My friend Paul found a half marathon in Delaware this weekend and I was thinking of going, until I noticed on the Interwebs that the Wissahickon Wanderers were having a FREE half marathon, WITH TIMING in the Wissahickon park. I've only gone trail running once, for three miles up on Belmont plateau and it was pretty nice so I figured "free seven miles from home tops $80 forty miles from home" and signed up for it.
Mid-race panorama. Clickenzee to see large & lovely.
I went with Jay Hiatt from the West Philly Runners, we'd scored two of the sixty advertised spots. It snowed like crazy the day before (ironically the first day of spring) and everything was beautiful, the trees were wonderously snow covered, the sun was coming up. It was lurvely. It looked like Narnia.
At the start. Photo by the Wissahickon Wanderers
The Wanderers were providing way more support than I'd expected, and way more than many races I've actually paid for; they had three water stops plus race photos, plus a really well marked trail, plus timing, plus post race food, seriously? For free? It was an auspicious beginning.
Into the woods. Clickenzee to embiggen
The race went off on a stretch of flat road for about 100 yards and then ducked up the side of a mountain (people who live on the side of K2 might call it a hill) and it was snow-covered and wonderful and difficult and I was breathing hard and at some point I figured we were probably at about the six mile mark since I felt about halfway to no energy left. I looked at my watch and it said we'd covered 1.87 miles. This is where I lost faith in everything. Sure it was beautiful, and sure I was keeping up with a lot of the runners, but THERE WERE STILL MORE THAN 11 MILES TO GO. I figured I'd really need to change my tactics, though I didn't have any tactics other than "gut it out". I followed the shoes in front of me.
The first water station was at mile 3.5, I was doing ok hydration wise and a lot of the other runners had gone off into the distance. I could hear one pair of feet crunching the snow a few yards behind me, but nothing more than that. We went a mile more or so, always, it seemed, up hill. Sometimes over logs, or along paths strewn with hidden rocks the size of softballs. My ankles twisted left, they twisted right. I tried to keep track of what hurt the most. It's my left ankle, my left ankle hurt the -- ow! -- my right knee, it's my right knee that hurts the mo -- aak! ouch! right ankle what the heck did I step on? My right ankle is killing me!" Then, in the midst of this, across the path in front of me about 15 feet crept a fox, across the path, up the side of a hill. It turned and looked at me. I'd never seen a fox before. It wasn't red -- it was the exact color of a squirrel. I watched the fox. It watched us run past. We went on.
Me coming up a giant ass hill. Clickenzee to embiggen. Photo by the Wissahickon Wanderers
Fighting my way up rocky trails I looked at my watch which told me I was doing 20 minute miles. I can walk faster than 20 minute miles. Ugh. Would this never end?
Though the path was well marked, I made a wrong turn at a covered bridge and the feet behind me passed me, I doubled back, we went up another hill. The feet in front of me got further in front of me and I lost them altogether. From then on it as just me and the snow. Every once in a while a pound of it would slide from the branches of a tree far above and slap down on the trail, or my head, or down the back of my shirt. I kept my eyes to the footprints in front of me.
Bloody footprint. Clickenzee to emblooden
Somewhere around mile seven I noticed bloody footprints in the snow. I thought at first that it was an animal, but when I paused to look I noticed there were shoe prints around them. Someone was bleeding into their shoe enough that blood, mixed with melted snow, was squishing out every time their left foot came down. Whoever it was, they were in worse shape than me, but they were also ahead of me.
I'd been almost completely demoralized between miles 2 and 7 but at mile 8 my mental situation started to improve. Eight miles was only two miles away from ten. And ten miles was only a 5k away from being done. I concentrated on two miles. Two miles I could do. Mile ten came. Now only three miles. Three miles I could do. Three miles is nothing.
Fording a stream. Clicenzee to emwetten
Mile eleven ended in a stream about twenty feet wide where snowmelt was burbling happily. I hopped from rock to rock. Surely, it must be down hill from here. It wasn't. But it was only two miles. I plodded on. Then the trail turned down, but down's not actually any better than up, because down you have to keep from slipping and falling, when the trail turns down it just hurts other parts of you. But at mile 12.5 I could see the finish line -- down the trail, across a bridge, through a muddy parking lot and past a set of road cones. Half a mile. Everything hurt, but there were some families on the bridge and more getting out of their cars and I wanted to at least put on a good show for them. When the ground leveled I gave it everything I had left for the final 200 yards.
It was over with little ceremony, but there were mini-donuts and Cliff Bars and banannas. I was pretty hungry. I should eat a banana I thought, and reached for one. I was confused because I couldn't pick it up -- why couldn't I pick up the banana? Slowly I realized that the hand I was trying to pick it up with had an already-peeled half-eaten banana in it already I was eating a banana, that's why I couldn't pick up another one. After that the goal was not to pass out and fall in a puddle. I ate the banana. And a mini donut. And a Cliff Bar. And someone, who I think might have been Laura Kepich handed me a Builder Bar with 20 grams of protein. I ate that too.
I can't wait to do that again never. Clickenzee to embiggen.
Jay had been finished for 40 minutes by the time I got there. We headed back. trillian_stars and I went out to brunch with whafford. I shuffled like an old man -- my ankles hurt, my knees hurt, everything hurt more than everything else. We came home and watched Raiders of the Lost Ark. I lay on the sofa, unable to move.
I'd run 13 miles plus a half mile up hill and it felt like I was dying while I was doing it but I'd been to Narnia, and I'd seen a fox and it was all over now, and mostly all I can remember is the fox.
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