13 October 2010

Humbling Experience

I thought really hard whether to write this up or just leave the incident in the dust bin of memory. Then I realized I had no reason to tell the story other than to share. So here it is.

A week before the PAU 50K race at Pinatubo, I managed to run Miyamit twice in 8.5 hours which started around 4AM and ended up after lunch. It was Tuesday, a local holiday here. So what a better way to spend some free time than to run - alone. The Tuesday run was good because I managed to complete the first climb in sub 4 hours. Heat training as well. This was followed by another Miyamit run later that week with Noel (#6 at Pinatubo race) and Precy (also a Pinatubo finisher). The week of the Pinatubo race was spent resting - tapering for it. I did not hide the fact that I would race Pinatubo which would do well for my training in time for the ultra race in November. (Race [Pinatubo] like this is perfect because it is not too long and it offers the perfect venue to practice both speed and endurance. Also, no need for longer recovery period.)

Obviously, the confidence came from hours of trail running for the past few months (feet and legs are now attuned to the idiosyncracies of trail running) and having run Pinatubo twice - the last one (Pinatubo Express) under 7:30ish and that was not even a race. To my mind, the combination of these primary factors were enough to produce a good finishing time if not a podium finish.

Then came Friday. A client invited me for lunch at a hotel restaurant here. We opted for al carte instead of the usual buffet. He went for fish fillet (red snapper) with veggies while I have tried his order before, I decided to try another menu - king prawns with scallops in creamy rice pilaf. Mine tasted good. This was how all my troubles started.

Woke up at 2AM the morning of Pinatubo race which was followed by several visits to the john. It is a good idea to unload one's waste before a race but my unloading that morning was characterized by an unusual tummy ache which I never experienced before. So just to be sure, our convoy made a quick visit to the pharmacy for loperamide before heading out to the start line. In a little over 1 hour before the race, the effect would be noticeable. I hoped. Some runners knew my tummy predicament and the common offer of solution was loperamide. It worked for them so I was sure it would work for me this time.

At exactly 5AM, off we went. There were like 8 of us in the lead pack and barely 3K into the race, I had done what was unimaginable - I excused myself, darted off the course and had to unload. The pain and urge were unbearable. My body was obviously purging out itself of the toxin which was good basically but not at the most inopportune time. There was still hope of catching up to the lead pack. I went back to the course and resumed the pace but not for long. The first 7 kilometers were marred by several bouts of quick visits to the bushes. At the first aid station at 7KM, I vomitted big time. All those energy gels, liquid and electolyte capsules which  I religiously took in came out. My body was not absorbing anything but rather dangerously dumping both liquid and fuel from my body at an alarming rate. I knew I was in touble and it did not take a medicine diploma to figure that out. Food poisoning perhaps? With the kind of weather and terrain of the race, the regular and proper amount and intake of liquid and fuel are vitally important. Even so I hanged on and hoped that the toxin would eventually leave my body and my miserable condition would improve. After leaving the first aid station and approaching KM14 aid station, my condition was deteriorating rapidly, I could not even run or walk my favorite section of Pinatubo (the trail part before KM14). Walking was mixed with minutes of resting as in no movement at all. To get over a mound was such a feat. For the first time, there was no strength in my legs and even my body. All there was was utter weakness. I have run and finished an ultra race where my right knee was pretty banged up (TNF100 2009) and managed to finish a marathon with injured lower leg. I prayed so hard for even half of my strength to come back but it was not forthcoming. I did not know why then and still do not know now. 

At the last aid station (around 17KM), I sat on one of the rocks for several minutes and pondered really hard. I and Philip finally decided to stop and it was not easy. Philip had a fever. During our journey where we traded position as the slowest runner, he managed to exhibit mental strength as well. I am not sure if the saying "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" is even apt at this point. With the looming cut-off time of 4:30 and the uphill terrain ahead of us, there was no way we could make it at the crater on time. It took us 3 hours to cover a mere 17kms! (Philip, if you are reading this I hope you are okay now). Even after being transported to KM14 and presumably had some rest, I was still puking and lost several pounds of body weight in the process. Mostly liquid.   

So, the plan to race was quickly replaced by the plan to finish. For the first time, I knew how it felt to be in the back pack. I experienced what it was like to be the slowest runner who had no one to talk to simply because everyone was out in front. It was a humbling experience. No words now could describe it. It was just the surreal feeling of being ALONE and LAST and FRAIL. This made me respect more the runners who honestly struggle it out in the back during ultras. Perhaps they have more mental fortitude than those in the lead or even mid pack. The decision to stop was far harder than it was. It did not come easy for someone like me who has successfully completed all major ultra races (not relay) here and 1 abroad which were far longer and harder. Somehow, thinking of the big race in November made my decision easier. That is THE priority race. 

I neither felt shame, loathing, envy nor regret of what happened even as I sat there helplessly at KM17 aid station and watched all the top ten runners flew by us while waiting for our free ride. Congratulations to them and as I frequently say - you race against those who show up and not those who do not. Or in this case, those who quit in midstream. (Thank you to the couple who allowed us to ride in their rented 4x4 vehicle back to the start line). Perhaps, if there is one regret and that is missing a 50K long training run. As for the record of no DNF, well records are made to be broken. It is true then after all - running is an experiment of one and is a lot like life itself.

Should have I done things differently like not deciding to start at all or just walk the entire course? Under the prevailing circumstances then, the answer is NO.


Jon (who is now figuratively both a fast and slow runner)


It is time to post the guidelines for FAT ASS 24, 12 and 6 hour runs in the next succeeding posts. (Don and I are thinking of the inclusion of 36 hours as a new category. We'll confirm this). It will be on 8-9 January 2011 at 8AM, Clark Parade Ground.

Folks, mark my words - FAT ASS will play a very important role in the big CHALLENGING ultra races in 2011 -  BDM102, BDM151 and the 200K plus race in June. You want to up your chances of finishing some or all these races, then join FAT ASS  and enjoy the course with ultrarunners whether newbie, or  veterans. As usual, it will be FREE!

Double cheers,

Jon (excited)  


  1. Hi Jon
    Nice post, love the honesty, and that you didn't make any excuses - very easy to do in your circumstances. I wrote about this in my most recent blog posting (http://ultra-marathon-running.blogspot.com/).

    I guess the one big lesson from your experience is nothing new in the week before a race. Had you not eaten the scallops you may not have had the problem - but at the same time you wouldn't have learnt the lesson (better here than in your big race in November). I'm always terrified that I'll trip and injury myself in that week before a race as I did in the week before a 100km earlier this year. Fortunately it wasn't too bad, but there is nothing worse than training hard to not even toe the start line.

    Best of luck for November

  2. Dehydration kills! (through vomiting and your trips to the bushes). Especially at mountains with no hospitals within easy reach. Wise move.

  3. Revenge of the Prawns and Scallops! Sounds like food poisoning Jon. A good friend had a bout with that recently at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100. He had stuff coming out at both ends like you. Had to drop at mile 50 but I think his troubles started much further into the race which is why he was able to make it to the 50 mile mark. Three weeks later he raced the Headlands Hundred and won. Sometimes you have to retreat to continue. Your position was a tough one anyway. Stomach issues rob you of the ability to replenish your calories and liquids and the pain and discomfort make your legs weak like a soccer ball in the gut. Way to make the right decision and maybe abstain from seafood the day before your big races.

  4. did not know how serious your predicament when you asked me if one loperamide was enough to check it. however, there was no point if i suggested you to take another one before the start of the race. the food had already affected your body systems. anyway, bounce back, my friend! you still have enough time to bring back your strength before the BIG ONE! for sure, i'll be there on the next edition of FAT ASS!

  5. excited jon,

    you made the right decision. better dnf than dead.
    i will see you my ultra friends for the fat ass.


    jonel(ultra excited)

    p.s. it's true after all pala, shit happens.

  6. He who runs to get away lives to fight another day! - Bob Marley!

  7. atty jon, i never thought you had that painful problem. When i greeted and say goodluck to you that morning before the race, you smiled at me and you look ok, i just knew that you had a problem when we reached at the crater. (im not a runner, just a support only ;) ).
    I still want to Congratulate you Sir for standing in the Starting Line even you are not feeling well.