"Don't fall down the mountain." "Just keep moving." And lots of curse words that I dare not repeat here. Those were my mantras this morning as I conquered the rocky, rooty, treacherous, hilly terrain that is the course for the Vision Trek 10K Trail Run at Lake Allatoona in Cartersville, GA. When my friend and race director Mari described it as a "challenging" course, I should've known better because Mari is a true ironwoman. Things that are challenging to the average athlete are a drop in the bucket to Mari. I love her to death (er, possibly not the best term), but when she says something is challenging, you'd better watch out. And maybe have the number to the local EMS on speed dial.
This morning was a practice run, and despite a forecast that called for a 70-80% chance of rain, the weather was sunny, breezy, and absolutely perfect. Most of us were overdressed because after all, it IS February, but it was also in the mid-50s when we got started. The trail starts from a beautiful park along the Etowah River and carves its way through the mountains (technically they are hills, but by my standards they are mountains) overlooking beautiful Lake Allatoona. The views from the trail were breathtaking, particularly at this time of year when the trees are bare and you can see for miles. Problem was, while running, we couldn't take our eyes off the trail for more than a second or we might've face planted, twisted an ankle, or actually fallen down the side of a mountain - hence my mantra.
At the trail head there is a nice little bridge, and some steps, and about 500 feet of nice, flat terrain before we began our vertical climb. No lie. I felt like I needed rocket boosters attached to my calves to make it up that hill, and an oxygen tank to keep me breathing. After that, we climbed some more, and a little more, and then the trail turned into some rolling hills with very little flat terrain. We stumbled upon (quite literally) many fallen trees across the path, and I shouted to my husband "IT HELPS TO IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE RUNNING LIKE A DEER!" as I leaped over them. He thought I was crazy, but I'm into visualization, when it's necessary. We finally reached the halfway point, which is right at 3 miles because it's an out-and-back course, and took a little break. I was afraid to rest for too long, for fear that my body might not get up and move again. So, I sipped some water, ate a couple of Gu Chomps and though to myself "we're already halfway there, we can totally make it back."
Then, at exactly 4 miles, my body was toast. It wanted to shut down. I found myself tripping more and discovered my reflexes just weren't as sharp, plus there was this burning in my glutes and my hamstrings that just wouldn't go away. I told my husband, who was always about 1/4 mile ahead of me on the trail, mind you, because he is Superman, that I honestly didn't know how anybody who didn't strength train regularly could ever survive on this course. I thought I was in pretty good shape, but these trails KICKED MY BUTT! Literally. It was very humbling. My Garmin kept auto-pausing itself throughout the run, which it only does when you slow down to a near stop. At one point I looked down and saw that my pace was 19:33. Clearly I wasn't running, only barely walking, leaning forward and engaging my quads and willing myself to climb the hills. I even visualized a rope pulling me up at one point, which helped for a minute or two, until my husband suggested I visualize an escalator instead, which made me laugh out loud and lose my concentration on the rope thing, nearly falling down the side of the mountain. Doh.
For the entire rest of the course, I was saying my mantras aloud, alternating between them depending on the terrain: "Just keep moving!" or "Don't fall down the mountain!" Then, at 5 miles, my brilliant husband yelled back to me, "You know what would be really good right now? Five Guys!" I haven't had Five Guys in over a year, and in that moment, all I could see, smell and taste was a glorious, delicious, dripping, meaty cheeseburger. I swear that's what got me through the last mile. I had 3 mantras in my rotation at that point, and thankfully nobody else was within earshot because they likely would've mistaken my cries of "JUST KEEP MOVING!" "DON'T FALL DOWN THE MOUNTAIN!" and "FIVE GUYS!" for a bad case of tourettes.
We FINALLY reached the end of the trail, and just when I caught my breath, I remembered we had to run back to the pavilion where we started, probably only about a 1/4 mile away but it felt like running a 5K. I have never wanted an ice bath so badly, to the point where I actually considered wading in the river, until I realized I didn't bring a change of clothes. Drats.
So, we cooled down, rehydrated, and ate ourselves into oblivion at Five Guys, all while musing over how it was possible that somebody actually finished that race in under an hour when it took us 45 minutes just to get to the halfway point. Our finishing time was 1:33. It was truly a humbling experience and a reminder that a. though beautiful, trails are no joke; b. I need to focus on my quads, hamstrings and glutes more over the next 2 weeks, and c. I am not invincible. And yes, that was the best darn cheeseburger I've sunk my teeth into in a very, very long time.