The next morning I got up and ran the Twisted Ankle half marathon again. For real this time instead of in my imagination. The night in the tent had been quiet but fairly sleepless. The kids were great, but I’d tossed and turned and the hours had passed fitfully.
At the alarm’s beckoning I got up, showered and dressed. I decided to don the red tartan skirt and turquoise sleeveless vest again and carefully prepped my healing blisters for the long run ahead before stuffing my feet into my Mizuno trail shoes and taking a leisurely warm up run from the campsite, around the lake and to the start of the trail race where people were beginning to gather.
I nervously kept sipping on my water bottle and pretty much downed the entire contents before the race even started. I grabbed a refill of Powerade from the race supplies and cursed that I had forgotten a banana before I had given the family a hug and a kiss goodbye. Although the temperature at the start was fairly mild I also started regretting that I hadn’t filled up my cooling neckerchief with ice back at camp as I had assumed that there would be some on hand in the paddock. There wasn’t.
As I meandered around with a roving eye looking for Martha she spotted me first and waved. It was good to see her again, though I am sad to say we didn’t get much of a chance to catch up. Pretty quickly it was time for all the runners to cluster by the edge of the lake, listen to Race Director Becky’s words of encouragement and advice, and then we were off with little fanfare. Here we go, my first half marathon.
Around the lake we ran at an easy clip, not too strenuous at all. I kept myself in check a little to save my legs for the long run ahead, and especially the much lauded hill at mile three. As soon as I started running the heat and humidity started their cruel embrace and dashing across a grassy strip over the dam wide open to the sky before we ducked into the leafy shade of the lake trail to the campground felt scorching even at nine o’clock in the morning. Knowing we’d be back this way en route to the finish I made a mental note to just keep on running and try to get back before the sun really came out and was waiting to grill me alive on the homeward leg. I also immediately cursed my decision to fill my bottle with Powerade as then I couldn’t cool off by squirting water on my neck.
We ran through the campground and past some cheering campers set up at the side of the course with their camp chairs. I scanned around looking for my crew, could I catch sight of them as I raced through? Our tent was off to the other side of the camp ground and away from the course, but there was Daddy carrying Bea, striding towards the wash house. I bounced and waved and yelled at them as I ran past. I think they may have heard me. What a lovely sight.
Race Director Becky Finger was in the middle of the road handing out high fives as we ran out of the campground and prepared to start our ascent into the mountain up past the Marble Mine and onto the Pinhoti Trail. The climb began. It was gentle at first, fairly wide tracks and very manageable. We made our way up and up and spotting falling water up ahead I pulled out the Flip to try to capture the beautiful marble mine as we ran past. My first encounter with a race photographer was me grinning and fumbling with my camera as I tried to run, take some footage and then stuff it safely back into my pocket. That was pretty. Okay, onwards.
Trail got substantially steeper and steeper until a large wooden sign warning to be cautious of the steep grade appeared on the hillside. Light hearted banter started as we hit the narrow single track and were forced to slow to the pace of the people ahead. It was hot, it was hard work, but it was also a little frustrating as I couldn’t pass the walkers ahead and continue on at my own pace. I just had to hang in, tough out the climb at a plod and wait for the track to open up again at the top. Some blokes who had run the race before promised me that an ice cream van, cool swimming hole, flock of wild flamingos, gogo dancers (male I hoped!) and a pack of cold beer was waiting at the top.
They lied, all we got was a bunch of boy scouts with water, Powerade and ice. I gratefully accepted their offerings and filled my bandana with cool refreshing ice cubes. Fastening that back around my neck was delightful. Okay, good to go. A boy scout directed: “Full marathon to the left, half to the right. No, wait! The other way. Half that way!” A quick double check with someone I hoped would know what he was doing to confirm and I was off again.
Oh it felt good to stretch the legs and settle back into a nice pace atop the ridgeline. The guy ahead of me warned me that there would be more hills to come and not to get too excited, but I was ready to run.
It felt like I blinked and was at the next aid station already. Gummi bears! I grabbed a handful of those, along with a GU gel, and was told I was 4th place girl. Onwards. Onwards.
Fairly soon after that another girl caught up to me as I was fumbling to open my procured packet of GU. I was asked if I was okay. “Oh yes!” and mentally I added “just haven’t mastered the art of running and eating yet!” Packet opened I tried to down small mouthfuls of it (I hate GU!) as I ran, and now in fifth place I settled in behind the overtaker to run an easy pace watching the little foot logos on the back of her shoes work the trail in front of me. Felt great.
I began to discover the appeal of Dirty Girl gaiters for the smart people I’d noticed wearing them on this trail. Numerous times I had to break pace to pull needle sharp black spears out of my shoes and uncatch them from my socks. Stab! Stab! Ow!
Pretty soon a man came hurtling down the track towards us at breakneck pace. I barely even got to see him go by. I just felt the rush of air and heard the crackling of leaves and twigs as he blew past, arms wildly waving for balance. A little after that more front runners started to trickle past on their return from the turn around point. I counted the ladies as they ran past, and then we were greeted by a crew of cheery folk working the turn around point aid station ourselves. Yes, looks like we were fourth and fifth. I didn’t waste time, but I did take a moment to replenish myself here. Garmin said 6.91miles. So far so good. Some people were making themselves up some evil pb and j sandwiches and tucking in, I steered well clear of that little pit of anaphylactic shock, momentarily eyed a banana but decided against that too. Just a refill of ice and water, some more gummi bears for me, and I was back heading out on the trail again.
Again I found myself running easily behind a girl, albeit a different one with different logos on her shoes. That confused me a little but I think we’d just done a switch at the aid stop and we were still 4th and 5th women. I decided to just hang behind her for a stretch as the going was comfortable and for my first half I rather liked having the company and metering. Turns out she’d done some ultra runs, longest being a 100 miler. Nice. Assuming she wasn’t pulling my leg she was interesting conversation. We were seeing a steady stream of runners coming along the trails behind us and it was fun to shout encouragement and wave as they went past on their own journeys to the turn back point. Yelled and screamed when I saw Martha coming along the trail. Hooray Martha! Felt great to see a friend on trail and she was looking good.
Eventually Ultra Girl said to let her know if I wanted to pass though, so I think she had had enough of me. I told her I’d probably see her again in about five minutes! Pulling ahead I was surprised at how easily I carried on at the faster pace. Soon I was running along on my own without anyone else in sight. I took advantage and did a quick nip into the woods for a pee! That was pretty well timed as around the next bend I discovered myself back at the aid station and directed down the mountain. Disappointingly there was no ice here to replenish my now very melted supply, but that was okay. Homeward stretch! Garmin was saying I’d been on trail for an hour and fortyfive minutes, and with roughly only about a 5k to go and I was feeling super. I calculated and got very excited, 5k, even at ten minutes a mile (presuming rate of descent at speed of curling into a ball and rolling down the mountain to the lake) I ought to be seeing Bill and the kids again at around the two hours fifteen mark. Wow. That was way better than I expected.
Get me off this mountain! I happily rejoined trail and started tearing down the path. Fun! 5K to go! I wondered how far ahead the lead women were and resolved to up my pace for the remainder and see if I could gain some ground.
I ran and ran on my own, still no one in sight in front, or even behind. Coming to a cross roads I followed the very obvious festoon of blue trail markings that fluttered from the trees, swung around and took the trail to the left. Go Kay go!
I was a little confused as the trail began to wind back up the mountain again, but I was disorientated and figured that maybe the track split again further up the path. After all, that other runner had talked about there being more hill to run hadn’t he? I was still following blue ribbons so I pressed on. Then I hit the steep grade sign again and the sinking realisation that I was running Becky’s Bluff all over again. Arse! Surely I’d have heard about it if we were having to run that twice?! I turned around and started pegging it back down the hill. I was feeling pretty ill and panicked now.
Hang on though. Here was, at least I think it was, Ultra Girl coming up the same hill. She couldn’t have seen me in front so wasn’t blindly following and so must have made the same call herself. Now I was greatly confused. I had joked that I said I’d see her again before the end. We then spotted a group of male runners also coming up the hill, one of whom was Jerry. Surely we couldn’t all be wrong? Had any of them done this race before? Did any of them know if we were on the right trail? The answer was a very unreassuring no to all questions. I headed back down to the last intersection together with the other girl to reassess though.
We eyed the completely barren of markings gravel trail that led to the right, the “private property keep off” sign that blocked the trail straight ahead, and the fiesta of trail markings, coupled with a big blue arrow on a prominent tree pointing to Becky’s Bluff. There was no one who knew what they were doing around. We started off down the gravel track a little way. Nothing obvious. The lads and a girl (now I’m getting confused as to which one she was!) had decided not to follow and to take the way I’d gone the first time. I got nervous and worried about taking what appeared to be an unmarked trail. That could take us even further off track for all I knew. The blue ribbons were in abundance after all, surely I must have missed something? I took off up the hill again. I passed the blokes, again. Up, up and up for the third time. This time I went further. Dumb, yeah I know. Though I did get a big kick out of being able to actually run up the steep single track I’d got so frustrated walking up over ten miles before. Take that stupid hill!
Then I realised that the other runners had thought better and turned back around again. Ok, off down the hill once more. I hauled arse back down the trail again and eventually caught and passed them before we got back to the intersection. Screw this for a laugh. There was still no one in evidence who knew what they were doing. I took the leap of faith and started off down the gravel path.
It was a fair while before I saw the reassuring sign that I really was back on track. Things started looking familiar again and I began to recognise where the trail was going to take us back through the campsite and around the lake to home. I chugged back past the girl who had been running the bonus miles with me and struggled to push past my despondancy at the run going so very wrong for me. I definitely walked a fair bit of hill stuff here where I ought to have run but I was aggravated and dreading the last blistering push in the sun through the open ground around the lake. I caught up to Martha on a downhill as we were entering the campsite. Back up the hill towards the tents I was spurred on by the thought that maybe I’d see Bill, Sam and Bea somewhere along this stretch. Didn’t want them to catch me walking! I didn’t see them waiting here, but at least I got my head back in gear. Right, not far now, let’s do this!
Eventually I came around the lake and to the bridge. Over the bridge, clomp clomp clomp. I heard someone shout “Tasty!” and something about “hasher incoming!” and I released my charge to the finish line.
Bill and the sprogs were waiting for me at the end and Bill caught that photo for me with his iPhone. I got some great hugs from Sam and Bea as my finish reward. Thanks for being there guys.
Official time: 2:51:35 and final mileage just under 15 miles according to Mr Garmin.
Aggravating. Very aggravating. I had a really great time out there, and enjoyed myself a lot, but I’m pretty gutted. I’m quite thankful that the prizes that were almost within my sweaty grasp consisted of giant jars of nuts though. Fat lot of good those would have done me! 😀
Hmm, I think my words at the end of my Twilight 5K recap came back to haunt me: “Crikey, I hope this time next week I am laughing about running up Becky’s Bluff too!”