Last Sunday I ran.. OK I will say I completed… the 14th edition of the Quivering Quads Half Marathon. This was one of the most unique experiences I have ever had for a trail race. The reason why it was so unique was the conditions of the trail and thereby the conditions we were running through. What happened to the trail was almost a “perfect storm” of conditions that came together to make a race that for some miles was actually “creek running”.
This race has quite a history to it and has built up quite a following. At different points in time it has been races of different lengths (for a time it was a 50K) but for a few years has settled on the nice length of Half Marathon. This distance should have been good for those that were attempting their first trail race (long enough to make it interesting but not ultra length that would hammer those not ready for it) but on this day it was a new level of trial for all involved!
I had never run through the Cuivre River State Park before but had heard that it was a tough and beautiful trail. At 500 allowed runners (which is actually pretty high for a trail race) it sells out quite fast but I was fortunate to be able to get in. It is about an hour outside of St. Louis near Troy, MO but was easy to drive to.
On Friday (two days before the race), the race director sent out an email showing that there was still snow (from a previous downfall) covering the entire trail and forest. On Saturday, the temperatures reached over 60 degrees and this had a tremendous impact on the race conditions on Sunday! I have to be honest when I say that I was really considering whether or not to do it the morning of the race. I didn’t have much invested in the race really and was worried about getting hurt.. plus the forecast called for more rain. I just wasn’t sure if I was interested and a friend had decided not to do it that morning.. which made it a bit more easy for me mentally to decide not to go.
But I went!
I have run through muddy trails before (but to be honest I can’t say I have ever loved it) and this race started (and ended) with a half mile out and back because the trail itself is only a little over 11 miles long. This stretch was already muddy and wet and slower but it was only to get more interesting from there. I would call this stretch pretty basic muddy wet trail but what I encountered over the next 3 hours plus (yes it was one seriously slow Half Marathon 🙂 was a new level of mud/river racing.
I don’t really remember that much about each mile individually (they all sort of blended together) but I will write about what the conditions were like generally and in no particular order (and what they did to me specifically).
To be honest, it didn’t take but a couple of mile for my spirit to be dulled (not really broken but definitely dulled). I just wasn’t enjoying it much. Every step was controlling yourself to try and stabilize your foot plant and slipping a lot of the time. The uphills were hard but many of the downhills were scary because you were skating or skiing down them and had to hope for the best (and sometimes the best didn’t happen). At one point a woman did run into me on a downhill (it wasn’t her fault.. she couldn’t stop) but luckily didn’t take me down. The other thing that got worse as the race went on was the inability to know what you were about to step on because the mud water was covering the trail.. so trying to avoid rocks or stumps was quite “by feel”. The creek crossings (and there were dozens of them… I have to believe there aren’t that many on a normal day on this trail) also sometimes had strong current and because muddy once again you didn’t know how deep they were so there was a couple of times where it was a foot deeper than I thought and my foot went jamming down into rocks. On one I did think I hurt myself but apparently I didn’t. Pretty early in the race I slipped on a 3 foot round flat stone in a creek and came crashing down backwards.. luckily I was able to catch myself before I hit my head. The way that this type of “running” zaps the strength in your legs is dramatic. When it takes so much effort just to move forward your muscles are working crazy hard. With about 3 miles to go in the race (and wow if it didn’t feel like getting to even 5 miles took a long time) the trail became a creek of flowing mud. There was no trail left it was just muddy creek running. I remember there was this one turn earlier on where the Cuivre River was directly to your left and you had about 12 inches of very muddy, very slick trail that was sloping down to the left to keep you from careening into the river. I started to go on it and just stopped and held onto this rock trying to figure out what to do so that I didn’t go into the river. I told some other runners that caught up to me that I was sorry but to just try to go around because I wasn’t sure what to do. Well I obviously figured out how to slowly get past that because I am writing this 🙂 but it was a bit disconcerting to say the least. There really were no good solid stretches at all. Usually in most races there are bad patches and then some better running… the only places I remember where there was solid footing were the asphalt roads we had to cross. Oh did I mention about an hour into it that it started raining hard.. that made it even more fun!
There were two things that stuck out in my mind as I was running. One was the thought (for some reason this popped into my head… when you are out there for while sometimes strange thoughts pop into your head) that a Sergeant was at his camp telling his Special Ops team that this is the only window that they had to get their target and it was 13.1 miles away. It didn’t matter that the conditions were ruthless, this was the only opportunity that they had and they had to go out there and get that target! Otherwise why would someone be out there is what I thought 🙂 The other thought was what a woman who passed me said as we were talking.. she said “I work in Healthcare and everyday I see people who can barely get up to go to the bathroom, so just be happy that we can do something crazy like this!” Yeah I get that.. I am happy that I am able bodied enough to do something like this. Definitely.
Here is a link that Fleet Feet put up where it will be adding pictures from the event to (so that you can get some sense of what I am describing): They do a very good job of showing the conditions.
I want this post to be very honest and I will say that when I was finished I was very glad that I was done, but I wasn’t real excited about it. I have trail run for four years now and have done an ultra on the trail “Land between the Lakes 60K” in Kentucky (which I loved!) and I generally like being out of the trails. I don’t know if I can say I like it more than the road or the track but I do generally enjoy a solid hard trail run. This race felt just kind of ridiculous and I can’t say I enjoyed it. It is not that everyone involved wasn’t phenomenal! I am not saying that at all. The volunteers were great and worked hard to keep up our spirits! And I did meet some really cool runners on the way and we talked as it helped with dealing with what we were going through. It was just that attempting to run through such conditions didn’t do a whole lot for me… and I am ok with that. Yeah I thought about it and I really am fine with this just not really being my gig. But then I can most definitely get someone saying that they can’t see why running a marathon barefoot would be fun! I get that I really do. A friend and local ultrarunning legend Jan Ryerse has said in the past that he doesn’t like mud either and he gravitates toward timed looped races (where you run around a
shorter loop for a specific amount of time and see how far you can get). He has actually won the Across the Years 72 Hour Race in the Southwest with a distance of 241 miles (and never slept the whole time)! I really like timed looped races (like I told Jan and he agreed “It is just all about the running” because you don’t have to worry about much else) but I know some that don’t see the enjoyment in these type of races and I can understand that. To each his own is what I am saying.
One thing I want to make clear though is that I take off my hat to everyone that completed this race and give each one a tremendous amount of credit if they enjoyed it! I think that is awesome! For me running through the mud is fun (and you kind of feel like a kid again) for a half mile or so, but for long distances it just doesn’t have the same effect.
Update on 03/14/13: Here is an incredibly cool video of the race that Michael Hoffman took (it gives a great indication of what we went through and I have to say makes it look pretty darn cool):
Here is a shot of my shoes afterwards.. they were pretty much toast and went in the garbage:
And here is my waterbottle pack that saved me I think when I fell in the creek (it became a “glute preservation device”!):
Am I glad that I got through it? Yes. Am I proud of accomplishing such a thing and being a part of an experience with the 300+ people that did it? Yes. Do I want to do it again anytime soon? No.
Best of luck in your training,