Well, this race definitely ranks up there as one of the strangest, yet one of the funnest Ive ever done. Too bad I was sick as a dog during 90% of it. Oh, my lungs were fine. The elevation didn’t bother me at all, it was the rest of my body that was going haywire.
I think the combination of lack of sleep, extremely hot temperatures, and lack of proper hydration did me in, and by race time, I was probably suffering from full blown heat stroke. Of course being the damn fool I am, I decided to go for it anyway, and as crazy as it sounds , I’m glad I did it.
More about me trying to kill myself a little later, but first, let me try to describe just how fabulous the event itself was. Actually, the word event doesn’t even do it justice….It was more like a great adventure!
If you’ve never been in the middle of a desert at night, let me just tell you that the scenery, though not very colorful, is absolutely incredible in scope! Kinda like the way I picture the surface of the moon. What made it even more surreal, is that there was a full moon that night that lit up the desert floor and the surrounding mountains, so even though it was way past midnight , it felt more like early dawn. Another thing that stuck me , was how quiet it was out there. Though there were nearly 400 runners and walkers out on the course, it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. And because the road was still open to traffic, everyone was required to wear a glow necklace and form a single file line on the left side of the road, which gave the illusion of a long string of climbers scaling the side of a tall mountain. Oh yes, and along the course on a nearby mountain ridge , we saw one of those black SUV surveillance vehicles that the government uses to make sure civilians don’t get to close to “area 51”
I’m sure they were watching us with binoculars.
We set out on Saturday morning at 6 am from Fresno and arrived at the host hotel in Las Vegas around 12:30 in the afternoon. Man was it hot in Vegas. 107 degrees and windy that day. I was already exhausted from the long drive and lack of sleep from the night before, so by the time we checked in at the hotel and ventured outside on foot to find a place to eat lunch, I was already starting to to feel dehydrated and queasy. While my friends ate a huge pre-race meal, I had a couple french fries and a half a glass of water. I think, not eating or drinking in the hours before the race is what did me in. Going from the freezing cold air conditioned car and hotel rooms, to roasting in the outdoor heat, probably didn’t help either.
The plan for Saturday afternoon was to hang out in the hotel room and get some sleep until the Expo opened at 4pm , and then to return to the room afterwards for a couple more hours of sleep until the buses departed at 8pm. Well, by the time we got back to the hotel it was already 2:30 and I’m not one of those people who can fall asleep at will, so I just watched TV and put together the gear and outfit I was going to wear for the race.
The Expo ( if you want to call it that) consisted basically of two tables; one for the bib pick up and bus tickets, and one table for t-shirt pick up . I think there may have been one other small table with a few alien souvenirs type things for sale. The good bags contained one gel, one glow necklace and one advertisement for another race….that’s it.
Following the Expo, we went back to the room to get our racing clothes together and decide which stuff we wanted to bring ( or carry ) during the race. After that , we were supposed to take a short nap , get cleaned up and head out to the front of the hotel to catch the bus. Again, I was unable to get any sleep and by 8 pm , I was totally burnt out.
At 8pm sharp we head downstairs and out to where the buses were lined up. We exit through the side door ….and WHAM! …that heat hit me like a blast furnace. It’s amazing how much more sensitive to heat you become when you’re tired. I have never experienced heat like that before! To make things worse , they lined us along the sides of the buses which were idling and spewing out even more heat. Id say 20 more degrees to the already 105 degree it was outside. But the worse part of all was the waiting. We had to stand in that heat for almost an hour as they had to register and board each passenger one-by -one ( this is the only thing I can fault the organizers for). I got so over heated standing in line that I thought I was going to pass out. I kept on thinking to myself..” If I feel like this now, how on earth am I ever going to walk 13 miles up the side of a mountain 3 hours from now?” I was sweating so profusely , that my dri-fit shorts and singlet were soaked. I had already drank all the water that was in my bottle before I even boarded the bus!
Finally relief, we get to our seats on a nice cold bus, but now the sweat on my body is evaporating and I’m starting to shiver …This is not good. While almost everyone on the bus is talking and laughing and getting excited about starting the race, I was so nauseated from the heat, the cold and the motion of the bus, I just wanted to puke! But, we were already moving, so for better or worse, I’m stuck on this bus for the next 3 hours. Now I begin thinking..” how am I gonna break the news to my friends that I can’t do this race once we get there” I should’ve called it quits before I boarded.
Thankfully, it must have been becoming more apparent to my buddies that I wasn’t looking or feeling so good .They saved me the possible embarrassment by exclaiming ” You look like s**t !– Are you OK? –Maybe you better not do this race.” Those kind words took a little of the pressure off , but if I withdrew from the race now, where the heck would I go, what would I do for the next 7 hours while everyone is out on the course? The post race buses weren’t scheduled to leave until at least 5 am.
That means Id have to either wait on one of the buses, or sit inside the Little Ale inn cafe until the race was over. Either way , Id feel worse than I did now. For almost the entire bus ride, I was so exhausted , I couldn’t hold my head up. I just closed my eyes and tried to rest my brain as much as I could.
We’ve now been on the road for about 2 hours and the nausea was starting to subside and I was beginning to feel a little better. The women who was sitting next to me noticed that I was awake now and tried to start a conversation. Turns out , she was a nurse who worked the night shift at a Las Vegas hospital and was actually used to running at night. She was doing this half marathon as a prep for her first full marathon which was going to be the Nike Womens in October. The conversation eventually turned to asthma and I asked her what would happen if I were to get sick or have a severe attack while out on the course. She said the part of the desert we’re going was so remote that I would have to be air lifted back to Las Vegas ( 150 miles away) Boy.. hearing that really upped the ante . Now, on top of everything else , I’m stressed out.
Finally we arrive . Its midnight and buses are pulling over the the shoulder of the road at the infamous “Black Mailbox ” ( which is actually white now) where they were dropping off the full marathoners. We’re allowed to get off the bus stretch out legs and cheer the marathoners off. When I stepped off that bus, the first thing I noticed was the outside temperature had dropped significantly . It was now 74 degrees , pretty warm to start a marathon in , but a lot better than the 105 were standing in just a couple of hours ago. I wasn’t sweating or shivering anymore, but after sitting on the bus for 3 hours, my legs felt like jelly. I had a hard time standing up , let alone walking. Heck, even the healthy people were having a problems walking and stretch after such a long cramped ride. This is getting ridiculous. I need to bite the bullet and just admit that Im too sick to do this walk.
So, after cheering the full marathoners off, the rest of the people got back on the bus and we set off for the 1/2 marathon drop off point 13 mile UP the road. By this time, my heart is pounding. Am I going to withdraw or not? Finally I just said to myself…screw it. I’m gonna do it ! I knew that even under the toughest circumstances, I could walk 3 to 4 miles. And because I knew that there were aid station every 3 miles, I figured if I had to drop out ( which I had every intention of), I’d just have the SAG vehicle bring me back to the finish line and wait it out.
This is the moment of truth, we’re now at the drop off point for the half marathoners. I’m try to rationalize my predicament ……OK, you might be severely dehydrated and tired, BUT, you’re legs are very strong , you’re breathing is Ok. You can always get more electrolyte replacement fluids on the course , and you’ve done several half marathons…You can do this! So I got off the bus, pored some water over my head, turned my flash light on , waited for the starting signal…..and took off walking.
Within just matter of seconds , the crowd had thinned out to a single or double file line, and the loud cheers had diminished to barely a whisper. Moments after that, there was an erry silence. We were now walking through the one of the most majestic and serene places Ive ever been to in my life. The scenery was magnificent. The moon was giving up just enough light where you could see the grandness of the desert floor and the silhouette of the nearby mountain ranges. Your senses get overwhelmed by the sure vastness and nothingness of your surroundings, and soon you remember what drew you here in the first place. The beauty…the uniqueness ….the challenge ..the chance to see some weird stuff in the night sky.
The course itself was the toughest one Ive encountered so far, and although it only ascends 900 feet over 9 miles, it’s a constant climb for 9 solid miles straight up the side of a mountain, in a straight line… with no plateaus! From a runners vantage point, all you see are the white lines on the road disappearing up the grade. It’s like climbing a hill that never ends. I think that’s what makes this course so difficult for most people ( runners and walkers alike). In a way, the darkness make it a little easier to deal with the hill , because a lot of the reference points are hidden. I think if you attempted to do this course during the day, the sure monotony would get the best of you.
Getting back to my own experience; I basically set my walking switch to the on position and engaged the auto pilot. Once I got moving my legs felt surprising strong, and when we made it to the first aid station, I knew I had a good chance of completing the race ( albeit..very slow) The biggest problem I had during the walk, was brain fatigue, constant nausea and abdominal cramps. I think most of these were symptoms of dehydration. During the walk, I tried to drink as much water and electrolytes as possible to make up for what I had sweated out early in the day, but I couldn’t seem to catch up… the nausea was abdominal cramping was unrelenting. I brought along several gels with caffeine which seems to help, but at the same time acted weird on my stomach. I found myself constantly surveying the landscape along the side of the road with my flashlight, so I could pick out a place to either pee and/or vomit in semi privacy. Racewalking was definitely out of the question in this race, but in between my off road excursions to find a place to heave, I did my best to maintain a steady and even , albeit slow, walking pace. In fact, I don’t think I came to a complete stop even once to rest or stretch. I slowed down maybe, but I never really came to a total stop (except for a few brief moments where I had to relief myself). I even puked while in motion….How butch huh !
As far as my breathing goes, I was too distracted by my other aliments to really notice. I do remember however, my friend Brandon telling me that he could here me wheezing and to please use my inhaler.
Its difficult for me to give a mile by mile account of what happened , because in my mind , there we’re only two miles markers…. the uphill portion marker and the downhill portion. Everything else in between ( except the cow crossings) was kind of a blur, and sometimes I think I was actually sleep walking . I do remember however , that all the people on the course were very friendly, kind and courteous.There was none of that “attitude” you sometimes get as a walker from the elite runners. Everyone cheered everyone, regardless of where you were along the course or how fast or slow you were going. When we would pass each other, people would say things like ” Good morning! ” or ” Great Job! “. I guess being out in the middle of nowhere, its kinda nice knowing that you’re not alone out there. I also remember the occasional car full of teenagers passing by on the road cheering us on, and also an old ambulance that kept going back and forth with its flashing lights waiting for people to drop. Walking 9 miles straight up a hill is hard for anyone. Try doing it when you’re literally burned out from dehydration and exhaustion. Believe me, when you’re in a state like that, it takes everything you can muster to get through it. I cant even imagine what it must have been like for the full marathoners who ran( walked) 16 miles straight up. Many of them didn’t pass us up until the last 3 or 4 miles. They must have made their time up on the downhill.
Good thing I have strong conditioned legs, or there is no way on earth I could have gone half as far as I did.
We Made it…
After nearly 3 hours of walking non-stop uphill, we finally reached the summit and you could actually see the lights of the Little Ale inn ( finish line) 4 long miles below us. It felt so good to actually be walking downhill . As with even the easiest of races, the last 2 miles were hell. The little bit of pain I had in my legs and calves occurred during those two miles.
At exactly 4 hrs on the nose, my friends and I crossed the finish line together where I proceeded directly to the porta potties to puke my guts out…….repeatedly. After that , I joined the rest of finishers inside the Little Ale inn cafe for a spectacular breakfast feast they put on for us. There was hot eggs, sausage, hash browns, biscuits and gravy..fruits and cereals ..you name it..they had it, and there was plenty of it.
Unfortunately, I was so out of it all the vomiting , that just the smell of food made me sick to my stomach. Instead I forced myself to down as much water and recovery shake( muscle milk) as I could, bought a little alien gift for my other half in the gift shop, and then headed back outside to catch the 3 hour bus ride back to the hotel.
It would be another 12 before I would eventually collapse from sheer exhaustion into a deep sleep on a very comfortable bed at the Las Vegas Hilton. I slept 8 solid hours, got up and drove 612 miles home.
As tough as the journey was to get to the starting line of this race, it was an extraordinary event , and I would do it again in a heartbeat (but not while dehydrated). It’s unlike any other event Ive ever experienced. Forget the finish times, nobody PR’s on this course. You do it for the adventure, you do it for the challenge, you do it to see mothers natures best.
Oh….and the reason I think I suffered heat stroke and dehydration syndrome, is because within an 18 hour period, I lost 6 lbs. My friend Brandon says he’s going to tattoo a race checklist on my arm so that next time, I wont forget things like, drinking enough water, bringing extra inhalers, warm dry clothes to change into. etc etc.
Its now 3-4 days post race and Ive totally recovered, though my lungs are starting to act up a little. Im not sure, but I think its probably from over stressing my body. I will take a few more days off from heavy exercise and then it back to flat land walking, as I have a full marathon to walk in just 6 weeks.
Aint life grand!
Thanks Joyce for putting on a great race ! See ya next year!