Arriving at the race site at about 6:15 a.m., I had to drag my chair, cooler, and drop bag about 1/6 of a mile to the trail head-- through a parking lot, across a four-lane highway, up a steep grassy knoll, then down the trail a few yards. That was a workout in itself! (Luckily, nice fellow runners helped me with some of my junk.)
This was a very low-key Run It Fast Club event (also open to the public) with only 19 runners, no port-o-johns, no chip timing,and no finish line pizza and music---just people who love running and love the outdoors. It was day 2 of a four-day series called the Jackal Marathons. Day 1 was seven loops in one direction on a 3.75 mile trail, day 2 was seven loops backwards (or "backassed" as the race director would say), day 3 was in a nearby Pinson Mounds State Park on pavement, and day 4 was also paved in that park. Some extreme runners did all four days--the "quadzilla." I have the utmost respect for them, but I don't envy them one bit! That's the thing about the Run It Fast Club--so many of them do these AMAZING things-- running a marathon every weekend (or two), running a marathon and an ultra in the same weekend, running four marathons in four days, finishing three or four 100 milers a year, running the Vol State 500K (yes 500K--300 miles!) in the South in July. This group makes me feel like I can accomplish MORE, like I want to see just how far I can go and push my limits. They are endorphin junkies, endurance addicts, and the most inspiring, encouraging, and passionate group of runners I have ever met. (Anyone can join! Go to www.runitfast.com. It's an international running club--no qualifications to meet, just be prepared to be motivated to accomplish GREAT things.) I'm in the pink calf sleeves in a sassy pose. (I have no idea why.)
The RD gave us some instructions (don't cross the flour on the ground--that's the wrong way!), we had a pre-race prayer (nice touch), and the 13 men and 6 women began the race. I started out on the first loop kind of in the middle of the pack (where I did not belong). A runner named Anthony and I ran that 3.75 mile loop together. He had run the day before and knew the trail well. I was running fairly easy and was able to hold a conversation, but even so, my heart rate quickly climbed high. Soon, the hills and heat and what I thought was a gentle pace had me breathing harder than I should have been in the first four miles of a marathon. Now I realize the pace was just a bit too fast for me. But I was glad to have a buddy with me on the first loop nevertheless!
In the second loop, Anthony went ahead and I began a VERY long journey alone. For the remainder of the 26.2, I ran solo, except for a few seconds here or there with someone passing me (lapping me!) or coming toward me on an out-and-back pond loop. There were times I could have tried to stick with someone and chat for a while, but I knew I needed to run MY pace, walk when I wanted/needed to walk, and enjoy the woods by myself. Just like in the last trail marathon, I spent a ton of time alone in my thoughts, experiencing the journey on my terms. I like that. My heart rate and breathing finally calmed down in lap 3. I guess my body was slow to adapt.
There was a certain paranoia that I would miss a turn or step on a snake or break a leg, and I didn't have my cell phone, but with a 3.75 mile loop, no one is ever all that far away. There were some short, extremely steep uphills (like climbing a step ladder) and a couple of long inclines, but also some nice flat portions. There was at least one downhill that was so steep, it was not runnable. I carefully stepped my way down it all seven times.
My laps alternated being good and bad. Lap 1 was good, but in lap 2, I didn't feel well at all. I had nausea and my heart rate was soaring. I was concerned that I'd be a DNF. There had been 3 DNF's the day before, out of 25 runners, due to the heat. In lap 3, I rallied and felt better. The nausea subsided. In lap 4, I was just tired. I think lap 5 was a good one, but lap 6 wasn't. (It's kind of a blur.) I had listened to music in laps 3, 4, and 5, but then my MP3 died. Finishing lap 4 or 5 here: (enhanced) Yes, I ran in my sports bra part of the time. Not to be a hussy, but good grief, it was HOT.
Finally, I started on lap 7. Many in the race had already finished by the time I was starting my final lap. I had a huge adrenaline surge knowing that I was on my last loop. As I ran, I played silly games. I said goodbye to all the things I had passed over and over. "Goodbye, tall grass." "Goodbye, red door randomly laying in the woods." "Goodbye pond loop, my least favorite part of the race." I felt a sort of nostalgia on that last loop because I may never run this trail again, and I had spent the better part of the day making friends with it. It sounds weird, but you become one with the trail in races like this. It because almost like a living, breathing creature. Speaking of living, breathing creatures, I had a too-close encounter with a huge deer in lap 6. He was as tall as my shoulder. I came around a corner and startled him. He saw me, snorted loudly, and bounded a few steps away. Then he stopped, and turned and looked at me defiantly. I know it scared us BOTH! I was thinking, "Do deer attack??" Other than that, I saw a tiny tarantula-looking spider, but no snakes. Another runner reported that he saw a huge one on the trail (not really helpful to know that...). Several times, I heard something rustling in the leaves just off the trail, but I never stuck around to investigate!
I started my last loop with 5:36 on the clock. I was sure I could come in by 6:36. All my loops had been between 45 minutes (first one) and 59 minutes. I know that sounds painfully slow, but the conditions were TOUGH, and I'm just not a strong trail runner or hiker. My trail pace is 12:30 on a good day, and my hiking pace is more like 16-18 minute mile. However, I was feeling surprisingly good starting that loop. I started playing the STEP-COUNTING game. I could walk the worst parts of the trail, but if there was a runnable portion, I had to run, and run at least 70 steps. Why 70? I have no idea. I had to run between 70 and 200 steps nonstop each time I ran. I zipped fairly quickly through the first 1.5 miles of the last loop that way. I was actually having fun. The first loop and the first part of the last loop turned out to be my favorite parts of the day! Selfie at start of loop 7. I had grabbed my phone since there were only 4 or 5 of us left on the trail:
Then some things went wrong, and I stopped enjoying the race quite so much. I wound up walking the last two miles. The blisters on the bottoms of my feet hurt, both knees were hurting, and I was emotionally done. I was feeling a little nauseous again, and I was ready to be finished. I HATE that the race ended on a bad note. I crossed the finish line at 6:43, but there was no joy on my face. (Walking less, I have no doubt I would have made my 6:36 goal, but my B. Goal was 6:48, so at least I beat that.) Not a happy face:
Trail marathons are hard. However, a day in the woods is still a blessing.
Recovery is going great except for my right ankle. I tripped a total of 9 times and lightly rolled my right ankle inward somewhere in middle of the race. The tendon on the top of my foot feels a bit strained and that ankle is stills sore. Quads, calves, hamstrings, knees---everything else is fine. Thank goodness!