Saturday I ran my 10th marathon. My first trail marathon. Wait, my first trail race ever.
The Twisted Ankle Marathon and it was 10 times harder than all my other marathons put together.
I have long said one of my favorite things about the marathon is the epic-ness of it. However, I found out on Saturday--as I ran for hours through gnarly trail and over twisted root and up billy goat hills and down gravely fire roads that I really had no idea what epic really meant until then. But rest assured that now when I speak of the "epic-ness" of a marathon, I do know that of which I speak.
Because this race?
This marathon is no joke.
Those other 9 marathons-- I realized after I surpassed the point in time in which I had finished all those other marathons and still had several miles to go that those other 9 marathons that I've run?
Yeah, they were a joke.
For those unfamiliar with the race here is the elevation map:
I have to say I completely underestimated that little chart. I've looked at it about 100 times since I signed up in March and I think I forgot to really look at it in it's entirety. I was so focused on that humongous hill in the first 5 miles that I didn't really think much about the rest of the course. In fact, if you want to know exactly what I thought--what I have been reassuring myself with for the past few weeks was this: If I can just make it over that big hill with out dying (without my calves locking up) the rest will be easy.
That is what I thought.
I don't know why I thought that because I can see now (and I sure felt) that climb at miles 9-10 is pretty steep --and let me tell you, even worse than that was that climb at 19-20. But even more challenging than all of that was the steep downhill from 22-25. Wow. That was a HUGE shocker. I really really thought that part as going to be easy. I even looked forward to it the whole race thinking I was going to get to run down that big hill. It was going to be SO MUCH FUN! I had my airplane arms all ready and imagined myself whizzing down yelling Weeeee!!!!! My dream of a downhill at the end of a marathon finally being realized.
What the hell is wrong with me?
Why would I think that?
The saying " You can't fix stupid" keeps popping in my head but seriously, send stupid out on that course and they will be fixed for sure.
What is bad about this elevation chart is that it doesn't show the roots, mud, rocks and switchbacks. You know, when I look at it I just see lines and in my mind I just imagined smooth dirt trails with finely crushed gravel. I know--dumb, but like I said that dumb got fixed on Saturday.
Since this was my first trail marathon, first race on a trail, and since I have seen some really great marathons recently I went in-- with what I thought was at least--relatively low expectations and goals ( I always set 3 goals and a super secret goal but there was no super secret goal for this race):
1. To not die (and by not die I also meant not break anything or injury myself so I couldn't keep training.)
2. To finish
3. Finish in under 5 hours.
Before I signed up I emailed Becky Finger, the race director, and asked her what I could expect as a finishing time. She said most people add about 45 minutes onto their road times. I figured she was probably low balling that since I am sure she wants people to sign up for her race so I added an hour onto my slowest marathon. Which is 4:08 (so I had an extra 8 minutes but I just couldn't fathom actually committing to running over 5 hours. That's just crazy.)
Most of my anxiety for this race revolved around that 5 hour window. When it comes to goals there are no guarantees. I certainly know I can run 26 miles on the road but I honestly didn't know if I could run for 5 hours or run 26 miles in the woods. I have only run over 4 hours twice in my life: The Atlanta Marathon, my first marathon in November 2005 that I finished in 4:08 and the training run I did at the end of Oct 2005 that was 25.5 miles and took me almost 4 and half hours. Even though that was 4 years ago I still recall the mental agony of those last miles. I remember just wanting to be done; being over it and not only sick of running but sick of being with myself. So I was worried. 5 hours is a long time for anyone to have to put up with me--even me.
I appreciate if you have read this far so I am going to cut to the chase and spare you the suspense if you came here just looking to see how I did and don't want to wade through my epic discourse to find out:
- I did not die (but I did think for certain I was going to)
- I did finish
- I finished in under 5 hours (but barely) 4:58:50
- I was 24th over all (Not sure how many ran the full. The race sold out at 175 but I know people dropped out and I am sure some didn't even show up.)
- I was 5th woman and 2nd in my age group.
- I completely had my ass kicked.
Onto the epic discourse:
Friday I dropped the kids at my in-law's around 6. I came home, got everything in order, made dinner and was in bed around 9. Ryan stayed up and packed the car with stuff to entertain himself with while his crazy wife went and ran in the woods for half the day--fishing pole, mountain bike, estimates, laptop etc. He then slept in one of the kid's rooms because he "didn't want to get blamed for anything."
I got up at 5 am on Saturday and had my regular race breakfast of water, coffee, whole wheat bagel with cream cheese and salt and small bowl of Uncle Sam's cereal. Then I packed a cooler with lots of beer, made some turkey sandwiches and threw in some snacks. I showered and dressed and then woke Ryan and finished putting stuff in the car while he got ready. We realized last minute that we would have to take Lola since we would be gone too long to humanely leave her in her crate all day. I hoped it was okay to bring dogs to the race. And I will admit, I did wish it was cooler day because I thought about how awesome it would be to have her run the race with me. I could take her pinch collar off and she would totally drag me up all those hills. But as it was, it was 6:30 am, already 70 degrees and about 85% humidity. Don't think my snow dog would appreciate a 26 mile run in those conditions and it would be I who would be dragging her dead weight.
We got about 5 miles down the road and I realized I forgot my purse. Ryan said he was just glad it wasn't him that "f-d up." The way he talks sometimes you'd think I beat him ( I do.)
So 6:45 we were finally on the way and I was anxious about being late. Mapquest said it as an hour 40 minute drive. I needed to get my packet by 8:30.
Here I am as we drive up 75 to Summerville, Georgia.
I am happy because I see blue sky and it is not raining.
As it was we got to the park around 8 am and that was even after stopping to pee at a gas station outside the park.
As we turned in the park Ryan pointed up to the mountain ridge and commented that was probably where I would be running. I told him to shush; it was all going to be a surprise and he was not to ruin it for me. Even still I stared out the car window at the ridge covered in clouds and hoped that those were not rain clouds. Here is picture of the ridge I took out the car window leaving after the race:
I'll admit. It doesn't look all that hard from my car window. But trust me. There are evil sticks and roots and rocks and mud behind those pretty green trees.
Ryan dropped me at the packet pick up and I ran down the hill to get my number. I saw Doug (Steph's husband) and when I asked for my small shirt he looked at me and said "Are you sure?" I think he was calling me fat but it does fit. I am just a small chubby person.
By the way, it was Doug's idea to sign up for this race. I should, in the future, think more carefully when the Bachman's ask if I want to do stuff with them: Hey Nat! Wanna do a half ironman (even though you've only ever done a sprint?) Sure! How hard can it be?
Hey Nat! Wanna run a trail marathon? Okay!
I think in the 5k swim at the end of June I might have to pull Steph under and drown her since I seem to have problems with good sense and can't seem to say no. It all sounds like so much fun when I am drinking the Bachman home brew. . .
Ryan and I went and parked the car. I pinned my number on and stuffed my pockets with the 8 bazillion things I brought: 4 gu's, packet of endurolytes, pocket knife, toilet paper, throw away camera. Ryan had suggested the night before I might want to use his camel back. I have never used one but it did sound like a better idea than having to carry a bottle. Though my plan was not to fall I realized it might happen and I might want both my hands to prevent a face plant. I had jogged around the driveway before getting in the car to test it out and seemed fine.
Such as it was it proved to NOT be such a great idea after all.
This is only one (and the worst) of the abrasions I got from said camel back. 2 days post race and it is the only thing that still really hurts (I am pain wimp.)
I will say it did not bother me during the race but I also did not really use the camel back as I found it hard to drink from so I definitely would have been better off without it.
I also got this nice abrasion from my throw away camera. That one did hurt a lot by the end but it one of many hurts so what did it matter.
And a blister on my toe. Ryan did not want me to post this picture. My feet embarass him. But I personally am pretty thankful for my feet even if they are ugly. They have taken me many awesome places.
Even though I got a blister (my first from a race) the shoes were really great and I am so glad I wore trail shoes rather than my Trance's.
After I was all suited up we walked over to the start area (also finish. We get to run over that bridge for the finish). I peed 3 times in the 30 minutes before the race and then --because it was so hot/humid I did not need to use the restroom again until after 5pm. I was, just a little dehydrated.
Before the race I met and chatted with lots of nice runners. One guy in particular--with a handle bar mustache I had actually met the day before at the gas station by my house. I at first I couldn't place him and then it dawned on me he was the guy who had asked me if I was in the Atlanta Track club and if I ran for the competitive team (definitely do not. Not fast enough). So it was funny to run into him.
Then we gathered for a brief pre race meeting. Becky gave some directions--which of course I wasn't really paying attention but I did hear something about if you are not at the 14 mile point by 4 something hours to please come down off the ridge. Dear Lord, I thought, 4 hours for 14 miles. What the hell have I gotten myself into? Then she said something about lots of mud and everyone around me cheered. I personally didn't see this as good news--as I did not really want to get dirty--and wasn't sure if this was sarcastic joy or they were seriously happy about the prospect of mud. I think they were serious.
And then Becky said go and I hit my watch and we were off and running.
Number 18 is a guy named Ty. Super nice guy! I caught him around 5-6 miles. He tried to make me go the wrong way (just kidding Ty). We leap-frogged and chatted from about 5-12 miles. I tried to push my Gu and endurolytes on him when he said he was cramping after we ran up the hill at mile 9/10. He wouldn't take them. I was like the Cigar girl of this race offering up all the stuff I carried: Gu? Salt tab? Water? Probably should have taken more of stuff rather than tried to give it all away.
I had been advised by a reader of my training log at Beginner Triathlete "to try to get to the front of the pack before the big hill since because of the rain and mud it would be trashed after the front of the pack went over it."
Sounded like a plan to me. I figured since the first mile or 2 was on road I could go out at the pace I have started out at for my last 3 marathons and manage okay. Now whether or not I was running my 7:20-8 min pace I have no idea since it was 30-50 degrees warmer than my last 3 marathons and infinitely more humid. But it felt like I was running 7:30's. Could have been 10's though. I seriously don't know. There are no mile markers and I don't wear a Garmin anymore.
On the other side of my shoulder in the picture is the girl who ended up coming in second. I tailed her for the first 9 or so miles before she (and 3rd place girl) dropped me. I had to remind myself many times to NOT be competitive today or I would be very sorry. It was hard to keep that in check at first but then later the ass kicking I recieved put me easily in my place.
As is usual I was very confused about the course and just sort of running along, not fully paying attention. But I think this is right before we head into the woods to the big evil hill. I remember this point at the end too because I was pretty mad that this was NOT the lake with bridge. I knew once I saw the bridge I would be done and I was so mad that this lake did not have the bridge.
Right after I took this picture I decide I better take an endorolyte. I hadn't been running long but already I was completely soaked with sweat. Several times during the race I would think it was raining only to realize it was the copious amounts of sweat coming off my hat and not rain drops. It was so disgusting.
Starting up the big hill. Everyone ahead of me was walking. So I started walking, remembering what someone else (I can't remember who) had told me to do: to run as the terrain allows.
Getting steeper. And I am laughing--to myself--because I am listening to The Pogues marching song. Seemed really fitting.
Then I come up on a Flamingo. It makes me laugh because I remembered the Saturday before at the baby shower we had for Fishstick(it was a luau) and the kids had went on a flamingo killing spree. I am betting a lot of people in the race wanted to go a flamingo killing spree at that point--if they had the energy. It also made me think of Aunt Boo who calls them "pink ducks." I don't know. Aunt Boo just makes me laugh. And if you are walking up the steepest hill that is giving you flashbacks of the switchbacks your dad made you hike up at 9 years old with a 25lb pack and can still laugh-- I think it is a good sign. My run happy attitude was still intact!
And even better the hill was over!
I took the above picture, grabbed some Gatorade at the top and toasted a fellow marathoner who had a WTF just happened look on his face and then after a moment I took off happily down the hill. I was a little disappointed how short the downhill was considering how freaking long the uphill had just been. Whatever.
I turned on the gravel road that while you can't see it in this picture had tons of the Georgia red clay. I was not happy about the red clay as I did not want to have it all over me. But it wasn't issue.
I read that other people didn't like this section and I will admit that it is a bit boring but I found I could run my regular marathon pace here and that made me happy.I passed quite a few people in this section. I was coming up on 50 minutes so I went ahead and had my first Gu (Berry Roctane. Thanks Steph!) I came up on a aid station. I was kind of surprised because I thought I had heard Becky say the aid stations were 4-8 miles apart and already this was the 3rd one and I figured I had to be around 6-7 miles. I stopped and chatted with the firemen and had some water (there was no Gatorade).
I stopped at every aid station and probably wasted too much time but I as trying to force myself to take it easy. In the beginning the stopping and dilly dallying at the aid stations was by design but by the end it was out of necessity and hope that maybe those people manning the aid stations would see that clearly I was only seconds from death and put me out of misery.
At the fireman aid station we were suppose to turn off down the hill but I saw Ty run ahead down the gravel road so I followed. The firemen called us back and we got going the correct way. We were now on a technical trail that was predominately downhill.
It was so fabulous and I blazed down it. Totally out of control. I passed a blow up monkey and bobbed at it--again laughing because I had had the same blow up monkey's at the luau. Hello Dollar Store!
I was almost to the bottom when people started coming back up the trail towards me and I realized that I was going to have run back up this fabulous downhill. I was not happy. So when I got to the aid station at the bottom I lingered longer than I should have; trying to put off the inevitable. I also figured out that I was 3rd place girl. Just as I realized this 4th place girl popped out of the woods. Hmmm, guess I better go.
I ran for a bit and then I could feel my calves fatiguing. I figured I better walk since I still had a long way to go. Didn't think it as such a good sign that my calves felt at mile 10ish how they usually feel at mile 25 of a marathon. Did not bode well. So I walked.
4th place girl (who ended up being 3rd) caught up to me and we walked together a bit and chatted. After bit she said "well I'm sure I'll see you again." I told her not likely and I wished her luck and she ran on.
I did the walk/run shuffle. I realized at this point that I was completely under-trained for this type of course. While I knew it would be hard and I had mentally prepared myself for it I had assumed that physically I would manage just fine. I pretty much decided then that I would run all flat and down hill sections and walk any uphills as soon as felt my calves tightening up. It was hard to let placement go but really, there was nothing I could do about it. Every time someone passed me --for the rest of the day-- I had to mentally remind myself that I was NOT competitive. I tried hard to stay positive and cheer and encourage people on as I had my ass handed to me.
After I made it up the technical trail I was back on the gravel road and at the fireman aid station again. I chatted with them and then ran on. I saw Ty again here--he was having some cramping and I comiserated with him but then felt better so I ran on.
The course then turns back on the ridge and you head out the way you came towards the other end of the ridge. I was by myself for this. I had another Gu and was kind of freaked out to be so alone. Finially I saw people come back towards me. I realized it was the half marathoners and I had some uncertainity that maybe I had missed a turn. I guessed I was around 15 miles but really could have been 14. I just kept running, not entirely confident, periodically looking behind me for someone and there was never anyone there.
Finally I came up on an aid station and they told me it was 14 miles and that made me sad because it had seemed like forever and then they told me 18 miles was the next one. This really didn't sound right but I was in no poistion to argue with them.
So I ran on more and I came to another gravel road. I was starting to feel pretty tired but was feeling better about things since I had started to see some marathoners again going back out so I knew I was going the right way. Most people looked to be starting to struggle so that also made me feel better that it wasn't just me.
Right before the 18 mile aid station--where there was promises of watermelon--I came up on a guy who was walking. I slowed down and walked with him, offering him a Gu, a salt tab, some water. He took the tab. I decided I should maybe try to have another Gu. I managed half. He was on the walk the up hills/run the downhills and flats plan too so I hung with him. But boy his run the flats part pace was faster than mine was so it was a challenge to keep up with him.
We got to the aid station and I had a watermelon which almost instantly I regretted. I had two cups of water and we ran on. My tummy started to rebel and I was not having a good moment. Then I rolled my right ankle. It took my breath away and made me feel like was going to throw up when I already felt like I was going to throw up.
Around this point the girl who was in 5th came up on us. She asked what mile we were at and we guessed 19 maybe 20. I had a sad moment and reminded myself that there was nothing I could do about it and watched as she surged ahead.
After walking for a few minutes my ankle felt better and I tried to run. My calf started to spasm. Not wanting to stop I turned around backwards and walked up the hill that way. Jack tried it too. I guess it didn't help him as it did me because he turned back around.
While walking backwards I saw Doug coming up the hill. We waved to each other. I was both happy and unhappy to see him. Happy because I had reached the point of the race that I suddenly needed someone to hold my hand and tell me it was going to be okay. I was unhappy because I knew Doug was neither going to hold my hand nor tell me it was going to be okay--it just isn't his style-- and even worse, I knew that he was going to beat me. So I had a negative moment. I feel bad about it.
Right before we reached the top of the hill and turned back on the ridge trail I think someone must have pulled me into the woods and beaten the shit out of me because suddenly every part of my body was cramping up with charlie horses and I was severely uncoordinated. I swear it was like someone had drugged me. It went off like a switch. I guess that is what is known has hitting the wall and I have to say I have never experienced anything like it and hope to never again.
I don't remember reaching the top of the hill and turning on the trail but I remember being on the trail and Doug passing me and saying "Nat, get ready for the longest 10k of your life." I mumbled something about problems and he said he had problems too. Such tough love!!!
I don't know what happened to Jack but I didn't see him again till after the race was over.
I tried to pull myself together and decided maybe I should take a second endurolyte. I did that and I finished off my third Gu. I think it was just too late at this point. I tried hard to stay with Doug; run when he ran, walked when he walked but my legs were being very uncooperative. I was having charlie horses in both calves and my groin almost simultaneously and I kept rolling my right ankle. I was even having cramping in my face.
We came up on an aid station and I stopped. Doug didn't and I watched him fade into the woods out of my sight.
I downed 2 cups of Gatorade and hoped for the best. I still had another Gu (I had had 3) but my stomach was saying NO WAY. When the ladies at the aid stations offered me a peanutbutter sandwiches I almost vomited. Nope. No food for me.
I "ran" on.
After awhile I was alone again--no one in front of me and no one behind me. I was sooo sad and then I tripped over a rock, almost fell, rolled my ankle for what must have been the 5th time and had the stupid charlie horse cramps all over my body.
I completely lost my shit.
I ripped my headphones out of my ears and started crying.
I standing in the middle of trail blubbering and cussing about how I had run all this way and I was going to break my ankle and not be able to wear my cute high heels and I wouldn't be able to dance at Donald and Annie's wedding next weekend and I would have to hobble around the French Quarter on crutches and in comfortable shoes. I was so mad!
Then I had the suck up buttercup conversation and told myself I had no choice but to run on: eventually it will all be over, I told myself. Eventually . . .
I put my headphones back in my ears, turned on my ipod and I looked at my watch. It past the 4 hour mark. You will be done by 5 hours I told myself and I started "running" again.
Now I really didn't know that I would be done by the 5 hour mark since I had no idea where I was on the trail nor how much further I had to go. I was just trying to be positive. I told myself I could look at my watch every ten minutes. I figured every 10 minutes I would have covered almost a mile. That would be progress, I figured. Forward progression! Go!
My watch said 4:16 when I started running. After about 3 charlie horses, a stumble and an ankle twist I figured it had been about 10 minutes so I checked my watch: 4:18.
And there was Jimmy Buffet singing in my ear: With all of our running and all of our cunning/If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane . . . I took a picture so I could see later if I really looked as crazy as I felt:
As I stumbled along the trail I wondered what Time was up to. I wondered whyhe hated me and what did I ever do to him that he would slow down everything for me-- just to prolong my agony. Didn't know I was that special.
So I kept going, angry at the mean trail, stupid time and dumb electrolyte imbalance and finally I reached the aid station before the turn off down the hill that (eventually) led to the finish. The people at the aid station had a camera and took my picture. They were all cheery. I couldn't understand why they seemed so happy when clearly I was dying right before they eyes.
I asked them how far and they said 4 miles. I checked my watch: 4 hours and 23 minutes. I didn't think I could I run 4 miles in 37 minutes at that point. I figured it was going to take me an hour and I tried to keep my shit together since there were people this time around who would witness my temper tantrum. I think I asked them if they would carry me down and I think they just laughed at me and told me I "could do it."
So I started down the hill. The Pogues "Hell's Ditch" was playing on my ipod and I thought how appropriate . I was hot as hell, felt like I had died and the hill was steep and technical and with switchbacks. Hell's Ditch for sure, I figured. Pretty sure Dante somehow got on a boat, saw that hill and went back to Italy and penned The Divine Comedy.
Holy crap it was so hard to run down that hill. My lower legs felt so weak and I was having a really hard time navigating it. I decided at that moment that my body was not meant to do painful things for more than 4 hours without having an epidural.
About half way down I came to a bald spot on the trial that was slicked with mud. I started slipping and grabbed for a tree I was passing and it swung me around. Another runner came upon me at that point and I commented to him that I didn't know how I was going to get down. I watched him navigate down the mudslick but he was on the other sided of the trail. I think I just ended up going down off the trail and holding onto trees.
I stopped and took a picture at the bottom. I took a picture because I was worried that if there was more spots like that on the trail I might not make it and I wanted people to know exactly where I died.
I don't know --the thinking made perfect sense at the time.
I also took a picture of the waterfall. Yeah it was pretty but the beauty didn't really make me any happier at that second but I figured I might appreciate it later.
I started back down the trail running and a guy --okay, I am not 100% certain this actually happened because it was almost like it mocking hallucination--came running past me with airplane arms and said" I thought the downhill was going to be a lot more fun." I really was in disbelief because I had planned to have airplane arms but I just couldn't pull off airplane arms at that point like I had hoped. And that downhill was definitely not fun like I had mistakenly thought it would be.
The trail was starting to flatten out and was easier for me to manage so I could run a little less painfully since I wasn't trying so hard to hold back.
Finally I was at the bottom and I thought I was going to go right--as I knew that was the general direction of the lake with the bridge that would mean I was done. But these kids pointed me left down the road and I was pretty mad about that. I cussed a bit and then realized that they were children and I generally make an effort to not cuss at children, I mean, at least children that aren't mine own. I did have the sense to apologize to them.
I ran a bit down the road and a kid in a silver wig point up a hill. I told him my husband would pay money if he would carry me up the hill. Then as I started up the hill I saw how long it was and I cried out "all the way up?" And another kid just laughed and pointed right. Thankfully the hill was cut off midway.
I was so annoyed but I am trying my best to hurry because I knew that darn lake with the bridge was close and the sooner I got there the sooner I would be done. I was so joyous to know that it was all ALMOST OVER!!!!
Finally I came to a lake and I got so excited. I even took a picture.
Then I realized that this was not lake with the bridge. Oh my GOD! It is never going to end! I thought.
Then I came up to a man standing on a dam and realized where I was and this was the damn I had crossed earlier. I asked him how far and he said you have about a half mile to the shed. Confused, I looked across the lake to the shed and thought why the fuck is he telling me how far it is to that shed? I briefly wondered if something was suppose to happen at the shed that I had forgotten about.
Again, I asked, clarifying that I wanted to know how far to the FINISH. He said "you have a little over a mile."
More cussing from me.
My watch said: 4:50xx. I was pretty discouraged at that second because I had come to understand that no matter how far someone told I had to go it was really much much further than what they said. I figured that "a little more than a mile" was probably code for: 3 miles to go.
As soon as my feet hit asphalt I started running as hard as I could manage. But then, I wasn't fulling paying attention and I went the wrong way. A guy saw me going the wrong way before I got too far and pointed me in the correct direction. Of course it was up ANOTHER HILL! More cussing and a little bit of walking.
Dreams by the Cranberries was playing. I told myself to suck it up and I started running again.
I think at this point I am running through the campground--past people in campsites. People that it seems do not notice there is a race going on. I started to think that maybe I was invisible. That maybe I had died back there in the woods and was now a ghost because not a single one of those people in the campground acknowledged me. I think I even asked some kids if they could see me and while they looked at me like I was a lunatic they did nod; so I felt a teeny bit better to know that I was not dead or invisible.
I knew I had to be close to the finish and just as Lazy Eye by Silversun Pick-ups came on (my favorite song to do treadmill intervals to) I see a lake in the clearing ahead and KNOW this is the one with bridge. Yess!!!!!
So happy am I! A guy points me towards the bridge and run straight for it not realizing there was about a 3ft drop to the pavement until I was in the air. Thank goodness my ankles help up!
I ripped my headphones from my ears and bolted across the bridge and through the grass towards the clock.
I see that it says 4:58 and I hear everyone yelling Right! Right! (as I was about to go down the left side) And I make a sharp last second turn into the correct chute.
I am so thankful and mad and insanely happy to be done.
And after I had a coke, rinsed my hair, changed my clothes and had a beer all was right in my world. I am just happy and so very pleased with myself.
Wow, I know that was super long. Thanks so much reading!