So on July25th I tried my first long trail run, the Run With the Deer Flies 25k and 15k.
On Saturday after a long, extraordinarily sweaty day of biking, working at the store, and desperately attempting to keep myself, we finally got out of Ohiopyle. After about three long hours of rolling around Western Pennsylvania’s dark, windy roads, we finally found the campsite. Too tired to investigate further than the parking lot, we pitched my new Lightpath 2 in the trees a few feet from the car, which we thought was removed enough from the drizzle. At midnight, we finally shoved our little Thermarests inside the tent and tried to go to sleep. This resulted in a long night of fretting with the rain cover, moving rocks out from underneath us, and trying to invent pillows from nothing.
Needless to say, 6:00 came early. I staggered out of the tent in the hazy morning, changed into running shorts and a top that I thought made me look sort of fast. I laced up my semi-new Vasque Velocity’s (which I’ve outfitted with some neon pink laces to accent their mossy green color) and did a couple futile stretches. Then came registration and two hours of waiting for the race to start. I listened to some of the other racers ramble about their experiences at other 100-milers and the Badwater Ultra while they cinched the straps on their fancy Camelbaks and flexed their enormous leg muscles (I have neither of these things). Needless to say, I was more than a little bit intimidated. And I was wishing that I hadn’t been too cheap to buy a little hydration pack when I was at the store.
At the starting line, the racers were still talking about all the ultraefforts they had in common (especially one particularly rangy-looking dude, who found it necessary to expound upon how many races he had done and how many pairs of shoes he had worn out). I stood quietly on the sideline with another runner from the UT.
After everyone was done adjusting their shoelaces and one-up each other, the gun finally went off. The start was a slow loop around the campsite on a gravel path. Hydration packs sloshed about, and people made some jokes about how long it would be before they started walking. I sort of smiled at this comment and thought- hey, at least I wasn’t one of those people. Then the route twisted off onto a path lined with some sort of nerdy Boyscout propaganda– large wooden signs appeared periodically along the trail that said things like THRIFT. BRAVERY. OBEDIENCE. REVERENT (I am assuming reverent to their scout masters.. or to the creator of the iron-on merit badge). KNOT SKILLS AND MERIT BADGES. Okay, those last few were a lie. But at least the signs provided some amusement. Then the trail twisted off into a long bit of singletrack and the climbs started.
The first couple hills were okay. I was following behind a few people who were moving at a good pace, hopping over some logs, avoiding rocks, and trying not to think about how dehydrated I was getting. The entire route looped around and around, switching steeply back and forth through rocks and streams. By about three miles, I was getting tired of this. I had lost my pacer, so I was now leading a group of maybe ten other people through the woods. Fantastic. I was front-running a 15k. This had to stop. I let a few obnoxiously loud breathers ahead of me and then considered sitting down on a stump. But I slogged on, finally grasping the concept of the “power hike” (a euphemism for “walking up a hill when you get too tired”) and wishing that I could see some sort of turnaround point–or anything but trees, for that matter.
Finally, after about another mile of ridiculously steep climbing, the leaders came back through from the turnaround. As the trail opened up onto a gravel road, I realized that the water stop was a half-mile up a very steep hill. A few more people dropped me and sped away, chatting about the merits of long-distance running while I slogged on, cursing myself for slacking on hills for most of my life. I power-hiked up to the aid station and nearly burst into tears when I saw that there was no Gatorade. This wasn’t racing. This was hard and miserable.
Thankfully, the run back was actually quite nice. I had lost most of the other runners near me (or they had lost me), so I just tried to concentrate on not tripping over things. If I didn’t think about the fact that all the previous downhills had turned into uphills, the last 4.5 miles were pretty lovely. Sure, the climbs still totally sucked and my legs were hurting terribly, but it was all in good fun, right? After a distance that felt much longer on the way out, I was finally back at the campsite. I proceeded to get lost on the last part of trail and basically walked across the finish line.
Apparently, even though I ran embarrassingly slow 9:58 mile splits, I was seventh overall and the first lady in. But that wasn’t as exciting as the fact that there was a huge bag of trail mix open on a picnic table by the finish line. Within a few minutes, the heavens opened up and rain came pouring down on all the remaining runners (the people doing the 25k still had another ten miles go). I shuffled around in a graceless daze, congratulating the other athletes and shoving food into my mouth. I yanked off my filthy shoes, which had served me quite well (my feet were hardly damp, and I hadn’t broken any toes on the trial). “Man,” said a muddy, exhausted runner sitting down on a picnic table, “Did we just pay to do that to ourselves?”
Yessir. So it goes in the world of endurance sports.