This journey begins somewhat roughly. Let's just say getting to the race was an endurance event all on its own. The weather has been very rainy for a day at this point. But even with the rain, I almost did not make it out the the race. My friend, who had agreed to come along with me, had to take her mom to the hospital the night before we were due to depart and I was getting mentally ready to go alone until she called to continue our plans. Therefore, the moons aligned and voila!, we were in my car headed to West Virginia.
The enchantment with the mountains quickly wore off as it got dark and we found ourselves driving on top of mountains with very little visibility due to fog/clouds, steep drops and lots of fast moving cars from obvious locals who were used to such conditions.
We soon discovered we were.....TADA!!! OFF the grid.....In fact we were off the grid 90% of the trip, no phone, no internet, no GPS. With the exception of the hotel which was in the town of Elkins, over an hour away.This is an image of the hotel room. The hotel, The Days Inn at Elkins, apparently use to be a hospital. Despite very low reviews was not bad at all. Maybe it was just because we were tired, but it was pretty much alright as a hotel, but its look brought me back to my kids' c-section births in hospitals. You see, at the time I had my c-sections (one on 2004 and another in 2007) I had felt my weakest ever. Not only did I feel like a failure at not being able to deliver my children naturally, as we had planned in both instances, but I also felt unable to do the most basic things afterwards for a long time. Ironically, this race made me feel my strongest, so it was a very interesting contrast to remember me at my weakest and be in that similar space at my strongest.
Spruce Knob Mountain is absolutely gorgeous. Even in it's foggy, soggy state you could not ignore it's stunning beauty.
Because of the enormity of the trail, the small number of runners (67 total, 21 of us females) and my slow pace, 80% of my time on the trail I was all alone in the forest. These randomly placed orange markers (see below) marked my 'path' and each time I saw them I got this surge of bliss. I did not want to get lost and seeing those markers meant I was AT least on target. Just catching a glimpse of them far away brought such a deep sense of relief each time. Understand that this being my first ever race over 13.1 miles, I was like deer in headlights and had I know all I did not know I would have never left my front door. I did do one other run in the woods before in Northern Virginia, but the technical nature of this race far surpassed any idea I held about it's difficulty. See elevation chart below.
A lot of the single track looked like this.....wet, soggy, stony. Part of me wished there was no cut-off so I could actually stop and enjoy the beauty all around me.
Look at this amazing view. This is what the path looked like. Gorgeous, but not an actual path.
I realized somewhat late that what most slowed me down was that for the first half of the race I was trying to avoid the mud. Only in seeing the deep shoe gouges in the mud did I begin to realize that the runners in front of me were actually just walking right through the mud. Only in the end when I began to realize that I might miss the cut-off did I begin to walk right into and through the mud puddles. My feet felt tired and swollen, so the gush of water from the mud that would enter my shoe each time felt terrific. In addition, the score of stream crossings also felt amazing on my feet. Ice cold water would rush into my shoe each time and make my feet feel amazing. I welcomed the many, many stream crossings, they helped clean off the mud and were icy mini foot spas.
Part of the rewards of making it to the top of any mountain is the view. The view below was amazing. Truly feeling on top of the world here.
To think that these woods are rarely seen made me feel like a nymph in the woods, part of some magical kingdom. Absolutely stunning and gorgeous everywhere you look.
This is me.....tearing up already 2 miles from the finish, full knowledge that, HECK!!, I am going to actually finish this thing. It was a very emotional moment for me. As a new runner who has only been running for one year, who a little over a year ago could not even run one mile, this was a huge accomplishment. The voices in my head had been telling me for months, 'you don't belong in these races', 'you won't finish', 'you will quit and not finish' and a part of me knew better. A part of me believed in magic. Therefore, to actually finish this race, that has terrified me for months, and had kept me awake many nights was more than I could handle. At the finish line the tears just came rolling down and it felt absolutely amazing. The cut-off was 10.5 hours and I crossed the finish line at hour 10:29:45. To add to the emotions already pouring out of me, the amazing WV Trilogy Volunteers, who are seriously the most supportive folks on the planet in my book, were all at the finish line screaming my name and counting down, urging me one, as I sprinted like a crippled deer to the finish line. They alone make me want to come back and do this race again. They were amazingly supportive and not once did their belief in me flinch.
This is my other guardian angel, Jenna. Jenna and I have been friends since I was 19. We had a blast turning all creepy, odd, scary, tense moments into an adventure. I doubt she'll be coming with me to WV EVER again, but who knows, maybe like me, she'll begin dreaming of the gooooorgeous mountains and seeking a similar adventure next year. Besides, I need to cut that pace down not that I know what the heck I am doing.