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Posts Tagged ‘trail run’

So this is the shirt I SHOULDA bought during my last VA Beach Rock N Roll Half Marathon.  And it’s also the shirt I SHOULDA worn at my race this last Sunday. 

Photo Credit

The company is One More Mile Running and I get absolutely NOTHING if you buy something from them.  (Come to think of it, I should talk to those guys about some kind of finders’ fee–but I digress.)

I love the hilarious shirts this company makes.  Going to an expo for me is like going to Vegas is for some people.  I give myself a certain (small) amount of money that I know I will throw away on super-fun running gear on the (likely) chance that I will have a great time while wearing said gear in the future.  Actually, in this light, the odds are far better than Vegas, but again…I digress.

So I did NOT buy the shirt but I did INDEED have the experience the shirt indicates at a race this past Sunday at one of my local running club’s signature events. 

Explanation:

Each year our awesome local running club, the Kennekuk Road and Trail Runners, hosts an event called the Wild Wild Wilderness Run.  Runners from all over the midwest descend upon our lovely little hamlet to challenge themselves on the Wilderness Trail. 

See, the thing is, the Wild Wild Wilderness Trail Run includes at least one portion of trail that is not really a trail for human beings.  True, some deer and squirrel may have ventured up the side of that beast, but humans…not so much.

And the OTHER thing is, THIS year I knew that beast was coming.  I ran the stinking trail last year.  And I heard from my friend–let’s just call her Ami (because that’s her name)–that the run was SO much easier when you knew what to expect.  Just so you know: she totally lied.  (A different experience, but NOT easier!  Still love you though, Ami.)

So now in the interest of Truth, Justice and the American Trail-Running Way,  if you’re EVER considering the Wild Wild Wilderness Trail Run, you should know THIS is TRULY what to expect: 

7.55 miles (or 7.45 miles, depending on the race year) of some of the most beautiful trail in the region.  Including: 

3.5 initial miles of relatively bumpy, grassy trail, in and out of the woods.  Wear your deet during tick season.  Basically an enjoyable but moderately challenging run.  Followed by…

4 miles of hell on earth.  A mountain fit for certain animals, but definitely not people.  Creeks to leap over.  A slippery bridge to run across.  Hills, hills and more hills.  A “stairway” built into the side of a nearly-vertical hillside just before mile seven–that conveniently had its STEPS removed this year–where you are basically sliding up a rooted-mud-hill.

Essential Aside Advice:  Try to strategically select the people who are running in front of you and behind you as you face these natural obstacles.  Sliding down a mud-hill onto the head of the helpful, but completely unsuspecting, gentleman behind beneath you as you lose your footing on one of these obstacles is not the most polite way to make new friends.  Even if he does promise that he won’t let you fall down the hill.  As you are practically sitting on his head.  *sigh*  Well, after hitting solid ground, at least there’s plenty of motivation to pick up the pace and get outta there as fast as you can after that little getting-to-know-you adventure. 

And back to the shirt.  See, while the front-half of the shirt would have been me on Sunday, the back-half of the shirt would be me TODAY.  After my rugged adventure.  While trying to walk or move quickly.  Thank goodness for my friend, Ibuprofen. 

And regarding the WWW Run.  Would I do it again next year, even after all of the muddy drama?  OF COURSE!  Maybe even several times next year.  Because, come to think of it, it wasn’t really that tough after all.  Yeah, in fact, it was more like awesome.  Kinda like childbirth is awesome the farther you get away from it. 

I’ll be there.  Probably with a cool new shirt.  And definitely with a strategy that calls for me making new friends in more lady-like ways than sitting on some poor stranger’s head.

 P.S.  As proof that I should have known better and for the entertainment of the historians among you:  Here’s the post about a couple of last year’s trail runs:  Trail Runs Before I Knew Better 

 

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I started running in the very warm weather.  At the time, the key training issues for me were strategic hydration and forcing myself to haul my body out of bed to run at the crack of dawn to beat the morning heat.  I remember wondering vaguely about how I was going to handle running in the elements, but secretly considering the thought that icky weather would be my excuse to avoid running. 

Then I met Dotty.  Yes, the same Dotty that filled my mind with visions of the Virginia Beach Half Marathon and enticed me to register for the 26.2 with Donna Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer.  That one.  When I found out she had been a distance runner for many years, I asked her about how she handled rain, wind and snow.  She shocked me with her response.  As I recall, it went something like this:

I run every day it’s on my training schedule and I always run outside.  The only reason I would not run outside would be if there was lightning. 

Two or three seasons full of running excuses, blown to smithereens in about 20 seconds of conversation!  And yet how awesome was that?  With snow on the ground even?  Yep.  Even when it’s really, really cold?  Yes.  Pouring rain?  As long as there’s no lightning.  How on earth do you do that?  Just have the right gear and go. 

Wow.

So, I figured this was probably a gold standard for outdoor runners and, since I hate the treadmill, I immediately adopted this as my standard too. 

Now, you may recall that in our neck of the woods we have had a really, really rainy Fall.  In fact, as of today, there are still crops in fields locally that have not been able to be harvested because the ground is too wet.  It has been one rainy season!  Interestingly, I have not had one run cancelled due to lightning.  I’ve watched for it, but all this rain has produced almost zero lightning.  So on I ran. 

Then in the late Fall, the weather began to do something famous for our area of the Midwest.   It started to get COLD.  The shorts and cropped running pants had done just fine so far, but what now?  I’d already learned that the wicking material did wonders to stop the chub rub.  What to do about those frozen legs? 

Enter Coach Shelly:

Me:  What kind of gear am I going to need for the winter?  I don’t plan on dealing with that stinking treadmill unless I absolutely have to and I’m afraid I’ll lose my mind cooped up inside the gym all winter.

Shelly:  There are some things you’ll want, for sure. 

Friend [Anonymous friend, we’ll just call her Chris for this post, offering her thoughts]:  Hey, I like the treadmill and the gym.  Could do without that creepy gym guy, however.

Me:  I think all gyms must have a creepy gym guy.

[Random conversation about gyms, creeps, and other Very Important Girl Talk that ensues when girlfriends are having important conversation about things like Gear.]

Me:  What were we talking about?  Oh yeah, what gear do I need to avoid the gym this winter and still keep training?

Shelly:  You’ll need a long sleeve wicking shirt made for cold weather, something for your head, gloves, and you’ll want some compression pants.

Me:  Compression pants?  Are ya kidding?  Like those skin-tight things that real runners wear?

Image Credit  (and before you ask, NO these are NOT my legs…Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha.  No.)

Shelly:  [cheerily] Yes, those are the ones.

Me:  Um…No Way.  There is No Way I am putting this behind into something like that and running around my hometown terrifying innocent bystanders.  There could be an accident or something.  I would have to slither through the streets under cover of darkness.  I simply Couldn’t Do It. 

Shelly:  I know, they look terrible, but they work wonderfully and they are absolutely worth it.  They will allow you to run in very cold temperatures and there is zero chub rub with these things.

Me:  That is because they are SKIN TIGHT!

Shelly:  If you really had to, you would wear a pair of shorts over them.  Either way, it is something you really should consider. 

Me:  No.

Chris:  No.

Shelly:  Well, it’s up to you.  Maybe you’ll change your mind later.

I can tell you that I struggled against the compression pants for weeks and weeks.   Finally, I took the plunge and bought a pair of the hideous things.  I put off wearing them for a long, long time.  Always able to find a way to run when it was a little warmer. 

Then I found myself in 30 degree weather the morning of the Indianapolis 5K (yet another race that Chris had talked me into!) and there was no getting around the compression pants.  I pulled the suckers on and, grateful that I’d remembered to bring the little black shorts to yank on over the top, to protect the unsuspecting public, I ran my first race in the compression pants. 

And to my complete surprise, I had my Very Best Time Ever for a 5K.  The pants kept me warm without overheating.  And they didn’t rub or twist or bunch around.  These things were great! 

They still looked hideous, mind you.  But they were great! 

Since then, the hideous compression pants have become like an old friend.  They accompany me on most of my runs, especially when the temperature is under 40 degrees.  They’ve been on long runs and short runs, uphill and downhill, on the street and on the trail. 

If I get the nerve, I’ll find and post a picture of the Indy 5K compression pants maiden voyage here.   But it ain’t pretty.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

And I find myself, again surprised and saying:  Shelly, you were right!

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Running Shoes: BEFORE

So here’s the thing. 

I had this whole post planned with the title:  You Don’t Expect Me to Run Up THAT, Do You?  And the post was about the Wild Wild Wilderness Run hosted by the Kennekuk Road (and must.not.forget.the.TRAIL) Runners a couple months ago. 

That trail featured 7.55 miles of pure running torture.  (So terrible that I plan on running it again in the arctic weather we surely can expect during the Sibearn Express on January 2, 2010.)  Seriously, though.  It was terrible.  There was a nearly vertical hill that only mountain goats or really nimble deer should ever be expected to climb, one that hugged an earth wall and where a single step to the left would leave a person pummeling hundreds of yards to their demise in a thornbush-infested ravine.  There were three or four miles of challenging, but bearable terrain that initiated the uninitiated WWW trail runner.  Then (surprise, newbie!) the turn-off to the hill-from-hell.  Only to be followed by three or four miles more  of Really. Hard. Trail Running. 

Now, I love running hills.  But these weren’t people-hills.  They were animal-only hills.  And those super-runners who could just prance up them with ease–well, I’m astounded by those people.  They need a special category of fitness just for them.

As for me, I was so proud of Finishing Without Dying that I floated along on that experience for quite some time.  It mattered very little to me that I was near the Very End of the pack.  I was thrilled beyond words to have finished on my feet instead of a stretcher.

So that was the essence of the post I was going to write.  Because that was the craziest trail I’d run so far.  Until today.

Today I was introduced, quite accidentally, to the Backpack Trail at Forest Glen.  I personally believe they call this the Backpack Trail because most normal humans would need to bring camping supplies (or at least a meal!) in order to traverse the sucker, because it takes SO LONG and is SO HARD to finish this monster of a trail.

Now the introduction to the trail was only partially accidental, I confess.  Because I planned to do the 4.5 mile trail.  You know, the “this-11-mile-trail-intimidates-me-so-I-want-a-shorter-version-of-the-Backpack-Trail” trail.  What I did NOT plan to do was the 11 mile version of the Backpack Trail. 

Had I completed the 4.5 mile version, I’d still have had plenty of material to share with you, believe-you-me.  But the fact that just one teensy-weensy turn to the left rather than the right had us move our bodies over 11 miles of terrain instead of 4.5 miles is just plain wicked.  Indeed, we made the left vs. right decision because some Very Helpful (sadistic) Campers advised us that everyone had headed toward the left.  Thank you campers. 

What followed was an adventure that my two running buddies and I certainly had not anticipated.  We were told that we’d be heading over a creek.  Indeed, we headed over multiple creeks.  “Creek” is a highly subjective term, apparently.  I’m thinking, it’s a little thing you can hop over.  Nope.  It’s several big things that, even if you don’t fall off the slippery rocks that pose as steps across the current, you’re going to be wading in the water at least up to your ankles.  (Before you Florida readers think me a wimp, now, please remember that it was 33 degress when I got in the car to drive to this adventure!). 

And there were hills.  So many hills.  This trail wasn’t playing.  And let’s not forget that it’s been raining for, like, 952 days straight here in Central Illinois, so it was Mud City everywhere we went.  Read that:  No Traction.  Slip-N-Slides are fun when you’re eight and in your front yard with your neighbor buddies.  When you’re 43 years-old and trying to find footing climbing up a Monster Mud Hill, there are few humans that would call the exercise fun. 

Indeed, as we got to the bottom of our 382nd hill (perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but not much) we stopped thinking, “surely this is the last big hill we have to deal with” and started thinking, “surely this stinking trail has to end at some point.” 

Who knew that any trail, anywhere in the known universe could have So Many Gigantic Up’s and Gigantic Downs?  One after the other.  (Of course, happily interspersed with flowing creeks throughout.)

And the downhills.  I believe they were even worse than the uphills.  I’d always had the strategy of running on the downhills whenever possible.  It’s just that it was Very Rarely possible on this Sadist Trail.  The first bad boy that we faced, I remember clearly thinking that we’d taken a wrong turn.  People aren’t supposed to go straight down hills that steep with NO earth on either side.  Just a little mountain goat path straight down with an occasional tree mercifully situated for holding-on-for-dear-life on the downward descent.  I remember thinking after that first hill that the worst was behind us.  HA HA HA HA HA.  No.

All three of us in our brave little what-in-the-blazes-are-we-doing-out-here-without-a-GPS-or-a-cell-phone party fell nicely on our touckases at least once during the adventure.  We kept a good eye-out for each other and never got too far apart while out there.   We learned the difference between a shriek of  “Woo Hoo!” (“We’re awesome!  Look what we’re doing!”) and a shriek of “Woo Hoo!” (“Heaven help me, I’ve just fallen into the biggest mud pit in a five state region!”).  We learned the difference between this-hurts and this-sucks-but-let’s-keep-going-because-we-still-have-daylight.  And we most certainly learned to love the signs with the little red arrows and how to look for the red splotches on lots of trees. 

Most of all, we learned that there was more within us than any of us bargained for when we set out to Forest Glen for a little run one cold Saturday morning in November.  We learned we could do it.  At least for me, I surprised myself that I could do it.  And any one of us could have gone the 13.1 half marathon distance–so we learned that we were able to do that too!  I had another chance to give one something that had intimidated me a beat-down.  And we were blessed with the commraderie, the friendship, that comes from battling those stinking hills and creeks and elements together. 

Overall, it certainly was a day worth having.  Maybe even a day worth repeating.  A great adventure by some unlikely adventurerers.  And a great achievement by some tough-as-nails women who, though total newbies, were ready and willing to give it our all.  And we did. 

Three other Very Important Points: 

1.  Hats off to the Kennekuk Road (and Trail) Runners who gave every one of us a round of applause as we staggered off the trail.  These Super Runners had been done for well over an hour, but were still glad to cheer on the lost-little-newbies that somehow finished that 11 mile beast without dying! 

2.  My trail shoes are now officially trail shoes.  Here’s the after picture: 

Shoes: AFTER

3.  WW Activity Points mean I can EAT after today.  Yes!

4.  I’m certain I’ve forgot to mention much more than what’s been said here already.  I’m sure you’ll get more tidbits as the days and weeks move on…

For now, here’s proof of the mud: 

Muddy!

And proof of the buds:

We Made It!

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The afternoon after my first 5K, I took a ride with my mom and daughter, N, to one of our local parks to check out a trail on which an upcoming run was scheduled.  Never mind that my knees technically weren’t working and it had taken me more than 50 minutes to walk 3.1 miles.  Never mind that the trail was 7.3 miles and had to be completed in 2 hours.  Never mind that the race was scheduled the day of my 25th high school reunion.  Just because it was technically and completely impossible didn’t mean I shouldn’t do my homework about the thing.  C’mon!

My mother and daughter were happy to enable me in my delusion and we walked a bit of the trail together.  Didn’t seem too rugged to me.  The date was set for N and I to run walk the trail and see if we could complete it in the requisite 2 hours. 

After rescheduling several times due to pain and rain, N and I finally set out on the trail.  My brother (who several years ago had walked this trail while training to walk the Appalachian Trail~which he conquered, successfully, solo and in record time, by the way) had assured me that the trail was not rugged by A.T. standards, but had warned me about the ticks in the area.

TICKS?!  Ack.  My head was itching just thinking of it. 

We set off with our heads covered, and weighed down with snacks and water provided by my wonderful mom, who had agreed to hang out with Yay-Mommy-Princess while we were on our hike. 

Less than a mile into the trail we discovered suddenly an animal skeleton hanging in a tree, which set quite the tone for our adventure.  (My mother later told me that the park staff knew about the lovely carcass, and laughingly asked if we’d seen it.  Ranger humor.  Nice.) 

We also discovered that the definition of “rugged” meant vertical hills, with slippery steps carved into mud walls, and truly meant for mountain goats or wolves, but definitely not humans.  Note to self:  watch for “rugged” in description of future running courses.

Half-way through the walk/run/hike N decided that she needed to stop and rest.  Sadly, I knew that the one thing I could NOT do was stop, since my knees were already showing signs of locking up.  After trying to explain in my nicest mom voice that if mom stopped to rest, they would be needing to bring a little cart to pick us up and haul mom’s pitiful, aching body off the trail, we continued on walking, whining, whimpering and wallowing–sometimes in self-pity and sometimes in the mud. 

We somehow made it through without dying in 2 hours and 2 minutes.  It was an amazing bonding time with my daughter N.  M was at our “finish line” jumping up and down and shouting her trademark, “Yay, Mommy!  Go Mommy!”  We only found one stubborn tick that insisted on coming home with us.  And we had pushed ourselves further than what either one of us had known was possible. 

I had been exercising for about two weeks at that point.  I was leaving the domain of the “Normal Person” and was becoming a “Runner.” I was filthy and exhausted, but had discovered the exhilaration of the trail run, the thrill of meeting that goal and the knowledge that though I was far, far, far from where I wanted to be, I was 7.3 miles closer than I was the day before.

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