You know the expression “I had my butt handed to me?”
This was the race that handed my butt to me.
As I stumbled alone through the forest, the snark grew strong and I knew it was more than Facebook could stand. It kept me going as I feared all was lost and I would die alone in the woods, eaten by a band of rabid armadillos. In my delirium I hatched a plan to start a blog and dominate the running world. Or, you know, have a handful of my friends read it and not think I had lost my mind.
Back to the race. It was at Chehaw Park in Albany, GA, about an hour and half away from home. The run followed a BMX trail that went through the park. In addition to the 10 miler that we ran, there was also a 50K and a 50 mile run. We’re always up for a road trip and had never ran a race in Albany. Throw in a finisher’s medal AND a painting made by one of the zoo animals and we’re there. For all ten plus miles.
Yeah…PLUS miles. We were warned by a friend who ran it last year that it was over ten miles. Her GPS showed 10.8. What’s another .8 mile when you’ve already done 10? Let me tell you, friend – it’s a LOT.
The first few minutes were uneventful. Lots of roots, but nothing too bad. A stumble here and there…and then it happened. Joey tripped and fell pretty hard. He was up in just a few seconds, brushing it off and getting right back into our run/walk intervals. I teased him about his fall, to which he replied “have you seen the size of my feet? Besides, my people were Vikings. We want you to know we’re coming.”
After a couple of miles, I started pulling away and he told me not to hold back. I’d set a goal of 2:30:00 for this race, thinking I could maintain a 15:00/mile pace. How wrong was I? Very wrong. Very wrong indeed.
Trail runs are an entirely different animal than a road race. Roots, holes, pine cones, and sticks are all waiting to make your life a misery. And this course had them in abundance. If I tripped once, I tripped a thousand times, muttering and swearing under my breath.
I plodded on. By mile five I had a three or four minute lead over Joey. The aid station was coming up and I decided to wait there and talk to him. I rounded the corner and across the field I saw it – beckoning like the Promised Land. A white canopy billowed in the breeze and a welcoming fire was roaring in front. Did I mention it was cold? Again? I know, I know…it’s January.
I was greeted with the most glorious spread I had ever seen at a race. Bacon. Grilled cheese sandwiches. PB&J sandwiches. Chips. Pretzels. Pickles. Cookies. Gummi bears. Drinks. Fruit. And Little Debbie Oatmeal Pies. I stood there, my brain incapable of thought, overwhelmed by choice. “Can I refill your Camelbak,” they said. “What can we get for you to eat?” Hands shaking, I cautiously grabbed two fat pretzels. “Take an oatmeal pie,” the man said. “Take a couple, we have plenty.” I smiled. “One is fine, thanks.”
As I nibbled the salt off one of the pretzels I saw Joey trotting down the path. His eyes widened as he saw the plate of bacon. He munched contentedly, accepting a cup of Tailwind, and told me not to wait for him. It was all the encouragement I needed. He chatted with the people at the aid station and Little Debbie and I were on our way.
The second half started out good. The pretzels put a little spring in my step, and I delicately held my oatmeal pie. I knew there were at least five more miles left and decided to save it until closer to the end. We made our way along the path, Debbie and I. The birds were chirping and I could hear squirrels rustling in the fallen leaves. At least I thought they were squirrels. HOPED they were squirrels. Several times I thought I heard someone coming up behind me but there was no one there when I looked back. Then I realized it was my Camelbak shifting and sloshing behind me. Idiot.
For a time, I ran alongside an old chain link fence, rusty concertina wire dangling loosely from its top. Beyond the fence I could barely make out a few old buildings, collapsed under the weight of leaves and kudzu. The sun had gone behind the clouds and the woods were shady and uninviting. I felt as though I were in a scene from M. Knight Shymalan’s movie “The Village,” running from a monster I couldn’t see.
The path began to climb and I checked my watch. I was approaching the 7.5 mile mark when disaster struck. In my distraction I tripped on a tree root and felt myself falling. As I did, my body instinctively tensed. “Please be a fart,” I thought. “Please.” Protectively I cradled Little Debbie to my chest to keep her from being smashed. In doing so my hip and forearm took the brunt of the fall, which was lessened by a cushion of pine needles. “You’re safe,” I whispered to her.
The novelty of a 10 mile race was wearing thin as I passed the eight mile marker. My hips ached and my shoes had long since devoured my socks. I took a minute to adjust them, thankful there was only a small spot of chafing on my ankle. I was tired and lonely; obscenities and frustration mingled in my mind as the roots reached out for my weary feet..
Little Debbie was looking pretty good at mile nine. I wasn’t sure how much water/lemonade I had left in the Camelbak and I knew the oatmeal pie would make me thirsty. So I waited. The course crossed a paved road and went into an open area near the highway. I could see other runners making their way along the path and thought that surely I was almost done.
But I had been deceived. The path twisted and turned on itself through the clearing. Like a drunk college student staggering through Walmart at 2:00 am, it wandered back and forth seemingly without direction. My energy was flagging and it was then that I abandoned my run intervals, choosing to walk instead.
Another runner, who was participating in either the 50K or 50 mile event passed me, cheering me on. He was tall and slender, wearing only baggy shorts and a pair of brown sandals. His dark, wavy hair floated around his shoulders and for a moment I thought Running Jesus had come to take me home. “Great job,” he said. “Keep going.” He bounced effortlessly across the road like a young gazelle. I gave him the finger.
Eventually I crossed back into the forest, wishing desperately that I had added music to Runkeeper. Lil’ Deb was still in my left hand and I couldn’t get the phone out of my belt pack with only my right hand. I was alone in the woods with no music and only an oatmeal pie for company. I felt like Tom Hanks’ character in “Castaway” and wondered if I should call the oatmeal pie Wilson.
But look! What’s this I see? The ten mile marker! I was still deep in the woods. There was no way the finish line was that close. My angry, frustrated glance looked at Debbie, grinning up at me from the wrapper of the pie. “Screw you,” I mumbled to her dimpled face. The cellophane wrapper tore under my fingers, and I sank my teeth into the creamy goodness of an artificially flavored junk food cocktail. The sugar raced through my bloodstream and I longed for a chair and a glass of milk.
Having neither a chair nor milk, I pressed on. Stuffing the wrapper into the pocket of my Camelbak I saw a sign posted ahead. “Pedal pedal pedal pedal.” Obviously meant for the BMX riders, it mocked my slow lumbering pace. Left hand now free, I snatched my phone from its pouch and took a picture of me making an obscene gesture in front of the sign.
Soon the woods began to clear and I could hear music. Robert Plant’s voice floated through the trees. Either Zeppelin had reunited with Bonham at the Pearly Gates or I was near the finish line. I looked at my watch: 10.23 miles. Damn. That could only mean one thing: I wasn’t going to see the golden god of rock today. But on the bright side, I was almost done.
As I came down the hill I heard a cheer rise up from the timekeeper. “Great job,” he yelled. “You made it.” Staggering across the line, I was approached by a young woman in a Viking costume who handed me my medal, a plastic beer mug, and a painting by Alistair the mini-cow. I didn’t care anymore what my time was. I finished the longest run of my life. I bonded with an oatmeal pie. And I didn’t crap my pants.
A short time later, nearly eleven minutes to be exact, Joey made his way across the finish line. He collected his medal and mug, then selected a painting made by two ball pythons. We stood together quietly. A faint smell of burning food wafted across the field, and the beer cooler beckoned. We were done.
Splits: Mile 1 – 15:42, Mile 2 – 16:37, Mile 3 – 15:54, Mile 4 – 17:16, Mile 5 – 16:34, Mile 6 – 17:42, Mile 7 – 16:52, Mile 8 – 17:34, Mile 9 – 16:19, Mile 10 – 19:43
Next up – a training run, weather permitting.