TALES FROM THE TRAIL (AND SOMETIMES THE ROAD TOO)

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Las Flores Marathon (My First DFL)

One of those things again this morning -- cell phone alarm rang out its annoying tune, and I lay there at 5:30 AM, wondering "What the heck?"  I said outloud, "I have no idea what day it is, or what it is I'm supposed to do." 

"A race," my husband said, half asleep.  "Get up and run."

A race?  A race?????  I'm thinking, "no big deal," then rolled over and groaned.  It's a MARATHON, and a trail marathon at that, with only 25 runners at that!  (Don't worry, it gets worse : ).

The original plan was to run the SD Rock n' Roll marathon in June (I was looking for a marathon where I could get lost in a sea of 22,000 people, besides that, the SD R n' R was my first marathon.).  But with my injury, I waited to register.  By the time I knew that I could run, the race sold out!  Thing was, the only month I could run this year's marathon #2 was June (believe me, it just worked out that way.)  I hunted on-line and found a lovely little race put on by Charlie Alewine and his wife, on a local trail in fact, the Arroyo Trabuco Trail.  I was leary because the race is held to 25 participants.  But I registered nonetheless.  (I always thought it would be an honor to come in DFL "Dead F****** Last."  That F can stand for "Friggin" or "Final" if you want, or any word that will work, a co-runner Ed, that I met today told my sons it meant "Dang Fine Lady").  Still, DFL has always worried me on these small races.  I look at other people in awe who come in last, because I thought it took a hell of a lot of courage to keep on going (I guess I didn't necessarily think so for myself).

Race Directions from Charlie

It was a cool, cloudy morning, and I arrived with plenty of time to spare. We took off without the fanfare, up onto the sidewalk and down, down, down a steep single track on our way for an out-and-back. Not just an out-and-back, but for the full marathon, an out-and-back four times.

Wait. I'm getting a little ahead of myself. A word or two about this trail. I've run this trail at least twice before, and always found it pleasant, and relatively easy (it's never actually easy). There were only two steep portions for this marathon -- one at each turnaround point. There were 4 creek crossings on a one-way trip, obviously 8 on the round trip, and 32 for the entire marathon. Crossing through the creek (because I plow right through them) was like adding 3 pound weights to my feet (my shoes also pick up mud and dirt on the exit). There are lots of beautiful shady parts, and the portion dubbed "the jungle" was included in this out-and-back. A good portion was single track, though some fire road portions existed.  And then there were portions of beach-fine sand, usually coming out of the creeks or near them, that was quite difficult to traverse.  Other parts of the trail were flat and easy, while even others were more rocky.  I tripped more than once on these rocky single-tracks.

Now, back to the story.  I felt okay about the run, even having been sick all week and not able to run.  A small group of runners (3 or 4) were within catch-up distance ahead of me.  And a good number, 7 or maybe even 8 were behind me.  I got to know their faces well. 

But then, it began to dawn on me that these runners all within my ability or less, were running the half-marathon!  Slowly but surely, the number of racers were dropping until I realized, most everyone was running the half marathon.  Only the die-hard freaks (no offense, because I guess I'm one of them) were running the marathon.  Don't get me wrong -- they were all friendly, and smiling and encouraging, these marathoners.  But I was way out of my league. (Charlie said that only 25% of the 25 runners ran the full marathon).

Scenes from the trail


I'm not really sure when the cramping began.  It was rather early on, before mile 15 I believe.  And they were only mild, just slight cramps in the calves.  Thing is, I'm so paranoid of those severe cramps that have attacked before, I started downing salt, I mean pure salt, straight out of the packets (I was also drinking pedialyte and took some endurolytes).  I didn't mind eating the pure salt.  In fact, I think it gave me peace of mind.  After about an hour of eating of fast-food restaurant salt packets, the cramps, even the threat of cramps subsided.  But then something else happened.  My right knee.  I'm suspect it was those sand pits, because that's the only thing really different about this race than my usual running.  Somewhere along the line, my knee began to ache, and I needed ice desperately.  So into the creeks I sank, because that water was cold and did seem to help the knee pain (not to mention the 2 ibuprofens that I took at the beginning of leg 4).

The Turn Around Arrow in the Dirt


I phoned home to tell the family "Don't plan on meeting me at the finish at noon." I was going to be lucky to come in by 1:15.  This race was beating me up.  And I don't know why.  It shouldn't have.  I've been doing strength training, speed training, cross training, you name it -- I'm training!  (But then again, I have been sick -- I wasn't sick today though.  On the other hand, Hubby says that 6 hours sleep isn't enough to run a marathon.  I don't think it was that either -- I'm guessing that I didn't realize what a trail marathon was going to do to me, even one with low elevation gain). 

After the turnaround on leg 3, I tripped over rocks, roots, whatever, it seemed every few steps (perhaps that's what got my knee).  I never actually ate dirt though, and I do feel that a stronger core helped me fight the falls. But a stronger core does not make a stronger psyche.  I wept a couple times while running, especially the third leg, out in the wilderness all by myself (for this is when my knee really took its toll and also when I knew that I was DFL -- in a few days I will bask in the glory of DFL, but not now as I write this blog, though really, I'm not terribly upset.  I knew that it would happen eventually.)

On my way up the hill to finish up out-and-back #3, the marathon front runner passed me to finish up the race.  Up top at the aid station, the half-marathoners were happily lounging about, taking pictures with their medals, etc.  I found it extremely difficult to leave the aid station and head back out for the final out-and-back.  On my way back down, a few more marathoners passed me on their way to finish.  I even passed by the last half-marathoner making her way back.  Then finally while still on my way out, the 3rd to last guy passed me on his way into the finish.  And as I made my way into "the jungle," Ed, the guy behind me was making his way back to finish. 

That jungle was terribly long, I mean agonizingly long!  I wasn't even near the turnaround until I exited the jungle.  These were my rules:  run only the flats and downhills, uphills were okay if I felt like it, but absolutely no running through the sand.

I felt great relief at the turnaround and took that nice long downhill not exactly happily, but at least with content.  Now I wanted "the jungle," for the shade!  And I couldn't believe how long it took me to get there, eventhough I ran the whole way!

Then as I crossed the first of the last four creeks on my way back for the finish, I phoned my husband, because I knew that he and the boys were waiting at the finish line.  I told him that he might as well go buy a soda or something, because I had at least another twenty minutes to go.  I could hear Ed, the runner who came in before me, describe to Dave how much longer I had to go.  Amidst all this, a giant doe pranced before me.  She was a beauty.  Chestnut brown with a wide, wide behind.  She was gigantic compared to the does I see on my home trails.  She made my day.

And I was off, three more creek crossings and, stumbling through the sand, and I was homeward bound!  Ed met me coming up the fire trail, and we made our way up the climb together.  Turns out we have run many of the same races!  Hard Corps Marathon (see my blog entry, he's the one in the cast!), Big Cat Challenge, to name a few. 

My husband and boys were atop the hill to greet me coming in.  It was a great treat to see their faces.  After hugs, and presentation of medal and the much coveted DFL trophy, I felt like I hadn't even run a marathon.  (Not the same the next day!)

Coming in for finish
Son presents me with DFL trophy

The Movie (because I'm silly)

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