Coming into Servilla Church (Aid #7, 50mi) I was pretty pumped to see my family and get some dry socks and shoes. I was still ahead of my schedule, maybe more than I wished but there wasn’t a lot I could do now other than just roll with it.
Roughly 8 hours and 40 minutes had elapsed by mile 50, and I was feeling pretty good. I pulled off my wet shoes and socks, put some moleskin on pinky toes — not that it really mattered since they were encased in blisters from the inside all around the front, bottom and around the outside. Weirdest blisters I’ve ever had.
I got some fresh socks and shoes, put on some arm warmers and kissed my wife. Someone offered me a jacket, but I turned it down thinking I would be warm enough since I would be running most of the next 15 miles. Mistake #3.
As my safety runner and I headed out, we started talking about the day and what the next 15 miles would entail. I was feeling pretty good from the boost of energy after seeing my family. However, within about 10 minutes I noticed that I was a lot colder than I realized. I pulled my arm warmers up to my shoulders and pulled my cheapo $1 gloves on my hands.
A few minutes later I was still cold and asked my buddy to pull my jacket out of my pack for me… no luck, nobody put my jacket in my pack. A miscommunication on my part. Oh well, I could manage the next few hours without my jacket. Before too long I was feeling very tired, not necessarily tired from exhaustion but it felt like I was extremely sleepy tired. If I was hiking an uphill section I was really cold and really tired. I was almost nodding off on the hiking uphill sections. As much as I could, I was running just to try and warm up and keep myself awake.
Coming into the Iron Gap aid station (Aid #8, 54mi), I got a little bit of warm soup and a quick shot of Mountain Dew thinking that would help wake me up a little. After the quick shot of caffeine my blood sugar spiked, and I got a little jolt of energy that helped me run a little quicker. This, subsequently, warmed me up a little bit. The only issue with this was that once the sugar dropped and I started slowing again I quickly went back to being cold/tired.
I cycled back and forth through these really cold/tired spells and short bursts of energy right up through Bullet Creek (Aid #9, 59mi) and all the way to Starr Mountain (Aid #10, 65mi). When I got to Starr Mountain I had really hit a low. I really felt like I was going to pass out from being so tired… It was a different kind of tired, and I wasn’t really sure why I felt like my eyelids weighted 15-pounds each.
I got up to my crew and told them that I needed to sit down for just a few minutes and rest. I really felt like 5-10 minutes of sleep would do me a world of good. I didn’t want to take any more time than that because I knew that I was under a tight time crunch. Not really thinking straight, I just sat down in a camp chair and grabbed a couple minutes of shut eye.
What felt like seconds later, one of my buddy’s shook me a little and woke me up. I was freezing. Mistake #4.
If I had been thinking more clearly, I would have grabbed some warm food and then jumped in my crew’s warm vehicle to grab a few minutes of shut-eye. Instead, I didn’t eat anything and just sat down in a cold chair with nothing to keep me warm and passed out for a few minutes.
I got up and put on both jackets that I had, trying to warm up a little. My Dad could tell that I wasn’t doing real hot, and told me to stay for a few more minutes and warm up and eat something but I convinced him that I was fine and just needed to get moving again. Mistake #5.
As I rolled out of the Starr Mountain aid station I knew that I had roughly 10 miles back down to Iron Gap aid station. My second safety runner got out on the trail with me and we were off. Well, we weren’t off very long before I had to stop and walk. That 10 minutes of rest really didn’t do much for me. I was still freezing cold, and it wasn’t helping me warm up now that I was moving at a snail’s pace.
I hadn’t really dressed for moving this slowly, and I was paying the price. Almost immediately once back on the trail, I was nodding off again and struggling just to keep my eyes open, let alone keeping one foot in front of the other. The next few hours were pretty hazy. I know that I came to a few times with my safety runner grabbing the back of jacket and saving me from falling face first in the dirt. Things were going downhill quickly.
Now that I was struggling just to stay awake and couldn’t seem to get warm, I was having an even harder time eating and drinking. I knew that eating anything was crucial to keeping moving and was trying my hardest to eat anything I could, but I was not very successful. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we started coming down the road back the Iron Gap aid station (Aid #11, 75mi).
I made my over to the aid station looking for a blanket or something to try and warm up. One of the aid station workers saw that I was not feeling well and grabbed me a blanket. I wrapped up and sat down for a minute, thinking I could warm up some and eat and would instantly feel re-energized and ready to get back to running. Sitting there trying to eat some warm soup, my hands were shaking so bad that I could hardly keep the soup in the cup.
My safety runner pulled a thermal blanket out of his pack and wrapped it around me; then, with the help of the aid station volunteer, they wrapped me up in a total of 3 blankets. I told my buddy to let me try and eat some and then give me about 10 minutes to get a power nap and hopefully some extra energy. About 20-minutes later, when I awoke, I found my buddy, an aid station volunteer and a couple of fireman safety crews standing around asking me talking and looking concerned.
Then they started with the questions; how are you feeling, are you cold, what’s your name, do you want to keep going, etc. It took my by surprise and then I realized that I was REALLY cold. For the life of me, I could not stop shaking. It didn’t make any sense. I had a thermal blanket and three (3) big wool blankets wrapped around me and I felt like I was standing out in a snow storm in my underwear.
One of the fireman told me to go over to his truck and get in where they had the heat going. As I made my way over to the truck, I felt like someone had broken my left ankle while I was passed out. It would not bend, and the pressure under my sock told me that I must have sprained it sometime between the stumble-fest that I had from Starr Mountain down to Iron Gap.
As I hobbled up into the fire truck I was still trying to put together where I was, how much further to the next aid station and where I was on my target times to finish in time to make graduation. Talking to my safety runner and doing some rough math, I found out that I had lost quite a bit of time in the last 10 miles and knew that I would not be able to finish in time to make the graduation, especially at the pace I had slowed to now.
About this time, someone came over and stuck a thermometer in my ear and asked what I had decided. I told them to give me a minute and let me think. Like I mentioned before, I’ve gotten myself into pretty bad spots before, both in races and training runs. I’ve been lost, dehydrated, throwing up sick, and have taken one too many IV bags.
My wife is a God-send and does so much taking care of our 1 and 3-year old daughters while I’m out on these running adventures. So, when I push myself to the point of sickness I don’t do her any favors because now she gets stuck taking care of all three of us and it’s not fair to her. I knew now that I was behind schedule, hadn’t been eating/drinking enough, was feeling pretty bad, and knew that pushing on to the next aid station may make me miss a graduation that I promised to attend I made the hard decision.
I told my buddy to let the aid station know that runner #189 was going to withdraw…
Almost as soon as my buddy walked off to tell the aid station one of the fireman jumped in the truck and said that he was taking me down to see the EMS??? What, why? “Your temperature is too low (<96̈°F) and we have to take you down get checked out.” I argued for a few minutes telling them that I was cold but I definitely didn’t need to see the EMS. Well, apparently it didn’t matter because they were ordered to take me regardless of what I told them. Oh well, I had already made the decision to stop so I finally convinced them to first radio ahead to my crew at Quinn Springs so they would know where I was going and could come and pick me up. After being in the truck with blankets and the heat going full blast in face for 30+ minutes, I started to warm up and really started to feel a lot better. I didn’t feel like I was going to pass out anymore and started to think more clearly. After a short time hanging out in the EMS vehicle my crew showed up to the fire station and came in to the ambulance to check on me and give me some warm clothes. I apologized to my crew about 100 times for pulling out and really started to feel the weight of the DNF as I climbed into the truck. By the clock on the dash I knew that would I have stayed on pace I should have been climbing to the top of Oswald Dome by this time and would be looking at about 13 miles to the finish… It hit me pretty hard and I felt like a huge failure. I didn’t want to look anyone in the face because I felt like I’d let them down so I just put my head against the window and decided to pass out. Back at the house I got cleaned up and had enough time to get about 30 minutes of sleep before heading out to the graduation. My family and friends were doing their best to make me feel better. They told me that they were proud of me and the effort I’d put into the 75 miles I had completed but I still felt like crap and wasn't proud of myself at all. This pretty much summed up the rest of my day. Then, sometime Saturday evening I realized that even though I didn't finish what I had set out to complete that I wasn't a failure. I do not understand why but sometimes God’s greatest glory comes from our failures not our successes. No, it wasn't the plan I had put together, but I know that sometimes God has different plans for us that may not have anything to do with what we want. I had prayed many times before and during the Thunder Rock 100 that God would keep all of the runners safe and help bring each of us home to our loved ones. I had also told God many times that I was not worried and trusted him no matter what. Then I realized that my pity party and being upset about the outcome of the race was not someone who was “trusting” that God knew what was best and realized that I was truly blessed just for being able to participate in the race.
I want to congratulate everyone who ran the inaugural Thunder Rock 100 both finishers and non-finishers alike! The elements were at their finest these two days and really made it special for those who completed this 100. Even though I wasn’t fortunate enough to finish this year’s Thunder Rock I learned quite a bit from my mistakes and will be sure to log those away in the experience bank for the next race/run.
One of the greatest things I learned from my first trail race DNF is that I have a lot more support and encouragement from friends and family than I ever realized. I’ve had plenty of congratulations from successful races but I’ve never received so much words of encouragement and praise for what I had accomplished than what I did after my DNF.
A good friend of mine sent this message from Galatians 6:9 ESV: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
Did Not Finish (DNF); Completed 75-of-100 miles
As always I want to give all the glory to God and thank Him for keeping me and all of the other runners safe throughout the day. It was truly a blessing to run in such a beautiful part of the country. A big thank you to my family/crew for being there to support me. A big shout out to Rock/Creek for all of the awesome running gear and support. Last but not least, I want to thank all of the volunteers and personnel who helped put together the 2014 Thunder Rock 100. You guys did an amazing job taking care of all the runners and keeping people on course for such a long race.
Until the next race,
Nathan D. Holland
2014 Rock/Creek Race Team