From the moment Side Show Jesus and I noticed that the last couple of Mapquest directions to Medoc Mountain State Park neatly added up to 26.2 miles a sense of reality began to set in. When you are comfortably sat in a speeding car and it is still taking what seems to be an eternity to accomplish the long stretch of road the marathon task of completing that distance the next day, on foot, is really put into perspective. One had to resist the urge to simply turn around and drive the rest of the two hundred odd miles straight back home.
Luckily this past weekend wasn’t just about heading to the woods and going for a long run though. This was about running my first marathon, on trail, and giving Side Show Jesus a beat down in the process. As I was unable to lose my running partner on the drive, or get him mobbed by shouting out his trail name across the petrol station courtyard in the small town middle of nowhere Bible belt, I was going to have to run.
Of course, to sweeten the deal, there was also the lure of an exciting, but remote, possibility of winning a running skirt from my favourite running attire company while I was at it. Game on!
Once we arrived at Medoc Mountain State Park we pitched our tents and set off for a trail recce. I was eager to set foot on the course before the race to determine whether my bright idea to run minimal in my Vibram Five Fingers was going to be all that clever, and we both were up for getting a feel for the loop we’d have to churn three more times the next day. Hell, what’s another handful of miles when you’re going to run a marathon in the morning?
Medoc Man was sighted lurking amongst the trees and I took the opportunity to bribe the big guy. Although Medoc, like a ravenous mosquito, was greedily drawn to my sweet British blood, I managed to fend him off and secured safe passage on the trails in exchange for whispering sweet nothings, a promise of mail order Cornish pasties, and to introduce him to the Queen of England.
As we had a slap up pasta buffet to attend we eventually left Medoc Man alone to lurk in the woods and catch his own dinner. By this point more runners had arrived and were merrily feasting. We were able to pick up our race packets, featuring awesome bibs personalised with our very own trail names, get heartily fueled up ready for the race, and meet up with the third member of our merry band of Medoceteers. Ashley was also trained up, excited, and ready for what would also be her first marathon. Together we three had conquered Crowders Mountain, many times, in preparation and were raring to prove ourselves. There was a nice buzz in the air.
Camping that night was a frigid affair but made warm and lively by the host of entertaining runners gathered around the huge camp fire. What other race can boast a pre race night being regaled by the Race Directors’ good humour and tales of past adventures from all present? It was brilliant and a highly memorable evening. Tucked up inside two sleeping bags I fell asleep to the sounds of a camp fire conversation, a guitar being played and singing, and awoke to a conch shell reveille.
Wandering down to the start line at eight for an eight fifteen start I braved the bite of cold morning air in just my skirt and sleeveless tee while most of those around me clung to their long sleeves and jackets. My feet, taped up and then encased in my thin VFF toe shoes with minimal protection were quickly losing sensation to the cold and I began to worry that this increasing loss of sensory input from my soles might lead to an early injury on the trail. Looking around I spotted a couple of other runners sporting Five Fingers. Oh good. At least I wasn’t the only crazy. I began to relax again.
We lined up, and to another voluminous blast of the conch shell we were quickly let loose without to do. Runners streamed down the tarmac road a short distance before taking a hair pin turn back, then left onto the wet grass and into the awaiting woods.
We set off at a brisk pace. Jesus stormed off ahead with the lead pack. I hung tight, but tried not to get too carried away.
Three miles in and we hit the only real hill. By this time the lead pack were already blazing the trail and their dust had settled. Sideshow Jesus had moderated his pace and I had caught back up. With an eye on the long run ahead we walked up together and I especially tried to stay patient and watch my footing as we ascended the rocky path. Climb behind us, the rest of the trail was very runnable and I started to loosen up a bit as my toes began to defrost and I got feeling back in them. I hit a comfortable pace, felt fast but it felt good. I decided to just run and hang on for dear life. I wanted to make the most of the easy stretches without pushing overly hard. My main fear was that the marathon would prove to be too runnable and I would burn out, but I pushed those thoughts to one side and chose to make hay. I was having too much fun to slow down.
I left Jesus behind. Far, far behind, I hoped. One girl overtook me charging up the trail and then I was running at the head of a couple of gents, or so I thought until I heard the sound of more female breathing on my neck. She stuck to my back for what seemed to be an age. Together we witnessed a tsunami as the lead pair of runners in the ten mile race came thundering past us shoulder to shoulder. Bone Dreamcrusher and Surfman were pace for pace and battling it out. The Race Director up ahead went crazy, jumping up and down and screaming like a little boy “We’ve got a race! We’ve got a race!” The woods were electric and the charge carried me nicely along even when the athletic warfare was well out of earshot.
Then we hit a rooty section and feeling pushed from behind I stepped aside to be able to pay more attention to my footing. Web Sweeper took over leading our little caravan.
Not long after that we popped out of the woods and took a little spin through the campgrounds. As I was directed through I was informed that I was running in fourth. I’d let 2nd and 3rd slip me by.
At this point I wasn’t too bothered. It was still early and I hoped I may reel them back in. I tried to stick to the smart plan of actually finishing my first marathon without blowing up. I still swore that no other lady would get past me though, and kept on trucking.
I arrived at the aid station as Web Sweeper was finishing up there. I refilled my hand held and pushed on into the woods after her. This photo captures pretty much my last glimpse of her. She ran hard and went on to finish second lady home. Brilliant.
Starting the second loop was actually the hardest. I’d hit a few tender spots on my soles coming out of the last eight and a bit miles. The ground had looked sweet, but had proved to be particularly treacherous as fallen leaves covered lurking dangers. Pushing up the hill for a second time I went as fast as I could, walking, but I used it as a good opportunity to refuel and eat the handfuls of pretzels and gummi bears I’d grabbed at the aid station.
Sharp gravel, rocks and loose scree slowed me down, but wasn’t as terrible as you’d think. By the time I got to the top I’d worked the kinks out of my feet and was ready to roll again.
Just before I regained my pace a guy with tattooed calf and sporting a hydration pack sped by and enquired if I was doing okay as he did so. “Great!” I replied and hurried back to run. I caught him and spent a good while letting him pull me along a clip. There were times that I felt I could and maybe ought to pass, but I just decided to run comfortably and make the most of drafting off him.
The second loop stormed I mentally prepared myself for dealing with the final miles. Past the main aid station I grabbed some real food from my handily stowed supply pack and reserved it ready for the jaunt back up that hill. Two laps down, nine miles to go! Here I am, running for England! GO UK!
It was pretty interesting how that climb lengthened and steepened each time I tackled it. Yet, while the gravel hill to the summit appeared more mountainous on each approach, the climb to the campground became more runnable. Odd. Also, it was frightening how unobservant, or forgetful, I apparently am. On each lap I spotted increasing numbers of bright orange traffic cones warning of pitfalls. Where did they suddenly come from?! I had even been completely flummoxed on the second lap as I scaled a very tall and steep set of wooden stairs that, having already navigated once before, you’d think I would have been expecting to see again.
At around mile 19 I began to put some distance down between myself and Hoot, the guy with the tattooed calf. I was running alone now.
At around mile 21 I thought I spotted a female form scurrying along the path on the opposite riverbank. Heartened, I hastened my pace and ran, and ran, and ran some more. It seemed like an eternity until I reached the wooden bridge, crossed it for the last time and joined her on the final four mile stretch. Disheartened I ventured on. Although my legs were getting heavy and I wasn’t smiling anymore, I still felt pretty good. I was mainly just really having to concentrate on lifting my feet and not snagging my toes on any roots. I started to lap some marathoners and began to feel the pull of the finish line. I braced myself to hit the dreaded wall, but it never came.
My husband says he has seen this face before. He tells me it’s exactly what I looked like during both my kids’ natural, no drug births. Wow! The marathon was tough, but it didn’t feel that bad!
A final determined dash across the field to the finish line was mentally interrupted as I hit a pond of mud just metres before the timing clock. Oh that felt wonderful and the abrupt squelching surprise made me laugh out loud. Fantastic.
I couldn’t believe it when I was confirmed as fourth lady home for my first marathon. Still on a bit of a high for that one. I hammed it up for the camera for a little photo shoot with the winner of the ladies race (congratulations Leslie, aka Llama), but really I was over the moon with my time, especially as I’d been aiming for around a 4:30. Still, I was only a few paltry minutes short of third and winning myself a new skirt. *curses!*
Dirt Flirt, aka Ashley finished in a very respectable 4:51:40 despite her IT band woes resurfacing halfway through. She also picked herself up a proper trail name along the way, a name that you pick for yourself doesn’t count, and is now to be known as Fraggle. A name bestowed upon her by the very fetching and quite awesome Dirty Brownie and Dirty Girl Scout.
Side Show Jesus rolled in with a 5:34:04, but victory is not as sweet as it should be. He suffered along the way with an uncooperative stomach and did a valiant job of making it to the finish and completing the course. I made sure to have his chocolate milk chilled and waiting for him at the finish line, he deserved it.
1 36 Leslie Beckwith 34 Fort Bragg NC 3:45:15.4 8:36
2 4 Malinda Honkus 40 Knoxville TN 3:53:53.3 8:56
3 2 Laura Wise Maclean 42 Willow Spring NC 4:06:26.3 9:25
4 54 Kay Allen 34 Charlotte UK 4:09:03.5 9:31
Okay, I’ve blathered on enough and hopefully you’ve got the right idea that this race was superb. The four strong team of race directors did an amazing job on race day, as well as before and after. The community feel that they engendered was strong and vibrant, and the support team of volunteers on the day was outstanding. If you haven’t yet guessed, I had a brilliant time. I haven’t even touched on all the great finisher’s schwag! Thank you all for putting on such a great event. and to Medoc Man for not eating me up.
Right, next up… Bartram State Forest 50k, Milledgeville, GA. Nov 27th. *grins*