Thursday, August 6, 2009

Burn baby, burn

I wouldn't have fathomed it possible, but after nearly a year of consistent training as a wannabe runner, I've experienced little in the way of improvement. Actually, that's not entirely true. As it turns out, I seem to have actually gotten worse. I finished my first 5k last fall in around 27 minutes, but the one I did last Thursday took over 30. Never mind that it was 90 degrees outside and I had two killer sideaches. Alright, fine, I should be proud of the fact that when I started, my major goal was to run a 5-mile race and it took me 8 weeks of training to be able to do it, whereas now, having finished a half marathon and training for another one, I can step out for a 5-miler any day of the week. But for some reason I don't seem to be able to get any faster and running in general isn't much more comfortable.

I don't want this to become a pathetic pity party, so I'll spare you my personal frustrations with consistently being the last of all my friends to cross the finish line. I won't bore you with my theories of running for weight management vs. speed and their relative caloric requirements. The fact is that most of the time, running is still really hard for me. Today I want to pose a query: what if running were actually fun? I believe I may have discovered my answer.

While searching for the next half marathon for me to work toward (I love this website), I came across an event that piqued my curiosity. The Tillamook Burn was described as a 6-mile "Adventure Run," complete with rivers, "mountain-man made" creations along the course, and lung-busting hills. To top it off, camping at the event was free, so I was sold. I just knew that my running comrades would agree that this could be a super-fun girlfriends' weekend. Unfortunately, when I posed the idea, not one of them wanted to/was able to commit. So instead I enlisted my good friend Sarah's husband, Eddie, who has been running for a few months (and is already ridiculously fast). Sarah planned to come along and enjoy the festivities, cheering us across the finish line. Then a sort of tragedy struck when Eddie injured his foot early in the week, and was in no condtition to run. He wasn't interested in going without being able to compete, but Sarah wasn't willing to give up the getaway we'd been planning. So a girls' weekend was born! Don't tell Eddie, but I think we had more fun without him.

Sarah enjoys a salmon burger and fresh Trader Joe's salad at our little camp set-up after a few hours shopping the Nike Factory Store in Lincoln City.
It's clear that these X-Dog Events are not just about running a race. The camping part is a great bonus, plus there was a group campfire/party Saturday night. Sarah and I brought ingredients and roasting sticks for s'mores, so I created social openings by offering them to the strangers around the fire. Most people thought that was pretty fun and were very appreciative. To the three guys who awkwardly refused my offer I wish to say, "Lighten up. Not every girl is trying to get in your pants. It's just a marshmallow. I am married."
As the party progressed, the "Hullagan's" hula-hoop stage opened up. Can't say that I've ever witnessed clothing-optional hula hooping. Among the interesting strip-teases was one bold gentleman who strutted his "stuff" right up there without a speck of clothing to hide his shame. I found it hilarious, as you can just imagine the effect rhythmic hip-swaying would have on a naked--ahem-man.
"Naked Brad" does the hula (I heard someone refer to him this way, and later realized it wasn't just the hula hoop--I saw him taking down his tent the next morning in the nude. Naked is his lifestyle.)

I opted FOR clothing when giving the hula hoop a shot. Cries of "I've never seen a hula hoop move that fast!" were heard. That's a mardi gras mask on my head.

Kristen and Sarah, bright and cheery before the torturous adventure
Since Eddie had to bow out, I adamantly encouraged Sarah to take his place on the run. While I know that Sarah is not a runner, I am also aware that she has been working out consistently for some time now, and figured she could certainly make it through--even if it meant walking for much of it. About three-quarters of a mile into the race--about the time I was trudging up a never-ending vertical climb--I felt intensely guilty for having been so encouraging. Meaning no disrespect to Sarah, I wondered if she might opt to turn around and sit out. After another mile or two, I was sincerely hoping that my friend had done so.
I had no way of knowing in advance the level of intensity and challenge that this course would present. I can't imagine how anybody could actually run most of it. The hills could only be described as mountain climbs, some of them requiring hand-over-hand assistance. Then going down the other side of these hills required grace and balance not to end up rolling head-over-heels on top of the runners below. We ran through creeks, under and over logs, nearly got lost in the woods, and got stung by angry hives of bees.
I finished the 5.81-mile adventure in an hour and 19 minutes. I have no complaints about that time--ridiculously slow for road-running standards--due to the nature of the course. I half-expected to see Sarah relaxing in a camp chair at the finish, having changed her mind early on. But she was nowhere to be found. Which meant that she had not given up soon enough, and was forced to push ahead, as there was no exit from the masochism once you were so far in.
Having now experienced first-hand what she was currently enduring, and knowing my friend has a tendency to twist her ankle, I began to worry. After about 45 minutes of waiting, I decided to go back in and find Sarah. I kept picturing her sitting by the side of the makeshift trail holding her ankle, wondering if anybody was going to come find her.
The further back I walked, the more worried I grew. But I also began to wonder if I was doing the right thing: perhaps Sarah had turned back early, and was just taking a nap in our tent. Or maybe I would find Sarah, but she would be trucking along just fine and be annoyed or embarrassed that I felt the need to look for her. And if either of these situations were the reality, I had no business repeating the obstacle I had just completed. Once was enough. Thankfully, the last mile or so was my favorite part, as it consisted more of interesting obstacles and flat running spots and less of the treacherously steep inclines and kamikaze bees. And I was pleased to take advantage during my rescue effort to photograph some of the terrain so that others might appreciate in some small way how awesome this was.
The end of the course had very minor hills, so this is the best one I could photograph. Imagine much steeper and climbing that way for about a half-mile at a stretch.

One of the refreshing creeks to dash through. Had to be careful of underwater of the many challenges that had me worrying about Sarah's ankles.

We didn't just splash our feet. I'm wading knee-deep.

Two of these aqueducts were probably my favorite obstacle. Especially since I passed a girl in the middle of one. :)

Don't fall in!

I did eventually find Sarah, just as I was seriously wondering if I should go check our tent and then get help if she wasn't there. I think after walking alone through the quiet forest for so long she was startled to hear me call out to her in relief. I was also relieved to learn that she was not mad at me for coming back to find her, rather was incredibly grateful to hear that she was almost out. I let Sarah lead the way back and chatted with her to (hopefully) help distract her from the inevitable discomfort.

Sarah wades into the finisher's chute to get ice, bee sting cream, and a free T-shirt for taking last place

I met this calm and friendly man named Andrew at the campfire, and somehow we ended up in close proximity partway through the race. I told Andrew to pass me if he wanted, since I couldn't possibly go any faster, but he said I was setting a good pace for him to follow (or maybe he enjoyed the view--ha ha). So we ran together for a couple of miles, and I have to say it was a welcome pleasure to have somebody to visit and laugh with between gasps for breath. He also went back in with me to find his slower friend, but they reunited sooner than I did with Sarah. I honestly find it sweet and not creepy that Andrew contacted me through my company's website (since I'd told him what I do) to ask how things turned out with Sarah. And just because he is such a genuinely nice person--and also married--the fact that he looked me up on Facebook and discovered that we have the same birthday (August 22, which is coming right up, hint hint!) is also not creepy. It's fun to have a stalker! Makes me feel young and pretty again.

Showing off my battle wounds: bee stings on my butt and arm

Sarah and I officially survived the Tillamook Burn. It was physically and mentally challenging, but the adventurous aspect and element of surprise made it so exciting! This overshadowed my intense bodily pain, and for me, made it more fun than incessantly pounding the pavement in a straight line. I've already looked up their next events and plan to participate again.


Bridget said...

Amazing story. This event sounds like tons of fun! I loved all the details.

Anonymous said...

way to go!!! I'm really proud of you, Kristen. looking forward to a long run with you tomorrow.


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