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February 24, 2018 – Flatlander’s Canyon Crash

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Trail Runs – gotta love ’em.  If you didn’t, there’s no way a rational and sane person would get up at 4:15 am and drive three hours to do one.  And we’ve done this one three times now.

It’s always reassuring when you have friends at a race, and this was no exception. Deborah and Kenny, who run with us at home, were there.  And our friend Chris was there with the Good Life City Runners from Albany.  The GLCR also provided support for the aid stations.

It’s impossible to compare one trail to another.  For that matter, it’s impossible to compare the same trail to itself because it’s different each time.  Case in point: the Canyon Crash.  The course has been slightly different each time, and as with the Chehaw run the finish line isn’t always exactly where you expect it to be.

There were four distances at the Canyon Crash: 5K, 10K, 1/2 marathon, and 50K. We’ve retained just enough of our sanity NOT to enter the 1/2 or the 50K, and it would be a little silly to go all that way just for a 5K.  10K it was.  Or was it?

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The first mile or so was great.  We were still fresh and full of energy, and for once we were part of the pack.  The slower part, mind you, but still….

We trotted along, measuring our run to walk intervals and feeling a little pleased with ourselves.  Maybe a little too pleased.

As the trail turned downhill, we saw part of the stream that wound its way through the floor of the canyon.  The red Georgia clay on either side of the water formed a thick, sticky mud that would suck the shoe right off your foot if you weren’t careful.  We managed to escape without losing our footwear, but those poor Hokas will never look the same again.

After the LaBrea Tar Pits stream crossing we caught up to one of our friends from Valdosta. She pointed to the path in front of us and said “take a picture of that.” We looked in the direction she was pointing. And then looked up.  And then up again.  And again.  And freaking again.

We had stopped at the base of the hill (and I use that term very loosely) and looked back and forth at each other and then back up the hill.  I remembered it being steep.  I didn’t remember it being vertical.

I looked down at the heart rate display on my Fitbit.  138. “Not too shabby,” I thought.  I began to climb, taking short strides and leaning slightly forward.  After a few minutes I paused to wipe the sweat/tears from my face.  As I took a drink from my Camelbak I glanced at the heart rate monitor.  In my delirium I saw OMG.

Onward and upward.  Deborah and Joey were behind me and I pushed on.  I had a goal.  I was crossing that finish line at 2:00:00 if it killed me.  My breath came in short, shallow gasps and I could feel the color flooding my face.  My Fitbit mocked me.  WTF.

I stopped for a few seconds and braced myself against a tree to catch my breath.  My heart pounded in my ears and I felt vaguely queasy.  “This is not the time,” I said to myself.  “No one wants to see that BK sausage croissant you had for breakfast.”

Another sip of water and I was off.  The top of the hill was finally in sight.  A few more steps, a slight stumble on a rock…and I was there.  The sweat evaporated on my skin, leaving a salty crust in its wake.  I felt like a giant salt lick and worried that I might be ambushed by a wayward deer.

Joey reached the summit a few minutes later.  Our pace had slowed to 16:20-ish per mile.  Math has never been my strong suit, and after climbing the “stairway to heaven” I was in no shape to calculate our finish time.

Thankfully, the trail was downhill for a while.  We were approaching the three-mile mark and wondering how far it was to the aid station.  “Where are those Boy Scouts when you need them?” I asked.  The first time we did this, the Scouts had set up a killer aid station in a shelter on top of one of the larger hills.  It was like hitting Waffle House at midnight on a Friday after a night out with your friends.

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  The shelter came into view, and there were no Scouts.  No junk food buffet.  No drinks.  Just a group of semi-conscious guys who barely acknowledged our passing.

Joey and I looked at each other. “Well THAT sucks,” I said.  Joey looked back over his shoulder, wistfully.  “I wonder if they had any beer,” I heard him say quietly.

The trail fell away sharply.  Joey and his giant size 13 wides stomped their way down, planting themselves firmly on the hard packed clay.  I, on the other hand, picked my way with laser focus.  As my husband likes to say about me, “she’s a beautiful woman but she’s clumsy as hell.”  He waited patiently at the bottom as I slipped and stumbled my way down.

The wind rustled through the trees and brought the sound of AC/DC to our eager ears.  That could only mean one thing – the aid station.  We quickened our pace and found ourselves face to face with the awesome folks from the Good Life City Runners, who we met at Chehaw Park.  They remembered us from the race and we stopped for a few minutes for snacks and a picture.  (Thanks again – you guys are the best!)

We had just passed the five-mile mark with a good 40 minutes or so until the 2-hour mark.  But there was a flaw in the slaw.  We still had the riverbed to cross, and the slow, soul-crushing climb back to the ranger station.  And we were nowhere near the finish line.

I wondered if I should break into my stash of Keebler Fudge Stripe minis that were in the pocket of my Camelbak. Reaching behind me, I could feel that there wasn’t a lot of water left and decided to wait.  The promise of a hot dog at the finish line buoyed my spirits as the woods began to clear.

The riverbed appeared in front of us, the slippery red mud glistening on either side.  I saw the footprints of the runners who had passed before us.  The mud oozed up and over my feet, clinging to my shoe as I went.  Branches and limbs poked and prodded me.  I gave up on the idea of dry feet and ran down the middle of the trickling stream.  The cool water washed over my shoes.  For a brief moment it felt good – until it hit my insoles.

The “squish squish squish” and mild chafe of wet, gritty shoes immediately wiped away any relief the water had tried to offer.  I still had at least a mile and half to go and a giant hill to climb.  In wet shoes.  Wet, gritty shoes and socks.  Wonderful.

We followed the red clay of the riverbed until, at last, we saw the sign to turn left.  It was time.  We were at the base of The Widow-maker: the long, steep, gravel-covered climb to the ranger station. There were several park visitors making their way down, among them a group of Boy Scouts (about time you show up, kids! Where’s my oatmeal pie?).

Their leader raised her arm as we approached.  “Everybody stop!” she yelled. The boys behind did as they were told and watched with wide eyes as we came toward them.  By then we must have looked like Swamp Thing.  We were both caked in mud up to our ankles, red-faced and dripping with sweat.  The boys moved to one side and allowed us to pass.

It was here that Joey began to fall behind.  My goal of two hours was less than fifteen minutes away and Runkeeper taunted me by calling out that we had completed six miles.  Things were beginning to look bleak.  I heard a voice call out behind me. “Go on,” he said.  “Don’t wait for me.”

I looked back.  He was holding on to the railing.  “Keep going.  I’ll be right behind you,” he said.  I wrestled with my conscience for a moment before I turned and started to climb.

The path twisted and turned, gravel crunching under my soggy shoes.  People stopped and stared as I passed them.  I searched their faces for encouragement and was met with blank stares.  “What, you’ve never seen anyone run through a canyon?” I thought.  “I hope you trip.”

It was then that I noticed my vision was slightly blurry.  I rubbed my eyes and couldn’t feel my contact lenses.  I wondered if they had popped out.  Or maybe melted and ran down my cheeks.  As bad as it might seem, that meant I had .0005 grams less to drag up that hill.  I blinked hard and felt them shift, and things came back into focus.

Finally the gravel gave way to grass and dirt and I was at the top.  I had ten minutes left.  It was now or never.  My legs ached and my lungs burned with the effort of the climb.  The red markers fluttered in the trees above the path.  I rounded corner after corner, thinking that the next would be the opening to the finish area.

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I glanced at my watch and saw two hours had elapsed.  Time to regroup.  Last year’s time was 2:10:??.  New goal:  anything better than that.

2:03:15.  I heard the voices from the finish line and heard dogs barking.  Keep going.  Keep going.  2:05:25.  There’s the gap in the fence.  I’m there. Down the hill and under the inflatable.  Final time: 2:05:59.

Collapsing on the picnic table bench, I turned and watched for Joey.  The smell of hotdogs floated on the breeze and my stomach growled in response.

The clock showed 2:08:00 when I saw him.  I called out to cheer him on, my voice weak and shaky.  I would have taken a picture as he crossed the finish line if my hands hadn’t been full of food.

With our medals hanging from our necks, we shoveled food into our mouths like we hadn’t eaten in days.  Those were the best damned sausage dogs we’d ever had.

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After we recovered, we decided to visit the ranger station.  The red paint of our car gleamed under the sun, echoing the sunburn on my shoulders.  Our plan was to drive the half-mile or so to the station. Halfway there, one of the rangers flagged us down and said the parking at the station was full and we would have to park in the overflow area. And walk.  Yay!  Not.

Wouldn’t you know it?  When we got to the station there was plenty of parking.  By then we didn’t care.  We bought drinks and a few souvenirs, and sat outside for a few minutes.  The feeling of accomplishment that comes after a race had settled in and suddenly my shoes didn’t feel nearly as wet and gritty.  I wore my sweaty sun visor like a badge of honor.

Walking hand in hand back to the car, I smelled something.  Something bad.

“Remember in the car, on the way here, I said that you smelled good?” I asked.

He turned to me and smiled. “Yeah, I remember.”

My eyes met his.  “I take it back.  You stink.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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January 27, 2018 – Chehaw Challenge 10 Mile Trail Run

You know the expression “I had my butt handed to me?”

This was the race that handed my butt to me.

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Full of hopes and dreams

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.

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The Shirt

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.

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#werun4Chasten

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.

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Pedal…right.

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.

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Joey crossing the line
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Finisher’s Swag

The details:

Time:  2:58:32

Pace:  17:05/mile

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

Playlist:  None

CC After
We survived!

Next up – a training run, weather permitting.