Kelowna ultra runner Melanie Bos knew something was wrong during the nearly 10 hours that it took her to complete the 100 Kilometre World Championship ultra road race in Italy last month.
Bos was struggling for the entire race, feeling nauseous early and then vomiting several times later in the race.
Still she pushed on through the pain and discomfort and finished as the second fastest Canadian woman, crossing the finish line and meeting family, friends and other members of Team Canada.
“When I finished the race I was just happy to be done,” Bos explained, back in Kelowna and feeling much better. “My family and the team were there and everyone was taking pictures. But I was really feeling off. I would be fine and then everything would go black. I just didn’t feel well.”
A veteran of ultra running with several races of longer than 100km under her belt, Bos figured things would get better as she went along with her team and her family to a post-race celebration. But everything wasn’t fine. She continued to vomit and later that night she would wake up with extreme cramping and an elevated heart rate that would force her and husband Kevin to make a trip to the hospital. And lucky they did. Due to several factors, including dehydration, a virus and heat, Bos had gone into acute renal failure. She would be admitted to the hospital for four days.
“It was scary,” she admitted. “The doctors were mostly speaking Italian. They speak English like we speak French so it was hard to understand what was going on. I hadn’t read a lot about ultra runners and kidney failure. I was lucky that we were close to a city the size of Kelowna with a good hospital and amenities that you need. The good news is that if you catch it early you can fully recover.”
Turns out kidney failure is rare in ultra runners but Bos has since found a couple other examples of long distance runners having kidney issues. She says it’s something that runners should know about and although she says she was more prepared than ever for the 100 km distance, looking back, her preparations in the days leading up to the race were not perfect.
“Looking back I need to be way better prepared,” said the mother of three. “I’m a mom and my kids were there and I was entertaining and trying to look after them. I needed to focus more on myself and also take that time at the end of the race for myself.”
Ironically, the night before the World Championships, Bos had been awarded the top female Canadian ultra runner trophy for 2011. Her result the next day was a full hour slower than at the World Championships the year before. Even with the physical problems that plagued her during the race and for several weeks after, Bos said she was happy she was able to finish.
“I feel happy that I did finish but you definitely see how vulnerable you are,” she said. “I trained the best I had ever trained. I had a great program and great pre-races. I was ready to be in some discomfort for such a long race but I did not think I would be causing damage to my organs.”
Today Bos is back in Kelowna, back to health and back to running, although doctors have told her to avoid any races for four to six weeks. That’s fine with her but her trip to hospital in acute renal failure has done little to dampen her enthusiasm for the sport of ultra running. She plans to return to racing at the Kelowna Scorched Sole race on June 23 and also has the 125 km Great Canadian Death Race in Grande Cache, AB on her schedule for this year. And after what she calls a horrible race at the World Championships, she already is looking ahead to a return next year to the same event.
“I was almost not going to do 100 km on the road anymore because it’s a tough one on your body as opposed to trail running,” she said. “I think I could have done so much better in the race so I think I’m going to do it again. You feel a little gypped. I was ready but it didn’t go right. Plus it’s a neat experience to go and represent your country.”