[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
To start, I didn't finish. I dropped at mile 56 due to some debilitating knee pain. I think every ultra runner has probably experienced the DNF at some point. It's happened more than once to me, most recently at Broken Arrow, where I dropped out at mile 3 because I pulled my hamstring. That was early June, and Kodiak was only a month and a half later. I spent a few weeks recovering, then ramped up my miles for a few weeks before toeing the start line at Kodiak. I started the race less prepared than I wanted to be, but I knew that if I kept moving, kept eating, kept drinking, I'd probably be okay. I didn't bargain on yet another injury, but life is full of things we don't bargain for.
In February, I ran Black Canyon 100k, and afterwards, had some tendonitis (or what a PT told me was tendonitis) in my right foot/calf. After addressing that issue, I injured my left hamstring at Broken Arrow. At Kodiak, the quad muscle that connects to my right inner knee grew irritated. Twenty-five miles in, it was bothering me, but I could ignore it. Thirty miles later, I could barely walk on it, and I decided to stop. It's never easy to stop. I hate stopping. But the pain was sharp and constant and I knew 45 more miles would cause more damage than I wanted to reckon with.
The slow stack of injuries has been disheartening at best. It's slowly taking the fight out of me. I'm tired of my body saying no, when I want it to say yes. Each injury is obliquely related to the last, and every time I start gaining momentum, it seems to come to a screeching halt. But if there's one thing I've learned after years of running and racing and training, it's that the body knows best. My body knows what it needs, if I'm willing to listen.
Kodiak holds a special place in my heart. It's the first ultra I ever saw happen in person. I remember sitting at the finish line, watching people cross it, looking like they'd met God out there. I wanted that feeling. Two years later, I ran the Kodiak 50 miler and placed 3rd, with my sights set on 100 the next year. The next year happened to be 2020, and the race was cancelled. In 2021, Kodiak didn't fit into my race calendar. And this year, I had big hopes that ended up being just that-hope.
Kodiak is a hard mountain 100. There are steep descents, hard climbs, long exposed sunny sections, rocky sections, and it's all above 6,000 feet. I've trained on some difficult terrain and nothing about the course was a surprise. My body felt good as I ticked away the miles. I distracted myself by chatting with some of my fellow runners. I ignored my leg as long as I could, and dropping out was disappointing to say the least.
The sport of running has brought some big triumphs as well as some enormous disappointments. It is still just a sport though, one that I choose to partake in; one that I choose to spend money on. Nothing requires me, or anyone, to try to run 100 miles, and that's part of the beauty of the sport as well. But however challenging it may be, there are bigger challenges that life has, or will, throw my way. Injuries are annoying, but they happen. Just like there's never a good time for bad news, there's never a good time for an injury, either.
By mile 50, the pain in my knee was so bad that I struggled to walk. Every step brought a sharp, shooting pain into my kneecap and I slowed to a walk. The rest of my body felt good, and I was maintaining a solid pace. I didn't feel like I was working too hard, which made dropping out even worse.
I'll be back next year in a healthier body to try this race again. There are a million amazing things about Kodiak; the challenging terrain, the amazing volunteers, the family atmosphere, the stunning views. Part of the course runs along the PCT, and another section summits Sugarloaf-the highest point in Big Bear at just under 10,000 feet. The race starts and ends in Big Bear Village and it feels like a party. It is a party, celebrating the audacity of enduring, and the people who make it possible.
In the few short days since I dropped out, I've gone back and forth; should I have kept going? Would the pain have receded or deepened? It was a new pain, not a familiar one, and new pains are trickier to understand. Part of me believes I did the best thing for my body, and part of me believes I stopped too soon. Another part of me knows that it doesn't matter as much as I feel like it does-that there will be other races and many more years of running ahead of me. And another, smaller part of me knows that failing, even in a small way, will teach me more than success ever could.