The DNF Files Vol. 1: Tecumseh Trails Marathon 2013/14

When I was first planning out events for the 2013 year, I threw in a trail marathon to end the year in style.

It was cancelled due to snow emergency and rescheduled in early 2014. While this caused a few problems, as any rescheduling will, it was the best arrangement that could be made to fix it.

The week prior to the race included 16″ of snowfall that then melted off in the days immediately prior to the event, making for some interesting trail conditions. Also due to weather and travel concerns, the route was changed from a simple point-to-point to a hybrid route of 4 miles out, circle a 6-mile loop three times, and 4 miles back. The effects of 400 people treading over soft, water-logged ground three times would make the trail conditions even more interesting.

Made it to the venue on race day, got checked in, and chatted with the other competitors at the start line. Once again missed the starting signal, but when the rest of the herd moves, you go with them.

The first mile was uneventful, then we came to the first stream crossing, swollen by the melting snow. Two lines formed, one trying to find a route around and the other rock-hopping (across ice-sheeted rocks) to get directly across. I took the direct route and was able to spider-scramble from rock to rock and to the far bank. I then turned back to help the next few people behind me before moving on.

Trails got more deeply ground into the ground, to the point that rather than looking for course markers you just followed the furrow of torn-up mud. It soon became clear that trying to keep my feet dry was going to be a beyond futile effort.Sucking mud, wide stream crossings. I stopped to help the few runners behind me over the first few crossings, but when we got to crossings that not even I could do anything but splash through, there was no further point.

We reached the park trail barrier that marked the end of the first 4 miles and the start of the repeating loop. Course officials look at you a bit odd when you go over things they intended for you to go around, but no one objected. The terrain got noticeably steeper, including a brutal hill that I came to think of as The Reaper, the only place on the course where I had to stop and catch my breath. It honestly reminded me of Mont St. Marie, where the Ottawa Beast was held.

After The Reaper, terrain was technical but not all that bad. Walk the uphills, shuffle the downhills. The deeper the mud got, the harder and less stable those downhills got.

Second loop: The Reaper with torn-up slick mud as my running surface slowed me down even more. Wherever possible we all ended up running next to the trail rather than on it to try to find some sort of traction. It was not uncommon to go mid-calf deep in the mud and require some effort to get your feet back out.

I started cramping badly this loop, and I think other racers heard me explaining to my appendages, “No, you are MY body, you will do my f***ing bidding, You will keep working!”

I was able to find salt for the cramps and ibuprofen for the pain at the next aide station, then back to the task at hand.

I asked the course volunteers for the time at the end of this loop, and found that it was 2:21. I would need to complete the third loop and a little more to get to the checkpoint by 4:30 to avoid getting pulled from the course. OK, possible but pushing it pretty hard.

Third loop: Oh. Dear. Lord. 

Not only had the footfalls of those ahead of me cut a trench in the ground and driven the groundwater above the surface, but that water was actually flowing, 6″ to a foot deep in many places. We had literally carved out a streambed with our feet.

The going was much slower, much more tiring with the additional mud to get my feet through. Reached the end of the third loop to check the time: 4:27. Dammit. Don’t think I’m making the checkpoint.

I made the best time I could getting the next mile or so to where I would turn toward the final 4 miles to the finish line, and sure enough an official stopped me, informed me I had missed the time hack, and pointed me toward the most direct path back to the start line.

About half a mile later, a truck carrying another DNF stopped to give me a lift the rest of the way. The cutoff had been 4:30; at 4:49 I was at the finish line explaining to the record keepers that the two of us had missed the cutoff. That damn close, 22 miles in.

I realized that the time spent helping others on the course would have swung the balance just enough to get me ahead of the cutoff, but that is the one thing that I would do the same, even knowing the result. There was nothing that last 4 miles would teach me that the previous 22 hadn’t already.

Things to learn from this to kick the course’s ass next year:

Carry pain meds and S caps. Had never needed them before this, but dealing with the cramping more quickly (and doing it on the move rather than stationary at an aide station) might have made a difference.

Too much of my running, for the sake of convenience, has been on paved trails near my apartment. Too flat and too solid to prepare me for a run like this. I need to get back to running on ungodly-steep dirt trails, particularly in foul weather.

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One thought on “The DNF Files Vol. 1: Tecumseh Trails Marathon 2013/14

  1. We had a similar situation across the border in OH for an 8 mile trail race Saturday. My legs came out muddier than any OCR I’ve ever done.

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