I had a Charge of the Light Brigade-worthy run last night. Bad decision after bad decision.
Since the Curnow Trail Marathon is local, one of my training strategies is to get out on the course and scout out each section a couple times. This worked really well for me in the Harder ‘n Hell Half, and since I’m feeling a bit anxious about moving up to the marathon so quickly, I thought I’d revisit the strategy. Unfortunately, the course isn’t as straightforward as the other trail races I’ve run (Those races have basically two instructions: 1. Get on the Superior Hiking Trail. 2. Run, if you can.), so it seems I’ll have a tougher time following the actual course.
When I was a senior in high school, I joined the nordic skiing team, despite having little talent for skiing and little general athletic ability. My friends were on the team, I’d quit all my nerd activities other than math team and quiz bowl, and I liked a boy on the team (who was also on math team!), so those were sufficient reasons. We also went on a winter team trip to Giant’s Ridge in Biwabik, MN; another good reason.
I was a terrible skier, but since our team was very good and had plenty of excellent individual skiers to fill out the varsity roster, our coaches didn’t seem to mind that I spent a lot of time screwing around. They let me do my own thing, and I did make some progress, but I was still pretty terrible. One of my best friends was also new to the team that year, and she wasn’t very good either, so we stuck together.
During the class trip, we were all doing a warm-up loop and then a time trial on that same loop. My friend and I were so slow during the warm-up that one of the coaches suggested we cut across before the turnaround point so we could make it back in time for the start of the time trials. This meant that we didn’t know the course, and instead of turning around at the proper point, we kept on going. We must have skied around for an hour or so, trying to figure out where we were, before we finally took our skis off, marched the wrong way down the side of a ski trail, and made it back to the chalet, long after the time trial was over, everyone was on their own having lunch, and someone’s dad had been sent out to try to find us. We weren’t lost, as we were still within the resort and still on trails, but we had no idea where we were going.
Something similar happened last night. I was planning to run the Magney-Snively xc skiing trails, which I never have before. I left my house with a somewhat nebulous idea of where to go. My GPS ended up leading me to nowhere, but since it did lead me onto Skyline off of Midway Rd, I was able to follow Skyline to the Magney-Snively trail parking lot I use when running the SHT. I could jump on the Magney-Snively ski trails from there, so it worked out nicely. It was almost 7 PM, but I figured I could run for half an hour, no problem. Into the valley of death rode the six hundred.
The trail was completely ungroomed, which was a bad sign. At first it was just shoe-high grass, which was fine, but then it turned into ferns and violets and longer grass and I even saw a jack-in-the-pulpit underfoot at one point. The trail was also very soft, sometimes squishy underfoot, and at times there were even trail-wide pools of standing, murky water, a colloid with heaven knows how many gorillions of mosquito larva suspended inside. I normally will run through mud or puddles rather than go around, to help preserve the trail and to avoid wasting time, but by the point I reached the worst of it, I was so frustrated I didn’t care if I wasted time and just tried to jump from rock to rock or at least to more solid-looking spots. A groomed, packed cross-country skiing trail in a shaded wood has standing water in early June? You don’t say. I guess that was dumb of me, I’m sure that was one of the last places for the snow to melt, and the trails haven’t had a chance to dry out. Well, now I know. And I’m not running there again.
I also sucked at reading the maps. I was confused as to why there wasn’t a YOU ARE HERE sign on the trail maps nailed to trees at forks in the trail. There wasn’t because there was a huge letter (say, F, or D, or J) at the bottom of the map, and all of the letters were on the map. I wished I had figured that out right away, because the first time I looked at the map, I sort of guessed where I was, not noticing the letter at the bottom, and just kept going. Half a league, half a league, half a league onward.
Again, I wasn’t lost, because I was still on cross country ski trails, but I was not sure exactly where the trails were in relation to my car, and I was not sure how long it would take me to get back to the car once I could find my bearings. There was only so much daylight left and I didn’t have a headlamp, or food, or warm clothes. At about 7:45 I was starting to get stressed out, but stayed calm and kept running until I found the next map. I followed the map toward what I thought was the correct parking lot, but ended up coming out at Spirit Mountain Campground. That turned out to be over a mile away from my car, by road, but it was at least a road I knew. I that had fought so well came thro’ the jaws of death back from the mouth of hell. Shatter’d and sunder’d, maybe.
I have to do a better job of planning out my routes when I’m not familiar with them. I figured I’d be fine, since the trails were a series of loops, so I wouldn’t end up 10 miles away from my car, but I could have ended up running in circles for quite awhile, and if the sun had gone down, I’d have been in serious trouble. I stayed calm, I figured out the maps, and I stuck with one plan (get to a certain parking area on the map) instead of doubling back (since I wasn’t certain if I was really headed toward my car or not) or taking one fork, and then another. So that was good, even though my poor planning and recklessness were bad.
I am also fairly certain I didn’t run a single step on the actual marathon course, so that was not great. I will have to study the maps more closely, and in relation to some SHT maps, to see where I need to go. If all else fails, I’ll just run whatever routes I feel like and go into race day blind. Although there’s apparently a notorious section of power lines that I feel like I need to see in advance, if I check out nothing else.