Dropping Out Of The Zugspitz 100K: Lessons Learned From A Hard Decision

March 11, 2019

Here, Nathan athlete Mike Wardian talks about a tough call he was forced to make at a recent race, the Zugspitz 100K in Germany:

Stay after it! That is my mantra when I am competing during both training and in life. ... But at the Zugspitz 100K in Germany on June 21, I did not do that. I did something I had not done in years: I withdrew from the race at the 90-kilomter mark with severe dehydration, which landed me on a stretcher followed by a trip to a German hospital. I was lucky to walk away with just 10 punctures in my arms, a bag of saline in my system, and feeling otherwise completely fine with no lasting consequences.

What happened? I had to make a call during the Zugspitz 100K-a challenging mountain-running race with over 17,000 feet of elevation gain-that most endurance athletes have to make during their careers at one point or another. And it was a decision that is always difficult to make: Ask for help.

I was reminded-most acutely-that you have to respect the distance and your body and if you fail to do so, you pay the consequences.


I was having an OK day running in and around the top 10 of the race, but was also really pushing myself to do it. While I hoped that staying caught up on my nutrition and fluids I'd be able to recover and then run faster later in the race, unfortunately, I remained pretty shattered from the fast tempo early on. By close to the halfway mark, I couldn't run quite the pace I hoped to be and, on top of that, my stomach turned and I was having trouble getting calories in and keeping them in.

When I got to about 80 kilometers (or about 50-miles), I started to slow drastically and was just putting one foot in front of another as best I could. When I got to the last huge climb, I knew it was all about just moving as quickly as I could. I was not worried about my place anymore, I was in complete survival mode and I wanted to finish more than anything.

But as I shuffled and walked toward the finish line, I was more and more unsteady and a few times I got so dizzy, I missed my foot placement and ended up tripping and/or falling into the hill. I knew that things were very bad when several other athletes asked if I was "OK."

Usually, I am asking other runners how they are doing and cheering them on, so it was a complete role reversal. I was OK with that, though, but what I was not able to reconcile was the fact that I thought I was perhaps inflicting real, lasting damage to my body. Plus, I felt I could not just hurt myself but someone else on the trail. ... And that is not cool. My race may not have been going according to plan, but that did not earn me the right to impact someone else's experience.

As I walked/hiked up to the 90-kilomter point, which was the last aid station, I continued to try to get my stomach back but it was in no mood for any calories. Every time I put them in, it rejected them. And so, I withdrew from the race. While it was a very difficult choice, I'm taking the experience as I do all the successes I have had in my running career, and looking at it as part of the "journey." In the end, it will no doubt make me a better athlete.


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