Well, let me just get this straight from the get-go: this was the hardest half marathon I’ve ever run, and that’s including the one where I sprained my ankle at Mile 4. Oh. My. What a challenge this race was! Remember how I was just saying that they changed the course “a little” this year to make it 14 miles, rather than last year’s 10? And remember how I thought it might have “ a little” more climbing? Yes.
Let’s get a little background on the day, first, which includes three nights in a row of waaaaaay too little sleep and not enough water. Pretty much par for the course and really nothing that concerned me, because this was not my “A” race for the year. I was just gonna run and have fun and enjoy the day and not suck (all of which I totally accomplished).
Well, race day dawned at 3 AM and I felt pretty good about everything, other than, you know, the tiredness and dehydration. I was really looking forward to this race because I enjoyed it so much last year, and this year would be even better because UIH got to run it, too. We arrived at the venue in plenty of time to check in, use the port-o-potties a few times and take a coupla selfies in the car and at the starting line.
I had noticed that the RD was a little vague about the changes to the course – there was a course map and a mention of the course elevation, but no turn-by-turn description like there generally is for a trail race. Our half marathon is just one part of a 100-mile course. In years past, the course was a 10-mile loop that the 100-milers repeated ten times. One of the course changes was the addition of a second loop, which made sort of a figure-8 between the 14-mile and the new 11-mile, meaning that 100-milers would complete the entire 25-mile course just four times. UIH and I had talked about where we would pick up an extra four miles, and we had agreed that there was “no way” they would make us run up the K2, because that would be so cruel to make the 100-milers do that four times. (The K2 climb is this ridiculously steep hill that is very similar to Cardiac Trail, the hill that nearly flummoxed me in the She Rocks and the Rock’n River 50. UIH and I climbed the K2 recently at the Twilight Trail Adventure, which was a 10K I never blogged. Here’s the long and the short of it: it’s S T E E P).
Was that enough foreshadowing for you??
So there we are, standing at the starting line, listening to the RD’s directions, when he casually mentions that we’ll go out on Western States…up the K2…Pig Farm…Salt Creek… back to the fire station. My hands went clammy. “Oh, shit,” I thought. And probably said out loud. But it wasn’t like I could quit now, so we counted down from ten and off we went – hooray!
UltraIronHubs took off like a bright yellow rocket but I took a little more time with it. The trail is wide enough on the first half mile for people to find their pace and get where they want to be in the pack. I wanted to be near the middle or the back, so I hustled but I certainly didn’t bust a move. It wasn’t long before we started in on the breakneck descent that caused me to step aside and let several people pass. The trail is loose dirt, loose rocks and lots of roots, and I was making my way down quite gingerly so as not to fall and break my neck. I was walking and mincing when my Garmin chirped that I had completed Mile 1. “Oh, shit,” I thought, “I’m not even going to survive the first two miles, let alone all fourteen!”
There was a woman behind me taking the hill as carefully as I was, so we started chatting a little. Her name was Shelly and her husband was doing the whole 100 miles, so she had signed up for the half marathon, thinking it would be a fun way to pass the first few hours of spectating. She didn’t expect a half marathon like this! We joked and talked our way down the hill and I was telling her a little of what she could expect about climbing K2 when – bam! – we turned a sharp corner and there it was.
So there was walking for awhile, but I still actually felt pretty good. This is where I was super happy that UIH and I had run the Twilight Trail Adventure back in June – I knew this hill. I couldn’t run it, of course, but I knew it. I knew I could get to the top, I just had to keep moving forward, so that’s what I did. Once I got to the top, though, my legs were jelly! I wasn’t really sure how I was going to make it through another ten miles.
There was the shortest reprieve from all that climbing while we ran through a meadow, which you would totally think would be a cake walk. Nope. The footing here was just as dangerously uneven and sort of slippery with all the dry grass. I spent a lot of the race thinking about what it would be like to run this course at night, like the 100-milers were going to do. Honestly, I don’t think there was a single stretch of “easy” running.
I made it to the first aid station still intact and with plenty of Gatorade left in my handheld. The day was warming up, but the course was very, very shady so it was still quite comfortable temperature-wise. Right around Mile 5, I thought to myself, “Oh, shit,” but this time I meant it literally. My guts were starting to do a little Gatorade cha-cha. My legs, on the other hand, still needed to run another nine miles. I started eying the bushes and considering whether they offered me any privacy. Nope. Nothing but scrub on one side and a very steep drop-off on the other, so I kept a clamp on the back door and hoped the feeling would pass.
I ran on, wondering how UIH’s day was going. I felt pretty good, all things considered, and seemed to be running well. Even though I didn’t have a serious time goal, I felt – before I knew much about the course – that I could probably finish between two and a half to three hours. I was on pace for that and running strong and… Gosh, does anybody else notice that we’ve been running downhill for a really, really long time now? Like, really downhill for a really long time? I’m pretty sure the finish line isn’t down here at the river, which means…do the math… oh, shit, we’re gonna climb this hill again!
I think, in the grand scheme of things, it was just as well that I didn’t fully understand the course map before I ran the race.
I was pounding down the hill, nearabouts Mile 7 when I had a moment of sudden clarity: the total elevation change for the She Rocks is 2500’ over 16 miles and the Cool Moon Half has 2800’ of change over just 14 miles. The Cool Moon is a harder race. AHA! That’s why this hurts so much!
There was no flat ground to be had at the bottom of the hill, sadly, but I did my best to keep a good walking pace as I climbed my way back out of the canyon. I was starting to feel tired and maybe a little low on calories. I kept drinking, but there was no running to be done, even as we made our way onto a paved road for a short stretch. I started to feel a little light-headed, but I really wanted to keep my wits about me and salvage a good day out of this tough course.
I was walking along the street thinking these thoughts when it occurred to me that I didn’t think the course included this long of a paved stretch. I stopped, looked around me and saw that there was a trail running parallel to the street I was on, but it was up a steep incline. I had seen ribbon markers on the street when I first started out, so I knew I wasn’t exactly LOST, but I strongly suspected there had been a return to the trail that I had missed. I started walking back the way I came, looking for ribbons or ground markers, when I spotted Shelly and two other runners walking toward me on the road. I hollered at them, asking if they had seen any markers that took us back to the trail, and a runner up on the trail shouted back that, yes, we were supposed to be up there. Not on the street. So up we clambered through the scrub to the main trail, where we immediately spotted ribbon markers. Okay, back on track with only a little extra mileage!
This guy was seriously awesome! He had tiny bells sewed on to the bottom of his skirt and on his hat that probably would have annoyed the ever-lovin’ shit out of me, but he was rocking it. He was running the whole 100 miles. As a jester! I will never be this cool.
By the time I made it back up the hill and onto the relative “flat,” I was feeling better. I was at double digit mileage and I can gut out four miles, even on a bad day. And this really wasn’t a bad day at all, just a tough one. So on I ran.
At the second aid station, I filled my handheld about halfway with water, though looking back I don’t remember why I didn’t fill the whole thing. Stupidity, I suppose. This aid station was at a junction where the 11-mile loop meets the 14-mile loop and it took me several long moments to make sure I was heading in the correct direction when I left. I really didn’t need another mapping snafu with only a few miles left to go!
Somewhere around here, I looked at my Garmin and realized that UIH was probably done with his race, so I pulled out my phone and texted him.
Okay, I knew UIH was going to do well, but HE WON THE RACE!!! I was super excited for him and only a little tiny bit jealous.
The going was getting a little tougher, but I knew I just needed to hold it together for a few more miles. I checked my Garmin time and felt that if there was no more surprise climbing, I could probably still beat three hours. I wasn’t sure how much mileage I had added to my day by getting lost, so I felt like I really needed to press on, just in case.
As I headed in to aid station #3, I saw the guy who had been on the trail while I was lost on the street. I opened my mouth to say thank you, when he looked at me and said, “Oh, you’re paying attention to where you’re going now, are you?” Maybe he meant it as a joke, but to me he just sort of sounded like an asshole, so I made some sort of non-committal sound and ran on. Whatever.
At the aid station, my Garmin said I was well over 12 miles into the day, but as I was leaving, I heard the volunteer tell the guy behind me that we were at Mile 11.5. Ugh! Here I’d been telling myself I only had a little over a mile to go, but maybe it was more like two miles. I tried not to feel defeated, I tried not to worry about it. I ran on.
Maybe my favorite thing about the day was that everywhere I ran, I could spot UIH’s distinctive Newton footprint in the dirt. What a boost! It made me so happy to know that he had been there on the course, running (and winning!) a great race.
Finally, in the distance, I spotted the finish line! It was here! I was almost done!! There really wasn’t any sprinting to be done, but I tried to pick it up a little, smiling the whole way in.
Official results won’t be posted until tomorrow because, you know, the real deal is the 100-mile race, but according to my Garmin I finished in 2:51:29. And I’m 99% certain that I did not come in last place, although that would be sort of funny to have the winner and the loser of the race be husband and wife!
So, the big question right now is this: will UIH be doing the Cool Moon as his first 100-mile race, maybe as soon as next year?? Hard to say. Today my legs feel a little bit like somebody bludgeoned them. But! With the right training, and knowing what the course is like, I think he’s still considering it. We’re a certain brand of crazy around here!!