I ran the Tick Ridge Trek trail 25K last weekend in Elkton, Tennessee. I didn't really have any expectations going in. I was just doing the race for fun, and the course looked pretty in the pictures from last year. I needed a long run of 16 miles for my preparation for the Carmel Marathon in April, so I was pretty laid back about the whole thing.
A group of us left Clarksville at 4:46 a.m. to head south to Elkton. That meant a 3:30 a.m. wake up for me, but I felt ok once I woke up and drank two cups of coffee. We were looking sharp in our Middle TN Trail Runners shirts.
We arrived at the race site--a private farm, and it was several degrees colder than expected! I was glad I had overdressed slightly and brought a throw-away jacket.
The race began, and I took off at a moderate pace. I hadn't planned to run aggressively, so I held back in the beginning.
Within the first two miles, however, I realized Tick Ridge was not going to be the laid-back, moderately easy run I had expected! The first climb was LONG and hard and kept going and going.
I was only in mile two and my quads were burning! I remember thinking, "Uh oh. Maybe it's only the first two miles that are this tough." Around the end of mile 2, I met up with friends briefly.
They went their way on the 10K course about 2.5 miles in, and I ran the rest of the race alone, just briefly conversing with people occasionally.
Then the second big climb came at mile 4.5. I have truly NEVER seen anything like this hill in terms of steepness. I've run many trail marathons and half marathons and even a 50K, but this hill was insane! Power hiking it, I had to actually stop to BREATHE half way up. My legs and lungs were on fire. All around me, others were stopping, too.
Up. Down. Up again. The downs were better than the ups, but still really difficult. One thing I was happy about though-- on every power hike uphill, I was able to catch and pass those around me. I may not run fast, but I can hike like a billy goat! (My trail name is actually Billy Goat.)
The race really had outstanding, ever-changing scenery. We went through fields and forests, over ridges, around ponds,and across streams. I would say maybe 30-40% was technical. I love this view from the top of one of the ridges (courtesy of my friend Cheryl):
After that mile 4.5 hill, I got serious about the race. I was still in shock that it was so different than I expected. This needed to happen:
I put my head down and I just ran. When I couldn't run, I hiked as hard and as fast as I could. I took chances on downhills (not my strength), I hurried through aid stations, and I kept moving at all costs. My legs were TIRED, but I'd tell them to keep running. I allowed myself to hike the steepest hills, but I ran the smaller ones. I remember saying to myself, "Just run easy in energy-saver mode" to keep myself running when I wanted to hike. After mile 10 (which absolutely felt like mile 20), I knew I had an hour or more left in the race. I began to really focus on just running the mile I was in. I turned on my music, and it was a big help. Kiss's "Rock and Roll All Nite" was the first song that came on, and at that point, I felt like I'd been rocking and rolling all night! Later, in mile 15, "Running on Empty" came on. I truly was!
Though the race was unexpectedly harder than anticipated, I just did what needed to be done, and I daresay I enjoyed it! Sometime in mile 11 or 12, I took time to reflect on why it is that I choose to do hard things. What is it in me that feels the need to push myself to my physical limits? I thought about how I had CHOSEN to be there--to run through deep mud and hop across at least five streams, to trip my way down hills and fight my way up ridiculously steep leg and lung burning ones. My choice. My way of testing myself. My way of seeing what I'm made of. My way of connecting with nature and my friends. Then I took time to pray for those who are going through hard things they didn't choose.
I was still smiling when I nearly ran over this photographer at mile 13. He was kneeling beside the narrow trail on a downhill.
Those last miles were tough, but I stayed determined and in good spirits. The hill at mile 13 was the only other time I had to interrupt my hike to rest for 3 or 4 seconds half way up the hill. I was ready to be finished, so I kept pushing. I crossed the finish line right as my Garmin beeped for 16 miles. 3 hours and 36 minutes.
I almost cried at the finish. Not because it was hard. Because I was proud.
It is definitely the toughest race course I've completed. The Flying Monkey Marathon is the only one that comes to mind in an even close comparison, and I really think this was more difficult. I'm so glad I did it! I'll be a tougher runner for it. :-)
Fuel: Water, 2 Huma Chia gels (mango and apple cinnamon), and Tailwind Raspberry Buzz. Oh, and a few sips of Coke at an aid station with a handful of potato chips.