Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Me vs. Minnesota

Update (12/31/09):
I never ended up posting the article that was written about me following the Minnesota Voyageur 50
miler in July. Here is the article in full (minus the pics):

Fighting illness, he ‘started running to live’
Duluth News Tribune (MN) - Sunday, August 2, 2009
Author: Kevin Pates, Duluth News Tribune

Bruises and abrasions covered the body of Brooks Williams . He had a black eye and a broken toe. He hurt all over.

He remembers little of being injured in the Minnesota Voyageur Trail Ultramarathon 50-Miler on July 25 in Carlton. He passed out a half-mile from the finish line and was hospitalized overnight for dehydration and hyponatremia, or low sodium.

Williams , 26, from Colorado Springs, Colo., said it was a scary situation, yet was the first time his body had let him down even though he’s an anomaly — an ultra runner with cystic fibrosis.

“My doctor has told me that few people with cystic fibrosis try ultramarathons. I’m a guinea pig,” Williams said from home last week. “I was taking care of myself during the race. I was taking 500 milligrams of sodium an hour, 20 ounces of fluids per hour, an electrolyte tablet every half-hour and energy gel. But I still got incoherent and must’ve fell a few times.”

Williams said he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 5½ months of age and wasn’t expected to live past 18. The genetic disease affects the lungs and digestive system as a defective gene and its protein product cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus. The mucus clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections.

In 2008, the median predicted age of survival rose to 37.4 years, up from 32 in 2000, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Williams , a project engineer for a mechanical contractor, said he survived a serious bout with pneumonia at age 21 and then looked to improve his health. He has been running the past 4½ years.

“I became aware of how quickly my health could take an irreparable turn, and this fear is what made me start running seriously,” he said. “I started running to live and I attribute my improved health to running.”

Keeping strong and fortified over long distances has proven tricky for Williams .

Nonetheless, he has completed eight marathons and four events longer than 26.2 miles. He finished the Bighorn Mountain 50-Mile Trail Run on June 20 in Dayton, Wyo., but needed intravenous fluids afterward. At Voyageur, he was monitoring his body and last remembers checking his watch for an elapsed time as it read 8 hours, 25 minutes. He figured he’d finish in about 8:35, which would’ve placed him 10th in a field of 160. The race trail is along a rugged course through Jay Cooke State Park and Fond du Lac State Forest from Carlton to the Lake Superior Zoo and back.

A finisher told race officials he saw Williams prone on the course. Rescuers came to his aid and took him to Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet. He was given fluids through the night and released the next morning, yet his journey wasn’t over. He drove 20 hours alone back to Colorado Springs, with an overnight stop in Grand Island, Neb.

The trip to Northeastern Minnesota was his first. He was drawn here, he said, because the race fit his schedule in preparation for the Leadville (Colo.) Trail 100-Miler through the Colorado Rockies on Aug. 22, and because of family lore. The story he has been told is that his parents met and were married in Duluth, although they now also live in Colorado Springs.

“I’m coming back to run that race again for personal reasons. I’m not going to let a course beat me,” said Williams .

Below is my original post

The condensed version:
Minnesota 1, Brooks 0

July 25th was the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile Trail Race in Carlton, MN and heading into it I'll admit that my confidence was at an all-time high. I'd been healthy and injury free, I'd had a full month to recover from my last ultra, and I had been logging consistent miles and long runs, including a weekend in Leadville, running above 10,000 ft. In addition, there's nothing like driving through Nebraska and Iowa to make you want to get out and run (and fly next time)!

I arrived in Duluth on Friday morning and spent the day exploring the city and the surrounding hills and enjoying the incredible views of Lake Superior. One of the main reasons I even picked the Voyageur as my last big race before the Leadville 100 was that it is in the area where my parents met and were married. In my explorations around Duluth I even ventured out across the lift bridge to Park Point, where my dad proposed to my mom!

After packet pick up that and an early pasta dinner I was in bed and asleep before 10:00; a first for me before a big race. Going into Saturday race absolutely everything was perfect..., and then the fun began.

The race began under perfect conditions and the first 25 miles were, do I dare say, easy?? No, let's rephrase that, I don't think running nearly a full marathon on a hilly trail course can ever be described as easy, but how about LESS painful than imagined? I exited the aid station at the halfway point near the Superior Zoo at 3:55 and I was currently in 11th place overall. Besides some hellacious blisters due to running in wet socks for over 3 hours, I was still feeling strong at the Fon du Lac (sp?) aid station. Socks were changed, energy gels were grabbed, and I topped of my water bottles before hitting the trail again. Soon, things wouldn't be so hot...

Apparently, being too diligent about hydration during a long race can be even more dangerous than dehydration, as I was soon to discover. From the beginning I was drinking nearly 2 bottles of fluid between each aid station. One was water and one was electrolyte drink. The only problem was that the aid stations were only 3 miles apart, which meant I had been drinking close to 60oz of fluid per hour for nearly 6 hours at the 34 mile point. I NOW know that you typically only need to consume 14 to 28oz of fluid per hour.., oops.

Hyponatremia is the name of the what occurs when you have dilluted your the salt levels in your blood to dangerous levels, normally from drinking too much. Confusion, loss of consciousness, and then seizures are what you can expect as your sodium levels reach lower and lower levels. Having Cystic Fibrosis complicates this to an extreme degree as I already lose several times the amount of salt in my sweat as a perfectly healthy individual.

Back to the race: I still have recollection of leaving the last aid station at mile 47 but then weird things began happening; I would start to get a little dizzy and then, WHAM!, I would be jolted to alertness by the pain of my shin or knee cracking against one of the many rocks on this section of the course. Not realizing I had just fainted, and being confused because my low sodium levels, all I remember thinking is, 'Ouch. Why did I just fall?? I better not do that anymore!'. I have vague recollection of doing this at least 4 times.

My race was about to be cut short as my next memory is of struggling to get out of a river and yelling for help. I have no idea how I ended up there, but I was bleeding from the forehead and had a black eye, in addition to the cuts and abrasions I had all up and down my legs and torsoe from passing out prior to this. I'd likely lost consciousness again and fallen down the rocky ravine and into the water where I was found. The next memory I have is of me trying to argue with an EMT at an ambulance to let me finish the race. Unfortunately, this was to be my first DNF.

From here I was in and out of consciosness and only remember being extremely confused, scared, and alone. Thankfully, I had the privilege of having some very nice nurses and doctors during my overnight stay at the hospital in Cloquet, MN. (Pictures of me the next morning to follow!)

So I was on pace for my best 50 miler ever and in an instant everything fell apart. No lasting damage was done and I've been able to hit the trails again the last few weeks in prepartion for my Mt. Everest: Leadville.

To be continued...

1 comment:

Jess said...

Scary Story, Brooks. But many lessons learned it sounds like. Isn't it just beautiful up there? Duluth is really near and dear to my heart! Hope that all goes well for you at Leadville. Are you running on Saturday?