When Failure is Not the Negative You Think

by Mary Claire Falotico

Many people would assume I am gutted after my DNF at Vermont 100 this past weekend on July 15-17, and they are not wrong. As an Ultrarunner I am very driven, driven for perfection and always reaching for lofty goals that when I fail to meet is heartbreaking. But this DNF hit me differently because 24 days before I started the race I was in an ICU with a tube down my throat and a vent for breathing due to a severe asthma attack. I have fought every day since I was discharged to get my body back to 100%. I took every day of rest prescribed by the doctors, and I slowly returned to running, clawing my way back to being healthy and fit enough for this race. I knew going into this race my lungs were back to where they needed to be, and I am grateful every day that I am alive.

I started the race with a time goal, but quickly realized that with the change in course my first goal was unattainable. I was able to quickly change my race goal to enjoying the course, my fellow runners, the volunteers and my crew. My crew are the most amazing people in the world. I got to see them at mile 21 for the first time and they had made me a sign! Every crewed aid station had a different sign for me. Vermont 100 does not allow any music so I spent the first 70 miles making friends with other runners.

I met a fellow Altra Red team mate, Adam early on and we ran together for a while. He said his crew told him they wouldn’t meet him before 8:30 at the first crewed aid station, mile 21, so we kept each other running slowly. I also shared a lot of miles with Dave from Chase the Summit youtube channel and he was also running with a man named Dave. We ran together and chatted about their families, Western states, and Eastern states. Running with other people made the miles fly by.

By the mile 30 crewed aid station it was getting warm, I was starting to feel nauseous and my nuun was starting to taste like vomit in my mouth. We tried switching the flavor. John Daniel gave me a quesadilla to eat which tasted really good. I took some more quesadilla for the road and an uncrustable. I still felt nauseous, but I could push through and eat. It was weird, my stomach would cramp so hard when I ran downhill then be okay when I was running on the flat or power hiking up the mountains. It was 18 miles until I saw my crew again and that was weighing on my mind. But I caught back up with Dave and ran with him for a while. That helped a lot, the connections I felt during this race pulled me through. It all went by so fast. I took in the sights. I looked across fields. I listened to streams. During that section we ran up the longest mountain it seemed to go on forever. During the climb I heard a woman's voice from behind me say “ I know that dog you have on your pack!” I have a little button Gobi from the book Finding Gobi. The ladies name was Mary and she said she knows Dion and Gobi.

The New York Times bestselling true story of an Australian
ultramarathon runner and a little dog who formed
an unbreakable bond in the middle of the Gobi desert.

When I got to the top I was dizzy and cold. I got to the bottom and we were back onto the road in the direct sun. I could tell it should be hot, but I was shivering. I came to the next aid station and started crying. They asked what I needed and I said “ I don’t know, I’m cold and nauseous.” They had me sit down and drink flat coke and flat tonic water then I could eat some food. After that aid station I started to feel better and caught up with Mary and we ran together for a while. She is from NYC and we joked about how everyone who is not from New York thinks NYC is the only place in New York. She would drop me on most uphills then I would catch her on the down and we would run together on the flats. We ran together for about 50 miles.

I saw my crew again around 50 miles and John Daniel changed my socks and fixed the blisters on my feet. My legs still felt strong, but my stomach was turning and I was unable to take in any electrolytes. I upped my salt tablets to try to compensate. The next aid station was about 5 miles away and they had watermelon. After that I felt amazing. My stomach turned around and I was able to run for about 5 miles. I saw my crew at 64 or so miles and I was feeling pretty good. I was feeling fuzzy, but I didn’t feel the overwhelming nausea. I was putting ice in my ice bandana and down my bra at every crewed aid station so I thought I was staying ahead of the heat. When I came into mile 70 and was able to pick up my pacer, I was feeling nauseous again, but my legs felt ready to run and I had a large buffer to chase an under 24/23 hour finish.  So I picked up my little sister Rachel as a pacer and we took off. I was less lucid then I realized and then my crew realized because I did not have anything to eat in that aid station and left without my bottle of ginger ale that I had asked for. A little way into that leg Rachel reminded me I needed to eat. We decided on trying a gel because I didn’t have to chew anything. It immediately came up. I tried to drink water and that wouldn't stay down either.  Finally we made it to an aid station and I was able to fill one of the front bottles of my pack with ginger ale and that was all I could sip on. Nothing else would stay down. The whole 8-10 miles of that leg, my stomach started cramping to the point I had to hunch over and moan. It was so painful. By the time we made it to my crew I could hear my voice and I was slurring my words and could hardly walk. I slumped in to a chair and remember saying “I’m so nauseous” John Daniel gave me an uncrustable and water and I tried to eat and drink to save my race, but every sip of water and bite sent excruciating pain and extreme cramping in my stomach that doubled me over. I kept dropping the stuff in my hands. I was crying and asking for more time to turn it around. But nothing was changing, I was only getting worse. I knew it was over. My legs could still run, but the rest of my body was done. I couldn't keep anything down or stand up straight. John Daniel unpinned my bib and It was over, just shy of 80 miles!. At the moment I was devastated, and it is always tough when you fall short of your goals. But from every failed attempt, comes massive learning and as long as you can take away learning and increase your wisdom and places where you need to improve, then it isn't a failure at all. I also came away with the massive positive that throughout the race I did not have issues with my asthma.

Overall I came away with gratitude for my life, gratitude for my partner and co-workers who saved me in June when I had my severe asthma attack. Gratitude for my husband who selflessly gave up not only his weekend but many other nights when he has made me dinner and supported me through training and life. Gratitude for my parents and my little sister for giving up their weekend to come out and crew and pace me and gratitude for the ability to continue to train and push my body to the limit while fighting such severe asthma. Our bodies are amazing.

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