(pre-race self portrait)
I’m an ‘It Is What It Is’ kind of girl. I try not to stress to much about things I know I have no control over. I knew going into Sylamore (the 25K = 16.7 miles), I had some big unknown’s looming…my health, Keith’s health, the trail..it was definitely going to provide me with some challenges. I had a few nerves, a little bit of dread, but knew I would just do what I could and be done with it.
Three weeks ago, this past Saturday, Keith and I were on a run and he was unable to finish the run. Never in our 10 years of running together has this happened. We felt certain at the time that it was a quad pull and decided he should take some time off. Unfortunately, he’s had no choice as he can barely load any weight on that leg. A week before the race, we decided to go for an easy run to test it out since he hadn’t run in 2 weeks but 1 mile in, he was done. Wishful hoping was that he could rest it another week and have an ok race. As the race got closer, we knew that the likelihood of him completing the race was very slim. We agreed that he would start the race with me and if, at any time, the pain started to worsen, he would stop in order to prevent further injury. We would just wait and see.
The 10 days leading up to the race, I struggled with a bit of a stomach bug. I was concerned what this would do for my endurance but we would just wait and see. My last trail run before the race was a little tough on my IT band and was causing some knee pain but I knew I would just run and see how it played out. About 5 days before the race, I woke up and couldn’t move my neck or back. I spent several days before the race getting various therapies on my back to try to loosen it up (not my regular back problem, just a bad catch and muscle spasms causing me to be uncomfortable). So, these things would possibly be a factor but there wasn’t anything we could do. We would just wait and see.
Then, of course, the 3rd real unknown is the trail! I knew I would be crossing a creek twice and had been told that the water would be anywhere from my calves to my armpits so I was just praying it didn’t go above my waist line. I knew some people would take a second pair of shoes but I wasn’t going to do that. I figured, if you sign up for a race with 2 creek crossings, you fully expect to be wet and run wet. I was seriously dreading it but just kept telling myself, “it is what it is.”
Our journey started when we arrived in Allison, AR Friday night about 7 pm. We drove straight to our hotel with plans to check in before going to packet pick-up. You can imagine our surprise when we got there and found that our hotel, the one that sent us the confirmation Tuesday, is CLOSED FOR THE SEASON! Um, not so much what you want to deal with in a tiny town 12 hours before a race. Fortunately for us, this crisis was averted after only 2 stops to different hotels to find a room. We were worried we might end up in the car! We got checked in, went to packet pick-up, had dinner, and got to bed by 10 pm.
Our race didn’t start until 8 am which felt kind of late so we were up with plenty of spare time. We went through our regular pre-race routine and the only thing causing me worry at that time was my stomach. I haven’t had much luck in the past 2 or so weeks keeping anything in my stomach and I certainly didn’t want to deal with this on the trail. We left the hotel to discover a wind chill of 17 degrees and small snow flurries. We got to the race, lined up, and off we went.
We spent a mile or so on pavement before getting on the trail. I had already planned to do a run / walk and really take my time…for 2 reasons: 1) i still wanted to use this as a training run for a bigger race I’m thinking about doing and 2) i knew if i were going to end up running alone, it was best for me to start slow and speed up at the turn around. Well, this strategy just didn’t bode well in this particular race. By the time we got to the creek crossing (about mile 2), there was a line to get in AND out. This sucked! What it means is that you have a lot of stand-around time before, during, and after the ice cold waters which just made it about 10 times worse. As soon as it was our turn to enter the creek, we just went for it. It quickly rose to mid-thigh and about mid-way through, it was exactly crotch level. (i know, gross word but that’s where it was!) Fortunately, Keith still had his wits about him and just climbed onto the bank rather than standing in the line to get out. We stood there and tried to catch our breath while waiting on the line to move.
Unfortunately, for about the next 3 miles it was barely more than a walk. We were just stuck behind groups and groups of people and it was really tough getting around. So, what I thought would be a run / walk was really a walk / shuffle. We passed some but with the single track and all the rocks (about 12 of the 17 miles was rock!), it was tough unless people were nice enough to scootch over a bit. A few minutes after the creek crossing, Keith turned to me and said, “I’m afraid there will only be 1 Ritchey finishing this race.” I didn’t say anything because I just hoped once we started running, he would feel better. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
We had just passed the last big group of people that were jamming us up when he just stopped dead in his tracks and put his head in his hands. I was devastated for him and worried about what is going on with his knee. I knew he was done. Of course I thought about stopping with him- we had about a mile or so to get to the first aid station where he hoped he could get a ride- but I knew that I couldn’t do that. It was really tough leaving him, stuck out on the trail. I walked with him for several minutes but he kept telling me to go so I went. I was just so incredibly sad for him but that was my absolute motivation for moving forward…run for Keith. I got to the first aid station (you don’t actually run to it but you run near it) and I guess I was just still worried about Keith because I totally forgot to go fill my water bottles. I realized it about a 1/2 mile up the climb but knew I wouldn’t go back. I think I assumed there would be water jugs at the turnaround…there weren’t. I was so excited to be off the rocks but this next section was a pretty tough climb…until the BIG downhill…which, of course, meant a BIG uphill on the way back. I got to the turnaround, realized my shoes were way too loose (i guess from all the water- the creek and lots of water spots along the way) but when i went to untie them, my laces were completely frozen. Well, this was a first! After fooling with it for several minutes (plus my fingers were frozen and not working well), I finally sat down, took my shoes off, and had to use my teeth to untie the damn laces. I was pissed because I knew this was about 10 wasted minutes but I knew it would be worth it for the next 8.3 miles. It is what it is, right!
So, onto the major climb, back to the aid station (this time I stopped and filled up all 4 bottles, which were empty), and home stretch. Unfortunately the home stretch, from the aid station to the creek, was miserable. The rocks coupled with the downhill just provided a really aggressive landing with every footfall. My tendonitis was a bitch…apparently freezing cold waters aren’t the best treatment for already tight muscles!..my ITband was acting up which was causing my knee to swell, and my back was killing me. It is what it is. I stopped to dig my elbow into my IT band a few times, struggled with my stomach so I fed the birds my waffles instead of eating them, passed a bunch of 25K’ers, got passed by a bunch of 50K’ers (yep, twice the distance and they only started an hour before me!), and walked way more than I would have preferred. I was disappointed because I felt like the trail just wasn’t all that runnable so finding a rhythm was impossible. I thought I would never get to the creek again. People kept saying, “you’ll be looking so forward to the creek on the way back.” No, you won’t! The only reason I wanted to see it was because I knew that meant I was about to be off the rocks. The creek sucked both ways and both times. It’s a cold that you only feel in an ice bath but I’ve never taken an ice bath outside, twice, in below freezing temps, in the middle of my run so I can’t say that I felt all that prepared for it.
Finally, the finish line. I managed to run the entire paved portion to the finish line, even though my knee was about the size of my head (and not to mention the crazy swelling that was going on in my fingers and hands!) but I just wanted it to be over! I’m pretty sure I haven’t ever been that happy to be off of a race course. Yes, it was beautiful in places and I’m told the 50K portion that we didn’t run on is absolutely gorgeous but it just wasn’t my day. There aren’t many races that I’ve completed and had the “one and done” mentality but I have to say, this was one. As awful as it was for me, I enjoyed it. I’m glad I did it. I always appreciate a good challenge. I survived the creek, didn’t get hypothermia, got out of my comfort zone on an unknown trail, got a sweet sweatshirt and pint glass, and came home with several random bruises. I didn’t love this race but it is what it is. Will it really be a ‘one and done’ race for me? Who knows. Every time I say this, I end up going back for more but what I do know is that I am looking forward to being Keith’s biggest cheerleader next year when he gets back out there, on healthy legs, and runs that race!