Trail and ultra running club in the North Texas and greater Dallas / Ft. Worth areas

Arizona 6-day / 100M Fun Run

by Lorrie Gray

April 16, 2010

The Douglas, AZ Women's 100 Mile Run was the "fun run" held in conjunction with a six-day race, both starting at noon on Sunday, April 11th. As the title implies, it was only open to women participants, while the six-day race was open to both men and women. There were two main reasons that I decided to make this race my first 100 miler. First was the generous cut-off time of 99 hours. Second was that the race was run on a 3/4 mile loop, allowing for frequent access to the personal aid station I had set up at the start/finish line. Since I am fairly new to ultras, having run my first 50k almost exactly one year ago, I still have a lot to learn, and I felt that this race would give me that opportunity with as little risk of a DNF as possible when one is taking on a 100 mile event. Fellow NTTR member Deborah Sexton was also doing the 100 mile race and Karen Riddle was doing the 6 day.

The race director, Gary Cross, promised only water on the course. Each participant was expected to bring his or her own food and drinks of choice. In reality, each afternoon, one of the local runners would provide a meal, such as spaghetti one evening and a pasta dish full of vegetables along with a salad and a broccoli dish another night. There was also a microwave provided that I used a few times to make hot chocolate, instant oatmeal, soup, and Easy Mac. The race volunteers were there mainly to do lap counting (no timing chips) and not to aid the runners. So, any time I wanted something other than what I could just grab on the run from the table I had set up, I had to stop and make it. Not a huge deal in a race this long, but I'm sure it added up a bit.

The course was set up in a city park that had several baseball fields. It mostly ran around the perimeter of the park, cutting in a few times. The surface changed 10 times in the course of the 3/4 mile loop (yes, I had lots of time to count), going from grass to concrete to asphalt to gravel and back again. I went into the race planning to use a run/walk strategy within each loop. Instead of using specific time ratios, I used my first couple of times around the loop to pick out landmarks at which I would switch from running to walking. I had practiced this several times in training, and it seemed to work well for me.

I planned to take a 20-30 minute break every 25 miles. I stuck to my run/walk plan, ran the first 25.5 miles in around 7-1/2 hours, and took my first break. The sun had been pretty intense, maybe because of the elevation (about 4000 ft). It was all systems go at this point. I was feeling good, and the temperature was cooling down. I ate a sandwich while taking my break, and when I got back to it, I walked a lap to let it settle a bit before continuing. After that, it was back to my run/walk. It started getting cooler after a while, and I changed into warmer clothes.

Sometime in the early morning was my first sign of trouble. My feet were starting to sting/burn. I stopped to take a look at them and see what was going on. I had a rash on my feet and ankles. I've had this issue come up before, both in training and in races (longer ones, like 50k or more), and never been able to figure out exactly what causes it. The rash has never bothered me before, though. My feet seemed to be swelling a little bit, so I changed into a bigger pair of shoes, and then got back to it. I could tell that my feet were continuing to swell, and the stinging/burning was getting worse. Over the next couple of hours, I stopped a few times to tape up a couple of toes that felt like they were starting to rub. Around 3:00, and at 45 miles (this tied the mileage of the furthest run I've ever done), I decided to stop and soak my feet in cool water while eating some oatmeal. I tried ice water, but due to my Raynaud's Syndrome (I'll let you Google that one), I couldn't take the water that cold. One of the other runners suggested that I tape up my feet to maybe keep my socks from rubbing and help with the stinging. After soaking and drying off my feet, I decided to let them air out for a little bit before taping them, and laid down for 45 minutes to get some much needed rest.

I got up at 5:00, taped my feet in Kinesio tape (it's stretchy so that it wouldn't constrict my feet), and I put on my biggest pair of shoes. I walked my first loop back in order to assess my taping job. It seemed to help quite a bit with the stinging. Even with this big pair of shoes (a full size larger and a wide width, too), my pinkie toes seemed to be rubbing. I stopped and taped them up to try and keep the damage to a minimum. Over the next few hours, I stopped several times to tape up more hot spots. The rash had now spread up the rest of my legs and even onto my arms. It didn't bother me except for the swelling it caused to my feet, though.

By noon, I had to stop completely. The biggest pair of shoes was now too small. Both pinkie toes were badly blistered. I took off my shoes and socks, and all the tape I had on my feet and toes. I was at a loss as to what to do at this point. I knew that, at a minimum, I needed to drain the blisters on my pinkie toes in order to be able to get my shoes back on, but I thought I also needed to get the swelling down. Phil, the runner that had given me advise before, first suggested that I cut out the toes in a pair of my shoes in order to keep going. He's done Badwater, and this got him through the last miles of this race. But, after we thought about it for a bit, we decided that wouldn't work on this course, with all the dirt and gravel. The lead runner in the 100 miler, Kat, finished her race about this time. She happens to be a doctor, finishing up her residency. She said the rash looked like a reaction, and not a heat rash. Between her, Phil, and I, we decided on a plan of action. I was going to lie down for a while with my feet propped up on a chair to try and reduce the swelling. Also, I got someone to go get hydrocortisone cream to rub on my feet to hopefully further reduce the swelling. After that would be draining blisters, re-taping (feet and toes) and get going again. All of this took a long time, and if it had been most any other 100 miler, I would have certainly missed a cut-off by now, but I kept reminding myself that I had plenty of time.

I was going again by 3:00. Another issue that had started to come up that didn't affect my running directly, but definitely my fueling, was that my tongue was starting to swell and I could feel some sort of blisters or sores developing on it. I don't know if this was a continuation of the rash I had, or something different entirely. It made eating salty foods impossible. So, I lost my favorite ultra food, salt and vinegar Pringles. I had to be sure and take plenty of electrolytes to compensate for not eating salty foods. This also continued to get worse, so that by sundown, it hurt to eat or drink almost anything, including water, which really made fueling a challenge. Chocolate milk and Boost were still good, and almost had a cooling effect. I knew I couldn't rely on these completely, or I'd end up with stomach problems. I took another break to eat some Easy Mac around 7:00, with 69 miles down and a 50k to go.

I felt re-energized after the break, and pushed the pace a little for a while. I had been mostly walking for quite some time, going through a pretty low point and afraid to make my blisters worse. I went back to the run/walk strategy that had worked for me in the beginning, and did well for a while. I started getting really sleepy after a few hours, and laid down for 45 minutes with my feet up to help reduce the swelling once again. I got up at 11:00, and got going again, but the energy I'd had earlier was gone. I was reduced once again to walking. It was getting cold, and I really don't like the cold. In the early morning hours, Gary, the race director, joined me for a few loops. He's a good talker, and I'm a good listener, so the pairing worked out well. He kept me company until a little before 5:00, when, with 20 laps to go (I had long since lost my ability to do math in my head and convert laps to miles), I decided to rest one more time before making my final push.

I was up and going again at 5:30. I tried a couple of times to get a run going again, but to no avail. My lower back was not having any of it. I was "smelling the barn" at this point, though, and had a pretty good walking pace going for a while. Of course, that wasn't going to last. With about ten laps to go, I was feeling quite nauseous (actually got sick 3 times before I felt better), and my hands and wrists were swelling. I couldn't figure out exactly what was wrong (too much or not enough salt, too much water, etc.). I didn't really want to take the time to figure it out either. I started taking electrolytes each lap, figuring that was the most probable solution. It seemed to work. My loops were getting slower and slower during this time, though.

With 2 laps to go, Gary caught up to me again. He'd done some checking and saw that I was pretty close to being able to break 48 hours. If I'd kept up the pace I had done the last couple of laps, I was going to come in about 7 minutes over. He said he'd pace me in under 48 hours if I were willing to try. This gave me the kick that I needed. Gary paced me for the first of the loops. Then he had me set the pace for the second loop, and when I got close to the finish, he ran ahead to get a camera. I crossed the finish line in 47:57:20. 4th place out of 15 starters.

One of these days, I hope to be able to write a race report and say that everything went exactly according to plan. Today is not that day. But, I finished, and today, that's enough.

Updated: April 22, 2010 @ 12:21 EDT