A Race to Remember

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Meet Bill Dittman- a rockstar athlete with a passion for running. Bill just recently ran a race of a lifetime and wrote about his experiences. Bill we are so proud of you! Read all about his journey below:

I have been asked by a few people to detail my race, so I will try to recollect what I can from the experience. Let me start by saying thank you to everybody for the birthday wishes and good lucks on the race. I definitely tapped in to the good vibes everybody was sending me to help get me through the race. What a humbling day.

Pre-Race: I started getting sick two days prior to race day. The night prior to the race was the worst of it. I couldn’t keep down any food. I went to bed with a  lot of doubt and questions, and next to nothing in my stomach. But, I set my alarm for 4:30, and decided I could make a decision in the morning. I woke up, didn’t feel great, but felt better than I had the night prior. I had some toast with almond butter, and a banana. I got my stuff together, and was out the door by 5:30. About 5:45, I pulled over, and had to throw up. But, I was already on my way. I had made up my mind that the show must go on. I got there around 6:30. Did my gear check, and got to the start line. This would be a three loop race, roughly 10.5 miles a loop. We would run the loops clockwise, then counterclockwise, then clockwise.
Start: The race began at 7:00. It was still dark. Sunrise wouldn’t come for another half hour. It was a pretty cold morning (I’m sure my Wisconsin people are getting a good laugh out of that statement). I waited until the last minute to peel off my warm clothes. I didn’t want to have to shed layers once I got out there. So, here goes nothing.
Miles 1-5: Dark, calm wilderness. Beautiful trail. Rolling hills. I do a lot of my training runs on the trails prior to sunrise or post sunset, so I felt right at home. My pace was good. I could feel my sickness fading away. My stomach felt fine. I knew I was in for a long day, so I didn’t get overconfident. I kept my pace right in my comfort zone. A few steep ups, and a few steep downs. Never flat.
Miles 5-9: I found a group of 3 other runners. We were all cruising at about the same pace. Sun rose, it was a really nice morning. I started to feel like despite all of the questions, today was going to be a really good day. Still, not running out of my comfort zone. It’s a long day. More steep ups and downs. Still not finding much flat terrain.
Miles 9-10.5: This is the big mountain pass  of the loop. You start in a wash at the base of the mountain, and climb to a saddle near the peak. A little less than a mile to get to the top of the mountain (roughly 600-700 vertical feet), about the same distance to descend on the other side, and then a half mile of rolling hills to complete the first loop. The ascent was grueling, and almost all loose rocks, so getting good footing was at a premium. The descent was fast, but not too fast. I went just fast enough to where I still felt in control. Almost at the bottom of the descent, I felt a slight “twinge” in my calf. I was at the 9.5 mile mark, so it couldn’t be a cramp. I have never cramped that quickly before, so I figured I probably just had a misstep that led to it. No problem, I continued on. At the 10 mile mark, my calf full on cramped. I was confused. I brought my pace way down, let my calf loosen out of the cramp, and coasted in to the aid station at the end of the loop. One minute ahead of my target time.
Miles 10.5-12: Now we turn around and come back the way we came. I jogged out the 0.5 miles of rolling hills to begin, and my right calf cramped up again. Not a feeling you want to have when running towards the mountain you have to climb over. Don’t worry about it. I will power hike the really steep parts of the ascent, and descend slower than I did the last time. I had taken some salt pills and other fuel at the aid station, and I started to feel a little relief from the cramps. But, the ascent/descent were brutal on my already cramping legs. I started to realize I might be in for a long day. I was pounding fluids, but throwing up the last two days had left me depleted and dehydrated.
Miles 12-18: I really tried to quiet all of the things racing through my head. How would this affect my time goal? What could I do to turn things around? Drink even more than I was? Eat more? If I did, would I throw up? Another salt pill? Was I in jeopardy of a DNF? Why did I have to get sick days prior to a race I had trained so diligently for? Why did I even decide to try and do this given how I felt? I put in my earbuds, listened to some calming music, and tried to enter a meditative state. It worked, somewhat. My pace was way down, and I was power hiking the steep ups. I didn’t have it in my legs to do any more than that. I didn’t make it a full mile at any point the rest of the race without having to slow to a walk to recover from a cramping leg. It was my calves, it was my quads, and it was a combination. I would cramp in a left calf, start compensating, and then seize up my right quad. But, I was toughing it out. I just forced my legs to continue.
Miles 18-21: Not good. I knew I was coming up on the end of the second loop, where there was an aid station. Some would see the completion of a loop and an aid station as a saving grace. I saw it as an upcoming tough decision I had to make. I slowed my pace further, hoping I could play a mind game. Maybe, if I got to the aid station feeling just a little bit better than I had the entire second loop, I could convince myself to go back out for a round 3. I shuffled in to the aid station.
I knew if I had any hope of completing this race, I would have to take a little recovery time at this aid station. A volunteer and his son grabbed my water bottles right away without me even having to ask, and filled me up with sports drink. They were great. Very supportive. While waiting for them to fill my bottles, my legs cramped again. I could barely stand. I was snacking on some of the stuff at the aid station. They gave me my bottles. I decided my day was done. I asked myself how I was going to go for a third loop, including another mountain pass, given that I was struggling to stand up at an aid station. I didn’t have an answer to that question. I was really hungry though, so I departed the aid station with a few cookies and a handful of peanut M&M’s. My friends Nic and Wes came to cheer me on, and saw me walking out of the aid station. Nic came over by me and asked how I was doing. He didn’t know I had been sick, didn’t know I was deciding on dropping out. I told him I felt like shit, and I couldn’t stop cramping. His advice was simple. “You got this, just jam it out”. I had a moment of clarity. I mean honestly, I was a fool not to think my back would be up against the wall at some point in this race, given the conditions. I realized if I did anything but start immediately out on the third loop, my day was done. I began jogging out to start my third loop.
Mile 21-21.5: After departing with Nic, I slowed back to a walk. I still had those cookies and M&M’s in my hands. I usually can eat and jog, but its not nearly as appetizing. I’d enjoy this little treat, and get back at it.
Miles 21.5-25: Painful. I was really frustrated, and my mental state really began to deteriorate. Run/walk/run/walk. I hit a steep hill. Hobbled up the ascent, and had to stop at the top. Both calves and quads had locked up on the way up, and I didn’t think I could descend safely with stiff legs.
Mile 25: My lowest point of the race. I saw my target time goal come and go on my watch. My time goal had passed, and I was still 7 miles from the finish line. I wasn’t close enough to feel like I was almost there. I was embarrassed, upset, and frustrated. I had pounded all of my sports drink at the top while trying to loosen up my legs. I was out of fluids. It was getting pretty hot in the sun.
Mile 26: I saw an aid station in the distance. I was looking for any kind of a silver lining at this point, and man did I get one. I hobbled up to the aid station, and threw my hands up in the air. The volunteer was probably a little confused, but played right along, clapping and cheering me on. I really needed a break, so I decided to take one here. This lady was a real gem. I’m sure she could see I was distraught. She grabbed a spray bottle, came over by me, and began walking circles around me spraying me down with cold water. Arms, legs, face, neck. She grabbed my bottles, and filled me back up. We talked (I don’t exactly remember about what), but I remember it helped take my mind off my situation. She joked that she knew of a shortcut to the finish line, which she could probably be bribed into telling me about. She got me laughing. She then said I looked hungry, and offered me (of all things) a piece of pumpkin pie. Yes, pumpkin pie. It wasn’t part of the original fueling plan, but going according to the “plan” had been thrown out the window long before. So, I was definitely going to accept a piece of pumpkin pie. I thanked her for the help, left the aid station with my piece of pie, and continued on my way. She probably doesn’t know it, and I wish I had told her, but she made my day. I definitely should have told her.
Miles 26-29.5: Run/walk/Run/Walk.
Miles 29.5-32: I have the steep ascent/descent mountain pass once more, then a few rolling hills, and I am home free.
Finish: I finished. Pretty much a full hour later than my time goal. I guess my birthday present was an extra hour of fun. I sat down, said a little prayer, and broke down. I was physically and mentally exhausted. Big props to Aravaipa Running, everything about the event was great. Their motto is “Run Steep, Get High”. More like “Figure out a way to move forward Steep, Get Through”.
Post Race Thoughts: I hope I didn’t sound overdramatic in my race report. I tried to recollect it as accurately as possible based upon how I was feeling at that particular point. I am excited to take a little down time, recover, and start looking forward to my next endeavor. In retrospect, I’m glad everything happened the way it did. I learned a lot. I need to become stronger mentally, and stop getting so caught up on “the plan”. I don’t know yet what I am capable of, but I want to figure that out. And, the process of figuring it out is quite the ride. I’m happy, but I’m not satisfied.
Soundtrack to my race: This Will Destroy You and Tycho
Most notably: “The Mighty Rio Grande” by This Will Destroy You and “Awake” by Tycho