Devil's Gulch Recap
Updated: Aug 5
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
There's this saying people float around when confronted with an occurrence that they don't quite know how to respond to, and it goes something like, "there's a first time for everything." There's actually not a first time for everything, though. There is not a first-time-pigs-have-flown, for example. We only say, "there's a first time for everything" when something unexpected happens. Monday, I sat in an Urgent Care clinic and thought to myself, "I guess there's a first time for everything," when the doctor diagnosed me with Rhabdo after testing a urine sample. I also said, "shit."
But I should back up a bit first. I signed up for Devil's Gulch 100 after AC 100 was cancelled. I felt compelled to run a 100 miler now, a testament to my severe impatience. I'm already signed up for a couple more this fall, and this race fell smack-dab in the middle of a very busy month. It also fell smack dab in the middle of a very hot weekend, where temperatures in Wenatchee, WA exceeded 100 degrees. I knew it would be hot, but I've delt with heat before. I know how important it is to stay hydrated, to take salt and electrolytes, to keep eating even when I don't feel like it. But just because I know how I should handle the heat doesn't mean I executed correctly.
The race started at a ski resort and climbed for a few miles before descending for 14 miles straight. The course was also a 50 mile loop that was about 3 miles long, and we were to repeat the loop twice. One thing I noticed when studying the race manual was that distances between aid stations were longer than they typically are (11-14 miles). There were water drops in between some of these, so I counted on refilling my water when I could and threw my Katadyn filter in my pack for good measure. I also packed salt tabs, Liquid IV packets, plenty of nutrition, and sunscreen.
The first 11 miles were enjoyable and stunning, with sweeping mountain views. I was out of water by the time I reached the first aid station, and that was expected. It was another 12 miles to the next aid, with a water drop in between. The water drop was only a couple miles after the aid station though, so I didn't feel the need to fill up, nor I didn't have any container to fill up. By the time I reached mile 23, temperatures were rising and I was heading into a tough section; a 13 mile exposed loop with lots of climbing and no water to speak of. Before I headed out, I had a bout of diarrhea and knew that was a bad sign, especially in the heat of the day, but what could I do? I drank some water, filled my pack, and carried on. One of the aid station volunteers told me the loop was 10 miles, but I knew she was wrong. Turns out, the loop was a bit long, and 14 miles later, I stumbled into the aid station with a dry pack and a dry throat.
I spent those 14 miles trying to conserve the 2.5 liters I'd taken with me. I tried to eat and continue taking salt, but food and salt were not my primary problems. I needed water, and the hot sun felt especially cruel. I pulled my Anetik hoodie over my head and added a layer of mineral sunscreen to my face. Not only was I losing a lot of sweat, but the heat was dry and my sweat evaporated almost immediately. At one point, I stopped feeling hot at all; another bad sign. When I returned to the same aid station, this time at mile 37, I looked around and saw how badly the heat had ravaged everyone. A few of us sat in a nearby stream trying to cool off. I tried to drink enough water to make up for the pit of dehydration in my body, but I wasn't sure how much I would need, being deep in the hole already.
My appetite was also gone and nausea set in. I decided then and there that I would walk the next 13 miles if I had too, and expected that I would turn the corner and started feeling better. Most of the time, I do start feeling better when I start feeling low, but this lowness was different. It wouldn't be solved easily, and as I ventured out on another long section (13 miles, with a water drop 8 miles in), I started feeling the need to pee. Every time I tried, barely anything would come out, but the urge was incredibly strong. For the next few hours, I struggled to drink and eat, but I struggled even more to run. Every time my pace increased, the urge to pee grew stronger. It felt like my bladder was contracting, and there was nothing I could do about it. I refilled my water at a stream and drank an entire liter on the spot. The urge to pee only grew stronger, but still, there was no liquid coming out.
I checked my phone and had no service. I was starting to feel like there might be something seriously wrong with me. I couldn't tell if my sore muscles were just sore muscles or if they were more sore than they should be. One sign of rhabdomyolysis is red or brown urine, and another sign are excessively sore muscles. During the race, I couldn't really tell what color my pee was, but I knew that it was dark. The next day, my urine was pink, but I didn't know what to make of it.
After mile 37, the course wound down and back up gradually. Normally, I would have been running the entire thing, as the uphill sections were not very steep and gently rolled back and forth along dozens of switch backs. By the time I got to the last aid station, I was nearly 50 miles in and had three more miles until I'd be back at the start finish line. Mike ran backwards to meet me and the aid station volunteers fed me electrolytes and tried to encourage me to keep moving. I told them how I was feeling, and one told me to sit and drink until I had to pee again. Another liter of water later, and I decided to walk the last few miles with Mike now by my side.
At the start/finish line, I saw the race director who said, "We're glad you're okay! Sorry the race was so hard." I was a little annoyed at her flippant attitude, but felt too bad to care that much. We went immediately back to the hotel, where I drank more water, showered, and tried to rest.
Our flight back to California was scheduled for early Monday morning and was delayed a few hours. I didn't know what was wrong with my body and wanted more than anything to finally be home. Mike was irritable and I felt guilty for traveling hundreds of miles only to drop out halfway through a race. So, when the doctor took a urine sample and said, "Rhabdo," I said, "Shit." Not because I was mad, but because I could have prevented it.
Pros: Now I know some signs and symptoms of Rhabdo. The course was stunning and I saw the entire thing in daylight. I also got to meet some super cool people, and only three folks finished the entire 100 miles. Huge kudos to them.
Cons: Wenatchee was hot as an armpit in Hell. Race planning and water drops were not thoughtful or entirely useful. It was very small field, which could be a pro or a con depending on your disposition.