Several weeks ago one of the women I walk with on Saturdays suggested that we all sign up for a 10k. Up to this point I have only done 5ks, so this was going to be a stretch. She mentioned the 10k would be at night. I figured if I could do a 10k, doing one at night was no big deal. One Saturday morning, we stretched our walk to six miles instead of three, and did just fine. So, I signed up for this event which was being hailed as a “trail run”. To me, city girl that I am, “trail run” means sidewalk through a grassy park area. I was still not concerned.
The week before said “trail run”, we each received an email from the organizer of the event. I’ll share it with you and see if you have the same reaction I did…
“The trail- this is not a run for beginners. The trails are dark with many rocks and opportunities for falling, twisted ankles, scrapes, and bruises. We will use glow sticks to mark the course but paying attention is critical. This is much different than running on the road at night much less during the day. You will need a good quality headlamp and/or flashlight(s). If you plan to run fast be alert. It is very easy to run through a well marked turn at night running slowly much less running a sub 7 min mile. YOU MUST PAY ATTENTION OR YOU WILL RUN OFF COURSE.”
Cue panic. WTF have I gotten myself into? But this, this was my saving grace…my “out”…
“There will be a 2 hr time limit for this event. Runners must hit the 3.1 mile water stop under 1 hr. Those who do not will be required to go back with the water stop crew. ”
Ok, whew. I can go back with the water crew if this whole thing goes south. I feel better. I have a plan.
So, the night of the race we all met up and headed over to the event location. Eric had made sure I brought a really good LED flashlight with me. We started off on the narrow path making good time. We determined that as long as we did a 19 minute mile walking, we were good. It was really dark, so dark even my flashlight only cast light about three feet in front of me at best. And we were in the WOODS. The trail was rocky, uneven, cratered, and full of tree roots. There were glow sticks marking the trail about every thirty feet or so. Our group basically kept together for the first three miles or so. We hit the first water station with no problems. The volunteers pointed us in the direction of where the trail picked up and we were on our way. About the time we hit the four mile marker, the trail got much worse. There were steep inclines, steep declines (and nothing to hold onto to help you down), riverbeds, and even in a couple of places some really low-hanging branches which were pretty dangerous, considering we were all looking at the ground in front of us – not straight ahead.
By the time we got to the next water station, I was about done for. The trail is really rough on your ankles and knees. It’s nothing like walking on a flat surface. I honestly don’t know how people ran this thing. I and the person behind me had somehow managed to fall behind our group, and so it was just the two of us coming out of the woods to greet the Marines manning the water station. Their response when they saw us? “Are you the last ones?” We answered that yes, we were pretty sure there was no one behind us. We felt sure they would tell us that we were over our time limit and had to go with them back to the start. But no. Instead they said “time to celebrate” and popped the top on the beers they had chilling in their cooler.
They didn’t even bother to point us in the direction of where the trail picked up. Just let us wander on. Two lost souls. In the woods. In the dark. Good times.
So, my buddy and I figured we only had maybe another mile and a half or so to go, so we’d just keep going. The farther we went though, the glow sticks became more and more sporadic. And judging by our pedometers – the mile between marker 4 and marker 5 was not, in fact, a mile. It was closer to a mile and a half. But, we soldiered on. Although being out in the woods alone with only one other person is pretty creepy. There were no sounds of other people at all. And have a mentioned that when I was little I used to have a recurring dream about being chased through the woods at night. If it had been snowing, I would have just curled up in the fetal position and cried. But, we kept going.
We hit the final water station, and it was abandoned. No lanterns, no people, nothing. Just a table with some cups of water and Gatorade. We pushed on – determined that we didn’t have much farther to go. We walked and walked and walked and there was no sign of mile marker 6. And when you’re walking along and realize you haven’t seen a glow stick in a long while, you begin to wonder. Finally, we came out onto a gravel road. But, there were no glow sticks on the other side marking where the trail picked up. Nothing. We picked up what we thought was the trail, but really had no idea at this point. We could so easily have gotten turned around. And it became clear that no one associated with the event was sweeping the trail for stragglers.
Suddenly, my companion’s phone rang. It was one of the members of our group asking if we were still on the trail. We talked to her for a good ten minutes or so while we continued on hoping we would eventually see mile marker 6 and know that we were close. Finally, we decided we must have gotten turned around or taken a wrong turn somewhere and could be wandering around in these woods for hours. She said she’d send someone for us. So, when we next came out onto a road, we stayed there and waited. An ambulance finally came around the curve and picked us up. We asked how close we were to the finish and were told we weren’t far. But, let me tell you, it took some time to drive back to the finish, so I don’t think we were that close.
The ambulance let us out at the finish and the only people there were the guys handling the timing chips. Not the race organizers, not the rest of our group, nobody. But damn if those guys didn’t want their timing chips back. And let me say, our time? Two hours and forty minutes.
And I was never so glad to see civilization as I was that night. I was exhausted, it was near midnight, and the fear I think finally caught up with me. Because, honestly, that was scary! I’d told Eric I would call him when we finished, and I estimated it would be about 11pm (figuring two hours to finish). By the time I finally called him, he was pretty concerned – concerned enough he asked if I needed him to come get me.
And aside from the fact that the surroundings were pretty creepy, there was the all-too-real possibility of twisting an ankle, or falling and breaking something on the trail. And since the race organizers had packed up and left – with no concern for the participants at all (not to mention the Marines who were way more concerned with gettin’ their drink on) I felt like I was damn lucky to be in one piece.
So let me leave you, faithful readers, with the advice to not agree to trail runs, particularly those that are named Los Chupacabres. And don’t get lost in the woods near the witching hour.
“All the stories of ghosts and goblins that he had heard in the afternoon now came crowding upon his recollection. The night grew darker and darker; the stars seemed to sink deeper in the sky, and driving clouds occasionally hid them from his sight. He had never felt so lonely and dismal. He was, moreover, approaching the very place where many of the scenes of the ghost stories had been laid.”
– The Legend of Sleepy Hollow