Monday, March 26, 2012
"Snakes don't walk, they slither. So there."
The race started at 9, so I showed up at 8:30 and there were cars and trucks on both sides of the narrow roadway and in parking lots. I managed to find a good parking spot just inside one of the gates at the top, just a tenth of a mile from the start/finish line. I picked up my packet and got myself ready as best I could. The air still had the dawn chill, but it was promising to warm up fast. Walking around, I found that my excitement was much like that of my first 5k 2 years ago. I found myself wishing that someone would have been there, at least at the start. Even though I had started 2 half marathons before, I knew this would be a challenge, and it turned out to be a very ambitious outing for me.
Ken "Trail Zombie" Childress, the Race Director, gave everyone the lowdown and last minute skinny on the trails and then we were off. Like a good boy, I took up a position at the end of the pack because I was not only slow, but new to running the trails. I took the open field at the start to set my alarm and tried my 4 and 1 walk/run that I had set on the roads. For a while, the trail parallelled the road and I could hear traffic for a bit. The first downhill bit was a slow start, with rocks and roots and a generally more uneven surface than I was used to. But it wasn't too bad and soon I found a more smooth running surface to move down and I actually started running just a little bit, at least until I came to the first of several little streams I could cross or trek through.
Crossing over the stream, the uphill side was quite muddy with a stream of it's own trickling down it. The herd of previous runners had not done much in the way of favors to me, so I hesitantly waded through it and found that it wasn't too bad. I got a little mud on my feet, but didn't carry much away with me and continued on. Right in the middle of this climb, one of my alarms went off and I just reset it for the next time... I didn't think it would be safe for me to try to run with such tenuous and slippery footing. That would soon become the norm as I had to skip more and more of my running minutes.
There were a lot of differences between running on the trails and running on the streets. The obvious one is the matter of terrain. Trees and roots and rocks and rivers and trying to yield up the trail to passing runners in both directions took its toll on my physically, to be sure. But another major difference is the fact that most of the time on the trail, I had no idea about the distance I had travelled. While the trail was well marked and I never strayed off it, this still made trying to pace myself very difficult -- no map with landmarks, no cross streets to measure progress by.
It wasn't long before all sense of being "in town" was gone and it was just me, the trees and my fellow runners. Somewhere after the turn away from traffic, I paused and drank down some of my Gatorade, not wanting to dehydrate too early in the race. The sun was creeping up and so were the temperatures. It was about this time that I noticed another feature or difference of running trails... the wind was blocked more by the trees, so there was less cooling effect as the day warmed up. At first, this was good. But later, I was wishing for a bit more wind.
Ahhh... the first aid station! I took in some water and a couple of oranges and a few small pretzel sticks for the salt. It was good to see the aid station, it gave me some sense of where I was on the course. I left the aid station and felt a bit better, but this was a 4.2 mile loop and I was just passing the first mile. On the road, I've got various places I scout out in case I need a quick sit for 20, 60 or 90 seconds. But on the trails, these were few and far between. And with the warmer weather, you never knew when you might happen upon one of the race's namesakes, so I knew I had to be careful.
Finally, what I guesstimate as about a half a mile away from the aid station, I found a rock formation just off the path where I could catch my breath and rub out some of my sore muscles. Between the unfamiliar terrain and having to break trail to give right of way to passing runners, the trails were forcing me to use untrained muscles and they were complaining. But I wasn't anywhere near done yet.
Getting back on the trails, I had just stepped away from my break area when my cell phone rings... Well, I had no idea so I answered it. Wrong number. I don't know why I was so put out, but after 3 times of me telling them I didn't know any William Bass and that this had been my number for over 10 years, they finally got the message and I continued on. It seemed that the further along I went, the worse the mud got. There were a blessed few spots where I could go around at least the worst of it, but many spots there was just no place to go and I ended up carrying around a couple of pounds in wet mud.
Finally, I slogged my way to the halfway point and even had a great place to sit down and knock some of the mud off my shoes. Taking a quick break just short of the turnaround/aid station, I basked in the sun for a few minutes... Maybe more like a snake than I'd like to admit, hehe. Then I got up to see a familiar face manning the aid station. I got more water and refilled my bottle with water, got some more orange slices and the last piece of banana, a few more pretzel sticks and I turned around to slog back through it all.
Heading back around through all that mud just doubled how tired my legs were already feeling. I dug down and did my best to find rest stops. I drained the last of my Gatorade and started on the water. It was a long way back if my legs weren't going to hold up... and I had left too many races unfinished anyway. I don't like doing that. So I kept pushing. Finally, I made it back to the last aid station. I knew that it had taken me about a half an hour to reach it the first time, so I figured that as tired as I was, it would take me about 45 minutes to slog my way back out. While I began to feel the closeness of the finish line I was also starting to feel bloated, even though I had not had what I thought was an over lot to drink. I refilled on water anyway, but the bloating made me pass up more potential fuel. I rested at the aid station for a few minutes and gathered my strength for the push back around.
But it wasn't long before my legs had enough and right in the middle of the trail, they gave way. I otherwise felt fine. I dragged myself off the trail and went over a mental checklist... Heart was beating fast but strong and regular... Vision was good, no spots before my eyes or anything. I mentally checked myself on the day (Saturday, 24 March), President (Obama, why couldn't it be Reagan), location(Turkey Mountain, Tulsa). I took several deep breaths, no pain there. Just my legs. I wasn't sure if I had anything left... it didn't feel so. Passing runners on their additional loops checked on me and a couple of them said they would tell the aid workers. I said thanks and rested, sipping on my water.
Finally, the idea of giving up frothing vily in my mouth, I hauled myself up and kept moving toward the finish. I didn't want to quit, I didn't want to give up. I wanted to finish. How far was I? I didn't have any idea. Half a mile? Surely I could drag myself another half mile. I met the 3 guys that were coming down to check on me on my feet. They wanted to take me off the course. I was near the road by now and there were a couple of nearby paths that led right out to the road, but I just kept trudging up the path. I was hurting and in trouble and everything in me was screaming that I should just give up and let them carry me out. I knew what they said about being in the woods in bad shape, but I just couldn't stop. And yet my legs failed me again.
Down I went for a second time. Again, I went over my checklist. Just the legs were a problem. Silently, I prayed for the strength, but for a while, I mentally gave up. I knew I had really pushed hard. It was not an easy transition, from roads to trails. And it was even harder with the mud. Before long, Ken came down and checked on me himself. This time, I had collapsed only 3/10 of a mile from the finish line. I wasn't at all sure, now, what I was going to do. 3/10 of a mile was excruciatingly close. Only 2/10 and I'd pass right by my truck. I could stop there and just get in my truck and go home in shame...
Not that anyone at the race would have been shaming me... that was just myself. With Ken's encouragement and having finished the rest of my water, I crawled to me feet on my own and pushed through it to the clearing where my truck was. I found a log to sit on for a couple of minutes about half way to my truck. Then we stopped at my truck and I rested there while drinking some of the Gatorade that I had stashed for after the race. I could stop. I was safe and could go home. I wouldn't finish the race, but I could stop the pain, take the easy way out. This crossed my mind as I sat there. 1/10 of a mile to go, but if it was too much, I could just stop.
I got back up and started moving again. I don't really know why I couldn't just give up. I had every right to. I had played out my legs, not just once, but several times. I was nauseated and bloated. I wanted to puke, but couldn't. I just kept pushing. My body wanted me to quit, my mind had given in for a few minutes. But then I just couldn't. I stumbled up the hill I had come down several hours earlier and headed for the finish line. I was out of the woods, but not done yet. When I finally crossed the finish line, I just stood there for a moment. I'd made it. I wasn't carried off, I didn't get pulled for some medical reason. I'd finished under my own power. I moved over to the mound of dirt thinking I should sit down, but my foot slipped on some mud... the final insult hurdled at me from a race that I had taken far too lightly, but had managed to complete. I just sat there thinking and praying my thanks for giving me the strength to finish the race. It was a most gruelling race for me. The hardest one I have done, thus far.
Finally, I managed to get up off the dirt and move down to the finish line aid station. I was now more nauseated than I was weak in my legs and I sat in the shade and drank a bit of water and a bit of Sierra Mist, trying to settle my stomach. Finally, I laid down for a while and tried several of the normal cures for my stomach being so upset. The salty potato, pretzels, orange slices, flat coke... Nothing seemed to help and I knew that for me, the only things that were going to help were some sleep and actually puking. Finally, I drifted off into a light sleep on the cold and damp ground, which actually felt good at the time.
After laying on the ground for over an hour, I began to feel good enough to go get a shower and get some rest. So I got a ride to my truck and headed home. My stomach was still a little queasy, but I felt better and was confident that I could make it home. But just a half mile from my exit, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the reflex to vomit and even though my window was down, I could not get my head out the window and get slowed down enough. 65 Miles Per Hour is not a good time to experience this. I managed to get pulled off onto the shoulder safely, but I don't think I will ever forget that sight coming back at me.
Finally getting home and getting ready for a shower, I took the opportunity to check over my feet. Mud was certainly the order of the day, as were blisters.
Several people asked me after it was over... would I come back? It was a bad question to ask at the moment, but I didn't say no. Having had a couple of days to think about it, I think I can now say yes, I'll be back. Not soon and not often, but I will be back.