I ran a trail race last month that was absolutely incredible, until it wasn’t. Here’s the recap:
Since I started building my mileage back up from my damn groin injury, my goal was to be healthy enough to run the 18-mile loop of Hotter N’ Hell. In my mind, if I could make it out of that race alive and well, then I’d be set for a fall full of ultras. And I had nailed the training! My mileage was right on track, I had zero pain, and I was mentally ready to tackle the hills and relentless heat and humidity.
As always, I got to Oak Mountain early so that I could help the Toschs with registration and setup. The turnout was great, and I saw a lot of new trail faces mixed in with my familiar BUTS buddies.
The race started with a loop on the road around the pavilion, then dove onto the trails. I got caught up chatting with friends and didn’t notice at first that I was going out too fast. When I did, I bid my farewells, stepped to the side of the trail, and let a conga line-full of people pass me. It takes a hell of a lot of willpower to break away from your friends to slow down and run solo, especially in a race. Especially if you tend to be competitive. But if being injured the better part of this year has taught me anything, it’s that there’s no need to feel embarrassed to admit that you need to slow down, even if you’re already running slower than molasses. Races are long, and there’s no sense in burning out early on. Plus, I’m just glad to be out there running.
The first few miles were easy rolling hills that I have run multiple times before, but don’t particularly love. Or even like. I actually despise them. The Red Trail is shared with mountain bikers, and the particular stretch that we ran is a long, slow, miserable climb up to Peavine Falls. It feels like it goes on forever, and it’s just rocky and root-y and hilly enough to rationalize walking more than you should. So for the first loop, my goal was to run with little-to-no stops, which I did. It helped to see and hear friends ahead of me bitching and moaning as well—misery loves company!
At the aid station, I grabbed my usual Coke and chips, shoved some S-Caps into my handheld for later (big mistake—those little things break and stick to everything!), and kept trucking up to Peavine. Once you get to the top of the Peavine ridge, you’re treated with a nice flat/downhill section to the top of the falls. And then you need to get to the base of the falls. This year, Tosch must have been in cahoots with Satan himself, because he decided to take us straight down the hill using a rope to save our asses from certain death. It was spectacularly scary and fun! Because the going was so slow at this point, the rope was full of runners slipping and sliding and sweating their way down the hill together. Like a demented snake.
After making it to the falls intact, we were greeted with a climb back up the other side, some more hills, and then even more hills for good measure. I was hot but feeling good at that point, and even looking forward to the second loop. Last year I melted in the heat, gave in to peer pressure, and quit after the first loop so that I could go party in my friend Dan’s pool with the BUTS. Totally worth it IMO. This year, without the promise of a cold pool and no one to convince me otherwise, it only made sense to keep running. And so I got to the Start/Finish aid station, refueled, and left before I could think twice.
I don’t remember much of the second loop other than it was hotter, I walked more, and I ran the majority of it solo. While I never felt any pain and was thrilled to be back racing, I wanted the Red Trail to end so that I could tackle some of the hard-as-fuck but fun hills. I could feel myself getting a bit dehydrated (because we were running through Hell, duh), so I chugged a few cups of water and Coke, took another S-Cap, and grabbed more chips. And then I headed out on my merry way to finish the race. Going down to Peavine without any other runners hanging onto the rope was a breeze. At the bottom, I was home-free in my mind. Or so I thought.
Coming up the other side of Peavine, I put my foot down on a rock that had a broken beer bottle on it. I slipped, rolled my ankle, and then tumbled down the rocks. I’ve heard people describe pain as “white hot” before, but I never understood what it meant until that moment. Holy fucking shit did it hurt. And I can tolerate my share of pain. It was all I could do to keep from blacking out or throwing up. As I fell, I heard what I think now was the glass breaking, but at the time I swore it was my ankle bone. And I wanted to die.
I’m not going to get into why there was trash on the trail. Because I’ll get angry. And call people mean names.
Lucikly, by that point I had a few other runners around me. A fellow BUTS pal immediately posted on Facebook that I needed some help. I sent out a mass SOS text to others at the race, hoping that one of them would have their phone and come help. Luckily, my friend Zach is just as attached to his phone as I am (and had placed third in the race because he’s a badass), and started to make his way to Peavine. The good thing about where I fell was that I was relatively close to a road. The bad thing about where I fell was that I had to get down one side of Peavine, then get back up the other to the parking lot. To refresh your memory, this is the hill with the rope.
One runner became my trail angel (can ultra runners have trail angels, like thru hikers?) when he abandoned his race and decided to stick with me until I got help. I cannot be more grateful for his presence and help—had I been alone, I would have either curled up in the fetal position and cried until I passed out, or gnawed my ankle off and kept running. But this man was a rockstar. He ran like a mountain goat up and down the hills countless times to scout out the safest route for me to walk/crawl on, carried my handheld, and even supported my body weight when I couldn’t walk. All on a hill where we were hanging on to trees to keep from falling. He kept me talking to make sure I wouldn’t go lights-out on him. And once I got to Zach, he turned around and finished the race! Go ahead Crossfitters, how many reps did you do on your silly bar today?
Zach came and ushered me down to the Finish, where Dr. Beau of Chirofarm was waiting to torture—I mean—help me. Watching him take my shoe and sock off and my ankle growing a baseball was like a scene from Alien—I kept expecting a face to pop out of it. He taped me up, ordered some x-rays despite assuming (correctly) that it wasn’t broken, and sent me on my way. My good friend Jenny stuck around and let me dig my nails into her as Dr. Beau worked on me, and other friends came by to keep me company. I was in a world of hurt, but it wasn’t bad enough to override my shame for being carried off the trail instead of streaking through the finish line. I’m like a running cloud of bad luck!
Despite my stupidity, I was grateful that I had otherwise had a great race. There were a few other runners who struggled with the heat and needed help from the local EMS folks, which was hard to watch. I don’t know how long I’ll be off the road and trails, but I’m hoping that I’ll be back and better than ever for the fall races! Because nothing can knock me down for too long.