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Fighting the Yeti and losing

Editor's note: This summer I wrote about Jason Atnip and his quest to run his first 100-miler. Earlier this week, he finished 78 miles before dropping at the Yeti 100. I invited him to write about his adventure and what he learned. He graciously agreed and his essay follows.

Race day came for the Yeti 100, the one race I’ve wanted more than anything. I was super excited to be there because I had worked so hard. As soon as he said go, I was off and it felt great to finally start this journey. I fought off pelvic floor issues, which I dealt with later in my training, and I pushed through the summer heat while trying to figure out training to run my first 100-mile race.

I set off at Whitetop Mountain in Virginia on Sept. 27 at 7 a.m. The day was going to be a hot one (mid 80s) but I had trained in the summer heat in Tennessee and figured I’d be OK. My strategy was to get to the halfway point in 11 hours and then have plenty of time banked to finish the rest of the way.

A plan, then reality

I was planning on running for three minutes and walking for two minutes for the first half of the race and then flip it on my way up the mountain at night. After that I’d see how I’d feel and go from there.

The first 33 miles went off great and I was on schedule. My first issue came in the form of abdominal pain somewhere along mile 37. Fairly certain it was the heat coupled with possibly something I ate earlier but never really was able to figure out exactly where it came from. I was able to shake that by walking for a bit but lost some time which led to me trying to make up time by running faster than I wanted to.

At the halfway point, I was feeling great and picked up my pacer for the nighttime portion back to the top of Whitetop. I was probably a little too arrogant here because even though I felt good I expelled a lot of energy making up time and I didn’t realize the effect it would have on me later on.

It also set the tone for me in regards to expectations because I’d run well and felt so good up to that point. I felt like I could keep at that level which also had a mental effect on me later, namely being let down due to me not being able to keep up.

At the next aid station I changed clothes and made another error, which at the time I didn’t realize. I changed some of my clothes but didn’t change my socks so I didn’t realize my feet were starting to deteriorate. The way up to Whitetop was tough mainly because I had overspent my energy trying to make up time and bank time thinking it would work in my favor.

It did not and eating solid food was becoming more taxing which didn’t help my situation. Looking back, banking time was not a good strategy at all. I should have went slower from the start as I was relegated to walking up the mountain. I was fading fast going up the mountain and then I started having feet issues. I ended up having multiple hot spots which my crew put moleskin over. And this time, I changed socks.

I finally made it to the top and was in pretty bad shape at that point. Noodles was all I could eat. On the way down my legs were progressively feeling worse along with my feet which were now starting to get blisters. The bigger issue was fatigue and it was setting in fast. My most critical mistake in this whole journey was I did zero overnight runs.

My arrogance told me I didn’t need them and I paid the price. I wasn’t thinking very clearly stumbling on the trail and my legs were starting to lock up.

Time to drop

At mile 78, I rolled into the Taylor’s Valley aid station and after calculating time and how my feet were deteriorating, along with my mental state, I pulled the plug. There was no one to take my bib and I had to drive to an aid station so I could officially drop. It really hit me when I stopped my watch and looked down at it. There was a lot of finality at that moment. The ride to drop was very long due to how far out we were and my crew chief ended up telling them I was dropping. I was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted.

The biggest things I learned from my training were I should have done night training runs and my flawed race strategy. I feel like those were two big factors in me not succeeding along with taking care of myself during the race like changing my socks. I did learn that I have the ability to finish a 100-miler if I just tweak some things. I learned that I was able to push through some really bad times, which at the beginning of my training I didn’t know I had in me.

Ultimately I’m not sure if I’ll make another attempt. I feel pretty confident I could do it knowing what I know now but time will tell. Still 78 miles isn’t anything to sneeze at and I’m proud I made it that far.

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