by Chris Grecco
February 6, 2010
by Chris Grecco
February 6, 2010
The nightmares have subsided. It took four weeks to the day, but they are gone, out of my system. I’ve survived and I can only hope that I am a better man for it. The sleepness nights, waking up with chills, the terror, the difficult breathing, tossing and turning, covers on, covers off…finally I have gotten past it. The torment is over. (Editor: Umm…What are you doing? I’m writing my race report. Editor: THAT’S the start of a race report? Sounds more like the first few lines of a Stephen King novel. Just let me get through it; this was a difficult and trying period in my life. Editor: It’s ONLY a race report. Save the drama for your momma. Besides, you told me you’d make it shorter than the last one you wrote about the Philly Marathon. You know, the one that took us an hour and a half to read. Yes, this will be shorter, but it might be written in a slightly different “style.” Editor: Meshugana.)
What transpired on that February 6 morning was nothing short of horrific. Each night thereafter was like a series of SportsCenter “Lowlights,” a never ending onslaught of slivered vignettes of misery, pain, and suffering. Darting in and out of consciousness, teasing me with the idea that I might still be out there, still fighting, still cold and wet and aching and in desperate need of my well worn woobie. (Editor: Oh brother. Seriously? Could you at least explain what this is about? Please, could you have some compassion, some sympathy? Surely you know that reliving this is difficult and the process is slow because my fingers and hands are jittery as I try to type).
I decided that I needed to run some long races this winter in preparation for my spring marathon, but that’s easier said than done where we live. This race seemed worth a trip to Jefferson National Forest in Louisville. 15 miles, good, solid distance, on trails, and who knew Louisville had a forest of national stature? Maybe I’d see Robin Hood. The pace wouldn’t be fast but it would be a good workout. This sounded like fun. (Editor: Wait. This was a 15 mile trail race? Yes. Editor: Had you ever run a trail race before, even a 5k. Um, no. Editor: I see. Okay, did you ask anybody about the race or even how you might approach it? I did, surprisingly, I really did. One friend said he’d run it a couple of times and that the hills were really steep, so steep he had to walk up them and that the downhills were really vicious if it snows. Another suggested I might take it easy for my first trail race, see what it was all about, and then maybe go back next year and race hard. Editor: Oh good, so you took their advice? Oh no, that’s not my style and that’s the reason it was so awful. Editor: Meshugana.)
Brake, brake, brake and ssslllllliiiiidddddeeee. Whew close one. I certainly wouldn’t want to skid off the side of a hill on my way to the race. Sure is a lot of snow out here. Wow, this really is out and up in the middle of nowhere. Okay, good, leave my car here, get my number. All set. Wait. My car is in 5 inches of snow in the middle of a grassy field. How will I ever get out? Well, no matter now, I’ve got a race to win.
The start. These people have trail shoes on cleats and spikes and such. My old running shoes don’t look quite as…well, as appropriate. These people just look a little different with their fancy gear and bandanas and mitten thingys and tights and fuel belts. Oh come on, it’s a running race. How different can it be?
And we’re off. I’ll chase him down, he’s young though and running well. How can he run so well on the downhills? Oh, the trail shoes, right. Chasing him, faster, faster, but I am not gaining, I am losing ground instead. Ouch, branch to the face; ouch, branch to the thigh. I am bleeding, not much, but a bit, we are in mile 1. (Editor: You wore shorts? Um, yes. Editor: Wasn’t it about 25 degrees and snowing that day? Yes. Editor: Meshugana.)
Slosh, squish, snow covered trail, ice. Jump the small stream. Jump? I don’t jump anymore. Run through it. Well, ease through it. Splish, splash, slosh, ohhhh, cold, brrrr. Two pass me on a downhill and they are talking about how beautiful and awesome this is. Are you kidding me? This is awful, I can’t run FAST. How can they stay on their feet? Slide, slip. Oh, they have those trail shoes on with those little nubbies on the bottom. And up the hills we go; footing is bad, slip a bit. Finally, a patch of paved road, thank goodness. I can finally run, feel the wind on my hat covered bald head. Wait. Is it? Oh dear, it is! A sheet of ice a quarter mile long. Oh my…oh…slowly, slowly. Little soft toe tipping ballerina steps and slipping, Bambi-like, and careful, be careful. Easy there Apollo Ono. Oh, to get back to the trail. Never thought I’d say that. And I make it to the sharp left turn back into the snow covered wilderness.
Hold on now, is that a familiar face? It is! Dan Wells is working the race! Me: “Hey Dan, this is the DUMBEST thing I have ever done!” Dan: “Chris, what are YOU doing out here? You are crazy!” (Editor: Hold on Sir Edmund Hillary. Dan Wells didn’t even run this race and he called YOU crazy for doing it? Yeah, I think you are starting to understand why I was having the nightmares. Editor: Meshugana.)
Through another stream and another and another and another. I thought they said there were only three on the entire course. I think that was number eight, but I know I’ve lost count. Trudging and lifting and slipping and sliding. My face, cold, snow covered. What’s happened? Where am I? Oh, I’ve slipped, fallen, try to get up, slip again. Face plant, snowcone face without any of the delicious blueberry flavor. And up we go…and trudge on. Walk. Walk? And the hills are indeed really steep and bam, down goes Frazier! More snow on the face. Eyelids iced and Kip, can you bring me my Chapstick, my lips hurt real bad!
Wow. It really is beautiful up here, but who has time for the view, I’ve got to finish this thing, get out of Dodge, and do so uninjured. Down and down and down we go. This is for billy goats. Ohhh…steep, slipping, falling, I am going to kill myself! Yes, that’s it…run INTO trees! What a race strategy! I am brilliant! I have to do that just to stop myself from falllllll….BAM! Ugh!..and another. BAM! I never had to run INTO trees in a race before…and I don’t really like it. Hold on, around the curve. Easy…steady. Grab the branch and whip it around and slingshot…oofff…into the stream and over the rocks and a twisted ankle, but it doesn’t hurt because I am too numb from the cold.
Oh, you’re from Bowling Green? Okay, great, we’ll run together. You in front and me following so I don’t get lost and…oh, what’s that? Oh, we’re off the trail? Yes, okay, backtrack a bit. There we go. Where are those cute orange wisps of nylon to guide us? Ah, no worries. Nothing else going on this weekend. I just have to get to work in about 48 hours. Think I can do that? Can you lead me out of this mess and back to my car by then?
Hello race volunteer wearing a parka, snow boots, and five shirts. Her: “You are doing great! You are in 4th place.” Me: What mile is this? Her: “Mile 10, only 10 to go!” Huh? This is a 15 mile race. Am I nuts or is she? And, did she just offer me soup during a race? Are those people actually stopping for it? Who eats soup during a race? What do they know that I don’t? Hmmm…ohhh, maybe they have oyster crackers too! Oh goody! Oh come on, my gosh, get going. You…must…trudge…onward.
5 miles to go. Passed by two more. How can they keep running down the hills? How do they not slip on the roots, the branches, the snow and ice covered rocks that provide such folly for those who might see this mess? Ohhhhh…trail shoes with those spiky cleaty things. Wish I had those. Wish I hadn’t driven here for this. I need Starbucks bad. I am a either a knucklehead or an idiot, maybe both. (Editor: Mike Lesshafft just texted and all he said was “both.”)
Two miles to go. There they are, I caught them, one right after the other. I’m stronger on the ups and flats, they crush me on the downs. Ouch, fell again. Why does that keep happening? Other leg is bleeding now. “Oh come on,” the Black Knight says, “Tis’ just a flesh wound.” And on we go. I do pass them, I am back to number four, but can I stave off the inevitable? If it’s a downhill finish I am a dead penguin. Snow and slosh and slop and ice covered leaves beneath my frozen feet, and up and down we go and at last we are getting close. I can tell. How? Because there’s a man sitting in a folding chair at the bend. Nobody would sit in a chair in the snow if he wasn’t near the finish or ice fishing.
Around the turn and there it is. A winter oasis teasing me? No, a clock with big red numbers on it and it looks really official and everything! They won’t catch me, but I will kick it in anyway. Kick it in? Who am I kidding? I will only run fast enough not to fall on my sweet bippy and not pull either or both of my hamstrings. Provided my hamstrings didn’t fall off at mile 11 and are now being eaten by the Snow Miser.
And that’s it. The end of the “race.” Here’s your wooden medal sir (Oxymoron indeed: wooden “metal.”) (Editor: No oxy, just moron.) Race Director dude: “Fine job, how old are you?” Me: “I have no idea, but I feel like I am 342.” Race Director dude: “Great, there’s chili inside and tell the woman that you were the first Master.”
I walk the 30 feet to the frozen bungalow and tell the kind and dry and very warm looking woman, “Miss, I was first Master. That mountain man out yonder told me so.” Her: “Um, that’s great, but we don’t have any awards for Masters other than in the 50k. Sorry.” (Editor: I thought you said this was a 15-miler? Yeah, well, they held a 50k too. Editor: Sheesh. You are griping like THAT and you only had to run half as far as them?! Sure, but only one was ahead of me at the split. Editor: Are you kidding?! Somebody in the 50k finished 15 miles faster than you and you were only running 15 total? Oh, no, the split was at about mile 13 I think, right near that polar bear drinking a Coke. Editor: Meshugana.)
So, no award for me?! Excellent! I’ve never been so happy to be a loser! I am outta here! Fellow runner approaching bungalow: “Hey, man, good job out th…” Me: “Later suckas! No time for small talk or chili! I am headin’ to the house!”
Jog to the car, hop in, don’t even change clothes. I want to drive immediately, find that beautiful ice and slush covered open highway, and get a nice hot cup of Komodo Dragon and a piece of lemon loaf. Try to untie my shoes, but my laces are frozen in an inch of ice. Nothing my car’s heater won’t fix in about 30 miles.
Editor: Um, do you mind if I summarize this so it’s at least sort of helpful for people? By all means.
Editor: Okay, here’s a list of the types of people who should consider running this race. People who…
— Like a challenge
— Own trail shoes and/or spikes and know how to put them on their feet
— Enjoy having snow smushed on their faces at least a few times in a two hour period
— Like to run into trees in order to slow down and avoid falling off of cliffs
— Like to get scratched by branches, making their legs bleed
— Enjoy scenic views and beautiful snow covered trails
— Don’t necessarily feel like they need to run fast even though it is a race
— Like ambling through streams, especially ones with frozen rocks in the middle of them
— Don’t take a lot of pride in saying, “I’ve never had to walk during a race.”
— Are nuttier than Dan Wells
That’s about right. Great job. Hey, did you see some of my nightmares on YouTube or something?
Editor: And here’s a list of the types of people who should not consider running this race. People who…
— Think you should be able to run as fast as possible if you are in a race
— Don’t own proper footwear to adequately traverse a snow and ice covered trail
— Don’t like chili
— Don’t have anti-lock brakes on their car
— Like mile markers throughout the race even if nobody is calling out times
— Aren’t smart enough to reconsider running when it snows five inches early the morning of the race
— Like running on roads that don’t resemble an ice rink
— Only wear shorts in races
— Hate to be “at one with nature”
— Like snowcones that have actual flavors
— Are smart
That’s about right too. That last one was a bit much, but, yeah, I don’t see myself doing that race again anytime soon. I will say, in fairness, it was very well organized, beautifully scenic, and a challenge, but I found that it wasn’t really my style and I have the nightmares to prove it.