I was honored to be asked by Jason to join the Bull City Track team of 8, also including Ronnie, Craig, Alan, Gavin, Brendan, and Jim. I was the 6th runner; thus, I’d run Red, Yellow, and then Green Loop.
As Hurricane Matthew was approaching, we knew we’d have to prepare, e.g., extra socks, rain gear, and galoshes. Yes, galoshes. I had placed a pair in my Target shopping cart and then noticed women’s boots. Men’s were $50 and women’s were $25. Yup, I purchased women’s. I was later informed that the boots are called Wellingtons.
I rode with Alan, and we arrived at the site at 3. The tents were already set up. Yay! The race was held in Fort Mill, SC. From the website: Teams run relay-style on “green” the “yellow” and “red” loops as they meander through the forest past rivers, streams and ponds. At night as the sun sets, the celebration comes alive under a bed of stars where you will enjoy campfires, s’mores, movies and a party atmosphere. Well, okay then!
And it had been raining all morning. There was just one very brief respite from the rain during our entire stay, and as the evening turned into night and then morning, the rain and the winds intensified. Jason started us off at 5 pm and easily ran faster than the remaining 5 runners who also began with the very last wave.
I returned to our site and chatted with the other runners. ‘Twas wonderful to reconnect with Jim and Ronnie!
Whilst waiting for my first leg I got to hear the exploits of the runners who had already run run the loops. Ronnie remarked about the scariness of and “sea legs” caused by the suspension bridges. I hate suspension bridges, and this caused anxiety. Whilst I knew that there had to be railing I nonetheless asked Ronnie if there were indeed railings on the bridges. He couldn’t recall. This made me even more anxious. Alan got lost whilst running the Green loop and ran part of the Red loop. Having spoken with him at length about his trail running experience, this greatly (and gravely) concerned me, and only helped to increase my anxiety. On the positive side, no one had yet taken a spill or fall.
The Red Loop starts out with Yellow but soon splits right, on its own journey through woods, over bridges and creeks, and twisting single-tracks. Prepare your smile. Near mile 1 the trail turns right to run along the north bank of Steele Creek. You may catch a glance of headlamps on the other side of the creek going the opposite direction, but don’t get ahead of yourself, you’ll be there soon enough. Miles of single-track bliss still await. After crossing Steele Creek the Red Loop takes a counterclockwise loop around beautiful Lake Haigler and then continues through the woods on some technical single-track sections back to Steele Creek. Now, running on the south bank, you’ll see the headlamps of those suckers just getting started. Just past 6.5 miles a left turn joins you with the Yellow Loop, put your head down and push through the last climb back to Ragnar Village and the cheers of your teammates.
I began the leg at about 8:30. I wore 2XU tights, a CFS technical tee, mid-ankle Drymax socks, Altra trail shoes, and a headlamp.
The course was wet, slippery, and at times quite dangerous. There were times when I was running through an inch or so of standing water. This included the first 200 or so meters! As a way to disassociate, I began to count runners that I passed, and I had passed 4 before Red split off from Yellow.
I certainly couldn’t enjoy the scenery as, well, I couldn’t see the scenery. The single tracks were often narrow and twisting.
The course was, however, very well marked so I was no longer anxious about getting lost. I ran over the first of the suspension bridges and, whilst disconcerting, the experience wasn’t horrifying.
As I ran and ran I continued to pass runner after runner. I always said something affirming such as “Nice job,” or “Stay strong!” Many runner stopped and stood by the path as I quickly ran by, and quite a few were also very gracious. “I could hear you approaching and could tell that you were running fast. Great job!” “You’re smokin’ it.” (That’s one of my favorites.) I passed a few more women then men.
The final suspension bridge that I passed was quite long in length and the up and down movement did freak me out a little. I admit it.
There were numerous times when I almost took a spill, but each time I somehow managed to maintain my balance. The course had become mucky (for lack of a better word) and there were many times when I thought that my shoe was going to come off. Good thing that I had triple-tied my laces!
And then it happened: I slipped in the mud and went down hard on my left knee. I felt a stab of pain, but kept running. And running and running and running. I was so concerned with the possible damage that I had caused that I didn’t see an upcoming left-hand turn onto a bridge, and as I slowed I went down again, this time on my left hip. My left shin scraped against an exposed rock. I stated “F@ck” and then realized that there were volunteers at the other side of the bridge directing runners to the merge of the 3 loops.
I continued to pass runners and was only caught by one runner with about .25 miles remaining. I’m going to safely assume that he was running the Yellow or quite possible the Green loop.
I passed a total of 36 runners, not including the 4 I passed the first .8 miles.
Time = 1:04
Pace = 8:18 mpm
I was quite pleased with my performance and was ready for the next run! I managed some fitful sleep and was awake well before I needed to be. My next leg began at about 3 am.
The Yellow Loop takes off with the Red Loop on double-track and soon heads into the trees for single-track. At the half mile point, the Yellow Loop splits off from Red to the left and continues on a 200 year old double track road. This section of double-track is downhill and you can really open it up. At the bottom you will cross a bridge over Steele Creek and take another left to follow along the Creek on a sweet section of rollercoaster single-track. Pop out of the trees just long enough to see the Fort Mill School and then dive back for another section of single-track. Just before mile 2 the trail climbs away from the creek drainage and eventually runs through a tunnel and back onto another mile of fun single-track through a beautiful open canopy. At mile 3 you burst out of the trees into a field and along a road, cross the road, and continue on double-track for a half mile. A left turn takes you past Webb’s Mill, an old restored grist mill from the 1780’s. Back then the mill was a meeting place for settlers and if you see it in the moonlight, you may just get a glimpse of a corncob pipe smoking ghost, that’ll get you to kick it into gear for the last mile and a half! From the old mill site, you have another half mile of fun single-track along the creek. A right turn merges the Yellow Loop with the Red and together you cross a long swaying bridge over Steele Creek for the final climb back to the Village.
I wore yellow (for the Yellow loop) shorts, BCTC singlet that Kim had given me just the day before, long compression socks (that I used to cover open wound on shin), and New Balance trail shoes.
The weather and trail conditions had gone from bad to worse. There were times when I was running during a torrential downpour, and could barely see a step ahead of me. The course had become exceedingly difficult to maneuver, as I couldn’t get a feel for the path due to the mud, and my quite hefty trail shoes just couldn’t seem to get a good grasp of the mud.
Highlights of the course included steep uphills and sharp switchbacks and running dangerously close the the raging river. Whenever I ran close to the river I made myself not look in that direction. Other highlights included a run across a road after slogging over a muddy embankment to get to said road crossing. Oh, and slippery bridges, including one with steep incline and decline.
I was very concerned that I’d take another spill and perhaps ran too cautiously. It was all that I could do to stay upright, and I began to feel depressed and beaten. I knew that I was running slowly, and my Garmin Forerunner confirmed my slow pace. Dammit, dammit, dammit.
Not a mile into the run I began to think, “I’d rather run Red again then muddle through this shitshow.”
And I should’ve known better than to wear a shirt that I had neither washed nor even worn. My nipples began chafing. I should’ve also gotten a small instead of a medium.
Time = 52:10
Pace = 9:29 mpm
That’s a slow pace. I assure you that I ran as quickly as I could! I nonetheless felt like I let the team down. My only consolation was the thought that I could redeem myself by running a fast final leg. I returned to the tent and attempted to sleep. I was surprised when I woke up at 7:30, as I expected that I’d be awake much earlier than that. I knew that I’d have to get ready for my next leg as Gavin, who ran before me, was already heading to the exchange.
The only potentially positive thing is that I passed about 18 runners.
I put on running shorts, CrossFit tee, Drymax socks, and very wet New Balance trail shoes. I began the trek to the exchange just as all of the team members were returning. I knew not why. Jason said, “The race has been postponed and they’re deciding whether or not to cancel. I suggest that we pack up and return home, as it’s highly unlikely that the weather will get any better.” It had gotten very windy and the course had, of course, gotten even more soggy and dangerous. I was both relieved and disappointed, as I wouldn’t have an opportunity for redemption.
It was a good call, as the Race Director did indeed cancel the race.
We were one of the few teams to have completed 18 legs, and as we were the last wave to start it’s likely that we were in the lead. We could’ve even won if the race had continued.
Jason was kind enough to give me a ride to Durham, and we chatted about kitties (ha!) much of the trip.
Speaking of pussies, Zac isn’t quite sure what to make of medal.
I would very much like to run the trail again, you know, when it’s dry.
I might like to run another trail relay.
I remain excited about upcoming Tuna Run relay. Just 2 weeks!