A few weeks ago I said something about “my” 50k’s to a fellow runner who was surprised to learn I’d done any, not that I couldn’t but they just didn’t know I had. This in turn surprised me, only because my mouth is an open spigot and it is safe to assume that anything I have to say has already been said at least once.
The topic returned to mind Sunday after the sauna hell of Tupelo.
The 3rd 50k experience about sent poor Sir Hubs over the edge, later causing him to repeatedly use the “S” word in public conversation and I put a voluntary moratorium on the distance until now. The first two were Sylamore Trail, Arkansas in February, 2006 and 2007 and the last was the Stanky Creek Bartlett Ultra in 2007. That first year I got a room at a sweet B&B, comfy and cozy with no kids running in and out of the house and swarming the kitchen in the middle of 2am. I settled down in the soft bed piled thick with quilts and read my book in peace and quiet. I slept like a baby (not the waking, pooping crying kind of baby, the other kind that some other family got) and woke the next morning to four inches of gleaming, glistening, sparkling fresh snow. SNOW!
My friend came crunching across the drive on the crisp snow, air so clear and sharp it seemed to crackle slightly as I walked, the porch lights sending long angled shadows darkening a strip of white where I passed. I could taste the air, clean and slightly damp. We drove to the race start at Angler’s Lodge featuring: Dining – Lodging – Gift, Tackle, & Food Shop – Rental Boats – Guided Trout & Bass Fishing; absolutely awesome. Someone carrying a notebook/clipboard while bundled up like Ralphie Parker shuffled out of the Gift, Tackle & Food Shop and stood in the country road, calling names. ‘NAME!” “HERE!” “NAME” “HERE!” “Terri Clarke” “HERE!” and I was checked off on the list. Everyone accounted for and off we set, small flakes of snow beginning to fall again shining and swirling in the gleam of headlamps and flashlights.
A mile into the race is the Sylamore Creek crossing. We’d had a lot of discussion in the previous weeks, take our shoes off and cross, then put the shoes back on? Carry a dry pair in a plastic bag and stash the wet on the other side behind a rock? Just brave it? The best advice I’d gotten was to get a pair of Injinji and wear them under a pair of smart wool. This would reduce friction and the wool would keep my feet warm – so I plunged in squealing like a girl, feeling my way across the stream bed in a thigh-high swirl of ice cold water.
It hurt! Holy cow, that cold was painful and for several minutes I wondered if it was OK I couldn’t feel my feet. It’s an odd sensation running when you don’t feel your feet connecting with the ground and you get pretty clumsy. We scrambled up the other bank and headed out, warming up by dodging rocks, jumping rocks, tripping over rocks and cursing rocks. The course is an out-and-back, 15-ish (I’ve learned trail runs tend to the -ish side of accuracy on distance) with the aid points at 5, 10 and 15 and then back again. It was perfect mentally because it broke the course up. I only have 5 miles to the aid station. It’s just a five miler, then another five miler, then another. I can do that.
The aid stations were awesome – the usual bananas and cookies, etc., plus roasted new potatoes with crunchy salt, Coke, Mountain Dew, M&M’s, Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup mix that comes in an envelope with the short flat noodles, the broth nearly fluorescent yellow, that soup which your mom used to give you when you were sick, reclined on the couch watching cartoons in the middle of the day, so much sodium that it would pucker a normal person’s tongue. I lapped it up.
Another thing I discovered was about the time we hit every aid stop the terrain changed. The first 5 miles, rocky, twisty, curvy, melded into a smoother trail which headed down and then up the side of a hill. Or maybe it was up and then down; either way on the return trip it was the opposite and either way that hill sucked. The second aid station was next to the creek on a gravel road and featured hot Gatorade. Hot yellow Gatorade steaming in a huge pot on a camp stove. I tried but no go, it’s nasty enough iced. The third set of five featured switchbacks twisting and winding up and down the side of the hills. At one point we climbed through a beautiful natural rock formation covered with moss, coming out on the other side overlooking the trail and evergreens. I looked for Gandolf but he wasn’t there.
We made it to the turnaround before the cut-off (we were near to the last but not quite, I’m not fast I’m just stubborn), got checked off the list for showing up and were told to tell anyone behind us who was still heading that way to turn back.
That last five miles was tough. My quads were screaming like a teenage girl at a Bieber concert. I kept speeding up (as in, a faster turtle than I’d been before) trying to get it over with and when we hit the creek it was heaven to stand in that cold water, my burning legs tingling. The problem was, once I got out of the water they stiffened up and turned into concrete. I stumbled up the scraggy rocky dirt road to the finish line: one of the gas pumps at the Lodge, where the poor shivering Ralphie stood, bundled, holding a stop watch and a clipboard. “NAME?” “Terri Clarke!”
I’d put dry shoes and socks in the car that morning, shivering uncontrollably I tried to untie my shoes and get them off my freezing feet. The shoelaces were frozen stiff and I had to pry them apart with a knitting needle back at the B&B. I stood under the hot shower until it ran cold, put on jeans, socks and the race sweatshirt and crawled in bed, too exhausted to celebrate the accomplishment, my muscles humming. It was several days before I could sit and stand without holding onto a table, chair or wall and I decided immediately to register for the following year.