Three is my lucky number. My favorite number. This year was my 3rd running the World’s End 100K Ultramarathon. I felt confident in my training and how I felt going into the race, and with it being one of my favorite races (despite it’s difficult course), I was ready to set a personal course PR. As it turns out 3 was not lucky.
Weather forecasts leading up to the race showed it was supposed to be hot (mid-high 80’s), and of course this was the one time the weather forecasters would be right!
Pre-race went well though the 5:00AM start time came up quickly, but I still had all my gear ready and most of all I (mentally speaking) was ready. The early start is almost magical-so many people setting out to challenge themselves with all they have. There are headlights galore. I’m biased as a trail runner but a string of headlamps shining in a row in the darkness in the woods is a magical and beautiful sight.
It was already warm and muggy at the start. I started sweating early. The first few miles are filled with inclines and declines, with one section feeling more like low level rock climbing than trail running. Overall these early miles went fine. After passing the first aid station my GI system seemed to not feel the best. Things calmed down after taking care of things at aid station 2 and the long descent to the creek and ensuing section along the creek were enjoyable, one of my favorite sections really. It went by too fast and soon it was uphill into the woods again. I gained some confidence on this section as I passed just a few others-always a plus passing people on hills. Upon summiting the top it was a nice descent back toward the park, though just technical enough to be tricky. I stopped one time to check on another runner as the guy just in front of me literally did a face plant into the ground. How he was hurt more than just being dirty and shaken is beyond me.
I came up aid station 4 back at the park in ~4.5 hrs, and it’s always a good feeling rolling in there as there’s many people and volunteers to cheer you on before you head back out and immediately head up a steep hill. Though only 2.9 miles to the next aid station at the beautiful Canyon Vista, there are several hills involved and not an easy stretch. It went by fairly fast though I must admit and I felt good about reaching Canyon Vista. I ate and got my water refilled and set out again.
The stretch to the next aid station 6 isn’t overly difficult but it seemed to take a long time. I know we had to cross World’s End Road since I saw the flagging driving to the park but it felt like a lifetime to reach the road. Pretty flat to the aid station though. It is also probably my favorite! The Pagoda Pacers that man this aid station are out there yelling in the woods and you can hear them long before you ever reach the aid station. It’s a pick me up for sure! And where do I start about the food? Freeze Pops! On a hot day like it was, YES PLEASE! And they had bacon! I love bacon during a long race!
I left this aid station feel good. It was the last one I could legitimately say that. I made sure to have hydration filled because from here it’s the longest stretch to the next aid station-just over 8 miles. I also don’t really care for that stretch of the course either. It has a few nice spots but all in all it’s just nothing overly exciting.
I didn’t get to aid station 7 (High Knob) as quick as I wanted to and that angered me a bit. It was the first I started to realize things were getting tough. And to me, the race doesn’t truly begin until you get to this point because from here the course has some major ups and downs. It was after 2PM so it was really heating up by now and nothing really appealed to me to eat at this aid station other than the grilled cheese sandwiches they had. I forced myself to eat some and again drink. I was doing much better with hydration on race day.
I set out and just kept what pace I could but I could tell things were tougher and I was slowing. Luckily at the bottom of the huge descent there was water running in the creek (a huge disappointment last year when it was wasn’t) and I stopped briefly to cool off in it. I just put my head down and kept a nice slow but steady pace up the ensuing hill that is almost a mile long and probably the most challenging on the course. After some more ups and downs I slowly approached aid station 8.
It was here where I didn’t feel great. I was OK at the last aid station but this one not so much. Nothing appealed to me to eat which wasn’t good. The only thing I wanted to drink was water. That’s important but you can’t solely rely on that. The course electrolyte drink (Endura—I think?) wasn’t appealing to me earlier so I stopped drinking that. That was most likely a mistake. At the least, I should have been taking in some and then wash it down with water to get the aftertaste away. Why I didn’t mix my other pack of Propel mix I had with me I don’t know either because I do like that and it did appeal to me earlier.
I felt rather deflated at this point 42 miles into the race but I was OK on time and would have to continue to finish obviously. My legs weren’t feeling to tired yet so that was a plus at least. From here on out though things just went downhill- and not the kind that you like via descent in elevation of the trail. The next aid station was a water only station ~4 miles away. It took forever to reach it it felt like and later than the lone hour I figured it would take. Instead it was 1.25 hours. This further deflated me. There was more hiking involved. The sun was slowing (starting) to sink in the sky (or so it felt for at only 6PM.)
The next true aid station (10, Brunnerdale) was about another 4 miles away. Leaving the water station I was soon passed by 2 other runners with one having a pacer. They all offered words of encouragement and 2 asking how I was. Their replies were just keep pushing on and do your best, still plenty of time. This did pick me up and I tried keeping up with the trailing runner and his pacer but had trouble hanging with them, slowly watching them pull away from me. I felt the only way I could continue was hanging with someone.
With 2 more good climbs left before Brunnerdale, it was here where I feel like I’d reached a new low. Each of those seemed slow. While I expected the physical breakdown, I didn’t expect the mental and emotional breakdown I was experiencing. There was a lot more of me that just felt finished and didn’t want to be out there any longer. This is unusual for me and didn’t quite know how to deal with it. Again the physical aspect of how I felt crept in. The steps up the climbs seemed laborious. I knew there were several more climbs between aid stations 10 and 12 and the way my legs felt I was sure how I make it that far, yet alone to the end. I hadn’t been eating much and I think my energy was low regarding my muscle performance. I remembered I hadn’t drank in awhile so I drank some water. Several steps down the trail I started to feel sick and vomit bring up basically just some liquid and not much else. My stomach wasn’t my friend.
I kinda took this as the final sign as maybe it just wasn’t meant to be today. I hiked with less purpose the final mile or so to Brunnerdale. As I got close there were many people there and they started cheering. It felt so ironic hearing those cheers knowing that in less than a minute I’d tell the race officials that my day is done.
And that is what I did. It was a conscious decision as I was ahead of the cutoff. Things get funny here because I lost track of time. I had also thought leading up to this aid station that it was an hour later than it was. I couldn’t do the math in my head of X number of hours past 5AM and I calculated wrong. Why I didn’t play with my watch to see what time in actual watch mode (duh!) I have no idea. So instead of arriving a half hour later than I ever have a that aid station I was a half hour AHEAD of that time.
Overall, I don’t know if that would have been enough though. The simple strain it felt going up that last hill seemed so overwhelming. I still had just shy of 14 miles to get to the finish and that felt like it would have been another 50 on top of what I just did really.
So my 2021 World’s End 100K ultramarathon ended with a DNF at mile 50. It hurt handing over that bib to race officials but it was just what needed done. I didn’t have much of anything left in tank whether it be physically, mentally, or emotionally.
This was my first DNF. I guess to clarify a bit, I’ve done some 12hr race where I didn’t run out the clock, so perhaps to purists or how you view that, maybe some will call those DNF’s too despite timed events being scored differently. But for any non-timed event style of race this was my first DNF.
I knew this was in all likelihood inevitable, but there’s still a part of me disappointed. I’m just the type that doesn’t like not finishing something they started. That is part of the experience and excitement of ultrarunning though, seeing just how good you are on any given day, and most of all learning from each race regardless of how it went.