I don’t have any races I care about coming up for quite some time and I’ve been in a mileage building pattern and plan to be there for a while. I figured that now would be a great time to run Jensen Stables Ultimate XC Challenge. I had friends who ran it last year and the part about having to cross a pond sounded very intriguing/fun. So I signed up with the intent on having fun (mostly in the pond) and not worrying about anything.
I’ve never set a running shoe on a trail in my life let alone raced on trails. But this race has a pond so it seemed like a very good idea. A pond!
It all started according to plan. I lined up near the back. I took it really easy. Even at my pedestrian pace I was struggling up the first hill mountain. After the mountain we encountered the first “element.” That element was a big old pit of mud that was thigh deep. After slogging through that I hit my first dose of real trail running and that was about the point where I started to want to race.
Going through the woods there wasn’t enough room to pass anyone so I patiently waited until I could pass. The trouble was that it took a long time before there was a good opportunity to pass anyone. I guess this is the nature of “single track” sections of trail races. The course has as much influence on the outcome of the race as your ability. This may have been a good thing as it kept me going nice and easy through the early parts of the race.
After warming up I ditched my shirt and gave in to the urge to race. I passed when I could. Eventually I passed someone and I commented with disgust that I now had to find the course myself. This is another annoyance challenge in trail running — not getting lost. The course was marked, and marked well, but it’s easy to doubt yourself and it’s not that hard to get lost even with a well marked course. I had no idea how right I was about that comment. I found myself completely alone for 15 solid minutes. There was no one in front of me but there was also no one behind me and certainly no volunteers! I could hear nothing except for my own footfalls. This was an easier section of the course and I felt like I was flying but I felt like I was living my recurring running nightmare of getting lost on the course. This was one of the rare times that I actually wanted someone to catch up to me. It’d be nicer to catch up to the folks in front of me but I would have taken anything. Finally I did catch up to people and I was very happy to see them. I had waffled back and forth convincing myself and unconvincing myself that I was lost.
I think it was near that time that we came upon what I had been foolishly looking forward to — the pond. The section of pond that we had to cross (or take a penalty lap around the pond) was not very long. I’d estimate it to be 20-30 feet. They put ropes through that section and it was good that they did because the water was so @#^$% cold that my muscles immediately went into slow motion mode while my lungs simultaneously shrunk like a head in the hands of a voodoo master. At that moment I completely understood how easy it is to drown in cold water. I vowed, with witnesses, that I would never do a polar plunge. Ever. I did not swim. I pulled myself through the water that was over my head using the rope. My feet searched for the bottom while my arms pulled. The girl in front of me apologized for going slowly. I think she was genuinely scared. I was getting scared when the water reached my mouth. I thought I’d need help. I’ve had enough of medical attention during races for the remainder of my life so I made sure to stay afloat.
Emerging from the pond I was numb. Everything from my chin down was numb. Trying to run in this condition is comical.
That was just one of the more extreme of the elements. The elements included:
- the mud pit (thigh deep)
- plenty of mud in the woods (ankle deep and smelly)
- the pond
- climbing over hay bails
- steep terrain
- terrain so steep that they had to put out ropes (I wiped out here even with the ropes)
- sliding under tarps down a steep muddy hill
- two man made walls
- scrambling through a creek bed for a significant distance — we didn’t cross the creek, we ran in it
- multiple water elements including the “final rinse” that wasn’t as deep as the pond but was just as cold and required ropes again
- jumping horse hurdles
- running through a barn
- crawling under a bridge in the creek bed
I achieved my goal — fun! I had a blast. I’ll be back next year. This event is like no other in this area.