Well, I made it down and back from the Monster Marathon and Half Marathon in the Virgil Forest: A Runners Story.
Where do I begin. That I am not very bright and need to think more before I act. This Labor Day weekend has a several nice races: the Skaneatles 4 miler, the Marcellus Parade 5k, and the RnR Half Marathon in VA Beach. I have friends running in all of those. However, unlike my friends who think logically and sanely, I found a run on the Lake Effect Run Club web site; it was the correct distance that I wanted to do as my weekend long run, it is considered "the most difficult on the east coast" so it posed a challenge. I had to do it; besides, how often are the warnings as bad as reality?
A side story of such a time. It was 1997, I was in Lancaster, PA at the Lancaster Brewing Company. I ordered wings and beer. What wings did I order? You got it, Euphoric Rush. The waitress advised against it. Yet I got them anyway because waitresses always believe wings are too hot. Why should I accept the warning? I can eat anything, I love hot wings. Long story short, I ate two wings, my entire mouth, tongue, lips, and throat were on fire, My face went numb. The beer didn't cool the burning and the water was just as ineffective. I was in pain. I don't think I could feel my face for 3 hours. I don't order wings with special names anymore. I stick to either the mild, medium, or hot. Euphoric Rush is not in my dictionary.
So, now you can appreciate why I did not heed the warning on the Finger Lakes Run Club registration form. I told myself it cannot be that bad. I figured I was gonna be running on roads, maybe a nice clean trail for a short while to enjoy nature while trudging up a a few nasty hills that I could run up slow and speed down; I love going down hill. Boy was I in for a shock.
Runners went out in groups of three by age. The older runners went earlier while the younger runners went later. I think the marathoners went first followed by the halfers. I was a halfer, and my start time was at 8:57AM. Mind you, I was there at 7AM. I had a while to wait. My phone had no signal, my XM wasn't working properly, and I ended up just sitting in my car bored out of my skull.
8:57AM arrived, and guess what? I didn't notice. I started a minute late. I took off down Rt 392 and turned left on a gravely road passing a ski lift. Soon the arrow told me to turn into the woods. Yeah, into the woods. I stood there blankly talking to myself. I said a few choice words and entered. I immediately crossed a small creek and started my 1000 foot ascent. I started out running. Then I jogged slowly. Then I walked up the hill climbing over fallen trees, stepping on rocks, trudging through mud, and tripping over rocks and roots. Did you know that the body moves forward faster when tripping and falling face first than running. Yeah, its true. I stumbled my way up this steep incline that was more like a hike or a mountain climb than a run. The first half of the 13 miles I fell twice. The first time was a beautiful head first slide. If I were running the bases at Citi Field the fans would have stood and roared for a successful steal of home. But instead, I fell amidst the silence of the trees and a cool summer breeze. The second fall I don't remember. I must have recovered quickly.
At the 3.5 mile mark there was a water station. The 1000 foot ascent was over. I reached into my shorts and pulled out my first GU (I have a pocket in there. Get your head out of the gutter.). I choked down the Lime flavored GU and chased it with water. I took a few fresh berries the little girls picked while their mom gave us water, Gatorade, and cookies... The berries were delicious. The GU hit the spot. The next 3 miles through the forest were challenging although I started to get a handle on when to run, when to walk, and when to duck and move.
There was mud the entire way. My shoes were covered. I smiled and laughed a bit when I thought about how clean and dry my shoes had been before crossing the initial creek. I even had to give up listening to music on my Zune because it distracted me from paying attention to my footing. I stopped once Rush had finished belting out Tom Sawyer. What was ahead of me? Well, there were two bee hives to be passed. There was a narrow muddy path with crags along a 30-50 foot abyss of rocks and water. that was a nice feeling. I didn't really think about falling into the abyss until a reached it again on my return run after the turn around.
Oh, the turn around. That was nice. I arrived at the turn around after entering an area of forest that was DARK. It reminded me of Fangorn Forest from The Lord of the Rings, and it was just as treacherous. More mud and flowing water that was ankle deep. My feet were wet and my legs covered in mud. But the turn around was nice. I hung out for at least five minutes talking to the family that provided refreshments and, always my favorite, Twizzlers. It took me a long time to reach the turn around. I would pick up twenty minutes on my return run. I must have gotten better at making decisions and conserving my energy for the obstacles I met again and again. It sounds better in Latin, etiam atque etiam. Don't you think so?
Although I picked up twenty minutes on the return run, I fell three more times. These falls were beauties. The third fall was a nice header. I fell gracefully, rolling over to my side, landing on my right shoulder and hopping back onto my feet quickly. The fourth fall occurred after I gathered too much confidence and started running to catch a guy in front of me. I tripped on a root and fell. My right knee, the ligament below the knee cap, hit a rock. That hurt. At first I thought I may have sliced it. But no blood flowed. I injured that part of my knee before. It bleeds like a sieve. I raised myself up, brushed off my knee and carried on. The fifth fall angered me. I made it down the big hill. I get to the bottom of the 1000 foot hill, I start down a small dip to cross that little creek I crossed to enter the forest, and I fell down the dip to the waters edge. I could see the gravelly road; light at the end of the tunnel. I hit the road and made a nice pace to the finish. Ending time 3:01:10. If I would have started on time and not hung out at the turn around, I could have gotten under three hours. Oh well, the time doesn't matter. I survived without injury.
What did I learn from the Monster Half Marathon? I learned that I love running on the road. Nothing beats the streets. I'll take dodging an occasional car over dodging trees, rocks, creeks, and bees any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I learned that running in the forest is a run of patience and respect. The runner must be patient and accept that he may have to loose time to prevent injury and to be aware of his footing while at the same time respecting the nature he has the privilege of running within. It was cool. I felt like an Indian boy running down his pray for supper or a soldier making a dash toward his platoon warning them of an oncoming Vietnamese ambush. And while in the dark of Fangorn, I could imagine running beside Legolas and Aragorn when searching for Merry and Pippen.
All in all, it was fun even though I didn't even get a T-Shirt. I don't think I would do it again, definitely not run the full marathon. I can't wait to run Marine Corps and Philadelphia. Pavement, God bless America for cities and grocery stores.
See you on the road.