The MONSTER Post (Part 1)
“WARNING! Heat exhaustion, sprained ankles, yellow jacket stings, animal bites, laceration, encounters with forest monsters, and collisions with vehicles at road crossing are possible during the run. You may get lost momentarily—if you see no blazes ahead look back. If no blazes behind, go back! Those running the full marathon must be trained for an ultra-marathon effort; add 1 to 2 hours to your road marathon time.”
That was the warning on the application for the Monster Marathon & Half-Marthon, sponsored by the Finger Lakes Running Club and run in and over the mountains of Virgil Forest. The course is an out-and-back, with the marathoners doing the course twice. The Marathon boasts a total climb of 5560 ft, while the Half-Marathon boasts 2780 feet of total climb. (The elevation chart gives you a bit of comparison with the elevation changes of the Boston Marathon.) In this race you actually reach the top of a mountain not once, but twice: midway between miles 2 and 3 you reach the top of Virgil Mountain (elevation 2132 ft) the highest point in 70 miles; and then you do it again, reaching the top of Greek Peak (elevation 2080 ft) right before the first aid station at mile 3.2. Then, you get to do it twice more on the return leg. Fun.
I am going to use the rest of this post to talk about the “high drama” that occurred, and save the race report for Monster Post 2, which will include pictures of the race.
First of all we were lucky enough to have my Dad come to the race, not only to watch but to take photographs. In fact, he drove to various sections of the trail where it crossed roads so that he could see us and take more photos. thats pretty amazing, and he was able to get some great shots throughout the race (see Monster Post 2). The race start was structured around an age/sex handicap start system, with women under 36 starting 11 minutes earlier (8:49am) then men under 36 (9:00am); so Katie started ahead of me, but we assumed that at some point I would catch up to her. After the first aid-station i saw my dad and there, after posing with a thumbs up for a few pics, asked if he had seen Katie. He said “No,” but I simply assumed that he had not gotten there in time. A short while later was a check-in point, around mile 5. As I passed through I asked if bib number 481 (Katie) had passed through. “No, I don’t see her.” Not good. But, perhaps he had just not seen her pass through.
I continued on, but my thoughts quickly turned to my own safety, for as I ascended the hill to the turn-around I felt a sharp sting on my right shin. I reached down and pulled away what felt like an insect of some kind. The area stung, but did not seem to have broken out in hives or become red; so I continued on to the turn-around and asked them if bib number 481 had passed through. Again, “No.” Now I was scared. My stomach seemed to fall out of my body, and various scenarios started to run through my head: should I stop and look for her? What if she’s hurt? I told the aid-station volunteers that she should have come through and that I had not passed her. They said they would check, and radio around to find out about her. After I descended the hill from the turn-around I ran for perhaps another half mile to a mile back down the trail before I saw her coming at me. My stomach leapt.
Turns out she had gotten really lost–15 minutes or so–before the first aid station. There were some logging roads in that area and many of the white blazes on the trees were washed out. She had gotten far enough away from the runners ahead of her that she did not see where they went, and having to watch her footing meant she missed the trail and ended up at the Greek Peak ski resort. She realized something was wrong, stopped, back tracked then stopped again. She did not want to get more lost, but this was scary. There was nobody around. What was she going to do? She did see a road near by, and assumed that if she had to she could either walk it till she found someone. She composed herself and began yelling, “Hello”; first loud, then even louder. Eventually she heard a reply, and told her to stay still until he came towards her. Then they hiked it through the woods to the first aid-station…which happened to be right around the corner. Composing herself she took off towards the turn-around.
Even though Katie looked a bit shaken up when I finally ran into her, she was remarkably calm. I still worried about her, but I knew that she would be seeing things out to the end no matter what. I knew that, despite the endorphin drain, she was still determined to finish; which she did, showing remarkable nerve and perseverance.
After I finished I tried to push the fluids and get some food into me. The fluids were no problem: Gatorade and water were in abundance. The food, on the other had, just tasted like mush. Nothing seemed palatable. I knew I needed to eat. It was even more evident as I saw a marathoner on his hands and knees retching continuously. But even after Katie arrived I hadn’t eaten more than a bit of a veggie warp and an oreo. I nibbled a bit as all three of us took off for home, but 20-30 minutes into the car ride I began to have shortness of breath, I started to feel light headed and nauseous, my skin was fevery and pale, and I could not hear Katie asking if I was ok. It was scary. It just washed over me. We stopped and my Dad bought me some juice, a banana, and a doughnut; that did the trick. It took me the rest of the afternoon to really feel better, but I took it as an important lesson that you need to eat after that level of exertion even if it means forcing yourself to eat.
We can definitely say that this was the hardest thing either of us has ever done. It is strange to say, but due to the sheer intensity of the course we almost forgot that we had just run a half marathon…13.1 miles of gnarly, rocky, narrow, steep trails. Each of us dug deep to finish this race, and each of us had to deal with different problems to keep going—but it was certainly worth.