Wednesday, October 17, 2012

happy trails, hawaiian-style...

"if we run, we can make it before dark,"
he said. that's when the dinosaurs attacked.
the pre-race briefing was simple.

"follow the blue ribbons out, and the pink ribbons back. everybody got that? blue ribbons out, pink ribbons back."

yeah, i got it. everybody got it. trouble is, the pink ribbons lied.


a half marathon is plenty challenging. a half marathon trail race is half an order of magnitude more challenging. ("this one will seem like 16 or 18 miles, everyone! have fun!")

a half marathon trail race on the toughest course i've ever seen ~ with another 2.6 miles of steep up-and-down tacked on because someone mis-marked the course ~ is awesome.

i was not prepared to run 15.7. i certainly didn't train for 15.7. in fact, i wasn't really prepared for 13.1, since i got hurt and lost two weeks of training right before the race. instead of piling up the miles, i hobbled up and down the stairs. i saw a chiropractor and an MD and a sports medicine specialist. their diagnoses ranged from a strained soleus to shin splints to a stress fracture.

prescribed therapy, in every case, was rest. three to six weeks. which i obviously didn't have time for. doctors, did you not hear the part where i said i was going to hawaii? to run 13.1? off-road?

i needed, like, robotic laser hyperbaric cryo-micro infusions, stat. 

unfortunately there's no such thing as robotic laser hyperbaric cryo-micro infusions. so i got compression sleeves. for both legs. i got double doses of NSAIDs to combat the inflammation. i got slow, shuffling, two-mile "training runs" that ended with me walking back in. it was pitiful (except when compared to things that are actually worthy of pity, of course).

and yet somehow in two weeks (not three or six) i experienced a recovery i had no reason to expect. the pain gradually became more tolerable, and i was able to put in some longer training runs. with a week to go before hawaii, i ran a 12k race and put up a time that was five minutes faster than the previous year.

it wasn't the 10 or 12 miles i needed do ahead of a half marathon, but it was pain-free and therefore cause for great gladness and gratitude and oh-i-don't-know, godzilla. ("look out, it's godzilla! run away with speedy rapidity!")

i flew into honolulu the thursday before the race, and ran five miles to get acclimated. no pain. the next day i ran three miles to pick up my race packet. no pain!

the next day, the day of prevaricating pink ribbons, there were other kinds of pain ~ but i didn't think about my legs once.


the 2012 gunstock trails half marathon course ranged over a working cattle ranch, complete with uncorralled horses, free-roaming cows and wide-ranging cow pies. the trail was rocky and dusty and steep and narrow and completely unsuitable for running. which is to say, it was fantastic.

the scenery, what little i saw of it, was beautiful. the blue pacific ocean, lush green valleys, galloping horses...i really wish i could've looked at it. if i had, however, i would've tripped and broken my head, immediately and a thousand times over. with rare exceptions, i was constantly looking down, watching where my next step was going, thinking, "quick feet quick feet quick feet" (which was kind of funny, given how rarely in this life one has a real need for such a thought).

on the way out, we all followed the blue ribbons and the painted arrows and the helpful locals telling us to go this way and that way. on the way back i remember thinking i was going to beat my goal time by a good ten minutes.

under two hours? on this course? after being hurt and undertrained? this was going to be a hell of a race, by golly, for an aging, aspirational running person.

everything was going perfectly!

i went off course mile ten-ish, i think. one minute i was feeling good and proud and fortunate and the next i was milling around with a pack of people (including the leaders) wondering where the finish line was.

"we went to the top of that ridge," the leaders said, pointing to a ridge way up thataway. "the trail just kind of fizzles out. so it's gotta be back the way we came." the thing is, there were pink ribbons all along the path we were on. and the woman definitely said, "blue ribbons out, pink ribbons back." at no time did she say, "oh, but not THOSE pink ribbons."

"this is just like an episode of 'lost,'" i said to no one in particular. a couple people laughed. i was grateful.

at that point, our options seemed limited. we could've waited for the rescue chopper, ("get to the choppah!"). we could've been chased by dinosaurs ("we can make it if we run!" "no, we can't...we're being hunted."). we could've floated to civilization on a bamboo raft ("wilson! i'm sorry!"). but no one seemed inclined to do any of those things.

so instead we saddled up, figuratively, and ran back down the long hill we had just climbed.
 we were met halfway by a race official on a trail bike, sent to find us. "sorry about this, everyone. head back to the junction and make a left."

we headed back to the junction, noting its ambiguous, ubiquitous ribbonage ("see? the pink ribbons go both ways!") and made a disgruntled left. with that, we were back on course. out of water, out of gels, out of our minds, but back on course.

the rest was uneventful, except for the raw, bleeding blisters on both my feet. those happened by mile five and did not improve as the race wore on, strangely enough.

people were cheering as we late-arrivers crossed the finish line. i think they were just relieved we weren't dead. someone took my timing chip and handed me a finisher's medal. it was a small dog-tag on a chain, reading "gunstock trails half (or somewhat longer if you follow the decoy pink ribbons. ha!)"

i milled about dazedly after that, eating sliced oranges and bananas, not really hearing the award presentations to people who had stayed on the course. i didn't want to leave, but after awhile there wasn't any reason to stay...except to make sure i wouldn't have a seizure while driving. it would've been a shame to survive the race but perish in a one-car collision with a hallucination.

i made it back to the hotel, showered off the head-to-toe red clay dust and cut away the flayed skin that previously had been part of my toes. i downed liters of water, and flopped into bed.
 later, i had a beer. and lots of pasta. 

the next day, i went on a seven-mile hike through a hawaiian jungle.

it seemed like a walk in the park.


yes, i'd do it over again. i'd bring more water, mind you, and half a dozen more 
gels...but same deal next year? yeah, sign me up.

i know, it's a little nutty. 
but the thing is, after the event it felt like i had done something special.

almost (almost) like i'd run a marathon.

and wouldn't that be something?


Nat said...

Thank you very much for your colorful and well written race report! I will apologize from all of the gunstock race crew about those extra pink ribbons, they were there from another unknown to us event who loves pink as well,we didn't put them there and didn't know they were there. I will also apologize in advance that you will not get quite the same adventure next year as we have already made amazing plans to keep everyone on course!! I love your trail running attitude and that you made the best of it, realizing you did do something awesome! Wishing you a speedy recovery from your injuries and hope to see you next year!

Natalie and the Gunstock Crew

spaceneedl said...

hi natalie,

i had a great time, and would recommend this race to anyone. if i can make it back next year, i certainly will give it another go.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for your funny blog. Just reminded me why I love to run. Those of us who actually live on the North Shore of Hawaii take the beauty of the Gunstock trail for granted. It is such a fun experience to run that race! Thank you again or should I say "mahalo"


spaceneedl said...

thanks, christine,

gunstock is a unique event in a great setting. i've never run anyhing like it.

looking forward to next year.