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"We are not strengthened by winning easy battles, but by losing hard ones."  (unknown)

When I finished the New River Trail 50K on Saturday, I felt like I'd done battle and lost because I missed the cut-off at the finish. I wasn't feeling very strong psychologically, that's for sure. I'm still in a funk on several levels about the race -- and what it all means -- three days later. I hope to gain some strength from it eventually.

Peaceful view of the New River along the trail, afternoon of 9-17-08

The whole world seems to be in crisis mode right now. There's the financial crisis that is affecting the entire globe. Huge banks and businesses are failing as a result of the mortgage debacle and other Pollyanna lending practices. Credit is virtually frozen for businesses and individuals. People are losing their homes and their jobs. Those who still own a home have seen its value drop significantly. Prices on goods and services are soaring and consumers are reluctant to purchase anything but necessities, so many businesses are going belly-up The various stock market indices are bouncing wildly up and down like a ping pong ball. Retirement accounts and other investments have lost huge sums of money.  I'm not even going to get into the contentious presidential race Is there any other kind?).

It's a vicious circle and no one knows if we've "hit bottom" yet or how long this recession or depression will last. And with all the doom and gloom, I'm sitting here worried about my performance in a race????

Yes. I am . . .

. . . because the main thing that keeps me sane in this wacky, unpredictable world is my running. And that seems to have gone to pot, too.


This section gets a bit technical regarding fluids and electrolytes. If you've had problems with cramping or swelling during a long run or race, it may give some insight into what went wrong. If you aren't interested in the subject, enjoy the pictures as you scroll down to another topic! Photos in this entry are from our training run on the New River Trail on September 17.

Deer in the Mist   (New River Trail, morning of 9-17-08)

I'm not sure what I could have done in the race OR in training to accomplish my simple goal of just finishing under seven hours, the time limit required for an official finish and the nice technical shirt given only to the finishers -- but I've got to figure out exactly what's causing my leg cramps so I can prevent them (not just fix them after they start) before my next races, and especially before ATY. Even after the calf and hamstring cramping began, I held a fast enough pace through miles 16 to 26 to finish the race in time. It was only after the adductors (inner thigh muscles) started cramping in my right leg at 26+ miles that I was reduced to walking and overshot the time limit by nine minutes.

The good news is that my stomach and feet were fine the entire race -- no nausea, no blisters, no swelling of my extremities from the heat and extra exertion. Sometimes I have problems with one or more of those things, too. And I had sufficient energy, motivation, and enthusiasm to run those last five miles; it was incredibly frustrating to not be able to resolve the adductor cramping problem and resume running at any point during the last hour and a half.

Sculpture along the New River Trail across from Cliffview Campground

The most common, logical reasons for muscle cramping are lack of electrolytes and/or fluids during warm or hot weather.

  • I should be acclimated; I've been running in weather in the 80s and 90s all summer and fall and it didn't get that anywhere near that hot during the race. 
  • I took a total of 25 Endurolyte capsules during the race, which should have been enough sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes for a cool, foggy morning and sunny, less humid afternoon (temps ranged from the mid-40s to lower 70s). I consumed additional sodium and potassium in my Perpetuem energy drink. That's not as much as it sounds: Endurolytes have only 40 mg of sodium and 25 mg of potassium per capsule, compared to 341 mg of sodium and 21 mg of potassium in Succeed!Caps -- which is why you have to take a bunch more of the Endurolytes.than S!CAPS to get the same amount of sodium.
  • It's pretty obvious in hindsight that I didn't take in adequate fluids because I didn't urinate for over seven hours. Previously I've gone as long as twelve hours during the day without peeing in warm to hot races, which is NOT good (once it cools off at night, though, I pee frequently). At NRT, I drained at least a 20-oz. bottle of water every hour, although I had to ration it two times on the longest section between Fries Junction and Chestnut Yard. I made a mistake by not drinking additional water at each aid station because I was in such a doggone hurry. I was definitely dehydrated and didn't fully understand to what magnitude during the race -- until it was too late to reverse the damage.

Cliffview Campground on 9-17-08

I think I consumed enough calories. I drank most of two bottles of concentrated Perpetuem mixed in water, a total of 12 scoops, enough for six to eight 20-oz. bottles when mixed at regular strength. I also had about ten ounces of Hammergel. The Perp and gel totaled over 2,000 calories of easily digestible carbs, proteins, and fats  I ate no solid foods during the race.


I've got my work cut out for me here. Getting my fluid-electrolyte balance right has been a work in progress for many years because of all the variables.

  • I need to think back to what precipitates the cramping and see if there are any patterns.
  • I probably need to drink more fluids during races and worry less about hyponatremia because my history indicates dehydration is a major factor.
  • I need to experiment with Succeed!Caps again. They have a lot more sodium than Endurolyte capsules do. I quit taking S!Caps several years ago because I seemed to be retaining too much fluid during races (hand, leg, and foot swelling). Swelling can be caused by either too much or too little sodium in proportion to fluids. I was never sure which problem it was, but assumed it was getting too much sodium in the S!Caps. It's easier for me to control the edema with the smaller doses of sodium in Endurolytes, but maybe I'm not getting enough now. It's complicated.
  • I need to do more research re: the role of potassium, another necessary electrolyte. Last year at ATY I was given two separate high-dose potassium pills when I cramped up and they (plus more fluids and sodium) worked fast-but-only-temporary miracles during the race. Should I be taking potassium supplements, or am I getting enough in my diet? Should I take potassium separately during races? I'll ask the RN or MD who gave the pills to me . . .


The New River Trail 50K sounds easy because it's flat and smooth, but even Jim says he probably couldn't have run it in seven hours. Neither of us is used to running that pace so long without more walking breaks. We both prefer a hillier course that offers more relief to the leg muscles. This should be good training for me for ATY, though -- it's even flatter than the NRT.

A portion of Chestnut Creek along the New River Trail

Jim also gives me credit for not hopping into the sweep van when I was hurting, but sticking it out to the end. I think he was just trying to make me feel better! I don't think he would have given up under the circumstances either. I was so focused on finishing NRT that I think I would have crawled to the end before quitting.

I don't consider this race a failure even though I didn't make my time goal. I came close and I gave it everything I had. I think that's why it's so frustrating  -- missing that shirt by so few minutes after trying so hard. At least I was listed as a finisher and I never, ever considered dropping out even when I knew it was inevitable that I couldn't finish in time. I'm still a fighter, slow but stubborn.

"The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur."  - Vince Lombardi 

Still . . . this experience does make me hesitant to enter any future ultra with a time limit that is strict for someone as slow as I've become -- another 7-hour 50K or even 7 hours on a hillier course, or a 12-hour 50-miler. I'm just not fast enough any more. I'm 'way, 'way past a 4:50 50K and 8:20 50-miler now -- those were the good old days! Sure, I can say I'll do enough speed work to GET faster again. But I did that all summer and it wasn't enough; I was always on the edge of an overuse injury, even with tempo runs at only 80% of max HR (i.e., not as hard or fast as speed repeats).

I like pushing my limits and I'm sure I will again (like trying to run/walk 90 miles in 24 hours at ATY), but I think you can understand why I'm a little hesitant to throw any more money toward races with tight time limits. I can't afford it any more emotionally than financially. It's not "cost effective" in either regard.

Maybe I should just settle for mediocrity, like this Agnes cartoon in Sunday's paper:

Naw, I don't think I'm that discouraged yet! 

This quote from our ultra running buddy, Dan Baglione, who in his 70s, says it well:

"The will to do does not always overcome my physical limitations,
but the soul to dare lives on."


The day after the race (Sunday) I took it easy, just doing some gardening and walking through our woods with Cody. I wasn't real tired but my legs were sore from the cramping and over-use of the same muscles on the flat course, so I didn't push it. I did some self-massage and took Ibuprofen, which I take regularly for my arthritis. In retrospect I should have done even more to relieve the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Ice and more elevation probably would have helped.

Yesterday (Monday) I was about halfway into my routine two-mile, moderately-paced walk with Cody in our hilly neighborhood when I got a sudden pain deep in my groin on the leg where the adductors cramped so badly during the race on Saturday. This was something new in my 29 years of running and it hurt so badly, especially downhill, that I could barely make it back to the house. Poking and massaging to find a pressure point didn't work; it was so deep I couldn't reach it. Ice did no good either. Ibuprofen eventually helped. I sat as much as I could the rest of the afternoon and evening so I wouldn't strain it any further.

Triple C Farm along the New River Trail north of Cliffview

It still hurts today., although it's better. I was so worried about it, wondering when I resume training for my races, that I didn't sleep very well last night. But I had cabin fever and wanted to do some exercise today. Thankfully, I discovered that cycling didn't hurt my leg at all. I had a great ride on my road bike on the River Greenway in Roanoke and relieved some of my stress. Tomorrow I'll ride Jim's trail bike while he runs.

If it isn't one thing, it's another. I overused my leg muscles, tendons, and ligaments so much on Saturday that simply walking rolling hills was too much of a strain two days post-race. In retrospect, walking those last five miles in the race wasn't the greatest idea. I knew I was risking injury if I ran, but since it didn't hurt anything but my ego to walk, I didn't realize I might still be risking further damage. <sigh>

Amazing how fragile I've become! As I get older, it's so much easier to get injured and takes so much longer to heal. I'll just have to take it easy until the injury heals. Looks like this will be a week to cycle instead of run and walk.

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater (in spirit)

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2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil