Sunday, January 12, 2014


I usually feel that "you're crazy," regarding running IS a compliment. Yesterday, during the Willis River 35k, it felt like what we were doing actually WAS crazy. Not "cool"-crazy or "bad-ass" crazy, just plain CRAZY crazy. 

5 reasons this trail "race," was pure INSANITY

1.) Its pouring, you morons! 

When I checked the weather, once again the guy in the suit told me it was going to be in the 60's, with a light shower here and there. NOPE. Try 45 degrees and raining buckets.

2.) Was that lightning?

When the race began, there was very little drizzle. Of course, that would soon change. To make things even more interesting, the booming thunder and flashing lightning showed up to keep everyone entertained. Plus, we were soaking wet...I was waiting to be struck down by lightning (punishment for being so dumb) at any moment.

3.) I should have packed my flippers. And brought along a lifeguard. 

About 4 miles in, we come to the first of 3 "creek crossings." Of course, because of the crazy wet weather we've had, the normally cute little creek was more like a raging river. Sloshing through the knee-deep (frigid) water, I was one of many who slipped and tumbled right in at that first water crossing. Great. The course was an out & back, so we all knew that we'd be seeing each crossing twice. Looks like we're in for a VERY wet day. The second crossing was the deepest of the bunch, with icy water coming waist-high. Luckily, this was also the calmest of the crossings, so the current wasn't an issue (how's that for a nice break?!) The third and craziest crossing featured waist-high water levels and currents that would take you right down the river if you took a tumble. A few of us linked hands and braved that one as a human-rope. Here's about the time when I started to wonder if we all actually were insane. 

Hitting the mid-way point, mile 11

4.) Is this what frostbite feels like?

For the first 10 miles, the temperature was around 45 degrees. Not below freezing, but dip your toes (or your entire body) into some icy water and throw a little (or A LOT) of soaking mud on top, and you've got yourself a pretty uncomfortable situation. My toes were screaming in frozen protest and my shoes felt like they weighed about 10lbs each. I began to wonder how I would be able to tolerate this level of pain and discomfort for another 12 miles. I know that it was at this point that more than a few of my fellow runners threw in the towel. Guess I wasn't bright enough to do that. Kept trudging along. Luckily, God didn't see fit to confiscate one of my toes to frostbite this time; the temperature rose about 10 degrees very quickly. The power of prayer, AMEN!

5.) MUD.

I was expecting a little mud, a lot of mud, even. What I wasn't expecting was for the entire 21.8 miles to be covered in mud. Inescapable, slippery, steal your shoes kind of mud. Towards the beginning of the trek, everyone very nimbly went around the puddles, laughing even at how muddy the trail was. Poor saps, we didn't realize that the beginning was the driest portion of the entire course. By the second half of the course, when we all knew what we were in for, no one even tried to avoid going straight through the mud (or swamp, as it was). No use expending valuable energy trying to avoid the unavoidable. 


To balance things out.....of course there were a few highlights!

1.) Camaraderie.

I've never witnessed such a feeling of community and camaraderie at any other event. I ran mainly with a little group of 4-5, all strangers. We helped each other cross creeks, slide down embankments and find lost shoes that had been swallowed by the mud. It felt more like a team-building exercise than a race, which was so refreshing and so different than anything I've done before. Without knowing their names, I got to know these fellow runners who were also out in the crazy weather, attempting the same crazy feat. Very cool. 

2.) Log-shimmying.

At the final river crossing (thank God!), the river seemed even angrier than it had a few hours earlier. Of course, this was the same spot where I had (ever-so-gracefully) tumbled straight into the water on my first attempt. I wasn't about to get drenched again when I knew that just 4 miles stood between me and the finish. Another girl and I saw a large log suspended about 20 feet above the river, just 15 yards downstream. Shimmy across the log? You betcha! I would have taken out my camera and snapped what would have been an awesome photo, but I since I was soaking wet, covered in mud and in a slightly precarious position, straddling a log above an angry (but still cute) "creek," I left it in my pack. You'll have to use your imagination.

3.) Volunteers.

 I was in awe of the incredible volunteers who came out to cheer, to keep everyone hydrated and fueled and to make sure no one was injured. They were so enthusiastic and, in one word, amazing. While we had our activity to keep us warm, they sat in the crazy rain and bitter cold to be there for us. Incredible.

4.) Lessons in Perseverance.

Here's the quote on the t-shirt for this race:  
"Perseverance is not one long race; it is many short races, one after the other. With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable." 
 What a great way to look at it. If nothing else, this crazy day was an exercise in not quitting, even when every part of my body says, "enough is enough!"  One girl I was running with jokingly said, "this is great character- building, ya'll!" You said it, lady. 

After 4hrs, 44 mins, my adventure came to an end. With an average pace of around 13 minutes per mile, I've officially recorded my slowest race ever. I've also never been happier that a race was over. 

5.) New Perspective.

With the full marathon still looming in March, I've got a whole new perspective on racing conditions and level of difficulty. I was talking with an avid trail-runner who's been racing for 15 years, and I told him that I was running the Instant Classic @ Pocahontas. I jokingly said how I thought it would be a breeze compared to this 35k. He burst out laughing, saying that he'd done the marathon at Pocahontas (twice!) and that it was easily 5 times easier than what we were tackling at that moment. 

How's that for a training run?