I felt like I was running down a mountain, and suddenly I stopped dead in my tracks.
The trees were starting to bare so I could see a good half mile both ahead of me and behind me. And there was no one out there. The path was... kind of clear. I think it's the hiking trail? Come to think of it I haven't seen any of those little flags that told me I was on course in awhile. And are these leaves trodden down like they had been behind me? I really had no idea. In retrospect, it may have been an appropriate time to panic but at that point in time I just shrugged my shoulders and stayed the course with my fingers crossed.
I think I've run about 10 miles at this point, but that's really just a guess too.
When I got to the bottom of the massive hill I breathed a sigh of relief, stuck in the ground were two white flags and a black flag. I was still on course.
So many told me not to race so soon after the Columbus Marathon. Before the marathon I had delusions of grandeur -- completing the 50K distance, but I came to my senses and signed up for the 13.5 miler instead.
This was the second year for the Camp Nu Hop trail race at Mohican State Forest, and after a phenomenal experience last year I wasn't going to miss it for anything. I knew I wouldn't repeat last year's performance, coming in first in the 8-mile distance, given my condition at the moment.
I arrived that morning having just run a mere 4 miles since Columbus, wimping out of the elements and instead going for the indoor track at the Y. Round and round and round we go. I hadn't climbed a respectable hill since the Hocking Hills Indian Run six weeks ago. When I hit the first one, I knew I'd be doing a lot of walking.
I set my goal at a 13:00 mile, and came in just under that. I finished the 13 miles in 2:54:36, a 12:56 pace. My distance results here. All results here.
I braved the fog and dodged a couple deer to get to the starting line that morning. About 50 of us gathered around. Camp Nu Hop is an organization for disabled children, and after the guy with the microphone scorned the many labels these kids get stuck with, he warned us about a fallen log and told us to mind the sign that said "Cliff".
I couldn't help but compare this to the Columbus Marathon 2 weeks ago where we waited in long bathroom lines and fought for a spot in Corral E which alone had 2,000 people in it. Speakers were set up everywhere, but we still couldn't hear the announcer.
There's a time and a place for that fanfare but this was smaller, more intimate, and my kind of scene. The guy moved out of the way, said "go" and we took off into the woods. I went to turn on my Garmin and... nada. Battery was dead. This was going to be a naked run.
Had that happened at Columbus I would have cried. But despite my incredible wonkiness when it comes to data, I didn't mind.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I'm in love with trail racing.
The first two miles weren't fun though. Everything hurt and I kicked myself for not running up more hills. Just a few more. My quads and hamstrings were burning and I still had more than 10 miles to go.
"5K runners down the hill, 8 and half runners up the hill" a volunteer directed. I almost ran downhill. It just looked so tempting. I contemplated and contemplated, and by the time I decided "yes I will just make this a 5k today" I had reached the top. Screw it, on with the half.
I caught up with two other runners and we stuck together for awhile. After what seemed like an eternity we reached the water station, where a volunteer told us we had run 4 miles. A mere four miles. "How's it going?" she asks.
Oh, given that I haven't run in two weeks, haven't climbed a hill in six and I still have 9 miles left to go, I'm doing pretty good, thanks for asking!
But from that point things got easier for a bit. I stuck with one girl, and my legs start to feel better. I think it was around Mile 6 or 7 that I realized no one was behind me.
Ok. I get it. I'm not winning anything today. But dead last? Really?
My thoughts flipped between dreading this eventuality and coming up with humorous things to write in my blog if it did happen. Then I realize I had passed the girl I was running with. Ok, there's at least one person behind me. I'm good now.
I was also very, very alone. It was at this point, I'm guessing it was around Mile 10, that I wondered if I was even still on course.
I walked a good portion of this trek since the hills were too much, and then ran the downhills. Running the downhills was liberating, I felt like I was flying.
I pushed it through the last three miles. We were spit out on the road for a short period of time, back through the woods, then directed through some cones around camp cabins I hadn't noticed on my way out.
Unlike Columbus, there was no fanfare, no one crossing the finish line around me. Just one guy who started clapping as I passed over the line.
Awesome course, I tell him. Awesome time, awesome cause.
I head back to the lodge when another volunteer stopped me and spoke the words that were music to my ears.
"There's food up there. Chili."
And then the words that ensured I'd be back for years and years to come.
Yes, they didn't just have the wimpy Bud Lite served up at the Warrior Dash. Resting on the floor of the sparsely populated dining lodge, amidst a few folding chairs and a table stocked with baked goods, was a keg of Great Lakes Dortmunder.
I chatted it up with some other sweaty runners then was on my way. Another great race, I'll be back next year!!