5:45 AM, alarm goes off and I spring out of bed and hurry to dress, brush teeth, pack up and get out the door. I feel tired, still groggy from the late night before, and we head to Starbucks for a little pick-me-up.
After stopping for coffee, my amazing friend drove me to Fountainhead Regional Park for packet pick-up and the race. She listened to me whine the whole car ride about how nervous I was, how I thought I might throw up, more nerves....on and on.
8:30 AM was getting closer, and at 8:20 they gathered all the women racing to be serenaded by the VA Happy Trails Club men members, singing what else, but Happy Trails To You...
The timer wound down, and with a simple "Ready, Set, GO" we were off for a lap around the parking lot, then onto the paved road for a mile uphill before turning onto the actual trail.
I felt like everyone was booking it up the paved road to give a little cushion time, since running on a trail takes longer. We all turn onto the trail, and game on, women are single tracking behind each other, being nice and asking to pass when needed. Not going to lie, a good chunk of women blew past me, and shortly after starting on the actual trail, I tripped on a rock and miiildy rolled my right ankle (but didn't fall).
After about half a mile, the crowd had significantly thinned, and I tried to find my groove to settle into. I found one of the girls I ran with on the practice run last month, and just followed behind her. We hit the Do Loop, with the amazing, ninja photographer waiting for us.
The Do Loop is known for being 'hilly'. People like to claim it has 'rolling hills'. They are rolling STEEP hills in my book. Steep in the sense of, who the hell RUNS up these?! I was still following my new friend, and we made it through the Do Loop okay, hit the aid station, and I decided that I now found my confidence to continue on ahead alone. I left the pack I was with, and about half a mile later, fell.
No one in front of me, no one behind me....I'm not even sure what I tripped on, but down I went and POP goes my ankle. The shock wore off, I picked myself up, wobbled a little, tried to wrap my head around the pain and checked for broken bones or blood....none luckily. Just an unfortunate roll, I thought to myself (as well as some cuss words and a little disappointment at fallnig only 6.5 miles into the race). I took a few steps, decided to walk a little, then decided it didn't hurt THAT bad and I could try running on it.
At about mile 7.5 you hit a spot where you cross over the paved road to go into more trail/woods. At that spot they have two volunteers making sure you head the right way, and checking off your name on a clipboard to account for you. They told me I looked awesome, I chuckled and told them I fell back there and they didn't need to lie to me! I considered quitting the race, thinking that I promised a friend I would stop the race if it got dangerous or I thought it would interfere with my MCM. I thought very briefly about quitting, and decided that I am stubborn enough to continue on....what's the worst that could happen?
I got to the point where you reach the parking lot and cross over to the other chunk of the trail, with 5 miles left. I glanced around for my friend so I could tell her I was okay, that I fell, but that I would finish. I didn't see her so I ducked back into the woods for what a volunteer claimed would be the easiest 5 miles of the course. You lie, YOU LIE. Immediately I passed a graveyard (how fun....). Then you hit this GIANT hill. Literally. I do not know who is running up this. You are insane. My HR spiked, I was breathing reeeally hard...and just trying to make my way through 5 more miles to ice my ankle and be done! The five miles consisted of giant, long hills, then a little flatness, then more hills, and the downhills had too many rocks for me to feel comfortable soaring down. I made it to the aid station, chugged some gatorade, noticed my fingers had swollen to sausage size, ran down a hill, across a bridge, through a stream, and finally I was on my last leg of the race.
Then I fell. Again. Same ankle. This time, more pain. No bouncing back easily...I hobbled some steps, cussed, got pretty upset, then decided hell or high water you still have 2 ish more miles til you're out of the woods, literally. Again, I was all alone out there. I decided it was probably a great idea to just walk from that point on. I had enough time and wasn't worried about getting kicked off. Then my running friend came up from behind and stopped to walk with me for a little bit. We shared stories of our ailments and she went on to run ahead after seeing another girl suck it up and run through the pain. Once I was left alone I decided I would try to run the flats as much as I could, just suck it up and block out the pain...I found my grit. I pushed through the pain, finally made it to the finishing area and got so excited to be there that I sprinted the last tiny bit, not wanting everyone to see me hobble the end.
I finished in 3:12, and I know that had I not gotten hurt, I would have definitely come in well under 3 hours. I'm still extremely proud of myself for completing this first ever trail half marathon, and digging deep when I needed to rely on myself to get through the pain.
Next year I will try again. Out of all the races I've been in or watched, this was hands down the best. Everyone was extremely supportive, women cheering each other on as you passed, kind words from everyone, and accountability for the participants. For a race consisting of only 206 participants and run by a small trail running club, I felt like I was running with people I had known my whole life...encouraged, welcome, supported.
I could not be more grateful to my best friend for driving me to and from the race and sitting there waiting for me to finish. After the race, she (and her fiance and friend) went above and beyond and helped with my dog, catering to my request for ice, etc. They were all so understanding, and didn't make fun of me when I finally broke down and cried in pain and disappointment, wondering how this will affect my other races. You know a true friend when they do all that, paint your nails while sitting at home with you since you can't do anything else, drinking beer and chatting about the attractiveness of Disney cartoon men.
We'll have to see how I recover over the next few days to determine if I can run/walk the Philly Half, or if I will be a cheerer for them while they race next weekend. Either way, I look forward to what's ahead, knowing I have what it takes to endure.
Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles. - Alex Karras