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Grand Slam Race(s) Report

10 weeks.
4 races.
1 marathon.
3 50Ks.
119.2 miles.

All for one jacket and a HELLUVA lot of bragging rights.

I had completed 3 of the 4 Grand Slam events 2 years in a row, so I didn’t come into this challenge blind. And in the 2013-2014 season, I added a marathon before the first 50K so I still did 4 races in 10 weeks. (For the record, I did the same road marathon this year so you could add that into the math up there for an even more impressive stretch of racing.) This year was not going to be that shocking to me. I knew the hardest race was Mountain Mist, the LAST in the line of races, and I had never done that before. But the general feeling of exhaustion that comes with racing so many races so close together? That was not uncharted territory for me. BUT! I still feel like the mental part of these four races and just knowing you’re doing the Grand Slam? Came with an unexpected weight in and of itself. Just carrying around that knowledge since October: I’m Grand Slamming…that made the experience even more unique than just the stretch of races themselves.

Here are my Post Grand Slam Thoughts:

  • Misery Loves Company: There have been years in the past where this challenge was either A) Not organized in any official capacity or B) Not being completed by many people. If anyone completed the challenge in those years? I apologize. Because having 40’ish people toeing the line at Mountain Mist with me on Saturday, having survived the last 10 weeks alongside me? Gave me more strength than I knew it could give. We had a closed Facebook group where we organized runs (as we were all tapering/recovering the same weeks) and vented our fears and anxieties. We shared lessons learned and advice given. When I decided I’d Grand Slam November 2013, I had no idea I’d be doing it with so many friends. Some of these participants weren’t even my friends yet! But now we’re all battle buddies…we survived in the trenches together. Those bonds will be there forever.
  • Tapering and Recovery are Luxuries: When you have two weeks between a marathon and a 50K, you are essentially tapering and recovering AT THE SAME TIME. None of us ever really got to do any proper tapering or recovering because you’re always thinking two races ahead. Yes. You have a 50K in two weeks and you just ran a marathon, but the HARDEST 50K is right around the corner and every weekend not training for that race is a missed opportunity. We all tapered to certain degrees, and recovered to certain degrees, but nothing like we would have been doing had we only been training for ONE of the four races.
  • I can always run more. I actually think this was a lesson I started learning at my 12-hour run last year. When I started realizing I’d be cutting it close getting my 50 miles in the 12 hours allotted, I had to force myself to run even when I didn’t want to. These four Grand Slam races really drove that point home. Even if my legs were cramping, or my back was spasming…even if my knee hurt or I pulled my groin…I could always run at least a little bit. (Barring any real injury, of course.) Before this year I was of the school of thought that – once something starts hurting towards the end of a race – I just start walking. I may squeeze in a random jog here and there, but the majority of what I was doing was walking. But I discovered in these 4 races that flats rarely hurt, and downhills rarely hurt. So, if I broke things up, I could always run at least a little bit. I ran more of the back half of Mountain Mist on race day than I did some training weekends. Even when I was having severe issues with cramping, so much that I had collapsed in the middle of the trail, I was still able to run on the flats and downhills without triggering another cramp. “Walking” is not a permanent status. No matter how tired I was or how much pain I was in, there were still portions of the trails or course that I could run without irritating whatever issue I was struggling with.
  • I can walk fast/strong. I have short legs, I’m not going to win a walking race against someone with a long stride. BUT! I learned that I could do a lot of passing when walking an uphill. I didn’t so much on the last climb of Mountain Mist, but I had uphill walks in each of the 50Ks that I recall being able to pass people walking uphill. I read a lot about “smart walking” last year – not resigning to being “slow” if I was walking. I pumped my arms, I lengthened my stride, and if I was feeling strong I could often pass people walking up hill, even though I was walking too. I passed a couple of people on K2 on Saturday, all while walking.
  • Taking meds while racing is very common. I took medicine for pain for the first time this season during a race. I never knew people did that, I have since learned that few people don’t. Now – there are definitely things you have to worry about if you take certain meds for pain while doing intense physical activity so I’m not going to list out what I took when or how much because I don’t want it to be read as a “THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD DO!” But, I kept Ibuprofen and Excederin at my disposal during every race and if I had to take any of it? I become ultra-aware of getting plenty of water because the problems really happen if you combine meds with dehydration. I drank at least 140 ounces of water on Saturday. Possibly closer to 200 ounces. I filled my 70 ounce pack up 3 times but I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to how much was in it each time. But THAT’S how much I was drinking to try to balance out the fact that I was taking medicine for my pain. BUT! The point? People do it. Ask around. Talk to your doctor. Read articles. AND STAY HYDRATED.
  • Fuel. Fuel. Fuel. It’s easy to forget to ingest calories when you’re running long distances. Your stomach rarely ever feels “hungry” so the mental trigger is not there. However, at the advice of veteran runners before me, I stayed ahead of the game at every race. I use applesauce packets and jelly flatbreads when I don’t have to carry fuel on me. This weekend, since I had to have it on/in my pack, I did use some Cliff Gels (one of the few vegan gels) with caffeine in them. BUT! I also used applesauce. I practiced with both, so that’s what I carried with me. I tried to put something in me every 45 minutes to an hour. I alternated between the applesauce and the gels just so I would spread out my caffeine, which I knew I needed. This season was the best year I ever had in terms of fueling, and while I know your body can change in it’s wants and needs from year to year, it does feel nice to feel like I’ve finally figured – at least THAT part out.
  • I’m done with road marathons. Except for maybe a Disney challenge with friends or family, I don’t see me ever running a road marathon
    again. I’ll do 13.1 races on the road, but I think that’s the maximum distance I can handle on the road anymore. Focusing on trails all season and keeping the road runs isolated to the road marathon in the Grand Slam, that really put the spotlight on how differently my body handles roads. I hurt SO MUCH MORE during a road race than I do on the trails. It’s just such a more repetitive motion and the surface is SO HARD compared to the dirt of the trails…I just don’t think I’ll do another one. That means, of course, I won’t Grand Slam ever again. But I’m okay with that. I’ve got my jacket. I’ve got my shirt. I’ve got my sticker. I’ve done it once, and while I can say with certainty that I will still do Mountain Mist 50K every year…I can say with just as much certainty that I will NOT do the Rocket City Marathon again. Or any other road marathon for that matter. If I’m going to keep pushing this body to run long distances, I’m going to have to keep it on the trails.

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My Mountain Mist 50K Race Report: A Love Story.

Let me start by saying that I have lot of words to say about lots of things relating to yesterday. Those things are all eloquent things like the previous sentence. I think the best way to split up everything, however, is between the race itself and the Grand Slam adventure as a whole. That means you have TWO long-winded posts to look forward to about running and trails and mud and how happy all of it makes me. CALM DOWN, I KNOW YOU ARE EXCITED.

(Unless otherwise noted, all photos are taken by Gregg Gelmis and We Run Huntsville. They link back to the gallery pages if you wan’t to look at more photos.)

This week saw me with a tough groin strain that seemed to cause me various levels of problems every day. Lucky, I woke up Saturday morning and it felt the best it had felt all week. A little pain with certain, very specific motions, but nothing more. Based on those motions I felt like some of the steep climbs might cause me problems, but that should be it. However, we all had another concern: MUD. Several trails get severely muddy after rain and it had rained all day Friday. Also? Trails not usually muddy can get muddy on a race day when 200-300 people are running over them. So, combine those two facts together and we were all bracing ourselves for a substantial challenge in the trail surface.

WE WERE NOT WRONG.

We got to the lodge and there was a light dusting of snow on the ground and palpable excitement in the air. I peed three times just because I wanted to make sure my bladder was COMPLETELY empty. I have no problem peeing in the woods, but when it’s cold? I’d rather avoid it if possible.

SIDENOTE: I also have no problems with port-o-potties. But this was my first time ever stepping inside of one at a muddy race and when I opened the door and saw the mud on the floor? I almost threw up because my brain’s first thought was not “mud” it was “diarrhea”. BUT IT WAS MUD. (I hope.)

I haven’t run with a GPS in ages but I wasn’t even running with a watch yesterday. I had my phone in a zipper pocket to check at aid stations and that was it. I needed to keep an eye on my progress because I only have about a natural cushion of about 30 minutes from the final checkpoint, and I knew I might lose some of that to the mud. So, if my times/distances are not exact in the upcoming report? That is why.

My plan was just to run based on how I felt. I know the trails, I know my speed on them and how it feels. I was going to run fast/strong on the flats and downhills, but walk/take it easy on the uphills. Spoiler Alert: The plan worked perfectly and I stuck with it all day.

(I thought I’d include a photo of the lead pack of runners so you can see the badasses that show up for the race. I doubt they carried 6 packs of applesauce like I did.)

We did 2-3 miles on the road and wider trails as a means to get the crowd to thin out a bit before the first major descent. This gives you a good chance to find a good place in line before you have to deal with a potential bottleneck downhill. My group did have a bottle neck around two icy/muddy spots on the downhill, but I didn’t stress because it was early in the race and the crowd was running as SOON as it got around the two kinda bad parts, they weren’t walking the whole downhill, so it wasn’t too congested. One girl (I didn’t recognize her, so I’m banking on her not being local) did mutter something about, “We’ve got 30 more miles, we can’t walk at every mud patch…” which definitely sat wrong with me, but I let it slide and tried not to think about it again. I didn’t need that kind of negative energy bringing me down.

I kept a pretty strong pace all the way to the first aid station, making my “A” goal there with 5 minutes to spare. I didn’t want to kill myself banking time early, but if I still wasn’t pushing too hard and could bank some, I knew I’d be glad later when I got to the muddier parts.

The next stop after the first aid station was the trip down Warpath and the top part of the downhill is really technical and it was the first time I thought Oh, man. I’m going to very much prefer uphills to downhills today. And right as I thought that? This guy in front of me bit it and slid about 5 feet downhill in the mud. I like a good downhill and I’m decent at them but even I was a bit gentle on the downhills as it was so muddy and I found myself sliding even on flat ground, without the added pull of gravity.

Once you get past the technical part at the top, though, you get a nice stretch of fast downhill. Of course it was muddy, but not uncrossable. I also learned a valuable lesson I would return to several times, the traction was actually better in the puddles. If there was water on the trail? I stepped into that instead of the mud because the mud would just slide with you.

Once we bottomed out we came to the chunk of miles I was dreading the most: Powerline and K2. I dreaded them partly because that chunk is not accessible during a lot of training season so we don’t really get to train on it, but partly because I knew it would be terrible conditions. The Powerline trail was a huge mess of mud and it would get caked on and it would suck you in and while it SHOULD have been runnable (because other than mud, it’s not too technical) but I wasn’t moving as fast as I had hoped/wanted to be. Then we got to K2 which is – as the name would imply – a very long and very steep uphill. It was probably the lowest I got during the race, although I blamed that partially to hearing a very negative conversation behind me. Again – I didn’t want that kind of energy so I made sure to separate myself as soon as I could.

Once we got on Goat Trail I was in familiar territory again and just pushed through the next 5’ish miles looking forward to getting to the Red Gate at mile 17 which was – in my mind – when the fun started. I made it to the 11-mile aid station 5-10 minutes OVER my “A” goal which got me down for a bit because I had banked 5-minutes on my “A” goal before and it seemed impossible to have already lost that much time. But, I pushed on and tried to push the negative aside. I had some good conversations with friends to pass the time and eventually found myself on the Mountain Mist trail where I knew I’d be seeing Nikki for the first time. My knees were bothering me from sliding around on the mud so much, and because of the periodic negative thoughts, I really hoped that seeing Nikki would give me the boost I needed.

And it did! But it also made me cry like a baby.

At that point I knew I was less than a mile from the Red Gate which was what I was looking forward to. I needed my hydration pack filled and I wanted to see my friends and get started on some of my favorite trails on the mountain. I got there 5 minutes shy of my “A” goal which made me feel a little better. I really had no hope of meeting the “A” goal finish time, I knew there were really bad muddy points on the back half that would slow me down, but I knew the closer I stayed to the “A” goal, the further away I’d be from missing cutoffs.

The people at the aid station filled up my pack and helped me fix my nozzle which I could not get to turn off. Aid station workers at ultras are angels from heaven. And I don’t believe in angels or heaven, but I did yesterday.

I ran with another friend for awhile, which gave nice conversation to get me distracted before I got to my favorite trail: Bluffline. Once we got to Bluffline, I kicked it in. I’ve run that trail a dozen times in the last few weeks, trying to get better at it, and it really paid off yesterday. I felt great coming down the really technical parts that used to slow me down to a crawl. When I got to the next check point I was 10 minutes lower than my “A” goal but still 5-minutes faster than my “B” goal so I was feeling good. The cool thing about this aid stop is that my friend and Nikki were there again! I wasn’t even expecting them. I could hear Nikki cheering before I even got there and I started crying. I gave her a monster hug, grabbed some peanut butter pretzels, took some more ibuprofen and Excederin, and kept going.

I hit Railroad Bed and was still feeling energized. Railroad Bed is another one I run really well so I tried to bank some time there. The only problem is, there’s a few bridges on that trails, and something weird happened: When I took the steps up on the bridge, I started getting twinges of calf cramps.

I get twinges of Quad cramps often, and sometimes the pain brings tears to my eyes, but rarely do I get that in my calves. It was a new ailment I didn’t know how to deal with. I kept running but whenever I hit an incline on the trail, my calves would twinge so I started dialing it back. I was walking all of the “real” uphills but now I started a fast walk/jog even on the slight uphills, trying to keep the cramps at bay. I was only 4 miles from the last checkpoint/cutoff so I needed to just hold steady.

And that worked fine, I was going a little slower than I wanted due to the teaser of calf cramps, but I still was running chunks. And then we started the HUGE hike up Waterline which – eventually – leads to hand-over-foot climbing and a final really steep climb to the top of the trail. The whole way up I felt my calves just teasing cramping and I was getting nervous. When I finally made it to the top of the trail I pushed on the next trail which is mostly a creekbed with a good bit of water in it. At that moment? I took a weird step and then SCREAMED in agony and collapse as my right calf had finally cramped up fully.

I fell in the creek in the middle of the trail and I was so embarrassed. I told everyone, “I’m fine! Don’t fret!” but I was actually blocking the guy behind me because I was in the middle of the trail. He offered to help me up but I knew I couldn’t stand and was trying not to cry so I apologized from blocking his way and just asked him to go around.

I forced myself to stand up and try to walk it out as it loosened up. I was .6 miles from the final cutoff at that point. I needed to push as hard as I could. Unfortunately, that wasn’t very hard because I was terrified of the cramps coming back. I had taken 3 salt pills in the last 2 hours so I didn’t think I needed more salt, but maybe I did.

I got to the final cutoff 5 minutes SLOWER than my “B” goal of a sub-8 hour finish. I asked my friend about the cramps and she told me it probably wouldn’t do any good to take anymore salt. Stay hydrated, stretch, just keep moving.

And that’s what I did.

The last 10K of the course does not have a lot of runnable portions for the average runner. There’s some crazy steep downhill (“Suicide Drop”) there’s a sucky climb (“Crybaby Hill”) and there’s a chunk called “Slush Mile” on a GOOD day, so I knew yesterday it would be TERRIBLE. The steep downhill is called Natural Well and it was a lot muddier than I expected. So there was really steep drops where I would slide on my butt on purpose, but there was also large quantities of mud. The people in front of me were from out of town and thought their chances were pretty good of getting the last 5 miles done in an hour. I hated to be the bearer of bad news. We talked a bit about what was upcoming and they discussed that they sometimes overlook 50Ks as challenging races, sticking mainly to 50-milers. But our race completely changed their mindset on that. “This is harder than several of the 50-milers we’ve done.”

I ran with other friends for awhile during that last 10K and it was nice to have people to commiserate with over my various ailments. I was still running the flats and downhills, but my run was a lot slower. And there were a lot of flats/downhills I just couldn’t run because of the mud. I got to the base of the LAST climb and realized I might could still meet my “B” goal of a sub-8 hour finish. I hiked that uphill as fast as possible. I got passed by two guys on the hill and I yelled at them both saying, “Dammit! There goes someone else after my #344th place finish!” I was trying to stay light and enjoy the experience because it was almost over.

There was a local runner waiting just a hair down from the last aid station. She’s a badass and she recognized me as Grand Slammer. She congratulated me and I started crying. AGAIN. I got to the top at the aid stop and they offered me beer. I almost took them up on it, but was feeling a little queazy and knew I needed to keep it together to try to push that sub 8-hour finish.

I spent the last 1.5’ish miles crying over what I had done. I ran a lot of it, but still walked the inclines because I didn’t want to cramp across the finish line. I could hear Nikki cheering before I even got there. When I rounded the corner and saw all of the people at the finish line I just could not contain my pride or excitement. And the finish line said I was sub-8 hours which made me SO happy. With the trail as sloppy as it was, still hitting my “B” goal was a miracle. Nikki ran with me across the finish line which I didn’t even notice until I crossed and then I hugged her and cried. Some more.

I’m beyond proud. Everyone local who can qualify, should do this race at least once. It’s insane. It’s wonderful. It’s difficult. It’s powerful. I loved every second of it, and even when I was hurting, I never really got in too negative of a headspace. I stayed focused. I trusted my body.

I fell in love with this race yesterday. I already loved the trails…but the course itself, the atmosphere, the other racers, the volunteers, the 31 grueling miles all wrapped into one race day package? THAT – I fell in love with. The tears, the mud, the cramps, it’s all part of a wonderful experience that I wouldn’t trade anything for and it made me committed to the race like I’m committed to donuts. I can’t see my future without the race as a permanent spot on my calendar…just like I can’t see my future without donuts.

That’s how you know it’s true love…when I compare it to donuts.

Bring on Mountain Mist 2016.

And the donuts.

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Placeholder Race Report

I want to take the time to write a real race report, but we didn’t get home until 5pm yesterday and we had a sitter coming at 6 so we could go enjoy the post-race celebration shindig. And this morning? I have a No Runner Left Behind trail running group! That I’ll be sweeping :)

But until I do a full race report, know this: Yesterday was the hardest race I’ve ever done, but also the most wonderful. This whole season has been a lesson in what my body can do and how I can be in charge of my own headspace. I was in more pain at several points yesterday than I’ve ever been, but my headspace was never bad. I was always happy to be there. Happy to keep running. Or walking. Or, at one point, rolling out of the creek bed I had collapsed in so that another runner could pass.

This was my face at the finish line. It looks TERRIBLE. But I promise you, those were tears of joy. I cried for joy several times yesterday. Let’s hope my face didn’t always look like this or else everyone who saw me probably thought I was dying. (And don’t get me wrong, I was hurting in various ways all day. But the tears were always for joy.)

More to come!

As always...amazing photos taken by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville.

The Dirtiest Support Group You’ll Ever Find.

So. My big race is tomorrow…Mountain Mist 50K. Not the longest I’ve ever run…time or distance…but the hardest race I’ll have ever run. This is the only race I’ve done that I’ve had to qualify for…the only race that has challenging time limits…the only race that I have several places along the course where I can recount tales of people having been injured. I witnessed front-of-the-pack, skilled runners quit last year at mile 17. Granted, they weren’t locals, but one said, “I thought Alabama was flat.”

The funny thing is, to us locals? Those of us who run the trails regularly? We say that the course starts to get fun at miles 17.

BECAUSE IT DOES.

But I don’t want to talk about the race, exactly.

Instead, I want to talk about my running friends.

I run around the mountains here in Huntsville, with the most fantastic group of people. Not all of them are even racing tomorrow. That’s kinda the awesome part. Trail runs can be pieced together in such a way that people training for 12Ks can run with people training for 100-milers. Seriously. One of our groups recently had someone training for a 12K, and someone training for a 100-miler.

And I owe the fact that I’m even toeing the start line tomorrow to EVERY SINGLE ONE of those people. Everyone who met me for a trail run in the last 3 months will be with me in my heart tomorrow. Some of them will even be with me on the course, but all of them will be in my heart. I get so overcome with gratitude when I run with these people that I sometimes want to hug them for no real reason.

But I don’t. Because that would be weird.

Before my Dad died, I was the epitome of a home body. My social anxieties kept me from really desiring to mingle with any new group in any way. Joining a boot camp helped break me of the STRANGER DANGER! part of my social anxieties, but running made me kinda like meeting new people.

I mean – I still run the risk of making a total ass out myself. And often still perform my trademark trick of talking about stupidly personal things when I’m uncomfortable…Hi! Nice to meet you! Can we talk about my boob sweat?

But here’s the thing about trail running, and maybe running in general, but especially trail running. You can’t hide behind any pretenses out there, running through the woods. There’s no makeup or nice clothes. No one knows your job or how much money you make. No one knows if you have kids or even if you’re married. You just show up and start running through the trees. Everyone, even the most graceful and athletic, is going to fall sometimes. Most everyone has to walk through some parts. No one has the luxury of a clean bathroom if they have to relieve themselves. Everyone ends up covered in mud.

All of these things are equalizers. And because they’re there, you would be amazed at the variety of people you become friends with on a trail run. And these people now know more about me than some of my family. They especially know more about my digestive system, since we all like to talk about our poop issues while we’re running. When I was getting a menstrual cycle, they knew about that too, but my ablation took away that fun topic. (I’m sure my friends miss me talking about THAT every week.)

I just feel so much love for my trail running friends, that I sometimes wonder where I’d be without them. Those runs through the woods every weekend give me so much energy for my week. They bring me so much joy. Seeing those faces early in the morning, preparing to run through streams or mud or climb over rocks, those excited faces have picked me up when I’ve fallen time and time again – literally and figuratively – and I’ll be eternally grateful for all of them.

But especially for my Grand Slammers. The Grand Slam is the Dizzy 50s 50K, the Rocket City Marathon, and the Recover From The Holidays 50K…THEN Mountain Mist tomorrow. The last race is the hardest. WHEN we all finish (Not IF…) we’ll get special Grand Slam jackets that none of us will take off. Ever.

But these Grand Slammers? We have done it together. We have this closed Facebook group where we’ve been able to talk all season, and if it weren’t for that page I’m not sure I would have made it this far. Just people to commiserate with throughout this journey has been AMAZING. These are my friends from the battlefield. We’ve suffered through muscle cramps and tightened IT bands, twisted ankles and sore backs, hip pain and knee pain…we’ve made it through 10 weeks as we cram in 3 50Ks and 1 marathon together. When I see those faces at packet pickup or on training runs or even just on race day itself, it gives me strength. We’ve suffered through it TOGETHER. Each face reminds me that we can do it. We’ve put the miles in, we know the courses, the hay is in the barn now. Now…we just do it.

(By the way, I do not stand by the “hay is in the barn” metaphor. People use it all the time but if the hay is in the barn, YOU ARE DONE! And while my training is done, I still have 31 miles to run tomorrow. I still have to move a bunch more hay, people!)

(Sorry about that tangent. Where was I?)

Anyway! I love my friends! I developed my social anxieties around 1999 and for the next 10 years I kinda avoided any situation where I could make new friends. And now here we are, I can’t even begin to list all of the people I call friends now. I can’t even begin to list the ones who will be there tomorrow…whether on the course or cheering or volunteering…I will be surrounded by people who I owe debts of gratitude that I’ll never be able to repay.

So…I dedicate every mile I run tomorrow to them. My trail-running friends. Whether you’ve run 4 miles with me, or 400, you are in my heart at the start line tomorrow. And you’ll play a key part in getting me to the finish.

Thank you.

As always...amazing photos taken by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville.

As always…amazing photos taken by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville.

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Race Sabotaging: Something That Actually Happens.

I was talking to a friend the morning of Donnie’s Ironman and she was telling me about her friend that was racing that day. Chattanooga was his second attempt because his first attempt had been in Louisville (maybe the year before?) but he didn’t finish because someone sabotaged the race by throwing oil and tacks on the bike course and he busted up his bike and tires in a wreck.

Uh. THEY DID WHAT?

And then, later that day? Thankfully…after I had seen Donnie complete one full loop of the bike course…I saw this: Chattanooga Ironman bike course sabotaged with tacks and oil. I was fairly certain he would be fine since he had already done the loop once, but man…my heart raced until he got off his bike. And we found out later that we did know people taken out by the sabotage, which SUCKS. Imagine spending 5 months and at least 700 dollars (AT LEAST, the whole adventure counting travel and lodge cost us probably $2,000) on a goal and not being able to finish because of some angry asshat or stupid teenager.

That’s the two people most likely to do this: Angry people affected by the traffic annoyance and teenagers who think it’s hilarious.

It sucks though because the small community (Chickamauga, GA) that we hung out in watching the cyclists? LOVED having us there. We came with LOTS of money to spend while we waited. And the cycling courses are planned with minimal traffic disturbance as possible, and it’s all done fairly early on a Sunday, so to risk causing injury or even death (have you seen bike races? These guys ride fast and close to each other. One person goes down? Several are going down at high speeds.) just because you can’t get somewhere as fast as you want on a Sunday morning seems RIDICULOUS. But, obviously it happens. Often, sadly.

But here’s another facet of race sabotage, one that affects ME. Last year, during our inaugural stage race weekend (3 back-to-back days of trail running – one of the best race experiences of my life) someone thought it would be hilarious to move the trail markers on the 2nd day. Now, for someone like me, this wasn’t a disaster. I had studied those maps and trained on those trails so I could almost do it unguided, but to normal people who don’t obsess over maps like I do? Without a trail marker, you’re just lost in the woods. And my family worked an aid table that day and said that there were some stressed early runners that came through.

And I just found out yesterday that – not only had the markers been removed – but when the race director went to try to salvage and replace them? They were covered in vinegar and roundup. So it was a straight up MALICIOUS attack. And there is NO reason. These are markers that are only up for 2 weeks, max. Most trail races put them up the Saturday before the race and take them down the Saturday after. The races have the approval of the parks to do this and they are not in ANYONE’S way. Yet still…STILL…they get removed.

I was shocked that weekend to find out that had happened. SHOCKED. But I found out yesterday? It basically happens at EVERY trail race here.

One of the volunteers (and perfect attendance racers, I might add) posted that he discovered yesterday that a huge chunk of the Mountain Mist 50K markers for this weekend were removed. This is basically MY Ironman. I’ve been thinking about this race since December of 2011…I spent 2 years not really thinking I’d ever be fast enough to even try, but then I’ve spent the last 12+ months basically running those trails and getting fast enough to make the cutoffs. It’s been my OBSESSION for the last year. And now, some asshat wants to sabotage my attempts by removing the markers. And the guy said they were tangled up together in a pile up trail, so it was hard to even salvage them to put them back out.

And then? Another Race Director chimed in with a similar story from the 15K I did a few weeks ago.

Basically, it seems, every trail race faces this kind of issue.

I always obsessively train on the actual course for local trail races. For most of them, I could do the course WITHOUT markers on race day. But this one Saturday is 31 miles, and the first half is trails I’ve done a million times so I didn’t actually focus on that half of the course. I know what trails it uses, but I don’t necessarily know what order they go in, so without markers on race day? I’d be screwed. I’d be okay on the back half, but not the front half.

(I’ll be memorizing it now, by the way.)

Luckily, there are tons of racers and volunteers who think of this race as their baby and don’t want anything or anyone to screw it up, so they keep an eye on things and fix problems as they arise. And the same with our other local trail races, we have a hugely smart and supportive community here. Unless it happens in the hours before the race starts, which it did at the stage race, most of the time they’re able to discover it…BUT THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE TO. (And, of course, they had markers put out that day before my group got anywhere, it was just the early/fast people who had problems.) Race directors should not have to re-do work. People should not be assholes. Simple as that.

So…when you do a trail race (because everyone should do one, trail running brings me so much joy I want the rest of the world to try it at least once) thank all of the volunteers and race directors. There’s a very good chance that some of them had to come out and replace markers taken down during the week because the world is full of giant jerkfaces.