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Praise the Fallen (Howl at the Moon 8 Hour Run report – August 8th, 2009)

August 10, 2009

Scott McQueeney.  Mark Heinemann.  Fritz Kauffman.  Scott Hathaway.

There are many others, but those are the four ultrarunners I’m most familiar with who died participating in ultrarunning.  I say “participating in” and not “caused by”, as the proximate cause for all four was not running directly but an underlying condition. Still, I find it fitting to open up this race report by first talking to – and hopefully praising – a few who have died on or off the course, as it may help explain the sport, and its participants, in a way that most may not have considered.

Scott McQueeney – a legend in the Northwest, both in the running and ultrarunning community, mostly because of a bet he made with his daughter while she was dying of cancer. If I remember this correctly, he bet that if she lived, he would run the Portland marathon, backwards – which she did, and he did.  Scott was very active in the ultra community, both as a runner and race director (and also ran the Badwater fan site), and I couldn’t begin to sum up his impact on the ultra community here.  He died shortly after completing a shorter ultra (literally feet off the finish).  He is missed, and many in the Northwest will still finish ultras by walking backwards across the finish line, and a hatpin in his honor is making the rounds (the only human or item that has a chance of finishing more ultras than Rob Apple!)

Mark Heinemann – an outstanding distance runner who died in his hotel room after finishing the Across the Years 72 hour ultra (a very nice event, on hiatus this year, which runs three races – 24, 48 and 72 hours – all of which culminate at midnight on New Year’s Eve for an ultra celebration to ring in the new year).

Fritz Kauffman – a Chicago runner who passed away at Sunmart, an event in Texas. One of the first half marathons I did in Chicago was the Cary “March Madness” run in his honor, and I ran the Sunmart 50 Mile in 2002 with the shirt from that March Madness in his honor.  Fritz had a heart problem, and his doctor advised him not to run the 50 mile ultra, so Fritz opted for the 50K ultra instead.

And Scott Hathaway, whom I had not heard of until this weekend.  Scott loved the trails and a very nice memorial to him is located about a half mile into the 3.29 mile trail, which virtually everyone honors as they run by by reaching out and touching it as they pass.  A small gesture, but one of honor, as well.

Why the macabre start?  As the temperatures were climbing on me on Saturday, I recalled how a large part of the sport for me is being reminded of my own mortality, and how to appreciate the little things.  People participate in this sport not because they have a death wish (though many nonrunners argue just that!) but exactly the opposite – because they don’t want to go through life feeling safe and secure, and want to continue to push themselves to appreciate the small things.  None of the runners who have fallen were selfish, or self-destructive – they had found their own way, their own appreciation, and I feel like they are my brethren because of that.

To the report…

The short version for anyone who just wants the quick skivvy:  9 laps, 29.6 miles and a good case of heat exhaustion.

I’d never been to Danville Illinois before.  I’m not sure I would go back to the town itself, which has a rust belt feel to it, a quiet kind of running down.  It wasn’t bad, or scarey, but the town itself didn’t hold much of an attraction for me, which is a shame, as I get to downstate Illinois a fair amount, and places like Mattoon (which has a great bike ride called RAMFAB – Run Around Mattoon For a Bagel) have a very salt-of-the-earth midwest wholesomeness that I just adore.  I get into my hotel early and start unpacking when I realize something pretty bad:  My salt pills are not in my running bag.

Now, in hindsight, I know what happened:  my excedrin bottle which I keep them in had fallen out of my bag as I picked up my camelbak/computer/duffelbags to head out.  But I was flummoxed, as I distinctly remember putting the pills in my duffle, but they weren’t there.  No biggie, I think, as I’m sure others will have some I can buy/borrow/steal (OK, not the last). I’ll just get up a bit earlier and head out.

I pop out of bed at 5:30 and get to the state park by 5:50, well ahead of the 7:00 AM start.  I mill around looking for any of the normal vendors that seem to spring up, but unfortunately find no one from Hammer or S!caps or any other salt pill place.  I resolve to just drink more Heed! and I should be fine.  Milling about, I run into the two other CHUG runners (Rich and Paul) who had made it down.  Paul’s ran the event quite a few times and offers some advice, and there’s a nice breeze so I’m looking forward to the run.

As I mentioned, the run is basically a 3.29 mile course, which you just run as many times as possible (and, for the last half hour, there’s a half mile out-and-back loop you can run instead).  The race boasts there’s just one big hill (and it’s really not that big) and it’s mostly flat with some minor up and down, and that’s about right.  For a running course, it’s pretty ideal – varied, but easy with a few pseudo-technical sections (some of the grassy parts had some potential ankle twisters that I felt fortunate to thwart!), and the whole park is pretty darned scenic, for Illinois.

The 200 or so of us line up for the start of the race, and we’re off pretty much on time.  I actually ran with my watch for a change, as I wanted to be sure I was making hay while the sun _didn’t_ shine, as the day looked to be a scorcher.

My Flimsy Excuse For Not Being Heat Acclimated:  OK, for the Kettle Morraine 100K, I was slow due to no hill training; and for this, I will chalk up my somewhat underwhelming performance due to lack of heat acclimation.  Now, I can say that Chicago NEVER hit even 90 degrees in July (which is true), but I also didn’t go out of my way to do any heat training. Thus, the 96 degree forecast and very high heat indeces were something I wasn’t really prepared for, physically.

So, I start out somewhat fast, basically running the whole time and not doing my run/walk strategy at all. This allows me to finish the first lap in just a hair over 30 minutes, and the second lap in under 30.  All told, the first four laps pass by pretty quickly, and I have the first four laps done in two hours.  The fifth lap I take in 35 minutes, but even at 9:30, the heat was beginning to pick up and I start backing off the pace.  By lap six, I find I need to walk to keep my heart rate down, and I’m drinking a LOT of water.  Lap seven I start to feel exhausted, and the one hill I mentioned – which is steep and leads to a third-of-a-mile along an asphalt road – begins to wear on me, and I downgrade my goal from 12 laps to 11.  During lap eight, though, I notice something that will completely change those plans:  My stomach shuts down.

Now, although I didn’t have salt pills, this part I just don’t know I could have avoided absent some heat acclimation.  My salt intake was fine (although excess heed does apparently make me a bit nauseous), I was eating a gu or hammer shot every 45 minutes, and my water intake was about 30 oz/hour (normal for me, I’m a heavy sweater).  I walk the rest of lap eight, and decide to go out and see what happens.  Unfortunately, things don’t improve, and now not only has my stomach shut down, but I’m also getting really short of breath.  Warning signs.  I finish up lap nine and take ten minutes to see how my body does.

After ten minutes, I have no improvements, and I can’t imagine my stomach will settle any time soon, as nothing stays down and I doubt I’ll get that corrected until I get my body temperature down and regular circulation returns to my stomach.  So I make the decision to stop after 29.6 miles and 5:45.  Not a bad run, especially after I check the temp and find out (after I drop out, change and get ready to head out) that the heat index was up around 115 (!)

The three hour drive back to Chicago was… well, I’ll just say interesting, but definitely re-enforced that I made the right decision.  I make it home, start hydrating, order in a pizza, turn the air conditioner in my apartment down to a bone-chilling 70 degrees, and just veg while my leg muscles quiver and cramp.

Today, I’m back to normal, and am not even that sore – my calves are a bit tender and tight, but my legs overall are fine, and no DOMS is evident (DOMS = Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).  I even ran a couple of miles just to loosen everything up, and outside of the heat exhaustion, my body is in great condition today (no blisters/sunburn or any other nasties).

Now comes the decision – to run the Lean Horse Half Hundred in South Dakota in two weeks… I gotta see what the temperatures is gonna be like, because I can’t imagine doing a 50 miler in 90 degree plus heat (no way I can do enough heat acclimation between now and then)… so time will tell when the next ultra happens!

Grats to Rich and Paul – both of you gutted out more miles than I did!

Super grats to Rob Apple – not sure how I missed him out there, but he completed ultra #550 (not a typo) and has now logged more miles on the Howl courses than anyone else.

And many, many thanks to Joanne and all the other counters who kept track of all of us runners crazily running circles in the heat!  And kudos to the Kennekuk runners in general who put on a great event!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2009 7:51 pm

    Sorry to hear about the issues you had. You likely made the correct decision. Live to run another day than to gut it out even more than you already did in those conditions. Nice mileage no doubt, but get some rest and good thing it didn’t get worse. Congrats!

  2. Connie permalink
    August 16, 2009 2:42 am

    Good for you, Jason, for sticking it out as long as you could in that brutal heat and humidity. I was in the a/c watching a movie. 🙂

    Nice tribute to the fallen ultrarunners. Scott Hathaway was 30 seconds in front of me when he collapsed and later died at the 2007 Howl at the Moon. It was a very sad day for all. Despite incredible resuscitation efforts by several ultrarunners on the course, it was too late. I’ll never forget that day.

    You stated that none of the fallen ultrarunners were self-destructive. Can’t speak for the other three, but I believe you’re mistaken about Mark Heinemann. He was involved with a fringe group called “Divine Madness:”

    Some of us do self-destruct, unfortunately. 🙂

    Happy trails,

    Connie 🙂

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