Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Giving it all

The recent news out of Southern California about Ben Hian's return to ultrarunning was, for me, truly inspiring. Ben is one of the sport's great guys who, in the '90's, dominated Southern California ultrarunning like no other. However, after a brutal DNF in the Vermont 100 miler in 1997 Ben slipped quietly away from the sport. Earlier this month he returned to run the San Diego 100 and won, edging out Tom Nielsen, his good friend and training partner, by less than 10 minutes. After the race, unfortunately, Ben was hspitalized with Acute Renal Failure and only released after 10 days.

This amazing comeback story with a near tragic end brought me back to my experience at the 2004 Angeles Crest 100. In that race I battled back and forth all day with Jorge Pacheco and Guillermo Medina only to come up short in the end. During the last 12 miles of that race I pushed myself harder than I ever had pushed myself before and, in the end, it was not enough. I finished 3rd in 19:53 and upon finishing slumped on the grass in pain.

At that moment I knew things were not quite right and I checked into the medical tent. I fainted a couple times and by the morning I ached all over, couldn't walk and my urine was dark brown. I knew then that I was experiencing the symptoms of Acute Renal Failure and I went off to the hospital. 7 days and 36 liters of IV fluid later they let me out. I would never be the same again.

I recall this experience in conjunction with Ben's comeback story because to me, in a strange way, these experiences epitomize the joy and sorrow of 100 mile racing. I am sure both Ben and I could have slowed down during the last 20 miles of our races to minimize the muscle damage and avoid hospital stays. But slowing down in the last 20 miles of a 100 mile race is not an option for us. We have not loved the sport for all these years by slowing down at the end. We love this sport because we stay in it until the end and push ourselves to, and sometimes past, the limits of our training and ability. That's what I did in 2004 and I vowed, at the time, to never do it again. Obviously, the problem was, I wasn't training hard enough!

On Saturday morning I will head out onto the Western States Trail to begin my journey to Auburn. I will do so trusting that my training and my focus will lead me to a finish with which I can be happy. I will also do so knowing that the last 20 miles are going to hurt and it will take all the physical, mental, and emotional strength I have to battle through and finish strong. I am hopeful that this will not result in another trip to the Emergency Room but you can rest assured, in the back of my mind, the memory of my 2004 race at Angeles Crest will be there as will the thought of Ben Hian's amazing comeback. By the time I circle the track at Placer High School I want to know, with certainty, that I have given everything in my body and soul to the trail. Then, I will be truly satisfied. See you in Squaw!


Paul DeWitt said...

We should be careful about glorifying these cases of pushing hard enough to end up in the hospital. Yes, in most cases everything turns out ok but let's not forget the affect our distress can cause others; namely our crews, family, and friends. In general, if you end up passing out at the finish line, or shortly before as happened at WS a few years ago, you really, really screwed up.

I say this as somebody who collapsed at the finish line after winning my first LT100 and was rushed to the hospital where I spent the next 12 hours getting 6 litres of IV fluid. Some people thought it was great that I pushed so hard and timed the collapse just right (!) but I vowed to never let that happen again and cringe whenever I see or hear about something similar.
- pauld

AJW said...


Point taken. Just to clarify, it was not my intention to glorify acute renal failure in my post. Rather, I was reflecting back on a past experience from which I've learned and which I use for motivation in training and racing.


rdljon said...


Good luck Saturday. Your call for hot weather could be answered. It won't be hot But it won't be cool either. I know you will do great. Have fun most importantly and kick some ..... I wish I was there to toe the line with you. Someday.

Anonymous said...

Just win it!

Craig Thornley said...

Remember the Haggin Cup.

Anonymous said...

2 questions:

1) do you think a week in the hospital with 36 litres of IV was worth it? If you were in the same position again, woould you still push it that hard again?

2) What is the best way follow WS this weekend? Is there going to be 'live' feed on the WS site? Or are there other options?

Kick it this weekend!

Anonymous said...

An old bit of trail wisdom:

The race isn't over until you have recovered.