Mountainous goals

Sylamore Creek

I’m not big on New Years resolutions. Well, let me rephrase, I’m not big on keeping resolutions. But there’s quite a few now notorious stories about my resolution breaking such as the story of the year I broke my resolution (on January 3) to stop dropping the f-bomb. In a less than proud moment I told an old man in the grocery store to eff off right after I rammed his heal with my shopping cart after he suddenly stopped for no reason then claimed he had to go to the hospital for his injuries. He totally had it coming and, in fact, I should have hit his other heal. But I digress.
Because of my inability to keep resolutions I decided to go a different route this year and set goals.  Yeah, I realize goals and resolutions are generally the same thing but since a resolution is more like a promise, and I hate breaking promises, it seemed a better scenario in my mind to live with an unmet goal than a broken promise. Whatever gets me through the day, right?!
I set only one goal and it was to do things outside my comfort zone. Seems simple enough. But the thing is, nothing scares me more than the unknown. If I go to a new place I’ve never been I will Google the hell out of that place until there’s nothing left to Google and will know before arriving how many steps from my hotel to the nearest beach, bar, spa, souvenir shop, whatever. So a whole year of experiencing the unknown was a little frightening.
Sometime in January I decided to take the first step towards this goal and sign up for my first trail race. I’ve done five marathons but they have all been on paved roads with water stops, bathrooms and cheering crowds. And the thing is, I not only signed up for a trail race but a trail race in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains. (gonna do it, do it big…or something)
The Sylamore 50k, in Allison, AR near Mountain View, AR, is an annual destination point for insane mountain people who love getting dirty and wet and risking their lives. I’ll go big any day but I still have my limits (read: there’s no way in hell my husband would have supported a 30-mile trek on the side of a mountain.) I signed up for the half, a 25k (15.5 miles).
During the month leading up to the race, which was held on Feb. 20, I obsessively googled anything I could find about the race, which there wasn’t a lot being as only a very small number of insane mountain people run it each year. In fact, I was not only the only person from Illinois registered, but the only person who lived north of Missouri. I did find a few blogs here and there but read them with caution realizing they were written by people who likely had to run up mountains to catch the school bus. Unlike me who trained for the race by going to the highest altitude I could find in the city – the stairwell of my high-rise office building.
In addition to the mountains, the thing that makes Sylamore different from your average trail race is the little detail of two waist-high water crossings. That was definitely something I knew nothing about, had no way of preparing for, and the questions I had seemed to even stump Google: what kind of shoes should I wear; do I change shoes for the crossing or do I change after the crossing; do I run with wet shoes and if so, how do I prevent blisters? Do I carry dry shoes with me and if so, do I wear a backpack or look for a big honkin’ fanny pack and do they even make fanny packs that big? What if the current is strong, what will prevent me from floating downstream; what other questions should I be researching …. ??
The race directors also tell you to carry your own water, which for some reason, stumped me as well. Do I carry bottles? Do I invest in a camel pack? But if I carry extra shoes and they won’t fit in the camel pack, then what? If I carry a larger backpack with a a camel bladder inside will it jiggle too much and throw me off balance?
After digesting the little information I could find regarding high water crossings, all of which seemed to contradict each other, I decided to buy a pair of trail shoes that had great reviews and rated high for water crossings. But that wasn’t satisfactory in my mind because I’m used to running in dry shoes. (I was only willing to step so far out of my comfort zone). Squishy socks feel gross, and I might get blisters with wet feet! (yes, as a matter of fact, I will take some cheese with my whine).
I bought a pair of aqua socks, blisters be damned. I decided to run with a Northface backpack, with waste and chest straps, and in it I would carry a camel water bladder, a hand towel to dry my feet, my aqua socks, power gels and emergency items such as band-aids, neosporin and ibuprofen, a cellphone and a map in case I got lost.
I think subconsciously I was planning for a camping trip.
If I had it to do over again, what would I change? Um, everything.
At the first water crossing, I stepped to the side of the crowds and swung my backpack over my shoulder to retrieve the aqua socks when I realized no one else was changing shoes let alone changing into aqua socks! So in a game day decision I decided to forgo the aqua socks and just remove my shoes all together and cross barefoot.
My decision seemed like a good one until, as I was towel drying my feet before putting my nice and clean, dry shoes back on, I happened to hear someone say something about “huckleberry fin style” as they looked in my direction and I realized the insane mountain people were talking about ME! The insane mountain people were calling me, the only one in the race from somewhere north of Missouri, Huckleberry Fin. And then, THEN one particular insane mountain man asked if I wanted him to call the concierge to bring me a fresh towel. Jackass.
Even then, as I asked the insane mountain man nicely to let me run my race and I’ll let him run his thankyouverymuch, I still thought I would be the one with the last laugh as I ran by him in mile 13 in my nice and clean, dry shoes and watched him change the band-aids on his bloodied, blistered feet. If only the universe were so kind and just.
In my fresh, dry shoes I continued on and it took all of about 30 seconds before I was again crossing water. So, yeah, they warn you about the waist high crossing but fail to mention there are actually about 10 water crossings total but I guess nothing over the ankle is worth reporting.
Before I could mutter the words  “suck it, insane mountain man” my feet had turned into foot-shape mud pies and there wasn’t a dry spot anywhere below the knees. I suddenly realized how silly it was to think I could keep me feet dry and even sillier were my attempts to try.
My one redeeming piece of news (yes, I did, in fact make one right decision) is that my research into the shoes had paid off. I ran 15.5 miles in wet feet and not a blister one. Guess that’s a lesson that if you are going to spend the time to research, at least use the information you collect.
I also realized there is no reason to carry a backpack for an average trail race unless, of course, you are trying to make a fashion statement. But the ever-so fashionable fanny pack was useful for carrying gels. I did, however, use the water from the camel bladder that was inside the backpack, but I will be investing in a camel pack for the next race. The camel pack was an item even the insane mountain people used, even though I was convinced they were bionic and didn’t actually need hydration.
In addition to the lessons learned, the race was truly memorable. It was the most scenic of any I have ever run and the insane mountain people were actually very nice, and also great athletes.
I’m already planning to do the race again next year and am already looking forward to making fun of the dumb girl on the bank of the river changing her shoes. Unless, of course, my New Year’s goal is to stop making fun people. Ha! As if. I would never set myself up for failure like that. But there likely won’t be anyone as dumb as I was to make fun of.


About travelerontherun

I am a chronic adventurer who loves to see and experience new places. What I really love most is experiencing those places after parking my RV and lacing up my running shoes.
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One Response to Mountainous goals

  1. Pingback: Climbing mountains | Travelerontherun's Blog

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