I had worried about a number of things going into this race — I worried that my co-workers would get lost (I felt more than a little responsible for them, since I had convinced them to participate). I worried that the sand would be SUPER soft, and the 10 miles would feel more like 13. I worried that I would go out way too fast, and that as I ran past our hotel on the way back, my co-workers or even my boss would see me floundering through the sand in a completely unflattering way.
I forgot to worry about the “trail” portion of the race, even though history would remind me that I have a habit of finding errant tree roots or misplaced rocks during trail runs. As a result, there is a LEGEND OF MEGAN circulating amongst my co-workers.
The Legend goes like this:
While everyone else was sleeping, Megan rose at the butt crack of dawn to meet her destiny: a marathon through sand dunes. She would have won the race, but then…disaster struck. Partway through the race, a python sprang from the woods, wrapping itself around her ankle and causing her to go crashing to the ground. A lesser mortal would have given up, but Megan heroically dusted herself off, tied the snake in a knot around a tree, and finished the race despite a sprained ankle and broken arm. Not only that…but she finished THIRD overall. Truly, she is a hard core runner and a legend in the making.
Obviously, The Legend does not completely align itself with the facts.
Here are the facts:
The Caladesi Island Trail Race is a 10-miler, not a marathon. I think non-runners will always be confusing “a sort of long race” with a “marathon.” The marathon is a specific distance, people. 26.2 miles! Anyway. The race begins at Pier 60, runs 4 miles up the beach to Caladesi Park, meanders 3 miles on trails through the park, and and then 3 miles back on the beach.
And…we’re off! Doesn’t the skyline look gorgeous?
Because it was low tide, the sand on the beach was extremely firm to run on. No floundering here. Occasionally, you do have to run on an incline, which is responsible for some hip flexor and back soreness today, but it’s actually not as difficult a surface to run on as I had imagined. And running on the beach? Holy moly. Even though I cautioned myself to go out slow, I got caught up in the novelty and beauty of my hill-free surroundings, and the first 3 miles were under 8:00 pace. Oopsies.
I forced myself down to 8:20 then, because I was pretty sure that 7:45 wasn’t something I could handle for 10 miles. I really wanted the even to be fun, and completely wasting myself in the first half, then struggling every step through the second half would be no fun at all.
At 4 miles, we headed up the beach and onto a service “road” that led to some nature trails. This was where the going got rough. From lovely, hard-packed sand to deep, soft, almost-impossible-for-a-midwest-girl-to-run-in sand…in a heartbeat. I’m not sure how much my pace slowed, but it felt as though I was crawling. Fortunately, in under half a mile, the trail hardened sufficiently to allow for running. Periodically, the deep sand would return, and often the trail itself was covered with pine needles. There were also more twists and turns than I had imagined, which altogether added a degree of difficulty the previous 4 miles had made me forget might be possible.
The service “road” leading to the trail. This is where things got REAL.
It was, however, also a great deal of fun. Palm trees lined both sides of the trail, shading runners from the increasingly warm sun. Park rangers and race volunteers were stationed anywhere trail diverged, cheering and making sure that we were all headed in the right direction. At 6 miles, the GPS informed me that I was back on 8:00 pace. “Hey, Megan! If you can get through these trails and back on the beach without slowing down, you might hit 1:20:00! That’d be incredible for an off-road race!” I thought to myself. At that moment, I also appeared to be gaining on a couple of guys. Huzzah! I increased my pace EEEEEEVER so slightly, and…
The next thing I knew, I was on the ground. I’m not sure what happened, but I have a probable theory. I was running downhill, and the sprained right ankle suggests I slipped on pine needles. I tweaked it pretty good, and it threw me off balance to the point that I couldn’t recover. I landed HARD on my left arm, sliding a bit due to the momentum and the incline. I knew there was a runner behind me, so I said “I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine” before I even managed to get up or assess the damage. I didn’t want him to stop and check on me, because I was pretty sure I WAS fine and I didn’t want to impede anyone else’s race.
In my mind, I bounced up quickly and gracefully. I’m sure the reality was much less graceful, and I know for a fact that the first 15-20 steps after I got up were extremely difficult. The ankle was extraordinarily stiff, and I hobbled awkwardly, trying to find my stride.
Fortunately, I found it. The normal stride returned, and I was able to get back to about 8:15 pace. Yes, my ankle hurt. Yes, my other leg had the sand equivalent of road rash from my clumsy slide. Yes, it seemed that even the normal “over halfway through a long race” sorenesses were magnified. The most alarming, thing, however, was the massive swelling near my elbow. When I caught a glimpse of that, mere seconds after falling, I was a little freaked out. Ok, more than a little. “Is it broken?” I wondered. “Could it be? Wouldn’t it hurt more than it does? WHY IS IT ALREADY SWOLLEN?”
Well, never mind. Whatever the state of my arm, there’s one way to get back, and that’s to finish the race.
Oddly, Mile 8 felt FANTASTIC, because I was off the trails and back on the easier running surface. I even passed someone! Somewhere around Mile 9, I hit that place of feeling so sore and uncomfortable that I quit caring about pace. “Just keep moving, Megan. Just. Keep. Moving.” I could see the pier that marked the finish line from WAAAAAAAY out, but I’m no dummy. This midwestern girl may not know how to run on sand, but she knows better than to be tricked by the illusion that something is close just because you can see it. With no hills to get in the way, you can see FOREVER.
Near the 8 mile mark…beach and ocean as far as the eye can see.
Halfway through Mile 10, I passed our hotel and was relieved to see that none of my co-workers were outside waiting to cheer me on. I don’t know what I looked like, but generally when you pass into a land of no longer caring about pace, it’s not good.
And then…I finished. 1:23:23. Not quite 8:00 pace, but something I’m very happy with. I also learned that I was the 3rd female finisher, which is AWESOME! (For the record, I would NOT have won if I hadn’t fallen, as The Legend claims. I couldn’t even see the women in front of me. They were FAST!) I grabbed my finisher’s medal — a neat-looking dog tag with a winged foot design — and headed for the results table to turn in my place card. Then, as I mentioned on Twitter, it was time for a quick game of Assessing the Damage.
My arm looked bad, with what appeared to be an extra elbow swelling out of a scrape. My ankle was getting stiffer by the second, and most of my left leg was scraped up. To conclude: I looked either super hard core or really pathetic. You can take your pick.
After washing off the worst of the dirt, I watched a seagull steal a pancake off a fellow runner’s plate and called Scott to update him on the race. Then, I headed back to the finish line to see if my co-workers could beat the clock and finish before they closed the race. They had planned to run/walk the race, taking things more casual and making time to take some pictures. At 2 hours 24 minutes, here they came! Looking quite cute in their company shirts and shamrock socks (our logo includes a shamrock), finishing 6 whole minutes before the course was scheduled to close. They had tons of fun, and I’m so glad they participated with me. They even stuck around for awards to watch me get my trophy.
The girls finishing. Yay!
Trophy time! Notice the lovely bump on my left arm.
Sweet, sweet, victory…or, 3rd place. Either way.
This was such a neat little race. The West Florida Running Club did an awesome job organizing it and marking the trails. It was a race like I’ve never run before, and it’s an experience I’ll never, ever forget. If anyone is looking for a unique, fun racing experience in January, this is the one to do for sure. Just……..be careful of pine needles.