So I'm stumbling thigh deep through the middle of a rushing river, 23 miles into the longest run of my life. The good news was that the near freezing water may reduce the swelling of my battered, bruised and bloated ankles. The bad news is that current was strong enough to knock over a 203 pound exhausted man with battered, bruised and bloated ankles.
I entered the Triple Crown Trail Marathon in White Clay Creek State Park near Newark, Delaware on April 26th as part of a terribly ill-conceived and quixotic quest to run a marathon in every State of the Union. Delaware, due to an apparent lack of paved roads and a particularly masochistic running community, offers only this event as fulfillment of a marathon requirement. Having little experience in the world of trail races, I thought, "Great, a marathon run in the shade!" Nobody told me I should have hired a Sherpa guide for the ascent. Rock climbing, fence jumping, river fording… What is this, "Survivor, Newark"? I was desperately hoping I'd run into a clearing where a Tribal Council would vote me off the course.
From what I'd seen, the entrants were pretty evenly split between the true trail runners and those 50-marathon-in-50-state hopefuls. On the trail, the difference was easy to see. The trail marathoners were compact and nimble, taking shorter, choppier steps and easily maneuvering over rocks, mud and downed trees. The traditional road runners were giraffes on roller skates, twisting ankles on rocks, getting their shoes vacuumed off in mud bogs and bonking heads on trees, a la "The Three Stooges". OK, maybe that last sentence described just me, but, boy, it was painful. By the time I staggered to the finish line at 5 hours and 7 minutes, the race was a distant memory for winners Gregory Calloway (3:12:40) and Julie Gerke (4:24:08).
Normal people feel that runners are the compulsives of the world; like Mark Twain felt about golf, non-runners feel the same about running - "A good walk spoiled". Likewise, many runners feel the same way about marathoners - they take a fun activity and turn it ugly. But I've stumbled upon (literally) a truly extremist sub-culture - trail marathoners.
These demented folks took the marathon and said, "You know, a 26.2 mile run just isn't nearly painful enough. Let's throw in some inclines that require ladders and plot out terrain that would cause a mountain goat to sprain a hoof. Then we'll have something!" Hey guys, I have an idea, why don't you give yourselves paper cuts across your eyeballs while you do your trail marathons? That would make it REALLY unpleasant.
OK, so let's recap. Delaware needs a public works program to pave more roads, trail marathoners need intense psychotherapy, I need 6 months of recovery bed rest and if you get an offer to compete in a trail marathon, you need to run in the opposite direction - and make sure it's a flat surface.