Since at this point we had weeks to train we increased our trail running but since the 20 mile swim I had been slacking on swimming Plus every time I wanted to swim the wind was whipping up waves or the jellyfish were in attack mode, so bailing on swims became too easy. Race day was quickly approaching- I knew it had to be getting close based on the scrapes and bruises I had from falling during woods training runs.
We packed up our short cut wetsuits, rope, pressure bandage, shoes, swim paddles and buoy, and courage and headed north to the mountains.
As we drove the leaves began to change and so did the weather report. The rains were setting up for after the race as a front brought colder temperatures. No worries, this was after the race. We made the final drive into the mountains and the day brought another change in weather, the rains would happen the night before and morning of the race and the dropping temperatures would happen as we raced. Well, this was suppose to be an adventure, right?
The prerace meeting was encouraging-- look for the yellow and pokadot ribbons and have fun. I do have to say we were a little worried with the conversations of Ironman achievements going on between most of the athletes that not everyone was there to have fun. But we have never been at a race for the benefit of others or to show off our accomplishment list; we were here for the love of the sport and to try something new. Better than the "let's have fun" message was the other bonus for racing- letters written by elementary school students wishing the athlete luck!! Our author even hoped we would bring home the trophy. Only in our hearts!!
The first stage was four miles up the mountain (with a few downhills). During this trek we would encounter the waterfalls and some climbing opportunities. The one problem we ran into was with all the groups starting at the same time there was a bit of a logjam as people were single-file up the rocks. This was a beautiful start to the race and our first time getting our feet wet in the cold streams running down the mountainside.
The top found us looking out over the lake. The push up the mountain had turned out wetsuits into personal saunas. One would think, "Oh this water is going to feel great." Well the answer is yes and no, both said immediately and at the same time. The water was in the lower 50's. Our warm bodies were instantly cooled, this quick temperature drop made it a challenge to catch my breath for the first few strokes.
So there are no buoys (except at the out) in SwimRun. We were navigating blind with matters made worse by fogging goggles. As the cold water rushed out suits we fell into a rhythm. Patrick stopped to clear his goggles a few times and then spotted off me as we moved through the lake. About 2/3rd of the way through we started to see trees in the lake. Let me tell you when you are swimming along seeing nothing and all of a sudden there is a freaking tree under you it is a little freaky!!! And for a Gulf swimmer every algae plumb or piece of grass was for sure a jellyfish!!!
We stood up in the muck and made our way to dry land. We ran for a short period and then back in the water for a quick swim. Then we went down the damn and back to the lake entry point, again we went around. This time the cold water was making my hands become pins and needles. There was no warming up between plunges. Patrick again watched me to his right and we fell into sync with each other. The lake trees didn't surprise me this second time around, but their eerie presents gives way to the realization that the cold is real in the lake, freezing items with their summer coverings.
This time down the hillside to the dam there were few around us, we were racing the clock to not get stopped short of the mountain climb. For this reason we zipped past the volunteers offering fluids and food, grabbing only what was right in front of us, and leaped over the race mat to start our climb. The hike up Moore's Wall to Moore's Knob (here after known as "the TOP") is a climb of just less than 2 miles. Seems reasonable, except it is comprised of 642 "trail" stairs. See trail stairs are different than normal stairs. If I tell you there are 642 steps, you think "Oh I love the stair master" or"I walk up the stairs each day to work". But trail steps are a different beast. They are uneven in height and length. They are spread out and then close together. They are covered is a light slime from the rain and slippery with mud and small gravel. They don't give at all when your hamstrings cramp from the cold and you miss a centimeter of height you needed to clear the step. As the trees were beginning to thin we could feel the winds increase, noticing now more than before that the temperature was dropping. Clapping, we started to hear clapping! A volunteer stood there cheering us to the top. He was a beautiful site. A little more of a climb and we were there at the top looking over the edge. Even though we were only halfway this was our trophy moment. We stood and watched the hawks fly below us over the tree tops painted with autumn colors. I pushed to the edge as far as Patrick would let me go, after all I was tied to him and there was no net!! The mist and clouds swirled around us and the wind blow the cold air against our faces. Int hat moment the burn faded and the beauty of all that surrounding us filled us with warmth. The TOP the glorious TOP. But as it has been said what goes up, must go down.
The trees this time parted to a view of the lake. Swim gear on we dove in. The water rushing into our wetsuits, cooling us and then beginning the hypothermia process again. Somehow this time I had gotten onto the wrong side of Patrick. It was awkward on his left, but my brain could not figure out how to stop an get to the other side of him. Finally he popped up and told me to get over. FIXED!!! We quickly fell into our rhythm. Patrick began to push hard and was pulling away a little; I knew he was in the zone, trying to forget about the cold and push his body to not shiver in the water. My body cooled faster this time and I could feel my hypothermia symptoms of hip pain and my hands pushing against the swim paddles in an attempt to become claws. We popped up at the out again, gathering ourselves. We ran on feet so cold they felt as if we were walking on pebbles in our shoes. Again across the smaller swim and down the damn. This time Patrick informed me that the hypothermia was making him able to see better!!! Yep in that moment I realized between the swims he was not putting back on his glasses. Hew as going down the muddiest, slipperiest, most unsafe section of the course blind, and in front of me!!! I assured him that clarity was not a normal symptom of hypothermia; it was more so his brain shutting down and not caring about clarity! What could we do but laugh!!
We made it back for the last lake loop. Paddles on and buoys set between our legs we dove back in. By now the air temperature was starting to drop to where our cold arms could feel the cool or the air against the "warmth" of the water. This time Patrick was a little slower out of the water, trying to step carefully onto land. He wasn't use to being so skinny and cold (lol)!!! The little crossing was fast and soon we found ourselves back down the damn. We stopped at the clocking check point to be sure to be marked.
Here one of the race directors, Jan, asked us how we were feeling and rubbed Patrick's arms to help get blood flowing. All the while telling us to untether. Wait, untether? No our team made the choice to be sure we were close enough and to stay tethered through the event. Jan looked at us in a way that I am not sure if it was disbelief in us having survived making it down the mountain or in questioning again this "sacrificial lamb" race team even being on the race course! Jan helped us untether, because regardless of the looks intent it was clear he was going to "help us out". Now to be honest we came close to reconnecting on the other side of the road, since hell we made it this far!! Again we laughed down the mountain.
I say we laughed but the cold was taking a toll on me and the
downhill was not helping. My hip was tight and painful, making each step feel like a needle going into my bone. To add to the problem my diaphragm was cramped limiting my ability to stand up right or breathe. So there are two things you want to be able to do while racing- make forward motion and breathe! I was failing at both. I had thought a few times during this event that pulling off the course and calling it a day would be an option. This is not normally my mind set in a race but I was hurting, more than in most race. I was slowing our team from forward motion having to slow from the pain then try again and again. I knew I wasn't an easy teammate to be "tied" to in that moment but in the moment I was ready to cry, Patrick turned to me, "We got this" and smiled. I laughed. I was so far from "getting this"in that moment. My body felt like it was failing me; I was angry at myself for not being able to push harder; I was frustrated that I had the thought of giving up; I was scared of disappointing Patrick. I looked around and in the woods, as the leaves danced in the wind above us, I could not have felt more loved.
We found a few more volunteers and then saw what we had been waiting for, the entrance into the river. Yes, we had been begging to freeze again because it would be the last time. For me this meant little pressure on my hip and chest. It meant being in my element where I felt comfortable even in the cold. I was in a place I knew I could control.
|All smiles and love|
|Unpacking at Home :)|
The air temperature dropped from mid 50's to mid 40's, the winds picked up, the water temperature around 54 degrees; there were 90 teams on the mountain that morning, 83 teams finishing; over 14 miles of running, almost 2 miles of swimming, and over 2000 feet of climb; but all I remember are the laughs.
Bonus awesomeness with entry fees the group purchased a fire suppression vehicle to help control forest fires.
Photos (the clearly professional and amamzing ones) thanks to Brian Fancher, Richard Hill, and Brian Lefevre. Thank you gentlemen for the beautiful representation of the day.
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