Confessions from the Trail: After the Race

Welcome to my twentieth and, likely, the final post in the Confessions from the Trail series! I started this series as a way to pull back the curtain and show people a sport that many will never even attempt. I started with “Chasing the Ultramarathon” and talked about failing to accomplish my goal three times. I wrote two follow-up pieces called “But Why?” and “Being Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable” to explain the lure of the ultra. I’ve also talked about ultramarathons’ details: gear, lingo, nutrition, pre-race traditions, race weight, and tapering. I’ve written about my journey through a sick week after Thanksgiving, critter encounters, the “pain cave,” and the training run that put me in the ER, followed by two weeks of quarantine in the final push to race day. And, of course, I’ve talked about my races: BUTS Bearly Heavy Half, Bear Bait 25k, and the big finale, Mississippi 50.

It’s been a long road and I’ve enjoyed having a platform to talk about a sport I love. But now the race is run and it’s time to close this series out by answering one last question: “What do you do after the race?” For me, there a few things I have to do, a few things I should do, a few things I should do but usually don’t, but as with my pre-race traditions, I’m mostly trying to stay sane! I’ll also close with a “so there I was…” and tell you about my colossal failure at MS50. Learn from my mistakes, folks!

Things I should do: take a moment to sit and stretch, eat a reasonable post-race snack (like a banana), then head to my hotel for a shower and real meal with some protein. Possibly reflect on my accomplishments.

What I actually do: stagger through the finish line to a kind volunteer who throws a medal around my sweaty neck. Proceed to eat my body weight in cookies and bananas. Lay down in the dirt to contemplate my life choices and entire existence. Decide I can, in fact, move a little. Stagger to my car. A quick shower at the hotel and then I stagger to an eating establishment to consume my weight in fatty food, gulp down a beer (two if someone else is driving). Finally, I go back to my room and pass out.

Exception: Ironman Orlando I managed to shower and go out to the Universal Studios parks to see the recently opened Harry Potter World. Rock and Roll NOLA I was able to get my butt showered, gulp down a beignet and Coke, then go on a TWO HOUR WALKING TOUR OF THE FRENCH QUARTER. I’m a dumbass sometimes.

What you definitely shouldn’t do: Of course, in my second Ironman Orlando, I spent part of the afternoon attempting to disassemble our bikes and accidentally put the (very dirty) cogs of my bike through my unprotected foot. I had about a second of shock where I could pull the bike out of my foot, look at, see exposed bones before the pain hit. How I managed to text my spouse after, I’m still not sure, but I think it was something along the lines of “SOS/911, help. Foot blood bad!” He reappeared moments in a panic. The panic did not resolve when he saw that I was bleeding bad enough to soak through the towel on my foot.

This is where I learned that my spouse loves me very much but is very freaked out when I’m hurt. I was thrown in a wheelchair (I could still walk) and he missed two exits for various hospitals before finally making the turn off for one in his panic. I, on the other hand, was in the back of the rental van calmly calling my boss to tell them I’d be on limited duty when we got back. Shock is a hell of a drug.

The Incident:

Oh boy. The things I don’t post live to Twitter… Let’s start this off with a “so there I was” and I promise this whole story is actually true as opposed to 10% true.

I was just a little stressed

As I mentioned in my Mississippi 50 race report, I drove to the race in full dark and followed my GPS. It was a dry and dusty route in and I strongly suspected my GPS sent me further south as I saw two cars turn off the paved roads further north. Additionally, in previous years where I’ve done this drive, at sunrise, I turned towards the start further north of where I turned in the morning.

When I left the race area that afternoon, I had spotty cell service and my GPS turned me in a different direction. My poor, abused brain just assumed that was to the more northern turn and, since a truck ahead of me turned that way, I followed along. My GPS, however, told me to turn away from the path the truck followed. I had a half-second where I considered following the truck but trusted my GPS. This was the wrong choice.

I now found myself not on a dry, dusty trail but a wet, muddy trail. I hit one patch where I felt my Subaru’s All Wheel Drive get me my money’s worth and again, had a half-second where I thought, “this is wrong” but, my dumb post-race brain decided to continue. Maybe a mile later, I found myself axles deep and high centered in thick, goopy, shoe-sucking mud. I was about 4 miles from the race start and 2 miles from a paved road with spotty cell service.

I called my insurance for roadside assistance and they dispatched a tow truck. A few minutes later, I check the status and it shows the service has been canceled. I frantically call the tow service and they canceled it because they’re too far away. It’s now 3 pm and I know the sun will set in 2.5 hours. I also know I am physically incapable of walking even the two miles to a road. I manage to connect a call to my insurance again, begging them to find another tow service.

Difference between finishing a half marathon and an ultramarathon: after effects. By this point, I am shaking violently. Normally I shake a little after a long run/race, but now I’m cold, exhausted, and quite literally in the middle of nowhere with only the food and water left over from my race.
This would be the point I realize that I was in deep shit.

While I wait for a wrecker that may or may not appear since the road ahead of me isn’t much better than what I’m sitting in now, I start making my contingencies. If I start shaking harder or I feel light-headed or I start vomiting or my hands go numb, I will call 9-1-1. Otherwise, I’m going to wait. If the wrecker can’t make it, I’ll call 9-1-1. I have no idea what they might be able to do, but if I can stagger to a paved road, maybe someone can at least give me a ride to my hotel. None of the towns close by are big enough to support taxi services or an Uber driver.

I won’t lie, I cried. I curled up in my passenger seat, huddled under my towel and cried while I tried to text family or friends, anyone who would reassure me that I would be ok. The pain cave at mile 27 has nothing on sitting in my stuck vehicle, my ability to get out uncertain, and knowing full well I have no one to blame but myself. I will probably have nightmares about this for a while.

Fortunately, the tow truck arrived and hauled me out. He told me how bad it was up ahead and said he’d lead me out so he could haul me out again if I got stuck. Of course, my luck, THE TOW TRUCK GOT STUCK ON THE WAY OUT. Y’all, I can’t even make this shit up. He hauled himself out and I drove halfway up a bank to get past that point. Once we reached the paved road, I thanked the tow truck drive profusely and went on my way.

I finally got back to my hotel four hours later than expected and in a bad way. With no more food, water, or ibuprofen, I was in pain and deep calorie debt. I managed to get my shower and food, but the whole calamity was a real damper on my day.

Learn from my screw up. Your head won’t be on right after a race this long. You will be tired and weaker than you will expect. I highly recommend bringing a friend, pacer, or crew to help you at the end of the day and make the good decisions your poor tired brain can’t.


Will I race the trails again? Most certainly. Will I write race reports in Confessions From the Trail? Probably? But for now, we’ve run the race and are at the end of the road. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.


Happy trails and enjoy the journey!


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2 Comments on “Confessions from the Trail: After the Race

  1. Pingback: Chasing the Ultramarathon: – Author K R Paul

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