WARNING! Graphic image below!
It’s Saturday morning and I’m running the Timp Trail Marathon. The weeks of spring rain have finally given way to a beautiful, warm and VERY green morning. In another month, these mountains will give over to various hues of brown, but for now it looks like I’m running in the Irish hills.
My training was spot on, lots of quad work (I have these scrawny, weak legs) and long runs just one mountain over from where the race takes place. Even so, I have two little monsters on my shoulders. First, as a slower runner (one might even say snailish) I always worry at the start line that I’ll finish last. Somebody has to, I know, and there’s less shame in that than not finishing. Right? Second, this marathon has a cutoff four hours after the start at the second aid station around mile 11.5. In spite of my generally optimistic feelings about this race, these monsters have no intention of leaving just yet.
By the first aid station at mile 6, I’ve settled into a good pace. I’m looking to make the cutoff with an hour to spare and I’m planning a victorious text at that point to everyone I know. Even better, at the few spots where I can look back, I see a couple of pretty good sized groups far behind me. It’s a pretty small event, so I know this puts me well ahead of last place even with the crazy hard climbs to come.
I grab a couple of Swedish Fish, not because I need them but because they are Swedish Fish, and some coke. The ladies at the first aid station tell me my climb begins in about a mile. From studying the course on the website, I know there is a climb around mile 7, then the course plateaus for a while and drops down into the second aid station. The real climbing will begin after this and top out around mile 17.
Good so far.
At this point, I can’t see any other runners. The orange shirt guy ahead of me is lost in the bends and turns of the trail. At mile 7 there is a trailhead parking lot. There’s some flagging just before the parking lot that turns me to the right. I see a square sign with a runner on it, but don’t spare any attention for that, because the climb I’m about to do is very obvious. It starts as giant steps made of railroad ties and goes straight up into an incredibly beautiful canyon.
Note to readers: spare some attention for the square signs in life.
Second note to readers: did I mention there is also a half marathon during this event?
Just before mile 8 I reach the top of the climb. A couple of times, while climbing, I got a little discouraged. This is a pretty hard climb! If this is my easier climb, how am I going to get through the hard climb? But the scenery is beautiful and I know my pace is still good, so I carry on, knowing this will plateau very soon.
The canyon opens up into a meadow. In the middle of the meadow is an aid station.
What? There’s not an aid station at mile 8.
“This wasn’t on the website,” I tell the man, “is this a bonus aid station?”
He is confused, I am confused, but we quickly figure out that I took the half marathon turn at the parking lot.
“Oh no! Oh no!” I keep saying. I think he feels pretty sorry for me.
So I turn around and run back down the beautiful canyon. I push down my despair and tell myself I’m running an ultra today. No big deal. It’s okay. I can still make the cutoff.
The canyon is even more beautiful going downhill, with straight cliffs framing the lake in the valley below.
I mentally kick myself, really hard, and run across the parking lot, searching among the various trails for flagging. None.
I see a gentleman coming down one of the trails with his dog.
“Did you see flagging on one of the trails? Or runners?”
He points to the trail I want.
But there is no flagging. I keep going for a while, but there is no flagging. I finally realize that the last runners, and the sweeper, have already been through. There will be no flagging and I have no idea how to get to the next aid station.
I can be in denial at times, so I keep running, my despair now bubbling all the way up, until I trip and fall.
Maybe my body’s way of saying, STOP YOU IDIOT, YOU BLEW IT AND THERE IS NO FIXING IT NOW?!?
I consider my options. Backtrack to the start? Go back up that climb and finish on the half marathon course? I decide to do the latter. At least it’s a finish of some sort.
I get back to the aid station. The half marathon start is two hours after the marathon, so nobody but me has been through yet. My elbow is bleeding pretty hard, but they don’t have a first aid kit. I’m wearing sleeves, so I just leave them on and don’t look at it yet.
I sit for a few minutes, eat a few potato chips, and watch the teenage girl try to start a fire with sticks. I offer her a match but everyone else says “NO!” My daughter ran the half marathon and she informed me that at the point she reached the aid station there was still no fire. It’s almost as if they don’t want her to start a fire.
So I finish a long half marathon. I’m probably three miles out from the finish when the first half marathoners start to pass me. I start to worry they’ll think I’m the first woman and I’ll be celebrated as the winner and have to explain… so I’m relieved when a few women pass me.
At the finish line, I ask for a bandaid. They don’t have one. No first aid at all. Overall, this is a great event, but really? No first aid at a trail race? Surely I’m not the only one who falls. Then again, maybe I am…
I take off my sleeves, which are destroyed, and see that I’m much worse than I thought. I don’t have a car key (I gave it to my daughter because I shouldn’t be here yet!) and I figure I have an hour wait before she finishes. There’s not a first aid kit in my car, but there is a beer, which is what I need for the real pain I’m feeling.
So I sit there, bleeding, frightening the small children, and occasionally putting on my sunglasses so I can cry in peace.
No, I’m not crying about my shredded arm. As I try to explain to my mom later, it’s the failed marathon that hurts. It’s the fact that it was my own stupid mistake, the one second of inattention that cost months of effort. It was to be a test of my stronger legs, my overall better level of fitness.
I know, I can still do this, and I will. And I feel a bit childish thinking, “I want it NOW!”
But I do. There aren’t too many events that fit my requirements this summer, which is mainly that I don’t have time or funds for travel. So I’m going to have to wait.
The RD for the Timp Trail Races (The Ultimate Endurance Race Series) was kind enough to offer me a discount for the 50k this fall, so that will be my redemption race.
The race report for that one will be full of happiness, joy and victory. And maybe, just maybe, no injuries.