Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mental Disintegration at the Karl's Kanoe 60k

My ultrarunning has always been based on having the mental chops to hold it together and push through when the going gets tough. It's something I've always been able to rely on, and compensates for the fact that I'm really not a very good runner. So when I came up short at the "Karl's Kanoe" 60k last night it made me question everything.

The course was six 10k loops of Inks Lake state park. The terrain was very technical, but we were blessed with cooler weather than of late. The first few loops were fine, but somewhere on the third loop I had a moment of complete clarity. I thought "my wife, my little boy and my beautiful new baby are at home asleep, so what the f#%k am I doing here?" This was followed with absolute certainty by "I don't want to run anymore". And I didn't. I pulled up and flat out quit.

It's not something I'm proud of, and the only redeeming factor was that I was still stubborn enough that I wouldn't accept a DNF. So I walked. I walked the remaining 20 miles in a death march (my legs were fine - I just had no motivation). From time to time I considered running, but each time the same thought overrode that urge - "I don't want to run anymore". I was passed by folks I am usually hours ahead of and found I really didn't care.

20 miles of walking through the night is a long time to think. I looked at myself in the mirror and wondered if I liked what I saw. I knew I did not - I have never ever thrown the towel in before, at anything. This was a new experience and I didn't know how to handle it. We all have an image we project to the world, and reconciling that with this unexpected reality was hard. I was ashamed of myself, angry at what I was doing, and frustrated that I couldn't do anything about it. I wondered what Gavin and Dylan would think if they knew their dad quit. It wasn't a nice thought.

I wondered if I still wanted to run ultras, or even run trail any more - it hasn't been fun for some time (though I'm really enjoying my road running of late). I wondered what made me think I could run three 60ks in the hottest August on record on about 3-4 hours sleep a night. I wondered what made me think I could run Cactus Rose, or if I even wanted to anymore. That's still an unanswered question.

Yes, this is a pretty pathetic pity party. The only thing I can say in mitigation is that I'm really tired, and I'm sure everything will seem different after a good night's sleep. But I've always made it a point to be brutally honest in this blog, about both the good and the bad. And that's just how I feel right now - warts and all.

I apologize to anyone who was on the wrong end of my bad mood last night. Naresh was really kind and tried to pull me out of my funk every time I saw him, but it just wasn't happening.

On the plus side, at least I finished. And I did get a nice buckle for completing all 3 races in the Darkside series.

And finally, I'd hate for anyone to be put off these races just based on my experience (which is more to do with me than anything else). Brad is a super nice, genuine guy and he, Joe and everyone else put on really great races. And it's all for a good cause - I was glad to turn out and help support the charity.


John said...

Marky, you are my brother and an absolute superstar. The fact that you are even contemplating running such distances, period, let alone, in very hot weather, let alone one after another is remarkable. This is coupled with the fact that you could quite easily have walked off and quit, you did not, you finished. It is easy to finish a race when you are feeling on top of the world, running well and loving every minute of it, the true test of greatness comes when you want to quit like nothing else in the world, when all you can think of are the loved ones back home, and want nothing more to lie down and cry. You showed more guts and determination in walking the distance to the end when you felt like crap far more than any 100 miler you have done, far more than getting PBs in a marathon, you showed that when the going gets really tough and you've got nothing left in the tank, you've got the inner resolve to push past the pain, the mental torment and the agony of wanting to quit and achieve your goal. Proud of you Amigo, nice one bro.

Ryan V. said...

I'm not going to try to cheer you up. I've been there. I felt the same way after Rocky Raccoon. I was pissed. I had never DNF'd before, and I was mad as hell about it. I asked myself why I spent all of the motnhs training for a run that I wasn't enjoying and that I ultimately quit 23 miles from the finish.

And a few weeks passed, and I signed up for Heartland.

Emotions come and go in waves. My anger and disappointment eventually gave way to focus and determination.

Will it happen for you? Who know? Everyone is different.

On a selfish level, I hope you continue to run. I enjoy our annual "reunions" at various Texas ultras.

Vaya con Dios, amigo.

Larry said...

All the things you described from Saturday night occur more often than a lot of people will admit. Not to say we all have to be the same and think it is necessarily "ok", but you are not alone. When I DNF'd last year at Headlands, I was not having any fun. I wasn't suffering either, but there were other places at mile 59 that I would have rather been than running around in the Marin Headlands all night. And, I don't regret stopping. It is just running. Do I ever think about going back out there and finishing the race? Absolutely! But, for now, it will have to wait.

This has been a demanding Summer of heat in Texas. I know it has worn me down. Finding motivation has been challenging and one of the reasons I didn't run with a watch this past weekend was to try and do something a little different and give my mind a break from the numbers. It seemed to work. Overall, I consider myself not that strong mentally when it comes to running. I hate hurting during a run. I think it says a lot about your mental toughness that you continued when most others would have quit. That's very admirable and something I wish I was better at doing. Go easy on yourself. You deserve it.

clea said...

You did not throw in the towel!!! Not every run is a good run, that is just how it is. Sometimes you just feel flat. But on the other hand, this is supposed to be fun, and if an upcoming race doesn't sound fun, don't do it just to prove a point. I think you just had one of those flat runs, you'll perk back up. Personally, I think mega long runs that are a series of loops at night sounds like pure mental hell. You finished and sometimes you just have to take the finish and be happy with it.

steve said...


Been a while since I left comment, but I have been reading, and have been enjoying your posts.

Quitter you are not. Tough, determined, stubborn Welsh guy you are.

Don't make any rash decisions. Take it easy for a while and see where your heart takes.

Keep it fun, but keep it real.


DavidH said...

Hey Mark - First, congrats on finishing this race (seriously).

Your type of experience is never any fun and can take one to some pretty dark places. I have been there while 10 miles into the marathon during a Ironman triathlon. No fun.

Here is where I am impressed with you. You were "done" with 20 miles yet to go. You took the choice to finish what you started. Maybe not in the manner you had originally planned but finish none the less.

Walking 20 miles on a challenging trail during the middle of the night after already covering ~16 or so miles. That is huge! Impressive.

I hope you enjoy some recovery time and have an opportunity to reflect on the experience.