“No IV,” I told the medical volunteers at highway 49 as I stumbled into the 93 mile aid station with Ticer at about 11:30pm and tried to balance on the scale. I didn’t want to disqualify myself by getting an IV even though two liters of saline and an antiemetic sounded really tempting. With those I could probably be feeling good enough to eat a cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake within half an hour. Without them I would have to fix things through my stomach. Yuk.
90 minutes earlier I violently puked the pepsi and broth I had put in at Brown’s Bar aid station (mile 89.9). Didn’t seem like I was there for very long, but suddenly tons of runners were going past me as I sat in a chair puking with my head down. I was still competitive since I noticed and cared that I was getting passed. A volunteer asked if I needed medical help but I declined and decided to leave before too many more runners came by. I have puked before in 100s and have always been able to get my stomach back together with crackers, 7-up, broth, potato soup, S-caps, gel or water. With those experiences and the fact that Brown’s Bar is just not a place I want to sit as the music is loud, the trail is narrow, and my crew is less than 4 miles away, I made the decision to leave Brown’s Bar with crackers and water. I hoped I could get a gel, some water, and some salt in before highway 49, get my act together there and then finish this 100 miler in about 19:30. There were only 10 miles left and I had been running pretty good splits for most of the day, including a solid 2:57 on Cal St with Chris. But, I had been on minimal calories since the river crossing (78 miles) as the stomach just wasn’t real happy. Consequently, my pace had slowed as the last fumes in the tank were being used up.
“Not good,” I said to the nurse at highway 49 aid station after we saw 146 on the scale and she asked me how I was feeling (I had been between 150-151 most of the day with a Friday start weight of 149). The last few miles from Brown’s Bar went from bad to really bad. I ran out of power and was staggering up the hill from the Quarry Rd. I was light headed and I told Ticer I wanted to lie down on the trail. LIE DOWN ON THE TRAIL! While I have paced a couple of runners that have done that, I had never considered doing it myself. But there I was, ready to just take a nap a 1/2 mile from an aid station with all sorts of resources, including my crew. I didn’t want to put anything in my stomach. I just wanted to lie down. Less than 8 miles from the finish and I wanted to lie down? This was bizarre.
My wife Laurie was there and she went back to what we learned from Dave Terry years ago: Volume, Electrolytes, Calories – in that order. But things weren’t that simple. I got in a chair where I could put my feet up to get my blood pressure up (volume). They took my vitals lying down and bp was 149/74 with a pulse of 74. My respirations were shallow and rapid but my mental status was ok. I got some tingling in my feet and hands probably because of the hyperventilating. Perhaps my blood sugar was low but they didn’t measure it. I soon chilled down and had multiple blankets on me. Soup, 7-up, mountain dew, ice water – nothing sounded good. I did nibble on some crackers but that was about it. I transferred to the dreaded cot so I could lie completely flat. I have been on the other side of this many times but this was a first for me being the guy in the cot. Humbling. They took my vitals sitting up and I was 112/64 with a pulse of 72. Ticer, a paramedic and my pacer many times, couldn’t figure out what was going on. The doctor and nurses didn’t even want to try a standing set of vitals as the difference was too great between lying and sitting and standing was likely to be much lower. This was not me. I’ve always been able to just get something to fix my problems, move on and push to the finish. Something was just not right metabolically and with all the experience and knowledge around me we just couldn’t figure out a quick fix.
The next 90 minutes were frustrating for my crew. I didn’t know whether to drop or continue. I had 5 1/2 hours to get a silver buckle, 11 1/2 hours to get a yellow one (that would be bronze not gold, Katie). I was getting stiff, cold and my stomach wasn’t improving. I was asking for everybody’s opinion on what I should do. What was best for the race? Continuing on, risking a repeat of what I just went through and stopping somewhere between aid stations where medical/race resources would need to be used to get me out? Honoring and respecting the race and competitors by walking in? What was best for me physiologically? Was this just a fuel, dehydration or sodium problem or was there something else going on? Why was my breathing so shallow and rapid? What was best for my crew and pacer? Sit and wait? Pack up and drive to the finish? My crew was divided. Some wanted me to make a decision, others wanted me to just chill out, rest or take an 8 hour nap if needed and walk it in. Maybe the rest alone would allow my body to reset itself. No reason to make a decision now, my wife reiterated several times. I was talking, air was going in and out and blood was going round and round. Quads and kidneys were fine. The latter sounded like the way I should go, but I wasn’t doing anything to get fuel or fluid in so that added to the frustration for the crew who had to just sit there and wait. I also considered my quest for 10 finishes, the ten-year bet with AJW and the penalty of 32 hours for a DNF here (100/93 x 30 hours), the Pickle Puff bet with Alan. The efforts of my crew and pacers to get here. Lots to consider.
So I just continued to take up space on the cot. Nothing they offered me sounded or tasted good: potato soup, 7-up, ice water, mountain dew. Eventually an ER doc offered me Peppermint Altoids. I ate them. Did he think I had bad breath? He then gave me some glucose tablets. I ate them. He gave me more Altoids. I asked him if he wanted to kiss me but I got little reaction from him. I then suggested if he french kiss me he might be able to get some gel off my teeth from Robinson Flat. Similar to Shannon Weil collecting rocks from the different landmarks on the course and adding them to the Watson Monument, he could get gel off my teeth from different places on the course. I still had my sense of humor so I couldn’t have been that bad. I then drank a cup of potato soup. Then another. Then water. Not exactly in the Dave Terry order, but things were starting to go and stay down. I noticed people coming into the aid station. I saw Alan and offered him a spot on the chair next to me. He declined. Laurie was talking to her brother in Colorado who was watching the live feed at the finish and I heard that Meghan was on the track finishing 2nd woman. Sweet!
The medical folks weren’t going to let me leave until I peed, so I sat up and I filled a cup. No muscle damage. No kidney danger. I talked on the phone with AJW who was at the finish and he gave me encouragement and told me he’d see me at the finish. I sat up and they took my blood pressure again. Similar to the last about 112/68. A big drop from lying down. As though my volume were still low or my body couldn’t compensate when my legs were lower than my heart. My legs were stiff and I got cold again. I lied back down and sipped on more water and ate more crackers. Still didn’t want to drink anything sweet, but I thought I got enough calories and fluid in to walk it in. I had a feeling that if I started running again that I might go right back to where I was so I asked Ticer if he could maintain a 25 minute mile walking pace. He was still not convinced I should go on, but he was the only one who saw me stumbling 90 minutes earlier and he didn’t want a repeat of that. Me either. I got up and we did a test walk. It was ugly and probably hard to tell the difference between hypoglycemic and stiff-leg stumbling. But off we went.
It was yet another new experience for me to walk in and not care about being passed. I thought about running when we reached the meadow but we decided not to. The competitive mode was gone and I was walking in to get a finish – safely. It was actually kinda of fun to talk to my friends as they passed me. John Price came up behind me and asked what my finish time was. I told him I didn’t know as it was still 6 miles away. He thought I had finished the race and come back out to pace somebody in. Nope, John, you’re passing me. People cheered just as much or maybe even more than when I’ve run 18 hours. It was pretty darn cool. Tom Nielsen and his pacer Tracy Moore passed me near Robie Pt. They were laughing and joking and were so positive. All my crew and some of Meghan’s joined me the last mile. We jogged when we hit the white bridge and the reaction from people just continued to amaze me. It didn’t matter that I was finishing three or four hours slower than I expected, I was finishing. I saw Meghan on the track and I stopped and gave her a congratulatory hug 50 meters from the finish line. Medinger was on the PA and reminded me, “It’s a race, Thornley.” I finished in 22:17. The slowest of my seven finishes by two hours but the silver buckle looks just like my others.
Do I ever want to finish like this again? No. Do I know what was going on physiologically? Nope. My body was whacked. Sodium level at the finish was 138 so I was not classified as hyponatremic. Weight was 147.5. Not a significant weightloss. I ran hard at least through 80 miles, slowed a little between 80 and 90, puked and totally crapped out about mile 92, stumbled to 93, lied on a cot for 90 minutes, then walked the last 7. I broke my rule of sleeping before eating and peeing but it was almost the next day and I still didn’t feel like taking anything with calories. I was able to eat and drink on Sunday and didn’t require any medical assistance.
We waited on the track for our friend Tbag to finish his first 100. Word was that his toe, which had started bothering him a few weeks before the race, was bad. He had a splint made at Michigan Bluff that fit into his shoe. He tried to quit at Foresthill. The aid station captain wouldn’t cut his wristband. “99% percent of you still works,” he was told by the captain. So walk he did. Could he walk 38 miles and still finish? He tried. Unfortunately, he couldn’t walk fast enough to stay ahead of the 30 hour cutoffs. He drank a beer at Brown’s Bar when he knew he couldn’t make it but he was told to continue on. He saw motorcyclists and other motorheads playing across the river in the Sunday morning sun. He saw morning joggers with their dogs and clean smelling bodies. He had been moving for 29 hours, they for 30 minutes. He got caught by the sweeps on horseback. He was the last runner on the course. Still, he walked.
We got the call from his pacer, Jeff, that he missed the cutoff at highway 49, where I sat for 90 minutes the night before. I listened to Jeff describe what Tbag had gone through. That he walked with him for 14 hours with his splinted toe. I talked with Tbag and told him about my race. How in the hell do I complain about my 22:17 when my friend walked from Foresthill only to get pulled from the race at mile 93? I started crying. This is a crazy thing we do. I was so proud of him for trying. For his pacer Jeff and his crew for staying up all night and helping him try to get to the finish. It’s a humbling thing to run a 100 miler. I vow to not take it for granted.