The alarm hadn’t gone off yet, but I was up.
Years ago, even my family wouldn’t believe me if I said I was up before any alarm. You? Not you! You’re the one who sleeps in just a little past appropriate. We joke it off. It’s something funny about you, a quirk. We love you for it, and love to make fun of you for it.
But, not anymore. Too much to do, too much life to live. Anyway, it was race day!!
Even a late night submission to the bed didn’t keep me asleep. It was time for my first “race” of the season. Why the air quote? Well, nobody really *races* the Ugly Mudder. Okay, maybe one or two crazy nuts who enjoy the masochism of hurling themselves up and down a mountain, snapping off saplings on the way and temping a glorious, yet brutal, knee injury at every trail turn. Okay, maybe they race the Mudder. I’m just glad to show up and thrilled to finish.
Some background. Once, there was a man named Ron Horn. He puts on races. He likes to torture innocent people, after they pay him for the pleasure. I’ve only done one of his races (a half Mary on these same trails), but had to call out sick the day after and didn’t walk upright and without pain that whole next week. I’ve thought many things about Ron on these runs. Some good, some bad. Some really, really bad.
So, even though I was well informed of the impending trauma, my eyes shot open early and I was off. The night before, I remembered to pack my bag will all the sundry details I would need – knee brace, advil, mittens, insulated hat, insulated ear warmer, Yaxtracks for my shoes, GU and Go Lean bar – all the things I could possibly think I would need on a trail run in the middle of winter.
My directions were atrocious. I mean, seriously…how hard is it to get to Reading? Not. That. Hard. But, the directions had me in the backyards of at least 3 different Lancaster area families and at least one Amish farm. Lovely.
Regardless, this new and improved Able and her ‘phooey-to-the-alarm’ approach was early.
So, I found a parking space RIGHT next to the lodge, got all numbered up, and got ready for the first trial of the day. Not trail…trial. That would be the porta potty.
Don’t race? Don’t race in the winter? Let me illuminate the sit’cheation. These porta potties have been outside for a while, likely a long while. Although they are perfectly clean and ready for all of our, um, poopers, their premolded plastic glory has had more than ample time to … freeze. You know what’s not frozen? Yup, that would be the contents. Enough detail on this…let’s just say I was in awe of finding myself in the middle of the woods, in freezing temps, and having to go so badly I was actually LOOKING FORWARD to being next in line for this rite of passage.
Eee-nyway. I did my duty and scurried myself back to the car, the super warm and lovely car. Actually, this is my brand new (smelling) Outback and I love it. I mean, I really LOVE IT. I should be sponsored by Subaru – if only they loved me as much as I love their car. Her name, by the way is Fancy. And, yes, I named my car. Shut up.
Not being late, of course, brings its own set of “issues.” The waiting issue is one of them. I didn’t have my Sherpa to talk to – he was home in bed getting over a killer cold (but he’s all better now, thanks for asking…you’re always so polite…). So, I quietly sat listening to Dave Matthews, sipping my coffee and water, and watching everyone else. Turns out that some members of the US Orienteering team were parked in my row, which was cool to see. Not that they were parked there – that they would come to a race that I was in, too. Made me feel mildly studly. The one’s I saw were shockingly small – like short and skinny. I think they take this nuts and berries thing a little too seriously. Somebody should tell them about the cheese steak diet.
When the time was right, we all kind of wandered down to the starting “line” (i.e., two trees near each other, through which we ran) and waited for awhile. Ron did his usual spiel about running at your own risk and where to go if you wanted to be collected for body disposal. He also added that just about every single “challenge” you could face on a trail run was in place for today, the most importantly being ice.
Let me explain. Big storm came through Reading. Big storm dumped a foot of snow and sleet. Big dump turned into big tundra of ice. Hard packed, don't-even-try-to-jam-your-toe-into-it ice. But, since we are not quiche eating surrender monkeys, we soldiered on.
I often tell Mighty M that he was the best $29.95 I ever spent. Why? Even though he hates to tell people this (I always get to answer the question at parties, which is such a blast let me tell ya), we met online. I know. Crazy. And we’re actually normal people. And we developed a normal relationship. Go figure! But, since he was the first person I met online and I was the last he met, I call him the best $29.95 I’ve ever spent. Cancelled the subscription the night of our first date. I know…a love story for the ages.
An. E. Way.
People, I now know the best $24.95 I’ve ever spent.
Yaxtracks. Saved. My. Run.
Okay, here’s where I apologize to all those fellow runners – at least two I know of through blog land – who didn’t bring any spikes. I’m sorry. I did. It was the best damned decision I’ve made all year. Without them, I would never have made it. If you did, you’re all the better for it. Probably a bit more bruised, but better…stronger. Hold onto that thought while you nurse your wounds. Remember…stronger.
So, with my ‘Tracks strapped to my reliable Asics, we were off like a group of gazelles (Group? Herd? Mash?) for the first, um, 100 yards. And then we all ran directly, and with much confusion, into the side of a mountain.
Not gracefully, mind you. More like in a startled, group dynamic, they-should-study-this-behaviour kind of way. I think we were all looking down, for fear that the ice would trip us up. Nope! Surprise! Instead, let’s all run face first into the side of a mountain!! Now THAT will be fun!
And the quest was on…how to manage an ice covered mountain wearing running shoes and lots and lots of tech clothing. The trail (and, frankly, that word needs airquotes, too, because it was as loosely defined as, say, “political responsibility”) continued this way – up and down, up and down – for a good 7+ miles. I have neither the energy nor the memory to tell you each step of the way. Just know that I felt the grade for each step – each and every step. We climbed up rock faces and balanced on saplings and hurdled logs and slid on our rumps down nearly vertical tracks. Again, people: Yaxtracks are the best $24.95 I’ve ever spent. Ever.
Oh, and part way through…there was a pagoda. NO. JOKE. Seriously! A pagoda, in the middle of the woods. Just perched up there (oh, and yes, I mean UP THERE because, of course, we had to climb 100 stairs to get there!) on the edge of the rock face, overlooking the Reading area valley. Here's a couple of views. How fun!
About 5 miles into the race, I’m getting tired. Fatigued. A little mountain mush was coming to my quads. It was time to get off this thang and get some bagels and peanut butter. Pronto. The last couple of miles were tough, but with my Garmin, I had a good idea of what was left for us. And soon I found myself hearing the distant cheers and yells of spectators and thought, “Wow, I’m almost to the promised land!”
Little did I know.
Oh, I was there alright. I had made it up 1800 feet of incline and back down again. I had chewed my way through my GU packets and peed in the snow (oh, sorry, forgot to tell you about that…talk about cold rump!). And here I thought I was about to come to the finish line.
Before you can get your glorious pancakes and bananas for the Ugly Mudder, you have to mount Mt. Mud. Here is Mt. Mud.
Sick joke, huh? Thanks, Ron.
But I did mount the Mt, just like all the other 600 or so finishers this Sunday. And I didn’t just come out alive, I came out FEELING alive.
I love race season, people. I love it so much. I can’t wait for this Sunday…because it’s off, again! It doesn't matter if it's a trail run or a local 10K or a triathlon...I just love race season.
Now...where did I put that Advil?