That first time I went through Station Road Bridge AS, I didn’t see Sean. My speed-walking had allowed him to get back out ahead of me a little bit. So he wasn’t around when I took my first look at the hot spot under my foot. It didn’t look bad, really. There was just a tender spot. I tried lathering the bottom of my foot with Vaseline. Maybe reducing the friction would help. Then I drank my first Ensure of the day and tried gnawing on some beef jerky that Heather offered me. It tasted good, but was too dry and hard to swallow.
Then I whipped out a little trick I’d picked up from one of my blog-buddies: a toothbrush. My fellow blogger, Paige, had just run her first 100-miler a couple of weeks before and she wrote that brushing her teeth a few times during the long day had really helped her feel refreshed. So, I pulled mine out and gave all my toothies a good scrubbing, sans toothpaste. It did feel good, but it also made every single person near me at the aid station laugh! Oh, they though I was silly – but silly-practical! I just scrubbed and grinned and took a little bow when I was done.
We had a small, internal, 6.4 mile loop to run from there, which would bring us back around to Station Road Bridge a second time. In the middle, we actually scaled a small peak. It was really nothing major, but it was the sharpest climb we completed all day.
On the way back down, an older woman, who was about 20 yards in front of me, tripped on a root and fell, in a full out dive, head first to the ground. I could only watch as she went down, but I kept an eye on her head to see if it bounced when she hit. Somehow, she did manage to keep her head up, but she also slid a foot or two downhill after she landed. She was in a little shock about it, and she laid still for a moment taking inventory as I ran down to her. She got up on her own power, and was mostly just surprised by the whole thing, but we also noticed that her right wrist was already beginning to swell. In the scheme of things, it was better to have a battered wrist than a twisted ankle, but she was still a little concerned.
I ran with her for a while, making sure she was really okay. I wanted to be sure that she didn’t get dizzy or disoriented – head contusion or not, she hit the ground really hard – but after a couple of miles she made me look bad by speeding off down the trail without me. Ha! By the time I descended to the Tow Path again, I could barely see her down the trail. I did find her again, briefly, back at the Aid Station. She’d been eager to get back and have her wrist looked at. (She finished 100 miles the next morning with little other trouble.)
The bad news for me was, the hot spot on my foot wasn’t getting any better, and I really wasn’t sure what to do about it. In all my Ultra experience, all the things I’ve learned and dealt with, I’ve never had to fight with blisters before. Burning River was my 10th Ultra, my 4th of 50-Miles or further, and that to go with 9 other “regular” marathons. In all those races, over all those miles, I’ve never gotten a blister. And I’ve only had “hot spots” maybe three or four times.
The reality I seemed to be facing was I’d simply never run a race long enough for those hot spots to grow into full-out blisters. When I had gotten them, they’d always shown up in the last 5 to 10 miles of a race and I was across the finish line before they became a real danger. The problem spot then was the same now: on the bottom of my foot, next to the ball, right in the center of width, a “crease” forms. I guess my foot gets damp, the skin swells, and that small crease folds up just ever so slightly. And then the skin on either side of the crease begins to rub together.
It was interesting for me to note that the crease showed up at roughly the same time it has sometimes in the past: about 25 to 30 miles into the course. I debated trying to wrap the bottom of my foot with duct tape, but it’s a hard area to tape, and once I got a piece on, it stopped seeming like a good idea. I lathered on more Vaseline instead, hoping that I might be able to keep the area lubricated.
Sean was still at Station Road Bridge when I returned, taking a little breather of his own. He had several friends now, all working as his crew, but I picked out a blonde woman in the group. “You must be Amy,” I called over to her. I could see Sean looking back at me from beside her with a little twinkle in his eye. “I just wanted to put a face to person who called to scold us for running too fast this morning!” and she laughed with me. Of course, I didn’t care about the phone call at all. I wanted to get a look at the girl who was going to get a ring tomorrow morning!
I also introduced Sean and Amy to my sister, Heather, who had been running back and forth to the car to retrieve some aspirin for me. If trends continued, we’d all be seeing each other a few more times during the day, so might as well get cozy, right?
The bad news, was that hot spot was with me every single step of the next 3.5 miles to Ottawa Point Aid Station (Mile 46.5). On most footfalls, it was just a dull, itchy irritation, but every now and then, it felt more like my sock had rolled up into a naughty little ball under my foot.
The good news was I had finally survived the heat of the day. It was about 4:15pm when I got to Ottawa Point. I was warm and salty, but Heather had been giving me a bandana rolled up with ice at every aid station and the forest canopy had helped to keep the sun off my back. Even if it took me the full 30 hours to get to the finish line, we were done with the real heat the rest of the way.
I splashed some water over my head, and drank another Ensure. I kicked off my shoes and socks while I wandered around in the grass and refueled. I wanted to give my feet a chance to air out a little bit in the hopes it would help soothe that hot spot. Maybe the cooler temps and a drier foot would stem the rising tide.
Sean was also at Ottawa, but his crew seemed to have grown to 6 or 7 people and they were all busy taking care of him. He did pause long enough to call over and tease me for leaving the aid stations before he did, though. We’d been out there together long enough that some ribbing was in order.
Snowville was the next station, at mile 50.6, just beyond the halfway mark. The blisters continued to get worse and worse and they were really starting to cost me time. I’d completed the Station Road Bridge loop at better than 15 minutes per mile. I’d been able to run the next 3.5 miles to Ottawa at about 16 mpm, but I also had to take a 15 minute break a Station Road #2 to work on my feet. That extra time sent my overall pace to Ottawa at slower than 20 mpm. On the next leg, to Snowville AS, I lost nearly 10 minutes on my break at Ottawa and I ran even slower. My overall pace on that section was nearly 21 mpm.
So, I’d fallen behind the required 18 minutes per mile average pace, and was losing time to the cutoffs. At mile 43, I’d worked up a 2 hours and 45 minutes cushion, but in just 7 miles, I lost 25 minutes of that lead. The blisters were officially a serious impediment to my race, and I was growing more and more worried about them.
Sean was leaving Snowville just as I came in. He joked with the volunteers there that they should do anything they could to slow me down a little, because “every time I think I’ve shaken that guy, he turns up on my heels again!” He gave me a big grin, and it was nice to hear him say, but I didn’t really believe it anymore. “I don’t think you’ve gonna have to worry about me after this,” I told him. I was more serious than he knew.
One nice thing, though: I covered the first 50 miles in just 12.5 hours. That was only an hour slower than my 50-mile PR.
The next aid station was another big one, Boston Store, the second of three stations that we’d pass through twice, with a small internal loop in between. I’d see it first at Mile 56, then again at Mile 60.6. Heather was waiting there and I expected the place would be a bustle of activity, with twice as many runners, crews, and volunteers.
Volunteers! Of course! I was a dufus. There were volunteer podiatry students out working the course all weekend! Why hadn’t I thought of that before? What Aid Stations were they supposed to be at? I couldn’t remember. They probably had a tent set up at Station Road Bridge. I should have looked for them there. Were they going to be at Boston Store? I called ahead to Heather to get her to ask around and find out. Maybe it wasn’t too late to get me out of this mess that I’d gotten my feet into.
I finally pulled into Boston Store at 7:25pm, 14 hours and 25 minutes into the race and still losing time to the cutoffs. Heather was relieved to see me, and she started talking about finding me a pacer for the end of the race. That sounded fine, but I was way more concerned about my feet. “Are the podiatrists here?” They were, and she pointed out the tent to me. I kicked off my shoes and socks again, and hobbled over to take a seat in one of their chairs.
I was a little disappointed to learn that they didn’t think there was a whole lot they could do for me. All they could see was the red, irritated area around the ball of my right foot. They offered to pad the area with a couple of layers of mole skin. They cut one piece with a big hole in the middle to go around the red spot, and then another to go over the whole area. They were hoping this would take some of the pressure off the wound on each footfall. I had them go ahead and do the same thing to my left foot, too, because I was sure, I’d get the same problem there at some point.
Meanwhile, Heather had come back over to find me, and she had a friend with her. Finally, I understood what she’d been trying to tell me when I came in: she wasn’t going to find me a pacer, she already had one for me!
It turns out Sean’s girlfriend, Amy, and Heather had been hanging out and talking while they waited for the two of us to get to Boston. Amy asked if I had any pacers lined up, and when Heather said “no,” Amy set off to make some phone calls. They had some running club friends in the area who were helping with the race and one, Michelle, was waiting to find someone to pace. Event rules stated that runners were allowed to have pacers starting at mile 60.6, the second time they left Boston Store. Michelle had run a handful of Ultras and had paced for several more. She understood what she was doing. She told me that she’d join me at mile 81, the Covered Bridge Aid Station. That would give her some time to get some food and a few hours sleep. “I’ll meet you at Covered Bridge and we will get you to the finish line.”
I think Heather was even more relieved than I was. Sean and Amy had done me a HUGE favor. I’d seen them on the ground nearby when I got to Boston, but was too preoccupied with my feet to talk to them. By the time I had my feet wrapped, gotten acquainted with Michelle and was ready to head out again, Sean and Amy were both gone. I wouldn’t see either of them again for the rest of the race.
To Be Continued, One More Time...