I had certain goals and expectations heading into this year’s Knee Knacker 50km. Further, I thought they were realistic and attainable based on the training I was able get done prior to the event. As such, I cannot help but describe this last weekend as largely a disappointment and likely one of my worst races to date.
It was simple, I wanted to improve on my 5:58:14 from last year. I had one of my best training blocks in some time and was feeling reared to go for this event. Honestly, in my head I was gunning for sub 5:45.
Something just did not feel right. It is almost unexplainable, but I had this peculiar feeling that I simply could not shake. It began the night before the race and continued for much of the evening. I had a hard time digesting any food and as a result, likely failed to take in sufficient calories for the following day. Nothing tasted good. In my head I blamed it on nerves (although I am not one to get nervous especially over such a relaxed event as the KK)... but perhaps there was something else at play. I went to bed early and was able to sleep surprisingly soundly until my alarm sounded at 3:40am. I went through the usual pre-race routine and was feeling much better than the previous night. I hitched a ride to the start with my girlfriend Meredith (who was also helping me out on the day... big thank you to her!!) and just milled around, ran a warm up mile or two and before I knew it we were off.
Having not done the start of the course in some time, I did not want to get caught up in the hype of the initial moments. Furthermore, I know full well that Black Mountain is one hell of an ascent and deserving of the most respect. So with that, I tried to find my pace during the early going; which is always a challenge with the rolling uphill and technical start. Notwithstanding, I found myself with some familiar faces somewhere in the top 20 as we worked are way up Black Mountain. At this point I was definitely working harder than I wanted to be. So with that, I eased off, and let a few of the people that I would normally pace off pass; knowing that I was unlikely to lose much ground going up BM and could easily make it up going down into Cleveland Dam.
I did not find my legs the entire climb and I was still struggling to find any flowing stride as I worked my way into Cypress bowl (1:40) where I switched out of my camelback and grabbed my handheld from my girlfriend. It felt much better to get out of my camelback and be running with my usual handheld and so, through the next section I finally felt as though I was running and starting to find a pace. I ended up passing a handful of people over the next section into Cleveland Dam but was cautious not to overdo it on the downhill. It was getting hot at this point and I found my stomach hitting an unsettled state.... unfortunately, a sign of things to come.
At Cleveland Dam Aid (2:50) I refilled my bottle, dunked my hat, lost the shirt, and was on my way up Nancy Green Way to the entrance of the Baden Powell. I knew this next stretch was going to be a challenge. I definitely lost my stride last year near this point and did not want that to happen again. I ended up pacing off a few guys who were moving at what I determined to be a comfortable pace. Near the entrance to Mosquito Creek however I started to gap them and was on my own once again. It is about at this point where my race seemed to take a turn for the worse.
The stomach issues that had been sporadically bothering me earlier in the race were now once again in full force. I tried to stay on top of my hydration and downed a few electrolytes (thinking the heat may have been getting to me). Unfortunately, this was to no avail and I soon found myself unable to consume any calories at all; as soon as I tried to down a gel, I would reflexively gag in a seemingly uncontrollable way. I tried to force it down with a good jug of water… nothing. So I gave up, but then the dry-heaves started and I knew that I was in rough shape. I definitely slowed down through this section as I was just trying to keep my focus and get myself to Lynn Headwaters Aid station where I would attempt to remedy this situation. However, things progressively got worse. By the time I reached the Headwaters Aid station I was a good 15 minutes behind my intended time and feeling dizzy and generally, in a crappy state. I switched to coke hoping I could find someway to get some calories into my system (I had not had a gel in over 2 hours and had only had two on the day to this point (4+ hours of running). The coke seemed to help for about 15 minutes but then I just felt bloated and was soon gagging back up the coke along with other remnants. I was running solo at this point which definitely did not help as I was in desperate need of motivation. I was hiking hills I would never in training and had to stop in a hands-on-the-knees pathetic position to prevent the gagging.
From here there is not much else to say. I was unable to get any solid calories into the system over the rest of the race. I yo-yoed between feeling like crap to thinking I was turning things around (these were brief and infrequent). Psychology I was not in a good state as I saw any hopes of finishing near my goal time slip away. Honestly, it was hard to have the motivation. But I managed to finish it off and roll my way down the familiar trail to Deep Cove crossing in 6:23, a good 30+ minutes off my goal time).
My family was there to greet me at the finish which was fantastic (although they could tell pretty quickly that I was not feeling great). I spent the next couple of hours trying to get any sort of food into my system. But the theme persisted and I simply could not stomach it. This lasted well into the evening where I developed more stomach pains and a general discomfort in my whole chest. It was not until later at around 9:00pm after many cold soaks in the shower and lots of fluid (thanks to my amazing girlfriend who attended to me as though I was her patient ;)) that I was finally able to eat a wrap (although 10 minutes later Meredith and I had to pull over the car as I thought I was going to lose it… thankfully it stayed down).
Needless to say, this was my first experience with such severe stomach reactions during a run. I have never had the complete inability to take down calories of any kind. I still find myself puzzled over the cause… likely a combination of things including the heat and falling behind early on hydration (?). I suppose it was just one of those days. On the positive side (got to find at least one) my legs felt great over the next few days. It was as though I had barely run at all (perhaps the training paid dividends in some way). But nevertheless, I definitely have come to the conclusion that I need to seriously reassess my general approach to nutrition during racing and training more generally. In retrospect, I was probably inadequately fuelling my body for many of the weeks I was training at the volume I was (explains a few of the low patches I had perhaps). This will certainly be one of my points of focus over the next month as I prepare for Where’s Waldo 100km at the end of August.
In the end the best I can do is learn from the experience and move forward.