About three weeks ago, I received an email invitation from Lisa Smith-Batchen to participate in the 2015 Desert RATS stage race. A 143 mile race across 6 days of climbing desert mountains, sand, and in scorching hot temperatures. The conditions are so brutal that the race director proudly claims a finish rate of 50% or less.
I didn't think I was ready for this year. I said I would love to try it when I was in shape enough to complete it. Lisa wrote me back and told me I was in shape enough and I could finish. So I trusted my coach wouldn't lie to me, and I took a deep breath and signed up. I was instantly petrified.
I didn't know how much good it would do with only two weeks to train, but I started overdressing on my long runs, running in the hottest part of the day (already was running in the hot parts of the day, just not with extra clothing to simulate 100+ degree temperatures.
Suddenly Squaw Peak 50 lost its focus and became a training run 1 were before DR. The week before I fretted, I read the racers manual 100 times. I was afraid of getting lost, I knew i couldn't afford to get lost because I wasn't fast enough to afford time losses, like some runners are.
It would be a true test of how much my body has really recovered from POTS to be exposed to the sun and heat for several hours every day. I was a little nervous to go talk to my Doctor about needing medical clarance for a race in the heat, and he did question my sanity but agreed to clear me after a discussion on how I know my body and don't ever push myself to the point of becoming a medical liability. I always stop if I really don't feel like my body is working properly.
I showed up at the pre-race meeting on Sunday June 14th, I gave my medical profile to the staff Doctor and he told me he has never seen anyone with POTS who was well controlled, but I confidential ly stated that I was and had been working on it for 5 years.
Sunday night my stomach was all in knots, I didn't sleep well, something was different in me with this race. I wanted to prove to myself that I could finish, a hot race, all of the worse possible factors working against a person with dysautonomia, all of the elements for failure were stacked against me, and I wanted to beat all of them in a way that I've never cared about before. I wanted to finish this race officially, and within all the time limits.
Day 1- after getting up at 3:30 am and getting totally ready to run because I was too nervous to sleep I was able to finally fall asleep from 4:30-6:30am. At 7:30
I arrived in front of the Gonzo Inn, in Moab where two fellow Dreamchasers Traci and Sada were also waiting. We loaded the vans, and headed out to Loma Utah to the start of the Kokopelli Trailhead. Fearing that any mistake would cost me the race, I was grateful to have loaded a map app with the route into my phone that proved to keep me from going off the course several times.
Day one started at 10 am with temperatures in the high 90's. The first day we completed just under 20 miles, and I came in 5th for women and 7th overall, out of 16 who started the race. That blew me away because since I've struggled with POTS its effected my speed, and I didn't realize how much I really have improved and how much my hard training this year has paid off. I finished stage one in 5:44- 1:46 ahead of the cuttoff time.
Day 2- we went about 35 miles and temperatures reached 100 degrees. This was a difficult day because the heat was unrelenting. I worked hard and with the help of some anti-nausea medicine was able to overcome the effects of heat and sub on my body long enough to reach mile 29 in just 8 hours. However,
At mile 29 I was overheated and sick and had to stop for over 45 minutes to recover, and then I had to take the last 6 miles very slowly finishing stage two in 11:09- 1:21 ahead of the cuttoff times.
Day 3- we had a by of a break, we ran a short 12 mile section, I started the first two miles walking slowly and then decided I needed to pick it up to finish faster to get out of the sun. It was a hilly trail section, and I finished in 3:17- 1:43 ahead of the cuttoff
Day 4- became the true testing ground for me, we had nearly 43 miles to complete over very hot, and steep mountain climbs into some of the toughest technical trail sections of the course. It was over 30 miles of climbing and only about 13 decent. The first 12 miles were tough but I felt OK, and then it started to get hot, I believe it probably hit close to 110 degrees on some of the sections. After mile 18, there was a long 2000 foot accent section, with no water drops or aid. I ran out of water about 8 miles into that section and it was still over 100 degrees out, it was a very slow and painful 4 miles until I was able to get to the next aid station around 7:30pm, in order to remain official I needed to complete the stage by midnight. With 4:30 hours left, after rehydrating and being able to eat again my energy came back and I pushed out a strong 12.5 mile section to finish stage three in 16:45- just 15 minutes ahead of the cuttoff times
Stage 4 was so difficult on my body that I had severe muscle cramps from dehydration and heat sickness all night, and developed a bacterial infection on my face.
Day 5- The next day was a recovery day which I spent rehydrating, correcting my eletrolyte depletion, and wading my legs and feet in the cold water. I also was started by the camp doctor on a course of antibiotics to fight the infection. I could barely walk, yet still had one marathon to run the next day to compete the race. The medical team fixed up my feet, and for the first night of the whole event I was able to sleep well.
Day 6- I woke up feeling much better and we started the race in waves. I started at 7:30 am, and climbed the first 6.5 miles of the course (over 1500 feet of gain) in under two hours. From there I started the downhill decent and my sore feet started to calm down. I went from hobbling a 15-6 minute mile to being able to tolerate a 12-13 minute mile consistently down until I got to the technical trail out-and-back from miles 15-19.5 to Porcinine Rim. This section was long, hot and difficult, and slow. But after completing the trail section instarted the last 6.5 mile downhill section on road and was able to keep about a 12.5 minute mile pace and the last two miles a 8-10
Minute mile pace to finish the stage in 7:29- 1:01 ahead of the cuttoff time.
As I crossed the finish line the emotion of what I had just done overcame me. There were times on stage 4 that I was sure I would not be able to get the cuttoff, and then something deep inside would rebel and I would find it somewhere to push faster and stronger, and committed to be at the finish by midnight no matter what.
Only 6 of the 16 who started were able to finish as official finishers, placing me as the 4th place female. However, the unofficial finishers were just as impressive, some of them being eliminated early on, went on to give it all they had and covered the same distance without the motivation of official completion. That was truely impressive to watch.
Today I am recovering and humbled at the strength I have regained through a lot of medical and physical support, and spiritual guidance and healing. I'm very humbled by what I was able to do this week. Inhale to thank my coach, family, friends, and many wonderful care providers who have helped me along the way, and God for making healing possible.
Looking forward to a week off from running this week.