Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot! "WTF" ....A Review of My First Half Marathon
by, Tina Smiley
Self-proclaimed "Gym Gypsy"...visiting and reviewing one gym at a time
“… gorgeous trails, epic water crossings, hoodies, mega finisher’s medals, bumper stickers, fun prizes, great food and beer! What better way to enjoy a mid-winter day!”
I’m sure you’ve all heard the term, ‘bucket list’ which is defined as “a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime.” Well one of the things on my list was finishing a half marathon race, a 13.1 mile run usually on pavement or road of some sort. This particular race however was a trail run …..a very muddy trail run. It appealed to me though when I signed up because I figured the pressure was off so to speak, and instead of actually running I'd simply take my time navigating the wooded trails of Northeast Park. Let's be honest…who really “runs” through the woods, right? Seemed pretty chill to me, a piece of cake. No problem. Little did I know what I got myself into. This race wound up living up to it’s “WTF” acronym and then some!
Last Fall I talked my veteran running friend Dena to do this race with me. She’s participated in a slew of races over the years including several half marathons as well as a full marathon. (Although she claimed the full didn’t count because it was more of a walk, not a run. As if “walking” and “running” 26.2 miles both add up differently. Lol) Anyway, she agreed and we both eagerly awaited the up and coming morning race the end of February.
Over the weeks leading up to the race, the two of us managed to train a few times together at the park on the trails. The first morning was bitter cold, below freezing actually. That day we barely lasted ninety minutes in the woods. I remember thinking to myself how in the world I’d be able to survive 13.1 miles of that come race day! Lucky for us, the temperature never got quite that cold again! Dena was more persistent regarding keeping up with emails and details about the race, even printing out a map of the trails! I on the other hand, took more of a nonchalant approach because again…this wasn’t gonna be that bad, right? Nothing to worry about.
In the meantime, I was reminded that my dear husband had bought tickets for he and I to go to see "Rock of Ages" at the Durham Performing Arts Center the evening before the race. Durham is like an hour away, so with an 8pm show, it'd be a late night. Thankfully the race wasn't super early...starting at 9:30am.
While I realize winters in the south aren’t extreme like they tend to be up north, we still get low temps, ice and even snow on occasion. What we got this year however was rain. A lot of rain. So much rain that our trail run basically turned out to be a mud run come race day. We both noticed over the weeks how the trails were getting worse and that the organizers had in fact re-routed the run a couple times. Thankfully the creek crossing was taken out as it was extremely high and deemed too dangerous to try and go through. When race day arrived, as we stood there waiting for the start, they warned us of possible falling trees and limbs due to heavy rains and soggy ground conditions on the trails. Dena turned to me and joked, “oh great…like we’ve got nothing else to worry about.”
The temperature was in the low 40’s and it was raining slightly at the start of the race. I had thankfully put on a pair of leggings underneath my running shorts, and was wearing a light-weight jacket over my tank top. I didn’t think I would be needing my gloves, so I left them in the car.
Now since the race route was changed due to the trails being a mess, we had to basically run "loops" around the park. Neither Dena or I could remember if it we were to run three or four loopa...so after we finished our first one, we were both a little concerned if we could last the rest of the race! Lucky for us if wound up being only three. That first half of the race though, I was pre-occupied by the fact my hands were cold and I had to pee. We were originally told there would be port-a-johns along the trails, so I figured I’d just hold out until I came across one. I never did. Thankfully, as if by some strange phenomenon, my urge to go somehow disappeared as I managed to make my way along the trails. At one point, Dena pulled so far ahead of me that I lost sight of her. I then picked up my pace, eventually catching up.
As the temperatures rose, my hands warmed up and I also decided to shed my jacket half way through the race. This particular action I think led me to somehow contract poison ivy or oak or sumac.... it's still unclear which one it was. Honestly, I believe there were more than one as the multiple rashes on my arm and other parts of my body were indeed different from each other. I wound up making an appointment with the dermatologist two days later. Ironically though, the meds I was given turned out to be worse than the rash itself, so in the end good old salt water and calamine lotion were my best friends for three weeks until it cleared up. Unfortunately for me however, I had to cancel a photo shoot I had made months prior...something I was looking forward to. But getting my picture taken covered in poison just didn't sound like a good idea.
Anyway, surprising enough with all the mud and slick trails, I did not fall! Neither of us did, thank goodness. Although I came close to biting it once or twice, my feet never gave way underneath me and I remained upright the entire 13.1 miles. I held onto countless branches and tree trunks as I “jogged” through the treacherous terrain. (Which by the way, is probably how I wound up with my rashes. And since I never took the time the learn the botany science, every leaf looked the same to me so I didn't think twice about grabbing onto whatever I could.)
There were plenty of other folks though, who weren’t so lucky. One friend of mine wound up breaking her arm because she apparently fell somewhere along the way. I don’t think she even finished the race, as she had to be assisted off the trails. There were areas roped off along the paths where the creek had overflowed, flooding sections of the park. It was kind of surreal actually, because just weeks before Dena and I had run through those sections while training. We knew it'd be a little muddy, but we didn't expect it to flood!
It's hard to imagine how the elite runners finished in less than two hours…some close to an hour and a half… but they did. A few had passed us on our third loop around the course as we had a good hour or so left to go. How they were able to literally run through puddles, small streams and mud; over rocks and tree roots, dodging everything from holes to brush and branches, and then come out unscathed….I’ll never know. I’m convinced those people just weren't human. My partner and I were just happy to be able to finish the half and come in under the maximum time allowed. We were worried we'd have to exit the trails because we couldn't make the cut-off time. That last mile or so was extremely welcomed but also it seemed to take forever lol.
All in all, Dena and I finished the WTF Half with smiles on our faces. We earned ourselves bragging rights as well as a cold beer a cool sweatshirt, and a nifty medal. Neither of us were too interested in sticking around afterwards though. We couldn't wait to get out of our mud-soaked sneakers and socks as well as our sweaty running attire. After rinsing off my shoes, a nice warm bath and hot cup of coffee was my true reward when I finally got home.
My hair though.... OMG! I should've taken and picture. Thank goodness I never took my hat off the entire time. I looked like a Wildling from Game of Thrones. Yikes! It took me more than half an hour to just detangle that mess. I may have lost a few decent strands too in the process. Ugh. :(
So...my "review" of my first half marathon is a good one. Not only did my Fitbit record me at over 40,000 steps for the day, (a personal PR lol) I did something I've been wanting to do for a while...and something that I'll probably do again sometime. And as my bucket list seems to keep growing, what's another half added to it? I mean, why the f*** not, right? Glad I had a running partner too....it was certainly more "fun" with a friend. Besides, Dena is always up for a good race. Perhaps I can talk her into doing the WTF Half again next year! Maybe.... :)