Never let it be said that I am not down to do dumb things. My first trail run I was semi-coerced into doing. Picture this, me at 265 lbs thinking 10k? On Trail? Psh. I can SO do this! Mind you, I had never run any kind of race before this one since I was 5. I had only just conquered running a mile straight through in December, and was riding the high of I RAN A MILE! BRING IT ON! I ran one mile, I totally can make 7.2 my bitch!
Amongst being willing to do dumb things, I was also slightly more willing to believe in my own athletic delusions. So, when a friend of mine (who was in training for a Tough Mudder) told me that a group of our friends were signing up to do a 10k trail run called the Ugly Mudder, and she thought I should too, my inner warrior was like YES! YOU MUST DO THIS THING! THIS THING YOU HAVE NEVER DONE BEFORE! BECAUSE YOU'RE GOING TO BE AWESOME AT IT! TRAIL RUNNING IS EASY!
For the record, I had never run trail before this point. But I listened my inner warrior (who's nickname is LACness Monster, courtesy of my same friend who suggested I should do the Ugly Mudder) and I gleefully registered. I haphazardly trained, as only the truly clueless can. I ran on the treadmill as much as I could, did C25k training on pavement, and rain around on trails aimlessly with no specific goal in mind other than trying to get close to a 10k distance. Again, for the record, most of my endeavors ended with me winded, walking around trying to catch my breath, and convincing the more rational portion of my mind that I could do this, maybe. My warrior was still down to rock out with it's bad self, but my warrior wasn't in my body. In my mind, my warrior was lapping my body, telling it if I just tried harder I could do this!
So after a few weeks of "training", the day dawned. It was February. It wasn't as bone numbingly chilly as it could have been, and I woke up nervous. I spent the two hour drive to the run site trying not to think about what I was going to be doing in the next few hours. I thought about music and movies and work. I actively focused on not thinking about the race because I really didn't want to psych myself out. I felt fine. I was strong. I had trained for this. I was totally ready! Right?
Here's the thing about being 265lbs and showing up for a race. People tend to look at you funny. Like... Are you sure you're in the right place? kind of funny. I never thought about what being my size meant before. I never thought about my size at all. So, when I got my race bib, I decided I wasn't going to worry about my size. I was there. I had two legs. I could get through this. I had an inner warrior, who also happened to be a loch ness monster. These other racers didn't have that. Once I pinned my bib on, I had two goals. To finish in under 3 hours, and to not be the last person through the finish line. And with that mindset, I tentatively approached the starting line, trying to keep my "Game On" attitude in place while trying to resist the urge to say "I think I'll sit this one out".
Turns out, once the whistle blew for the start, you stop having a choice. It's either go with the crowd, and there were 800 participants, or be trampled in the wake. So I went. I tried not to think about how winded I got in the first half mile, and kept pushing on up the incline to the first seperation point. Where everything bottle necked and we had to climb up a hill. From there, the terrain was so steep and rocky that I was forced to walk down a narrow path and slide down a burm to the highway, where I crossed over onto the Neversink Mountain Trail. The first half was rough. I had the wrong shoes (some cheap Danskin tennis shoes from Walmart that I had been working out in), and my feet were slipping around inside them. I would try to gain on the terrain only to get slowed going up steep inclines. I lost most of the pack within the first 30 minutes on the course. So essentially, it was me against the mountain. I tried not to think about how underprepared I was, and just kept going.
Little did I know, the second half was the true endurance test. I burst up an incline to the halfway waterstop, gasping for air and trying to keep the tears in my eyes from actively rolling down my face. The people were cheerful, and very encouraging. They told me to keep going, and that I was awesome because 200 people had dropped out of the race and were shuttled back to the start. I'm not sure if it was that knowledge, a second wind or the start of an epic break with reality, but I crushed my water cup with determination and headed to the trail for the second half.
The second half went much the same as the first, with the exception of two things. I ripped open the blisters on the back of my heels 15 minutes after the water stop, and was bleeding into my socks. Which, at that point, I just ignored. I was ready to battle. I'd been on the verge of crying, I was already sweaty - so blood was finishing trifecta. Until I got to the last incline. It was almost 1/4 mile vertical, laden with rocks and twisted trees. For most of the course, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, again, really trying not to think about anything so that I could keep moving. Each step forward was one more step to being done with this. But when I saw that last incline, I stop cold and borderline hysterically exclaimed "What kind of madness is this!?!" I looked at the incline and the tears started to roll down my face. I was exhausted. I was alone. My legs were numb. I was bleeding. AND I HAD TO CLIMB ANOTHER DAMN MOUNTAINSIDE. WHY. What kind of cruel game was this!?!
I'm not sure how I got up the mountainside. The actual answer was very close to the same way I had covered the rest of the course. One motherfucking step at a time. I'm sure my inner monster had a lot to do with this - because, I stopped the tears. Literally hiked my pants up, and started climbing. Halfway up, I'm pretty sure I was pissed off. I was pissed that I thought I could do things, and I was pissed that I was stopping myself from doing them because I continued to let myself be fat and sedentary. But I was also game with the knowledge of one thing. I wasn't a quitter. I could put up with a lot of shit. This course was shitting all over me, and I wasn't going to give it the goddamned satisfaction of defeating me. So, I climbed that fucking hillside. And then I jogged to the beer stop, not letting myself walk. Not letting myself do much of anything but keep moving. I took my celebratory beer on the fly, and kept going. The final mile looping back around to the start.
My group of friends saw me 1/4 mile away and they started to cheer for me. At the top of the final crazy incline that this course, I now knew, was laden with. With their cheers, I slowly, but steadily climbed up the hill and over the guard rail. And all of them jogged with me to the chute, where I surrendered my flag from my bib. Official time 2:54, and I wasn't the last person across the finish.
The pictures from the race weren't pretty. I had blue hair, a really pissed off expression and an obvious limp in all of the shots from the race. But, you know what. Doesn't matter. At 265lbs I fucking finished the race.
Now I told you that story, to tell you this story. It's now October. I am now 60lbs lighter than I was when I ran that first race. I have more race experience, and significantly improved on my 5k finish times. But, I'm heading back to that same mountain tonight for another race - the Fools and Ghouls 6.66 mi Night Trail Run. Because this first race is what really pushed me down the path of losing weight, getting fit and active. Everyone needs a catalyst and the Ugly Mudder was mine. Now I have a new goal. I want to finish the race in 1:45, and I want to finish in the middle of the pack. I can run further, and I am much better at trail running than I was in February. I have my trail shoes and my headlamp, and I am going out to go re-visit where my journey all started. I'll let y'all know how it goes.