Thursday, October 22, 2015

mudstock trails

they said there would be mud at the 2015 gunstock trails half marathon.

there was.

lots and lots of slippery, sloppy, shoe-sucking mud.


there's been much rain on oahu the last several weeks ("...the wettest September and wettest Jul-Aug-Sep since measurements began in 1967"). the run-off has flooded canals, sewage treatment plants have overflowed, and the water off some of the world's most beautiful beaches is an ugly shade of muck. it's also unswimmable, unless you don't mind splashing in effluvia. 

related note: sharks don't see well in murky water. and sometimes they they react to the confusing electrical signals of thrashing swimmers by biting first and asking questions later. this happened twice in four days during our visit. not cool, but sharks gotta make a living, too.

usually this hike is wheat-beige.
the upside to all the rain is the deep, saturated, tropical shade of green covering the island. i've visited several times in the last few years, and have never seen this kind of dense, pacific-northwest-rainforest green here. trails that were wide open and runnable 18 months ago were now overgrown and slow-going. oh, and there are slugs everywhere. before this trip i'm not even sure i knew there were slugs on oahu. *shrugs* now i know.

and yet, when the pre-race emails warned, "the trails are muddy," and "there's lots of mud on the course," and "be ready for the mud," i thought, "pffft, we run trails in the pacific northwest. our forebears invented mud and then ran through it naked. how bad could this be?"

silly, silly question.

pre-race, pre-dawn,
pre-national anthem.
at 6:30 a.m. on race day, the temperature was 79 degrees, with 94% humidity. that kind of weather is great for strolling down kailua beach to get an iced coffee and a newspaper, but slightly less great for running 13.1 hilly, muddy miles. on the other hand, it was nice, for a change, not to be cold at the start of a race. want to warm up before you run? no, problem, just stand still and sweat a while.

"stay hydrated out there," the race director said. it was very good advice.

at 7:10 a.m. we got underway. by 7:14 a.m. i was soaked through and swilling water from my handheld bottle. the good news going around a short loop before heading out into the teeth of the course: the mud was sporadic and entirely manageable. "is this it? is this the mud that was supposed to drag us under like a mud-kraken from the depths of the, uh, mud?"
"how are you?"
"warm, how are you?"
"sweating profusely."

no, of course it wasn't. not even close.


by mile three or so i was thinking profound thoughts like, "i'm in a steambath." and "it's like i climbed out of a pool and started running." yeah, wet.

at the next aid station i filled my bottle with whatever electrolyte drink they were serving and started swilling that. it tasted bad, but at that point i was pretty sure my body was down to its last two or three electrolytes, so i drank it.

not long after this the real mud started, and i forgot all about my horrific electrolyte imbalance.


on the flat stretches, the water ponded in the middle of the trail in nice red puddles. to avoid these, runners went wide, toward whatever groundcover and mulch they could find. soon, the sides of those sections (which sloped toward the middle) were themselves bare and slick. finding no traction there, those of us not in the lead got to choose between slipping down the sides with each step or the inevitable feeling of the kraken-mud reaching up to suck our shoes off. 'slurp.'

the situation on the uphills was similar, though without the standing water. again, runners tried to avoid the skating rink in the middle by heading wide. and again the traction was eventually ground under, reducing the pace to a crawl. sometimes literally.

the downhills? there you had two choices: slow and careful, or pick a path and ski it. slow and careful was tedious and annoying, so i skied whenever possible, i.e., when there was no one in front of me to wipe out.

shoe-related note: my new hoka challenger ATRs performed as well as i had any right to expect. they provided good traction, for the most part...sometimes too good. there were times when the tread held on to the mud, and it felt like i had bricks attached to my feet. also, i got a couple ugly mid-race toe blisters on both feet. i'm not blaming the shoes for either of these issues. i still believe on most days and for most conditions, the challengers are a great choice.

rain fell sporadically during the race, making the mud muddier but making the heat and humidity slightly more bearable. hey, a pyrrhic victory is still a victory.

does all this sound like complaining? it's not. trail running is supposed to make us sound like we're complaining when in fact we're being grateful. it's supposed to help us decompress from workaday fight-or-flee situations that provide no avenue for either. some days it makes us let go of goal times and age-group finishes. and it always helps us appreciate rinsing off the mud and drinking a beer and eating some salty food and sleeping like a stone for at least one night.

trail running is not the meaning of life, but it does lend perspective to whatever the meaning of life might be. i'm still working on that.

in the meantime, this race was the most running fun i've had in a long while.


2015 gunstock trails half marathon

50/249 (overall)
4/20 (M 50-59)
shoes: yes
song stuck in my head the entire race: "when i stop dreaming," don henley and dolly parton

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