I am considering this my first REAL trail race. Since the only other trail race I've ever ran was essentially a wade, because the trails were so incredibly flooded. That wet race, did give me a glimpse into trail running though. And I remember thinking about how incredibly mentally exhausting that race was, but I didn't really think about it too much going into preparations for this race.
You see... I kept thinking about the distance... Ohhh, I thought, 13 miles is nothing. I can do 13 miles in my sleep. I just assumed that I'd run slower and more cautiously because of the trails. No big deal, right? I even toyed with the idea of signing up for the full marathon! But, in the end decided just to do the half... less recovery time. So, that's why even though I had to get up at 3am to drive down to Chattanooga on the morning of the race, I still stayed up till 10:30 or so to watch my gamecocks lose to LSU in the SEC baseball tourney. (Don't even get me started on our bullpen. Arg!) And once the game ended I was so riled up and was still blasting off texts to friends that I didn't fall asleep till even later.
Ehhh... I thought... 13.1 miles?? That's nothing. I don't need a full nights sleep.
I got up at 3am, got ready and decided that I might get hungry on the 2 hour drive down, so I made a peanut butter and honey sandwich to take with me and headed out the door at 4.
I didn't get hungry... so... I didn't eat it. Ehhh... I thought... 13.1 miles??? That's nothing. I don't need a sandwich before I run.
I get to the race site, get out of the car and it's sprinkling. But by the time I got my bib number, kick ass Marmot race tech tee, and got my leg marked...
(which, I thought was the coolest thing, by the way... to have my calf marked with the distance I was running), it had pretty much stopped raining. After putting my hat on a couple of times and then taking it off, I finally decided to not wear it and I headed to the start line.
The guy at the start line was talking about the race... how "it's an easy trail race, for East Tennessee, that is" which everyone got a chuckle over. He also talked about the aid stations and made the comment... "there will be runners who need the aid stations." He talked about how Chattanooga has like the most mileage of trails than any other city, it was a nice distraction to have someone talking (and you could actually hear him) right up until the start of the race.
This was the most interesting start to a race I've ever experienced. We started running and with the exception of like 4 people... NOBODY bolted. I mean, everyone was running slow and easy... all around my pace of 9:30/10:00. It was kind of annoying. I wanted us to spread out more before we hit the single file trail. Once we hit the trail, we had to stop to line up... kind of annoying, but whatever. I was taking it easy and not really letting it bother me.
The race started off well, I got into my groove and passed a couple of people here and there, but generally, I laid back. The weather was perfect. Overcast and warm, with a nice breeze. I was sweating my ass off, despite the breeze, but the breezes just made me glad I was sweating.
I was just starting to daydream... thinking about how I could figure out a way to quit my job, sell my condo, and move to Chattanooga for a year... in a tent... and just spend my days running the trails. And it was right about this moment... 20 minutes in, when I was just loving life, when I faceplanted right in the middle of the trail. It happened so quick, that I barely realized it happened. I popped up and started running again, feeling my knees stinging and looking down and seeing that I had scraped them pretty bad. I persevered and thought to myself... well, at least I got my fall out of the way early.
The first aid station was at mile 3.1 ish. I stopped here briefly... drank some water and splashed some water on my knees to get some of the dirt off. And off I went through the trails again.
It wasn't very long after that stop, that I fell again. Directly on my knees again. This fall definitely hurt because of the previous fall, but again, I popped up... not letting anyone in front of me and kept on trucking.
At this point, I remember thinking... "third times the charm." But I made a conscious effort to try and concentrate harder. Mentally... I was starting to struggle. The sweat was dripping into my eyes, and my contacts were getting blurry and it was making it hard to see the trail fully. I started thinking about how dumb I was not to get the sleep or nutrition I needed to be able to concentrate fully.
I tried to pay attention to how high I was picking my feet up. But, it was no use... I ended up falling again. (That makes 3 times, if you've lost count). I got mad after that fall. Mad at myself for treating this race like it was just any other half marathon. Mad that I couldn't concentrate on the trail. That my mind kept wandering and everytime it did, my foot would get caught up on a root or a rock or slip off the edge of the trail.
Finally, I got to the second aid station. This was around mile 8.6. I drank some Hammer HEED at this station knowing that I needed the boost. It was the first time I'd ever had it, and I actually really liked it. It basically had no flavor, which meant it left no icky aftertaste in my mouth like gatorade sometimes does. The guy at the station told us that there was another aid station at mile 11.1. Which, was news to me, because I thought there were only the two aid stations for the half. And I thought it was kind of dumb to have another aid station that close to the finish. Anyway, I took off and kept thinking... okay, only 30 minutes or so till the next aid station. I can do this.
And then... I fell again. 4 th time. This time, I didn't fall directly on my knees, I kind of fell on my hip/flank region and rolled over. I got up and kept going. That fall hurt the least of all of them and I was ready to just finish this race. I kept looking for that final aid station, but it never came. I realized about 40 minutes after the 8.6 stop, that he was probably talking about the next aid station for the marathon. The last 20 minutes or so, I just took my time and focused as much as I could. I found the last few miles of the race the most enjoyable, because there were fewer people around and I could concentrate on the trail instead of hearing people behind me.
I finished with a time of 2:19:55. Which, honestly... I was thrilled with. I got some diet coke and then walked to my car and drove home. I knew they had a hose to wash me off. But, I felt this odd desire to keep the dirt and blood on me. It was kind of like, I wasn't ready to wash away the race just yet.
Once I got out of the park, I needed to talk to someone. I knew it was still too early to call Vandy -Montana, I ended up calling my mom. Who, after she heard I fell 4 times, said... " ohhhh... I didn't know this was a trail race." She assured me that she had some neosporin, so I ended up driving all the way to my parents house after the race.
When I hung up the phone with her, I immediately ended up laughing out loud at myself. And that quickly turned into crying because I was just so mentally exhausted.
It was tough. But, I was tougher. I don't think I've ever been challenged that hard mentally. But, despite the falls and despite the mental exhaustion... I loved it. I loved the fact that I had to use muscles that I normally dont. I loved that I was exhausted more after running 13.1 miles than I had been running 18+ miles. I was also glad that I didn't sign up for the full marathon. Maybe moving to Chattanooga isn't such a bad idea. ;)
I do have to say... Trail races are an exercise in battling your inner control freak. I mean, there comes a point when there are 5 people in front of you... walking up a hill that you'd rather run up. But, can you safely pass those 5 people? Not really, and even if you could, you'd look like a total douche bag. It's kind of annoying. You can't run your own race the entire time. And... you can't really enjoy the nature, because... you'll trip and fall.
Lucky for my ego... I've heard that there were a TON of bloody knees at the finish line of this race. And I did see my fair share of other people falling. I just doubt that they fell 4 times.
Looking forward to seeing the pictures, there were tons of photographers out on the course... which, again.. you couldn't really make contact with, because you'd trip and fall as soon as you did.
Surprisingly... my knees actually look worse today. All scabby and bright red. Just in time for shorts and sundresses. Awesome.