I dropped out at mile 16 of the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Podbrdo, Slovenia. Mile 16 crossed over and through the small mountain village of Hudajuzna, the lowest elevation point in the race. Ironically, my lowest point was at the lowest point.
At the start of the race, there was a 500 meter prologue. We were instructed that after they counted down, instead of taking off, everyone would jog together in a glomerulus cluster so that spectators could cheer us on before heading up the mountain. It was hard to see the road due to all of the bodies pressing together and I caught my left foot in a cattle grid. My ankle twisted, but it was no big deal. But, once we hit the trail, I did it again and again. Since late March I have been dealing with a tight hamstring/glute/hip flexor that has affected my gait and movement in my lower leg. My guess is that residual tightness made my ankle not able to recover and so it just kept getting weaker and weaker during the race. This was extremely unfortunate because the next 42 kilometers was on an aggressive, technical and relentless course with over 11,000 feet of gain.
The first climb started on a wide mountain jeep road. I worked on staying controlled and was sandwiched between my teammates, Cam and Anita. We gradually made our way up and then at about 5k there were short, steep dips. Every time I descended I felt sharp pain in my ankle and it made me rely heavily on my right leg. I felt lop-sided and unstable and was unable to navigate the technical terrain efficiently. I was working extra hard to get my body to move forward. I have never felt injury pain in a race before that made me question my ability to finish.
I made it up and over the highest peak and then started the long technical descent. On my first step down, my ankle just bent over and I would fall sideways catching myself with my hands. It was really ridiculous. My body felt so beaten up I felt like I was finishing up a race, not 9 miles into a marathon. Three miles into the descent I took an extra second at the aid station to try to regroup. Cam powered ahead and Anita was long gone. She mastered the descent like a boss. I started walk jogging to try to loosen up my legs and GU’d desperately.
At mile 12 I started to have Tad sightings. There was a man walking towards me with sunglasses and a backwards hat. “Tad! Tad!” I yelled ahead. He ignored me. “Tad, it’s me!” It was like a bad dream. As I got closer I realized it was just a mirage. After what seemed like forever, I made it to Hudajuzna. There was a check point and somebody yelling out names on a loud speaker. I heard my name and wanted to just crawl in a hole. I knew my day was done. There was no questioning it. I walked around looking lost and confused until Tad finally found me. A sweet Slovenian grandma gave me a hug, kissed my cheek and gave me a chair to sit in. Kristina, my La Sportiva teammate, ran by and powered through to score for our team.
My U.S. teammates are some of the most awesome people and amazing athletes. Our men placed 5th and the women 4th. Full results here.
The day of the race, I accepted what happened. It is what it is. It happens to everybody. In the scheme of life, this is no big deal. But as each day passes, I get more and more overwhelmed with grief. I feel terribly embarrassed and feel the need to apologize to everybody for not representing our country well. I wake up in the middle of the night and obsess over what I could have done differently in the race, in my training.
I feel like I have been forcing races, workouts and runs for a couple months now. It is time to hit the reset button. Tad and I are getting married this weekend and then going to West Virginia to spend time with my family. It really sucks, but we decided to skip the U.S. Mountain Running Championships in Lincoln, New Hampshire. My body needs time to heal and I do not want to line up for another sub-par performance. I don’t think I can handle it mentally.
A good aspect that has come out of struggling the past couple months is it really has made me reflect on last year. I had an awesome spring and summer last year. When you’re in it, it is so easy to bounce from race to race and not appreciate successes. You always want more and therefore are always looking to the next event. But I am savoring it now.
I can’t express my gratitude enough for all of your wishes of support, encouragement and understanding. Many thanks to Nancy Hobbs and Jason Bryant for the opportunity to compete among the world’s best in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
For more pictures of my European adventure, check out my Instagram account @mariadalzot.