A few months ago, probably before summer training started, and therefore feeling full of vim, vigour and unrealistic expectations, I signed up for two trail races - one 28 k and one 50 k. They would open and close my season with the 28 k in July just before triathlons began and the 50 k 3 weeks after my A race, the Muskoka 70.3. They would be fun, a change and a challenge.
My husband thought I was being an idiot. Post 28 k evidence seems to support him somewhat, but, there was a mitigating circumstance to Saturday's DNF race.
Which takes us to the bathroom at Walmart approx 7:30 on Saturday morning as I whip in to buy generic Vaseline for immediate application to all know hot zones on my body. That would be pretty much 99% of the body, I've yet to chafe anywhere on my forearms but, well, time will tell.
So, off we go, me delightfully greasy in my Skirtsports running dress, Alex packed for his planned double brick that should correspondent, time wise, with my trail race. He's sceptical that I'll be done in 3:30 hours but he's not wearing the dress so what does he know.
Like so many other Saturday and Sundays in our life, we wind up in a field praising the practicality of our Subaru and look around a perky, fit, excited people in various stages of preparation for the race.
I'd like to take a minute right now to pass on some advice to buddy seen lubing up the boys in public - there was a change tent, perhaps you could use it next time. Just sayin'. Anywho...
This is no triathlon, there is something decidedly low key about the event. The athletes look scruffy, a little wild and there certainly isn't that undercurrent of materialism that permeates a transition zone full of bikes that cost more than my first car.
There is also no chip timing! This takes a moment to comprehend. I'm a little thrown; how am I to validate my existence without that reassuring buzz from timing mats? Further evidence of the downhome feeling is the fact that the race simply starts with a countdown from 5 to "go" led by one of the race directors.
We're a mixed group, 14k, 28k and 56 k racers and I remind myself to run my own race since there is no use keeping up with the 14'ers. It's tough going, a real black diamond trail and I try to settle in at a steady run/walk pace so I can still have juice left over for a bike and swim the next day.
It's also just so beautiful in the woods and I was really enjoying the shade and cool and the camaraderie of a group of 56 k runners when suddenly, at about the 5 k mark I painfully went over on my ankle.
I saw stars. I did. Truly.
The 56 k crazy people stopped with me commenting on how bad it looked and said they'd report it to the next aid/medical station. I sat at the side of trail, overlooking a wonderful lake thinking that my race was over and feeling so disappointed. The pain subsided however, and I ran to the next check in feeling pretty good. I told the med station that I was continuing and confirmed it again at the next turn point.
Shortly before the 14 k turnaround at the start/finish line I went over again but managed to grab a tree to stop the twist and felt that the run was still doable.
As a side note, ultra running events appear to be all about the food and I was very tempted by the pancakes and bacon that I saw on the buffet and looking at at 2:15 time for only 14 k I really wondered if I should continue or just scratch myself from the 28.
Alex thinks that given my ankle I should have quit at the time and if he was there I'm sure he would have convinced me of the merits of that decision but, he was off running and riding his own black diamond course and having spent the last 5 years learning how to run through pain and having never not finished a race I was unable to really contemplate the possibility so...off I went.
I got into trouble pretty quickly, my left foot screaming every time I was jostled by rocks or roots and the trail was nothing but rocks and roots. I considered dropping out at the first aid station at about 4 k but the presence of people and sugar gave me a boost and off I went. I considered dropping out again at the last aid station at 9.5 k but some crazy shirtless guy handed me some magic balm that made my ankle feel loose and happy just long enough for me to get away from the station.
The magic balm then ricocheted however and the tightness that I was feeling for the second loop just got worst and worst and it wasn't long before I was on my third loosening of my shoelaces.
Every race has a low point and mine came as I tried to climb up a steep hill when I was passed by a grey pony tailed crazy man, who, and I can't make this up, actually passed wind as he overcame me. I was very sad about just about everything at that point.
By the 11 k point I was reduced to using a stick as a cane and discovered that there were 3 types of people on that course. A minority went wizzing by me focused on their race. I have no problems with that as they knew the majority of runners would stop to give aid. Another minority stopped long enough to make snarky comments like "it's tough out here isn't it". Karma's a bitch however and I'm sure they will get bitch slapped.
The majority, however, were wonderful, offering water and Gatorade (note to self, it takes a long time to walk out on an injured ankle, take the water), an unbelievably cute couple in matching shirts took Alex's description and found him to update him on my progress (apparently I was injured but in good spirits). Countless stopped to assure me they would get medical in to help.
I walked on to the 12 k mark with no idea of what time it was only that I was very thirsty, very hungry and the Deep Woods Off was wearing off. Around this point my saviours started appearing - saviour on a mountain bike who assigned me saviour number two, one of the young people from a fantastic program that runs in the reserve. James served as my crutch but it was his incredible attitude that took what was at that time a really horrible day and turned it into just another wonderful experience of being the recipient of another's good will.
The saviours were coming fast and furious at this point, Lowell, the chief medic for the day, ran around the corner and introduced himself and took over a chief crutch as James went back to his volunteer station. Actually James tried to go back but at that moment we were shocked by a very loud bang, akin to thunder, and we all looked up in terror as the top of a very tall tree collapsed and started to fall. I'm sure Lowell was weighting the options wondering if he should just leave me and bolt but he might have been as shocked as I was, unable to move. Yup, a tree fell in the forest and we all heard it. We all saw that it blocked the trail as well and the detour that presented itself was straight through a bog. Good times!
The last saviour to present himself was Alex who seemed to appear suddenly as soon as the tree settled on the trail. The cute runners had found him and he started the hike in to fetch me. Having felt so alone on the trail for so long it was wonderful to have everyone, especially Alex, show up. I was helped out to the road, and then ferried in Lowell's car to the finish line where everyone came together to get me water and pop and ice for my foot.
So, my first trail run, my first DNF, and the first race I couldn't finish just through sheer force of will. That alone was a pretty humbling experience for me. It's not so much that I've built up any sort of outrageous ego from my journey from couch to Ironman but that I've really come to the conclusion that we are all capable of so much more than we think and suddenly, well, I wasn't.
I'm still on for the 50 k next October - the trail will be much less rugged and I'll be that much fitter but I'm certainly carrying my own water and I have a new appreciation for trail running and the hazards so I'll be doing some serious off roading to prepare this summer.
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