Complete. Utter. Exhaustion.
I’ve had my fair share of bad runs, but last Sunday had to have been one of the hardest of my life. Of course, I say the same after every difficult run, but usually I reconsider once my breath comes back. Not for this run, though.
A few weeks ago my brother (a much better runner than myself) and I conquered Bear Mountain (upstate New York) for the first time (see the post The (Epic) Trail Running Adventure for more on that). Last Sunday, emboldened by our previous success, we decided to start with the rather hard climb before continuing on the rest of our run.
Well, I read afterward in a running magazine (probably Runner’s World) how starting a run with a tough hill can make the rest of your run more difficult due to lactic acid buildup in your legs. I laughed out loud. Difficult does not even begin to describe that run.
My brother and I started by running up and over Bear Mountain, and I was feeling great. I didn’t have to walk at all (only a few steps in the extremely technical areas), and I was full of energy. I even impressed my brother with the energy I had even half an hour from the climb. Bear Mountain still had my adrenaline pumping.
But then my adrenaline seemed to abruptly run out. It may have been related to the sight of a climb that to my eyes looked at least as large as Bear Mountain. And at that point, I was so mentally and physically fatigued from Bear Mountain that there was absolutely no way I could do a climb like it again.
Afterward, my brother maintained that the climb was much shorter than Bear Mountain. I’m still not so sure.
All I know is that it was hard. And it knocked the wind out of me. Not just physically, but mentally as well. And when we reached the top and my brother pointed into the distance and said, “look, there’s Bear Mountain,” I knew the run was going to be considerably more difficult than I had anticipated.
But I managed to survive the second climb, albeit with some walking breaks, and was beginning to regain some energy. We ran by a sign for Timp Mountain, which I knew my brother had run by in the area, so I pointed it out to him. Then he started musing if we had to run over it to get back, and my mental strength gave out.
Every turn in the trail I was filled with dread that I would come face to face with the dreaded Timp Pass, as it’s known. After a few nerve-racking minutes (it felt like half an hour but was probably no more than ten or fifteen minutes), I ventured to ask my brother if he thought we were going to have to climb it. To my great relief, he confidently assured me that we would not.
Things were looking up.
And then we got lost.
We were supposed to take the yellow trail all the way back to where our car was parked, but suddenly I heard my brother casually remark, “Hmm, how did we get onto red?”
The next half hour of running was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Physically, I was shot. But the knowledge that we had absolutely no idea where we were, in the middle of a forested, extremely hilly area, was mentally excruciating. For all we knew, we could have been running in circles as I drank up the last of my water and started on my brother’s.
Finally, though, my brother managed to find the right trail again. He claimed he knew where we were going, but I was entirely disoriented. I started walking up some of the hills, I noticed an odd pain in my toe (which I later discovered was probably a popped blood blister that bled through my sock), and my brother was not sure how far we were from the car. I was close to crying.
The trail crossed a road, and we stopped to discuss our options. I looked at the trail; it went uphill. I looked at the road; it sloped down.
It will not surprise you that I strongly advocated that we take the road, wherever it may lead. Hesitantly, my brother acquiesced. The downhill was nice, and I was feeling better. We saw a biker heading toward us and asked him where the Bear Mountain Inn was, where the car was parked. He gestured over his shoulder and said it was “down at the bottom.”
I could have kissed him.
I limped back to the car a little while later, completely drained. My brother informed me that the run had been a little over two hours. My body, on the other hand, was convinced it was at least five. My brain would have calculated a similar estimate, had it been functioning at that point. I gave my brother a hearty thanks for pushing me through the run. If he hadn’t been there it probably would have been closer to five hours. Assuming I would have finished it at all.