Yesterday was the Quivering Quads Trail Half Marathon, one of the annual races that I like to do each year (I've done it about 3 times before). What is cool about this particular race is that you complete 13.1 miles through Cuivre River State Park (in Troy, MO) so a lot of up and down through the woods! Every year there is usually some amount of mud -- last year there was a little, for example, but the year before that was muddier. And yesterday? I can't even begin to describe how much mud there was!
The day didn't start well but only because the time change happened Sunday morning and I was going to have to get up super early already. But ... I was out of the house by 6:30 AM and made the 75 minute trek to the park. On the way, I noticed that it was raining and for some reason I hadn't thought about wearing my rain running jacket. But that was okay, I thought. Surely it wouldn't rain all day and I was wearing my "St Louis Triathlon Club" shirt and I was hoping to meet some other members since I am new to the club. Looking back, I don't think wearing a rain coat would have mattered. Wet is wet. (and for the record, it rained the entire day!)
The race started at 9 AM but there were waves of 25 people every three minutes so we couldn't congest the paths in the park. I was in the last wave -- at 9:54. The whole time people were starting, the rain just coming and coming and coming. By the time we started, the first stretch of the race was already pretty muddy. For the first mile of the race, you go down a fire road for half a mile and then come back before entering the more narrow trail head. By the time I hit that first mile marker, I was pretty muddy. The frustration for me started once I hit the actual trail. I discovered quickly that running was near impossible -- the mud was thick and the 400 or so people in front of me had pretty much made conditions worse. For the first three miles or so, I followed a group of about 5 people and we did a little bit of running and a lot of sloshing in water and mud. At some point, I found myself alone with one of the group -- Prathiba -- who became a new friend yesterday! We made it to about mile 7, hit an aid station on the road, and remarked to ourselves that it was nice to be doing the trail with someone else as -- at this point -- we were now completely by ourselves. Now I have to say that by mile 7, I was already feeling exhausted. The trail itself was like a tiny creek that we were running through. My feet were beyond wet and starting to feel super cold. So when Prathiba and I started talking, I thought this would be a great diversion to how we were feeling.
And it was! Prathiba and I chatted about everything as we made out way through the mud (both of us falling over every now and then when the mud would make our shoes stick) -- I was having major problems with my shoe laces so I eventually just tied them in super knots (Jim later had to cut the shoes off my feet). We continued on the path, maybe making it to mile 9 or so when we hit our first major creek crossing.
I am not sure if "creek" is the right word here. We tried to figure out the best place to cross this quickly running current -- we had no idea how deep it was but we did see a yellow rope bobbing up from under the water every couple of seconds. I went first and discovered right away that the current was strong. I mean super strong (as in it was hard to stay standing). Prathiba came in right behind me and we slowly made our way across with the water eventually coming to just above our waists. Let me just say that at this point the current was strong and both of us were desperately holding on the rope. (and the water was cold!) As we moved slowly, we both lost our footing but I, luckily, was able to get my feet down on the creek bed almost right away. At first, Prathiba couldn't. She hung on and for a moment, her feet and legs went down the river and her face went under the water. It was the scariest moment of my life. I didn't know what to do. I had just found my footing myself and river "fording" isn't something that I have ever really done before. So I started yelling at her some commands (most of which I have forgotten right now) and she was able (through her own amazing strength) to get over to the muddy bank. I knew that we were both wet (Prathiba more so because she went all the way under) so I knew we had to get up and keep moving. There was no one else around and I wasn't sure if either of us would get hypothermia.
So after pulling ourselves off that muddy bank, we kept going, thinking the worse was behind us. And as we walked, I couldn't get the image of Prathiba going under the water out of head. What would have happened if we hadn't been able to get her out of the water? Did I do enough to help her? And then, as I was mulling over what might have happened, it came: One more "creek crossing." The big one, in fact, was just ahead of us. Thankfully, there were a few people at this crossing (the fabulous Dave from Fleet Feet and two other racers). Neither of us wanted to go back in the water (this crossing was even wider than the previous one). So we were able to find an alternative route a hundred or so yards down that included climbing over logs. Dave and the male racer were able to pull some ropes connecting the two sides of the river. I went first and ended up falling off the log and completely underwater. There was a small moment of panic but I kept my fear under control (not sure how!). I also have no idea where I got the strength to pull myself out of the water but I did. After climbing up another muddy bank, Prathiba was able to get across (and she did it far more gracefully than I did without falling in!). We then left the creek with the other two racers and started the walk up to the roadway. At this point, I have to be honest. I didn't think I was going to finish. I was worried about both of us being 100% wet and the trail was getting worse and worse and worse. But when we made it to the road -- at 10.1 miles I think -- we decided to forge ahead. That last three miles required a lot of digging in deep. I followed Prathiba almost the whole time and we continued some of our conversation from before the creeks. That helped. It was nice to forge a new friendship and it kept our minds off the trek we were doing (not a race at this point but more of an endurance test). We thought the last two miles or so would have no water but it almost became a comedy tour as we hit rising creek after rising creek (though none as high as the two big ones before mile 10).
We had to re-do the fire road half mile down and back before hitting the finish line. Even this road was significantly worse in terms of mud that it had been when we did the first mile five hours earlier. At this point, there was a group of 5-6 of us walking together and we finished as a mighty force, recognizing that we were the last group across the finish line and being okay with that. I am proud of the folks I met yesterday and I am proud that I didn't fall into a sobbing mess until I was in my car, leaving the park. My official time was 5:38:11. That is a long time to be out in the rain and mud! Though I still feel a bit traumatized by all that happened yesterday, I am glad to have kept a cool head when Prathiba struggled and I am delighted that I have a new friend! (and the folks volunteering out on the course were super fabulous!)