I was so ready for the San Juan Solstice 50 miler. I knew the course. I knew that I would have to climb almost 13,000 feet, and I knew that I would top out at over 13,000 feet altitude. Twice. The weather was perfect and the stream crossings were going to be minimal. I really thought I was going to kill the course.
There were two places where crew could assist me. Mary Ann, my lovely spouse, and Kathy Kirsling, a great friend, would meet me at both of them. I prepared bags of food for Mary Ann to bring to me at each stop. These bags included a variety of foods: gels, bars, home made bars, cans of coconut water, cans of Coke, peanut butter crackers, bags of Tail Wind, bags of Perpetuem. You name it, I packed it.
I reached the first aid station at 7.5 miles about 20 minutes ahead of the cut off. I was feeling good except my feet were numb and my hands were not working. I should have worn gloves. The aid station workers had to put the food in my pack for me. I seriously could not make my wonderful opposable thumbs work.
The next aid station was a major one. I was about 15 minutes ahead of the cut off. I am not used to being that close to the cut off and I was rather freaked out. I thought I was doing much better than that.
Mary Ann and Kathy were there. Mary Ann started pulling food items out of the bag I had given her and placing them on a chair. I looked at each item and stashed what I thought I would want. I grabbed a slice of watermelon, opened the can of coconut water and headed down the trail. Kathy walked me out and I hit the dirt road.
The next aid station was halfway up to the continental divide. It was a very long, slow climb to the station but I made it with 20 minutes to spare. I was neither gaining nor losing time on the cut-offs. No crew was there, but I had a drop bag. I grabbed some food items and headed out again.
After a long section on the continental divide, I finally saw Kathy about a quarter mile before the 40 mile aid station. Again, I was only 15 minutes ahead of the cut-off.
Mary Ann decided to be extra helpful so that I would get out of there with time to spare. She pulled each food item out of the bag I had given her. "Do you want a gel?" she asked as I was grabbing a slice of watermelon from the aid station table.
I stopped eating and thought hard about the word 'gel'. Just as my hands wouldn't work at the first aid station, my brain wouldn't work now.
"What is a gel?" I thought. I could kind of imagine what a 'gel' was, but the word and the image weren't quite lining up in a meaningful way. Finally I was able to decipher that a gel was the little bit of syrupy stuff in a foil pouch. "How would that taste?" I thought. "Will it supply the calories I need? Do I want it? Should I take it just in case?" my brain was churning but not really going anywhere.
"Yes, I'll take a gel," I said as I shoved it in my hydration vest.
"Do you want a bar?" Mary Ann asked.
"A bar? What is a bar?" my brain haltingly repeated the process that finally helped me make a decision about the gel. "No, I don't want a bar," I finally blurted out.
"How about coconut water? Do you want crackers? Maybe you should take some nuts and fruit?" Mary Ann was rapid firing the questions now, knowing she needed to get me out of the aid station soon but also knowing that I had to get some calories in.
"Don't ask me ... I ... can't think. I need to... I got to.... finish. I have to go," I growled. I was pre-verbal at this point. I was thinking in images and feelings. But I was not thinking in words. I was trying to convert these images and emotions into words, but I was reduced to communicating in grunts, and squeaks, and frowns. This was frustrating for me and for those around me.
I headed out, trying to figure out if I was going to make the final cut-off. But not only was I pre-verbal, I was also pre-quantitative. "I have 3 hours and 15 minutes to finish. That is 75 minutes. I'll never make it. Wait, three hours and 15 minutes is a lot more than 75 minutes. I have to cover 10 miles. All I have to do is maintain 15 miles per hour, right? I can't do four minute miles." I finally gave up trying to figure it out.
Well, I didn't make it. With 10 minutes to go and no end in sight, I realized there was no way I was going to make the cut-off. I stumbled in to the finish line over 30 minutes late.
The next day, Mary Ann informed me that I had been very rude. "Why did you want me at the aid station if you weren't going to let me help you?" It was a legitimate question, but I was still too tired to really think. In fact, I was just barely verbal even after a night's sleep.
"I wanted you at the aid station. I just wanted you," was all I could come up with.