Last Saturday the second race in the 2012 FORGE Trail Series took place at Tiki Tubing/Zipline, just outside of Denham Springs. The Headhunter 10K was intended to be held at the Hooper and Comite trails, but a last minute conflict forced a change of venue. Race director Jeff Beck scrambled to find another place to hold the race in the Baton Rouge area, and came up with Tiki as a replacement. It will host the Warrior Dash in the fall, so there was some precedent for holding a race out there, but it was definitely a raw piece of property as far as races go. We got a good bit of rain the day before, but it appeared that race day weather would be fine. Little did we know what was in store.
I’ve been struggling with injuries for the past month, and only ran a couple of miles on Thursday as my only run since the 20 mile DNF at Mississippi 50 last Saturday. My IT band was a little iffy after that run, and I could feel it being a bit uncooperative on race morning. But I was determined to run. Who DNF’s a 10K, right? So, I knew I would get through the race somehow.
I helped out with packet pickup until it slowed down about 20 minutes before the race was to start. It was a cool morning, but I ditched my pullover knowing I’d warm up once we started. And, was I ever glad I did. A few last minute race instructions, and we were off, down a dirt road, just like the start of many trail races. And that’s where any comparison to “other trail races” ended.
I was in a group of the first dozen or so runners, and we soon came to a slick downhill through a muddy bank that led right to a ditch before going straight back uphill. It was slippery, and I had to choose my steps wisely, but I made it rather unscathed. We then ran 50 yards or so before turning right back into the same terrain. This time, it was a short, but steep downhill into that ditch, which I was able to hop over, then back up that slick and muddy hill. I had to grab onto vines and branches to pull myself up. My hands were muddy and we weren’t 1/4 mile into the race.
After making it up that hill, I was already breathing heavily. But we moved back onto a dirt trail and soon ran through our first water crossing. It was very shallow and helped to wash some of the mud off my feet. We ran near the Amite river, before turning back and into another very muddy section not far from the start. From their we headed back toward the river and ran along the sandy shore. A downed tree had to be leapt over and the sand made for slow going. We then splashed through some more water next to the shore before turning away and heading back towards the start area. The next section was a reprieve, as we just ran through a grassy field and along a fence perimeter. I was able to open it up a little here for the first time. Little did I know that this was the calm before the storm.
We hit another dirt road again, and dodged puddles and muddy sections, but nothing too extreme. After veering off that road, it got a bit muddier and I could tell we were headed for uncharted territory. Jeff had showed me the machete he used to blaze some of the trail. Little did I know just how long that “trail” was. I was “running” hunched over trying not to become a headhunter victim, while at the same time avoiding stumps and slick mud. My knee was not happy at all with this section. I was following the first female of the race, and we were moving as quickly as we could. Then all of the sudden we were off the “trail.” There were no more orange streamers in sight, yet I could hear other runners calling out. I saw the dirt road and scrambled through some briars and vines to get there in time to meet some other runners coming out of the woods. At least I was back on course. We then hit a swampy section where we went through thigh deep water, then out of that into a very muddy area. Footing was non existent, and the rolling terrain meant hoping I wouldn’t slip. Then we hit it. Another water crossing. I got 2 steps in, and the water was immediately above my shoulders. Jeff had said something in the pre-race meeting about a section that we couldn’t run because the water was too high. I immediately thought this was it and searched for another way. I actually got out of the water, knowing this wasn’t the right way to go. But it was not to be. The orange streamers were on the other side, and a large group was coming. So about a dozen of us all jumped in and swam as best we could to the other side. I think the water was cold, but I really was more concerned about getting to the other side, so I really didn’t notice that much about the temperature.
Again we emerged onto a muddy trail that tried to make us slip. At last we got back onto a dirt road and headed toward another beach. Some more sand running had my knee screaming. Right after that, we hit a good dirt road section and I was able to pick off a few runners that had passed me while I was indecisive about the swim section. One more easy water crossing and I was moving pretty well on the dirt. The Garmin chirped at mile 3, then a couple minutes later I was at the start/finish. Oh, did I mention that we had to do the loop twice?
While my knee hurt, I was breathing heavily at this point. I was exerting a lot more energy and giving a lot more effort here than I do on a “normal” trail run. Plus, I’d only run a handful of times in the last 3 weeks, one of which was a long slow effort. It had been a while since I ran in an adrenaline pumping race like this and I could tell my fitness wasn’t where it should have been. But I did separate myself a bit to start the second loop.
The second loop was like the first, with the biggest difference being that 140 runners had trampled the mud, making it even more treacherous and slippery. So that first downhill was even slicker, and the hop over the ditch tougher, since it was so slippery on either side. The second forray back to that ditch was even tougher, and the footing was so slick I decided to just jump in the ditch with one leg instead of trying to leap across. That was probably the wrong choice. My foot sank into a ton of mud at the bottom, and it was a struggle to get out. Then, I had to scramble back up that hill with muddy vines to grab on to. I was a muddy mess at that point. Things went fairly well from that point back to the newly blazed section. I had no one in front of me this time, with only a runner or two that I could hear behind me. This time I found the correct route by following the orange streamers, and sure enough came across the same girl taking an “alternate route.” The thigh deep water crossing was expected this time, but the section following was a mud pit. Footing was non-existent and the little pods on my New Balance Minimus trail shoes gave me no traction.
Soon enough I was back at the “pool” and swam across a bit faster this time, partly because I knew what to expect and partly because there was only one other person near me. Again, the mud after this section was a challenge, and I bit it at one point. I was able to catch myself before face planting in it, but I was muddy and my knee was really hurting. We finally emerged from it and I knew the toughest section left was the sandy beach area. After that, I was able to let loose again on the dirt road, and ran a pretty quick pace. It was clear that running fast was better on my knee than the slow going in the mud, but I was huffing and puffing. Yet I was determined not to get passed by anyone, even though I could hear the footsteps behind me.
Finally, the finish was in sight and I raced to get there. I crossed the finish in 57:33, my slowest 10K time ever (see the official results here). But it was probably the most fun 10K I’ve ever run/swam. The distance was actually closer to 6.6 miles, so we got some bonus mileage. It was a tough race, and my lack of fitness really showed, but I had an absolute blast.
Jeff was really concerned that the unexpected high water really could have upset people. It wasn’t his plan at all to run people through those conditions. The river just rose so fast in the several hours that he inspected the course, that he was totally unaware of it. But I didn’t talk to a single person afterwards who was upset. If anything, they were happy to have experienced it. It was truly the ultimate “I love you, but I hate you” course. Everyone was laughing about the conditions, and that’s what makes this race truly memorable.
I ended up in 13th place overall, 2nd in my age group. It was the slowest time I’ve run in a while for that distance, some of which can be attributed to the course. But as much as I’d like to blame my IT band issues, the biggest factor is that I’m just not in great shape right now. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to run fast. Even before the injury bug bit me, my training for Rouge-Orleans and Mississippi 50 was focused on distance rather than speed. I’ve got to put in some speed work once I get over this knee problem so I can get back to running the way I want to.
A big thank you to Jeff Beck and Mark at Tiki Tubing for allowing this race to happen. It was definitely a race that people are talking about thanks to the conditions. Also, thank you to Bobby Love, who brough a 5 gallon keg of his home brewed pale ale for us to enjoy after the race. It was a welcome sight to see a tasty beer at the finish, especially when the ice chest was full of nothing but Bud Light.
My knee hurt like hell Saturday night. I brought my daughter to the LSU baseball game, and parked a good half mile from the Stadium. My 8 year old was dragging me along, and every step was painful. Things weren’t much better on Sunday. I haven’t run since the race, and don’t know when I will. Being injured sucks. But I’ve got a physical therapy appointment on Wednesday where I hope to get some good advice on getting back to health. I miss being able to just head out the door and run five, six, or ten miles just because. Running is what I do. It’s my release. My mental health depends on it. Without it, I’m already going insane.
But at least I have the memories from the Headhunter 10K to keep me going until I can run again.