Sweet weeping baby Jesus! Long post is long! TL, DR: my SIL did her first half, I got lost and muddy and sort of PR'd by 10 minutes.
I was really looking forward to TA this year for multiple reasons. Obviously, seeing my TA forum peeps is always a good thing.
I was pumped up to see what I might be able to do with adequate red blood cells in my body (FU anemia!). The big thing though was taking my SIL (we like to call her Yosemite so I'll just go with that) down to run the race. It was only her second trail race ever and it would be her first half marathon.
On top of picking a beast of a race as her first, she is also fighting with really bad scoliosis and is due to have back surgery in the next month or so. Her doctor told her she shouldn't even run but, she follows those directions about as well as I do.
Much of the days leading up to race weekend consisted of many texts and phone calls around what she should wear, eat, do to prepare, etc. it was kind of cool helping her prep for her first race and it turns out I have a bit more knowledge than I realized. :-) She was really worried about getting into trouble and not being able to finish but I told her she could be picked up anywhere along the way. Just go out, do what you can, and have fun.
Aside from being one of the first on the scene of a scary looking car accident in Cincinnati (everyone was ok, looked worse than it was) the ride down was uneventful. We got checked in and were greeted by Cookie Monster and Mufasa who were sharing the cabin with us. We soon saw jasz and OT and then we were off to the pasta dinner. As always, the folks serving the dinner were so very nice. Big hugs from thg and I got my packet and the BEST race shirt ever. We had the raffle, hung out a bit, and then back to the cabins for a bit of socializing and then sleep.
It rained during the night. It seemed like it was quite heavy at times. I woke up every so often to listen to the squirrel (?) scurry around in the wall and to contemplate how sloppy the trail might be in the morning.
Woke up in the morning full of nerves like I am every race morning. It was around 70 degrees and the humidity was close to 100%. Those are about the worst possible weather conditions for me with my dehydration problems. (Large intestines are handy, yo!) I then figured out I had forgotten my water bottle!
Fortunately, Yos has an extra one so I'm good to go. Cookie Monster took my car down early that morning, so Yos and I walked down to the start. Saw WSD there, got some pre-race group pics, tried not to puke, and then we were off.
I'm kind of shuffling along around the lake because I forgot to turn my iPod on and I can't decide if I want to re-tie my shoes. I caught up with Yos half way across the damn dam and I'm cracking up because she was all in a panic thinking I was way ahead and had dropped her already. We ran together for a little bit but knew we would be parting ways because we had very different pace goals in mind. On out first slightly significant hill she asked "Is Becky's Bluff much worse than this?" I probably should have been more kind but, I just busted out laughing.
We wished each other luck and I went off on my own. It didn't take long before I was sweating like mad. I felt like I was working way too hard for so early in the race. I concentrated on drinking as much as I could and definitely walking any uphill sections. Trudged up to the Marble Mine and asked the kid standing there if the rocks were slippery. He said no and that's all he said. This becomes important here shortly.
Not too long later I was trekking up this crazy winding hill and thinking that I didn't remember the lead up to Becky's Bluff being so steep and curvy like this. I got to the top and there was an aid station. The volunteers gave me this concerned look and said, "Ohhh...." I thought I must really look like hell already, I definitely felt like it. They told me I'd come up the wrong way and missed the bluff entirely!
"You have to go back down and around and then up the bluff." I'm standing there with my heart pounding in my ears and my clothes wetter than if they'd just come from the washing machine (though more smelly). It just wasn't happening. "No I'm not. I won't." I told her. I took a pbj, drank some water and Powerade, filled my bottle and went on. I learned later that the kid at the Marble Mine was supposed to tell me to keep to the right and hadn't.
On top of all that, I had missed my hug from WSD mullet Jesus. :-(
I was initially pretty pissed off about going off course. Not at anyone really but, just irritated. I was trying to see if I could PR and now I'd gone off route and the race wouldn't "count" for anything. As I was fuming over this, I happened upon a big ass monkey with a box of bananas. I laughed, took one, and decided to try to find the positive in the situation. As hard as I was fighting against the conditions, it was probably a really good thing I hadn't gone up the bluff. Now that the dread of the bluff climb and pressure to PR were gone, I was just running through the woods for fun. :-)
I had a really great and light hearted run across the ridge and to the turn around. I was getting hydrated at the aid station when two women came in. The one was talking about not liking the gel she took at the last stop. I kept trying to offer her one of mine instead but she ended up taking a different flavor from the table. Her friend was asking her about her knee and, apparently, she was in a lot of pain. I had a packet of Biofreeze in my race belt and insisted she take it. I think she thought I was crazy but, she took it and put it on her knee.
Coming back from the turn around, I really got hit all at once from the drain of the heat and dehydration. I was feeling pretty wobbly and defeated and just kind of shuffling along. All of the sudden, I heard someone shrieking my name. It was Yos and she looked great!
I started yelling her name too and we had a great big sweaty hug. She was all smiles and she said, "We're really doing it!" I didn't want to bring her down so I said I was feeling good and told her how far it was to the turn around.
Once I was on my own again, I seriously started contemplating dropping. I felt like shit. It wasn't quite as bad as the delirium I experienced at Columbus but, it was pretty bad and the conditions were worse than they'd been that day. I've never had to DNF but, I also had to juggle whether or not I was putting myself in actual danger. Passed the big ass monkey again and he was looking at me all judgmental like.
I decided I would sit at the aid station for a few minutes before making a decision.
I lurched into the aid station and I must have looked about like I felt because they quickly got me a chair and started offering me drinks and food. I took some water, Powerade, and pretzels and sat there evaluating my situation. They asked me if I felt ok to go on and I told the, I wasn't really sure yet. We talked a bit about how there were only about four more miles and I knew a lot of it would be downhill. I also knew there would be more people along the way and I could get help if I needed it. While I was mulling this over, BAMA came into the aid station and I finally got to say hi to her in person.
Feeling recharged, I decided to keep going and see how things went. Anyone who has done this race knows how fun the downhill sections leading make to the Marble Mine are to fly down. This was the first time I've actually been brave enough to run some downhills in a trail race and it was a blast! I finally got to the last little bit of downhill before the mine and stopped. It was a total mud slick and I could see it was full of slipped foot prints from people sliding down. I started down as carefully as I could thinking "Don't fall, don't fall, don't fall!" Half way down I wiped out and fell back right on my ass. I hit the ground so hard it stopped my iPod, but I wasn't hurt thanks to the junk in my trunk. I thought about getting up but I figured I would just fall again and I was about as muddy as I could get at that point. I did a less than graceful combo crab walk sliding on my butt thing and got to the bottom. In the process the back of my legs, shorts, and part of my shirt got really muddy. I'd ended up basically wrist deep during my exit maneuver which meant my water bottle was also a muddy mess. I found out later I also somehow had mud on my face.
I stopped at the Marble Mine to rinse my hands. I crossed my fingers that the water wasn't some sort of mutating poisonous stuff and rinsed the top of my water bottle off as best I could. All I could do was laugh at myself and go on.
The remainder of the race was uneventful but fun. I finally got back down to the road and was surprised to be right across the street from the bridge. I had expected to have to run more so I actually asked the kids if it was ok to go right to it.
Crossing that bridge remains my favorite finish line and this time was no exception. It was kind of funny wandering around all the finishers who were just relaxing and stuff and I looked like some kind of hot mess with mud all over me and my clothes soaking wet.
I improved my time by ten minutes but, I'm not sure how to count that given my misadventures in navigation.
I had time to get a drink, do the Mufasa dance, and stretch a little bit then I saw Yos appear at the end of the bridge. I was jumping up and down and having a general freak out because I was so happy that she made it and I felt so proud. I ran down to the finish area to cheer her in and we had a gross but happy hug as she crossed the finish. She kept saying, "I did it!" like she couldn't quite believe it actually happened.
Back at the cabin she said finishing this race makes you feel like you can do just about anything. I knew then that she'd not only run the race but, she really understood what it was and why I love it so much.
We were joined by a couple of the rangers and their wives at the fire that evening. I was so surprised to see the lady I'd given the Biofreeze to was the wife of one of the park rangers! She started saying she was sure I had been an angel but here I was so I must be real.
The bf really helped her get through the second half of the race. I was really happy to have helped someone out on the trail like that. :-) I endured a decent amount of ribbing over my poor navigation skills but, I wouldn't have expected anything less. ;-) As always, the evening went by entirely too fast. I hate Sunday morning because everyone is leaving and it's sad with all the goodbyes. :-( One last chance to hang out at breakfast definitely helped and I am so looking forward to seeing everyone again next year.
I know I always say TA is my favorite race and that's because it is true. The course is beautiful and challenging, the runners are amazingly nice and supportive, and thg, the volunteers, and the park rangers/staff work so hard to create an amazing race experience for all of us. Beyond that though, it's the people that make the experience. It is truly a special thing. Yos was new to everyone and left feeling like part of the TA family. I met Mufasa for the first time and definitely made a great new friend. The familiar faces were as wonderful as always and definitely worth making the trip. I know the group has dwindled a bit over the years but, it is still a one of a kind weekend for me. Hopefully some more of us will make it down there next time.
Cookie Monster and I have a long running joke about my "hatred" of the state of Tennessee. It seems that something bad happens to me there every year I make this trip. This time my car AC quit working as we crossed into TN on the way home. It mysteriously recovered once were in KY. Call it a coincidence if you want, but I know better. ;-)