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Can runner with an ultratough goal just do it?

Published May 1, 2005

DAY 1, APRIL 10: I got a pretty decent night's sleep. The train whistle woke me up pretty regularly, but it was nice going back to sleep. I got up at 5 a.m., took my time getting ready. I never felt quite right.

I left the inn at 5:53. It is about a mile to the trail. There was enough light to see. My first couple of steps, I knew I had made a mistake. My pack was too heavy. It bounced and drove me nuts.

I was excited but nervous. I couldn't get a rhythm. I walked a lot. I was also enjoying the scenes. The water on one side, boulders on the other. I could see quite a few caves in the rock.

I kept having to push myself to get running. The trail was flat and all stone. I should have worn my Inov8 trail shoes on the first day; I was saving them for the second.

Through the day, I ate three PowerBars, one marathon Snickers bar and one Gu energy gel.

Well, I never got my rhythm at all. I walked a lot. I only completed 40 miles and it took me 10 hours. Some days are just like that. Everything hurts. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

DAY 2, APRIL 11: I felt amazingly fresh. Stiff, but nothing hurt.

I ran a lot early on. It felt wonderful, especially after ending Sunday the way I did. At 12 miles, I stopped at a convenience store, picked up water, Pepsi and chips. I had a few bouts of nausea early and hoped the chips and Pepsi would help. I put sun cream on today, although everything I read said the trail was mostly shade. That was presuming there were leaves on the trees. I got pretty fried the first day. After turning around at 17 miles, fatigue set in. Then the back of my heel started to sting. It all deteriorated rapidly. At a point, I just wanted to sleep. The afternoon got very warm and I was already running a little dehydrated from the day before. I knew that even at a 20-minute walk pace I could get back before dark, if I didn't stop to take a nap.

I took some ginseng and caffeine and sugar and eventually felt less tired, only to realize how bad my heel was burning.

I tried to used my moleskin and tape, but it wasn't one big blister; it was 20 to 30 small ones. I get exercise-induced rash. The rash had blistered. In hindsight, I should have just taken the insole out of my shoes to move my foot deeper into the shoe.

I couldn't get additional water or anything at the convenience store on the way back because a long train stopped between me and the store. You are not allowed to cross when there's a train. It was far too long to go around.

I knew there was a park and a campground in about 6 miles. ... There was a big, old Rottweiler waiting. I decided I could do without the water. I still had a bottle and a half.

I kept hoping it would cool off a little. It wasn't just warm. But the sun was in my face. ... My left heel was killing me. Nothing else hurt. Thank goodness. I ran a bit every now and then, but the fatigue kept bringing me to a walk.

It all became a daze. Each mile blended into the next.

Once I made it to Harpers Ferry, I still had the walk up the hill to the inn. ... I had to get glucose out of my pack just to make it up the hill.

The tub felt wonderful, but I was now having trouble staying warm. My legs were fairly covered with rash. My left heel looked like hamburger. I couldn't tell what was blistered versus what was rash. I just had a bag of chips and soda and jumped in bed. It took me a few hours to fall asleep. Very rough night.

DAY 3, APRIL 12: Morning, I got in the tub. If it weren't for the pain in my heel, there would be a third day. I couldn't risk it. The next day, I have to be able to walk to the train station and to my hotel and into Baltimore.

What have I learned? My tolerance for soreness and fatigue is very, very high. My tolerance for blisters is not as high.

I have taken care of blisters on my toes and other parts of my feet. I build a moleskin mound around them. That process is impossible when it is such a large area all around both sides of the heel. I think I will experiment with thicker socks and research other ways to tackle blistered areas.

What now? Try to find a way to walk.

AFTERWORD: Pain passes fast, other than blisters. I can do multiday. I need more determination and some long runs. Have Benadryl handy. Always have aspirin and caffeine. Two pairs of shoes, iodine for water emergencies, sunscreen.

Determine what foods work. Potato chips always agree with me. Cookies & Cream PowerBars were great. Glucose, I use it a lot, but not on this trip. Vitamin C drink mix, I used it constantly.

Know where the outfitters are, know where the running stores are, know where the convenience stores are.

I thought that going tough the first day was the way to go, then basically survive the rest. No. The first day is to adjust and determine what you need.

No regrets. Seventy-five miles in two days is a long way. I will try again someday.

Editor's note: This is one in an occasional series about everyday folks who do unusual things in recreational sports - not necessarily having to do with winning or setting records.

Featured today is Kathleen Wheeler, who set out April 10 to run 120 miles in three days along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath, basing each day's leg from Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

The sport is ultrarunning, which entails any distance over the standard marathon of 26.2 miles. Usually the events are races, and some are multiday affairs. Wheeler designed her own run and did it solo for the experience.

Name: Kathleen Wheeler

Neighborhood: North East Park

Occupation: Paralegal

Height/weight: 5 feet 4, 135.

Age: 44

How long running: 22 years

How long ultrarunning: eight years

Ultraruns finished: 15

Marathons finished: 20

Why I enjoy ultras: the personal challenge to finish

Fantasy ultra goal: to run the Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley

Personal bests, preparenthood: 5 kilometer, 18:34; 10K, 38:23; 15K, 59:34; half-marathon, 1:25:29; marathon, 3:03:40. Postparenthood (during the last 10 years): 5K, 22:28; 10K, 42:29; 15K, 1:18:17; half-marathon, 1:45:45; marathon, 3:32:30; 50K, 4:58:30; 50 miles, 9:03:46; 100K, 11:32:45.

Training for the C&O Canal Run: A couple of miles here, a couple miles there. A long run if I'm lucky. I used to average 50 to 60 miles a week. But for the past few years, I have averaged just under 30. Ideally, I would like to train at 70 miles a week. I have very little time to train, with two active kids, a 4-H club, a daily commute over the bay, and a job I have been in for 20 years requiring regular overtime hours.

Athletic inspiration: In my early running years it was Joe Burgasser, my coach, but since I've entered the ultrarunning world it has been John Holmes, a founding member of the Croom Runners.

Favorite nonrunning activity: Any activity with my kids.

[Last modified April 30, 2005, 23:59:18]

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