An amazing day for trail running!

18.76 Miles and Broken Down

So I opted to complete my long run for the week today (Friday) rather than on a weekend day as I typically do. I had the day off as part of my holiday vacay and you take what the week gives you, am I right?

Given the clear schedule that inherently comes with a holiday day off, I set off for my favorite local-ish (45 minutes from my front door) running spot, Francis Marion Forest. This national forest is a vast stretch of undisturbed, natural forest and wilderness, and it adds even more reach to its vast domain as it merges with Sumter National Forest. Thus, the possibilities are seemingly endless! Great trail running, camping, mountain biking, fishing, hunting, and much more–it’s all here!

Myself, I set out for the Swamp Fox Passage, a 42 mile portion of the much longer Palmetto Trail that lays down some of its length within the boundaries of Francis Marion. I’ve run portions of this trail numerous times in the past, and it always makes for a great run. The trail is far from technical with no elevation gain and largely smooth trails (aside from the occasional stumpy areas). The trail meanders through pine forests, pass the Halfway Creek campground, and over the occasional small bridge. It’s largely well-groomed single track and doesn’t see too much foot traffic so you don’t find yourself elbowing your way past others.

Boy oh boy, was it a beautiful day to hit the trails! The sun was shining brightly and temps were hovering in the low 50s. Perfect weather for a romp in the woods.

Trees For Days
Trees For Days

Sticking with my trusty Hal Higdon Novice 2 Marathon Training Program, I was slated to run 20 miles today. For better or for worse, today’s run was also meant to be my longest of the “long runs” with tapering afterwards until the much dreaded/anticipated marathon in 3 weeks (aka “The Real Show”).  So I set off on the trail…

At first, I felt good. In fact, I felt surprisingly good. So good that I daydreamed of someday running a trail ultra and also envisioned myself as an ancient Tarahumara superathlete runner (perhaps I was hallucinating already at that point…). At one point, I even considered taking what I told myself would be a “slight detour” down a side trail that I had never travelled before. Luckily, my sane mind chirped in and told my illogical Tarahumara wannabe mind to hush up, and ultimately the wiser mind prevailed. So there I was bouncing along the trail, trading pleasantries with a couple of backpackers I passed and snapping the two photos you see in this blog. Life was good! After all, I was a future ultramarathoner envisioning future trail conquests.

At mile 9.5, I started to tire (I should mention that despite how great I felt early on, I didn’t push my pace as I feared such a move could only end poorly). Though I began to feel a bit fatigued, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary–legs a little heavy, pace dropping a bit–you know, the kind of stuff you may expect after 9.5 miles of running.

Around mile 15, I started to feel much worse. I was very weak and fatigued, as well as uncertain as to whether I could make another 5 miles. I slowed my pace and went into “survival mode”. Jack Johnson’s “Breakdown” ominously came onto my iTunes shuffle.  I continued to take a swig or two of Gatorade every mile, and then began to do so every half mile or so. I continued to consume a couple of Clif shot bloks at regular intervals. However, none of it mattered. I continued to fade more and more. I tried to look at the run as half mile increments, telling myself to just make another half mile. And then one more half mile. And then one more…

At 18.76 miles, I had to stop. I felt as though my body was shutting down. I was nauseous, light-headed, and my feet/legs didn’t seem to be doing what my head was asking them to do. In addition, my shoes suddenly felt very tight on my feet. I stopped and sat down on two occasions, the second of which I untied my shoes to loosen them up a bit and even gave my screaming feet a bit of a massage in an attempt to quiet them down a little.

The 1.24 mile walk back to my car was much more difficult than it should have been. I drank the rest of Gatorade I had in my handheld bottle hoping that it would bring a bit more energy and a bit less light-headedness. It didn’t. I felt as though I may faint numerous times on the short trek back to my car. It was scary and something I haven’t experienced before. Sure, I’ve had my share of painful and draining runs, and I’ve hit “the wall” tons of times in the past. This, however, was different…

Ultimately I did make it back to my trusty chariot. I immediately plunked down into the driver’s seat. My head was still swimming and my legs were shaking as though I was taking them dancing after all this. I drank the rest of the Gatorade I had in my car and forced myself to have a few bites of an apple I had brought along as a post-run treat. Let’s just say that the apple and Gatorade decided to make the visit to my stomach a quick in-and-out affair rather than making a weekend of it.

I lied down in my car for a bit until I felt well enough to make the 45 minute drive back home. Ultimately, I clearly felt better after some time, a hot shower, and some homemade pizza.

Still the question remains as to what caused this less than optimal ending to my already shortened trail run? Hyponatremia? Dehydration? Simply not taking in enough fuel before and during the run? I’m thinking it may have been a touch of hyponatremia given my symptoms though I don’t think low sodium to such a degree to cause this picture usually happens at 18ish mile distances. Plus I was consuming an electrolyte enhanced drink during the run.

The most disconcerting aspect of all this, however, is that it clearly does not inspire much confidence in my ability to run 26.2 miles in roughly three weeks. Yikes.

Maybe a handful of pretzels along the run is the only solution I need…

Hey, a boy can hope!

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