Back in March, our plan sounded great. We would fly into North Carolina, camp under the stars, run an easy 34 mile run, dance the night away at the Oktoberfest celebration, get another great nights sleep before flying back home to Baton Rouge. Sounds great, right? Well, we got two things right: we flew to North Carolina and we flew back home. Everything else didn’t really fit the script.
I have to say I am blessed with my wife, Christine. Most women I know would not have camped out in a small tent in the rain and cold just to cheer me on every 2-3 hours. Especially since we had both just camped and run in the cold and mud the weekend earlier at the Ragnar Trail Relay in Texas. But she was awesome and was able to laugh at our misery. And so it became our latest adventure.
When we flew into Charlotte, we grabbed our luggage, got the rental car and made the 1.5 hour drive to the race site. And it rained the entire time. We checked in at the reservation desk and was given the “poor baby” look as we told them we had a tent site. It was still raining. But everyone hoped it would stop sometime that night. We set up a tarp between the car and some trees to give us a little “dryish” area to set up the tent. Our little two man tent didn’t look that inviting in the 45 degree rain. But it was going to be home for the next two days.
After setting up the tent, we headed to the restaurant for packet pickup and chatted with the race directors, Tim & Lara. It was nice. And dry. And warm. We ended up having dinner there (and a couple of beers) before heading back to our tent to prepare for the night. And that is when we discovered there was only one sleeping bag in our suitcase. (We found the other one which had rolled under the bed during the packing/repacking). It was a cold and noisy night with very little sleep. Exactly what I needed before my run.
I finally crawled out of the tent around 6:30 AM. At least I tried to. My first attempt resulted in a cramp in one of my calves. Seriously? The race has not even started yet. The second attempt was successful and I started prepping for the race. Christine had moved to the car around 3:00 AM, so I woke her up as well. As we made it to the starting line, this was what was going through my mind:
- There are only 15 people doing the Long Excruciating Death Race (34 miler)
- I’m the oldest.
- I DNF’d last time when the course handed my ass to me.
- How sloppy will the trails be?
And we are off. After about 100 yards down the road we turned onto the trail and went up. And up. And up. My mantra at the time was: Go slow. Go slow. Go slow. I purposely positioned myself towards the back to keep from going out faster. Everything on this loop was about staying calm, conserving energy and learning the trails. There was not too much mud so far as we were the first people on the trails that day. My legs felt good. My body felt good. I was climbing well. Things were okay so far.
I made it to the aid station at the half way point and had a nice chat with the ladies working it. A quick refill of my bottle and I headed out. Time to see the “downhill” portion of the loop. It definitely had more downhills, but some of them were pretty treacherous with rocks and mud. There was a lot more water and mud on this section. And there were a few monster climbs on this “downhill” section.
I rolled back into the transition area in a little less than 2 hours. I was happy to see Christine and gave her a quick rundown before heading back out.
For much of the first loop and into the second loop I was running close to two other guys. We chatted occasionally, but we had much different running styles with respect to climbs, descents, etc. Several times I found myself adjusting my running rhythm to match theirs and I would stop and say to myself “This is my race. Not yours.” It may have sounded harsh if I said it out loud, but I was there to avenge my DNF from 2016. I had to run my own race.
By now the trails were even muddier because the 30 or so runners doing the Short Excruciating Death race (8.5 miles) had been through. And there was horse crap on the trails so the trail riders were out there as well. That made for some trickier footing as the day went on, but I just had to deal with it. At one point, one of the runners questioned whether it was bear crap and I laughed it off thinking he was joking. I did find out later that there were bears in the area. Oops.
After some more muddy and rocky descents, I made it back to transition with a time of 2:12 for the second loop. Christine refilled my gear, I slammed half a bottle of pickle juice and I headed back out. Loop 3 was the one I was worried about.
The problem with loop 3 was that it was not loop 4. So mentally it had the potential to be a complete disaster. I could have easily gone deep in my demented mind and talked myself into dropping. Instead, I turned off most of my mental functions besides concentrating on the trail. You had to do that anyway or you could face plant into some jagged rocks or down the side of the mountain. By now, I was completely alone on the trail and would remain so for the remainder of the race. It was just me, myself and my book on tape.
And this worked until the first sign of cramps hit me on a steep uphill. Back to reality. I managed the cramps as best I could while thinking of Christine and the kids. They have all persevered through so many trials and still found a way to keep going. Christine has had lower back arthritis and shoulder issues, but still runs races and works out every day. Lara is in her 4th year of medical school with about 14-15 interviews set up for residency. Mason fought through being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in high school and still swam four years in college, was a captain his senior year and has two school records. They persevered. I didn’t want to be the one who failed. So I kept pushing.
When I made it to the halfway aid station, I was offered a beer. Hmmm. I took a rain check for the next loop and headed to the back half of the course. The weather conditions were very weird on this course. Some places the wind was blowing so hard I heard cracking trees. Then it got cold. A couple of miles later, it was hot. It was very hard to regulate. There were also a lot more horses on the trail and the shoe sucking mud was popping up in various places. The descents were now slippery with a spattering of rocks. Yay.
I rolled back in after that loop with a time of about 2:30. And that is when I knew I would finish.
As I headed out for the final loop, it was more of a victory lap for me. I knew I would not stop no matter how long it took. I purposely grabbed my headlamp just in case it turned into a death crawl. I didn’t care. I would finish.
This loop was all about cramp management. I would make every climb using very short steps to keep them at bay. About 2 miles into the loop, I lost my concentration for a bit and rolled my ankle. It wasn’t bad but just enough to snap me out of my daze. Focus dammit. My new mantra became “Push. Don’t fall. Push. Don’t fall”.
I made it back to the halfway aid station and was informed they were waiting for me to share a beer with them. I obliged. I couldn’t finish the whole PBR, but I had enough to keep me going. About 100 yards later as I was trying to put on my gloves, I caught a branch I was stepping over with my foot and it whipped around catching me on the other leg. I staggered forward about 5 or 6 steps but didn’t hit the ground. I blamed it on the alcohol.
A lot of my running now was focusing on the trail and where I would place each foot. I couldn’t afford to fall. And then I looked up and a horse was blocking the trail. Okay. I know I am not hallucinating. Luckily the riders friend noticed me and they moved the horse. Just one more obstacle. I continued my “Push. Don’t fall” mantra and made it back towards the finish line.
With about 100 yards to go, I heard Christine scream my name. And then I heard about 10-20 other people screaming my name. Huh? Who are these people? Christine had told them the story of my DNF, my not wearing the hoodie, and this was my revenge race. I managed to run all the way and crossed the line in 9:26:47. Hell Yeah!
My Garmin died on the second loop, so my data was crap. I looked at a few other runners info and the race was about 34 miles with between 8,400 and 10,000 feet of climbing. Yep. It felt about like that.
After the race, the theme was hobbling. Hobble to the car. Hobble to the shower. Hobble to the dinner. Hobble to the camp fire. Hobble to the tent. Surprisingly, my legs were okay. My right foot was aching and my lower back was completely wrecked (do core dammit). After one beer and a glass of wine, I was ready for the tent.
Christine and I learned from the previous night to wear every piece of clothing we had to sleep in. And I crashed hard. At least for 45 minutes until the wind grabbed the tarp and started rattling it. We lay there for 30 minutes before Christine got out and took the tarp down. I couldn’t move. We got back comfy, and the outer shell of the tent started rattling. Screw it. No sleep for me again. Remember, this was an adventure!
I can’t thank Christine enough for all the help she provided me for this race. She told me early on that she would do whatever she could to make sure I finished this time. From helping me train during the ridiculously hot summer to going to Clark’s Creek with me to pouring pickle juice in my mouth as I lay on the kitchen floor with cramps, she has been with me every step of the way. I may have run the 34 mile race, but she worked just as hard as I did. Thank you Christine! I love you!
And now I will rest and recover. No races on the schedule. No plans to schedule any either. I’m retired……..or just really tired. Hard to tell the difference.