism – Nature Throid, 1.5 grain dosage per day. Energy was good and I felt confident that my second 100 miler would be better than my first.
Not only did I feel strong, but my running improved. I lost 12 pounds during this training cycle and improved running efficiency. Due to my hatred of cold weather running, I joined Youfit gym to get some treadmill miles. While at Youfit, I purchased a few personal training sessions in hopes of integrating strength training into my overall fitness plan and ultra training. I began training with Andre, who not only helped with strength and balance exercises, but he also identified form issues that needed to be corrected (toe striking, stride, arm swing). I made these corrections and found that my running became faster and less fatiguing. I worked with Roger Kitchen of Power Mental Performance on mental skills coaching, as well as targeted exercises to help glute and leg strength.
All went well during the training cycle, and I enjoyed some successes in shorter races with faster speeds and age group awards. No injuries, no significant aches and pains, immune system behaved pretty well. So what could possibly go wrong?
About 12 days before the Pistol Ultra 100 mile race day, I started noticing insomnia, night sweats, and irritability. A couple of days later, heart palpitations, increased blood pressure and difficulty breathing started, along with fatigue. And then the most horrendous case of acid reflux ever kept me awake until 3:00 a.m. one morning. Pain spread from upper GI area to all over my chest and under my arms. Eight days pre-race, I googled hyperthyroidism and saw a list of pretty much all my symptoms. I called the pharmacy and asked if my body could be metabolizing my thyroid medication differently due to the 12 pound weight loss and the pharmacist said that was possible. Then she checked my records and asked, “How much medication are you taking?” I responded, “One and a half pills per day of the one grain medication, as I have for nearly two years.” She then informed me that the February 21 refill called in by my doctor had been filled at a the 1.5 grain strength in one pill, which I did not realize. So for 2 ½ weeks, I was taking 1.5 times the amount of Nature Throid compared to the normal dose that worked for me. PSA – always check the medicine bottle when leaving the pharmacy! If I had done this, I would have known to only take one pill, instead of one and a half.
I immediately started back on the correct dosage of the Nature Throid the next morning, one week from race day, hoping and praying for the best. Unfortunately, that did not happen and the day before the race, I felt horrible and decided to drop. My awesome crew/pacer team, Jennifer Bell and Cheryl Webster, along with good friends Millie Spearing and Robin Giles encouraged me to go to the race site and give it a try, to avoid any regrets. Also, I had gotten thyroid levels and blood pressure checked the day before at the doctor’s office and was given the green light based on those numbers. So Cheryl and I made the trip to Alcoa TN, while Jennifer and Robin were already up there – Jennifer to volunteer and Robin to run her first 100 miler.
I woke up feeling horrible on race morning with searing pain in the chest/upper GI area. At the start, I didn’t think it would be possible to get through the first 10-mile loop. But somehow, the pain eased down to just a slight discomfort as those first miles went by. I ran the first loop with another Huntsville running buddy Young Su Hoy and had a fun first 10 miles.
During the next 35 miles, I felt great! It was one big endorphin rush! The race volunteers were amazing and all runners were very encouraging! The course is beautiful and we had great weather, although a bit warm in the afternoon. During this time, I enjoyed a 50k PR of 5 hours and 42 minutes and nearly had a 50 mile PR at 10 hours, 2 minutes. No leg pain or fatigue until mile 45-ish, so I slowed down slightly at that time. I saw Robin and Young Su during these miles, and they both looked strong, so Team Huntsville was rocking it at this point!
The 50-60 mile loop was rough. The upper GI/chest pain went from uncomfortable to excruciating. I was unable to eat and became nauseous, despite taking Zofran for nausea. Drinking became uncomfortable. And then a lightning storm hit in the middle of this loop with nowhere to take cover. After a mile of dodging lightning, I took cover in a porta potty. By the time I got back to the start/finish area at the school, I was soaked from heavy rain, scared from the lightning and still in severe pain. I asked the race director Will Jorgenson about dropping to the 100k distance and finishing just 2 more miles. At this point, I was accepting of a 100k finish – my first. Will cautioned me that a drop to 100k was possible, but that I would not receive an award other than a finisher’s hat. He encouraged me to take some time to rest and to consult with the on-site physician. Will is an ultra runner and knows all about post-race regrets and wanted to make sure I had exhausted all options before dropping from the 100 mile distance (much appreciated!). The physician recommended doubling my low dosage of Zofran, which helped slightly. Around that time, the lightning, rain, thunder and hail started, so I took the advice of Will and the physician and rested in hopes of improvement. Cheryl brought in a mattress so that I could nap inside the school.
After a nap for about an hour, I changed into warmer dry clothes and Cheryl and I headed back out for miles 60 – 70. It was a walk/run and the pain got stirred up again. I don’t remember much about these miles, but don’t think I got much nutrition in. By mile 70 at the start/finish area, I asked to drop and was once again encouraged by race volunteers and crew to keep going. There was still plenty of time to get in 30 more miles, even if I walked.
Cheryl and I headed back out, and I did pretty well for about 3 miles. But around mile 74-ish, I began to have near-fainting spells and my legs would collapse. I ended up on the pavement a couple of times. By mile 75, Cheryl and I had to seek help at the awesome Woody’s aid station 4.5 miles into this loop. I can’t say enough nice things about the volunteers at this aid station! They helped me sit and then lie down with warm blankets. They got me to eat some French toast and drink some more. They even helped me get back and forth to the nearby porta potty when my legs would not support me to walk there. But as hard as we all tried, we could not get the situation turned around. One of these amazing volunteers drove Cheryl back to her truck so that she could pick me up. I think they helped load me into her truck (don’t remember). They also gave Cheryl instructions on turning in my bib so that I could drop from the 100 mile distance down to the 100k distance. After we got back to the school, the doctor came out to the truck to check on me.
So my journey ended at mile 75 with a lot of disappointment, but absolutely no regrets. Preliminary results show a strong 100k finish right at 13 hours, including the 1 hour nap while waiting out the storm and the symptoms.
Many thanks to Jennifer, Cheryl and the Pistol Ultra team for making it possible to push as hard as possible to get those 75 miles! And also thanks and congratulations to Robin and Young Su who provided encouragement while crushing their own 100 milers! Ultra running is truly a team effort.
Although this was not the finish I wanted, the race itself was amazing! The entire process was like a well-oiled machine from start to finish, and the runners could not have asked for better support from the race officials and volunteers. The Pistol Ultra team was there to support us and to do everything in their power to help us reach our respective successes. The aid station volunteers could not have pampered us more with food, drink, refilled bottles and ice. And everyone was so encouraging! The Pistol Ultra race is definitely on my calendar for 2019!