So. Yeah. A few days later, I’m still at a loss for words. And those that know me, know that’s a rare thing!
The whole race experience is still surreal to me, like it happened to somebody else. It’s better that way. So without further ado, here’s a story-time recap.
Once upon a time, there was a slow but steady runner named Laura. She liked running, liked runners and liked racing. She didn’t have any races scheduled in the immediate future and that made her sad. Her friend Shelley told her about a half marathon trail race in Mt. Dora and Laura was intrigued. After seeing a Groupon offer for $35, she bit the bullet and registered. Sure, it was in June in sunny Florida but she was used to running through the summer heat and besides, the race would start before the sun was even up in the sky. This race appeared to be one of a series of races so she assumed that it would be well organized and the organizers would be prepared. After buying the Groupon she found she was required to pay another $5 for insurance purposes. Ok, whatever. Still, $40 was a great bargain for a half marathon. Right? That’s where this story goes wrong.
After a 4:30am wake-up, I headed out the door and drove the back roads from Brooksville to Mt. Dora. The location was an old abandoned airfield at an address that couldn’t even be found on MapQuest. I pulled in to a strip of grass and found a parking attendant charging $5 to park. I was confused. Why pay another $5 to park in the weeds in an abandoned field? Ok, whatever. So I parked, found my friend Shelley and started getting in my “zone” and gearing up for the 7am start.
There were around 300 runners between the half and the 5k and a grand total of 2 porta potties. The line stretched forever and 7am came and went with no start. Never fear, the race director was apologetic and said the race would be delayed by 20 minutes. 20 minutes came and went still with no start and the runners were told it would be another 20 minutes.
By 7:45 the sun was up in the sky, the horse flies were out and biting and we were off! The first few miles were through thick, high grass with a layer of mud underneath. I stumbled and slipped and twisted my ankle at least a dozen times.
Ok, this trail stuff is hard! I won’t bore you with details but it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. The trail was in pretty rough shape and we ran along a tree line, through fields and finally through an area with a series of small lakes. I had worn my hydration belt with a 20oz bottle of Powerade. I didn’t worry much beyond that because we were assured there would be water stops every 2miles throughout the course. Well, there wasn’t. At mile 4.2 they ran out of water. Shelley and I got the last 2 cups. And then we were on our own.
I can’t quite describe the feeling of an endless run through the middle of nowhere with no support in the brutal Florida sun. I became dehydrated and Shelley injured both of her feet. There were some of the largest gators this Florida gal has ever seen and they were way too close for comfort. Snakes were in the path blocking some runners ahead of us.
This quickly switched from a recreational race to a matter of surviving to get off the course without suffering serious injury. We slowed to a crawl as we battled our way through and finally finished with a time so abysmal I can’t even make myself type it out. But we finished. And that’s more than we can say for a handful of other runners, one of whom went down at mile 12, convulsing in the throes of heat sickness. There was no on-course support and it could’ve ended really badly. Thankfully an RN running stopped and found her and called 911. She was transported to the hospital. She was in better shape than I’ll ever be. I count myself as lucky that I had put in the training, that I had my fuel belt on and that Shelly and I were smart enough to slow down and realize we were in a really bad position.
We collected our medals and race shirts at the end and made tracks to get out of there. It was a weird feeling. After all my previous races I felt a sense of jubilation and celebration and accomplishment. On this day, I only felt a vague sense of unease realizing how badly this could have gone and intense relief that we were both off the course and safe. The race director made some noise about how sorry he was, but that only goes so far. How can you not plan enough for the 2 most basic things: bathrooms and water? 100 gallons for 300 runners in Florida is ridiculous. In June is preposterous. To make amends, he’s offering half off registrations to his next race in August. No thanks. I like a challenge. I like pushing myself. I don’t like inadvertently putting myself in a dangerous position. This was a finish I’d definitely never forget.
* Shelley was a rock star out there. She sustained injury to both feet that would’ve fell a lesser person. But she gutted it out and kept moving. And after sharing this journey together, we really spent a lot of time getting to know each other. Not just the fluff, but the essence of who we are and what we’re about. And she’s amazing. I was glad to get to know her better and feel fortunate to have her as a running buddy.
* It was neat to try out trail running. It’s so much more technical than pounding the pavement and is mentally challenging.
* The medal and shirt are pretty cool. And gosh dang, we earned them. There was a lot of sweat and blood that went into this.
* $5 to park in the weeds? What the what???
* 2 porta potties for 300 runners. You know the saying “My cup runneth over”? Well, let’s just say that applied to those potties Unbelievable.
* Starting a race 40 minutes later after the sun is fully up
* No medical support on course
* Ran out of water with 9 miles to go
* Those gators were way too close. And often we couldn’t see them until they splashed off the banks and into the water. A few feet from us. Gulp.
* Avoid inaugural races unless they’re being run by a known entity
* If I do any more trail runs, I need to make sure I always have a partner. I can’t imagine how bad this would have been if I was running alone.
With that, I’m done with racing until August. Marathon training starts next month and I’m excited for it to begin!