When the evil geniuses at ROCK Racing first proposed the idea of the SHivering Icy Trail Run (SHITR) half marathon, we were all kind of hoping for cold temps and snow. After all, an unsupported trail half marathon run at night is supposed to be kind of badass, and some good winter weather would both up both tough quotient and make the race that much more fun and magical. There’s just something about running in the snow.
We did get a little snow, but then it melted and the forecast at the beginning of the week predicted temperatures in the 50′s. Not epic weather at all. Very disappointing until the weather forecasters started calling for a sharp drop in temperatures…right in the middle of our race. Despite the fact that the SHITR-eve high was near 60, Mother Nature didn’t let us down. Though no jacket was necessary Saturday morning, the day got progressively cooler, my Weather Channel app showed a page of rainclouds, and for once the meteorologists were dead on.
|Brave? Crazy? Both?|
Sometimes with non-races or free races tons of people sign up and then bail at the last minute, especially when the weather is iffy. When there’s no financial repercussion there’s no major commitment. The SHITR’s facebook page had 39 people who had RSVP’d as going; I count 43 in this picture (including 5 of us from Team Virtus) and know of at least one person who came later. In a race that’s been billed as a tough challenge, shitty conditions are, in a way, the whole point of the thing rather than something to avoid.
A few minutes before the 5:00 race start, Chuck and Robin gave us our last-minute instructions (which I half-ignored, knowing I’d be running with friends who had hopefully listened), walked us to the start, and then sent us on our way. The race began with a short run to and then up The Mound, the highest spot in St. Charles County.
|According to the internet The Mound covers 45 acres and is 75 feet high.|
Back in October, we’d learned that reaching the top of the Mound requires a deceptively long climb. Once you ascend the stairs you face an additional hill before the summit. As we reached the top, bitterly cold wind was gusting and the rain began to fall. And so it began…
Rather than running with friends as expected, though, I found myself alone on the flat doubletrack of the Hamburg Trail and was thankful that I was familiar with the course. Eventually I caught up with Russ and we settled in to run the rest of the first mile together. While this trail isn’t as sheltered as the singletrack sections, the wind wasn’t too bad and the rain was light at this point. I lost Russ at the top of the steep gravel hill leading as I slowed to talk to Patrick and Josh, who were both shedding layers. The temperature was in the low to mid-forties at this point, and I was feeling overwarm with a light base layer, a long-sleeved tech shirt, and a short sleeved shirt but decided to stick with what I was wearing.
Josh, Patrick, and I made the turn at the bottom of the hill and ran more doubletrack before finally turning onto the trail. By this point we needed our headlamps. It took some fumbling for me to figure out the right setting for my light (a Princeton Tec Apex Pro), but I’m loving the new headlamp. It’s comfortable, plenty bright, and did a great job lighting the trails. Josh’s light was considerably dimmer, which might be why he tripped when he did. He ran for another minute or so and then dropped back to see if his ankle was going to be ok to run or not.
|Luke and Robby coming through the creek crossing|
We saw Lori and Michelle at the creek crossing, and at this point I was still picking my way through the creek so as to stay as dry as possible. Silly. I followed Patrick up the trail, and he’d point out sections where the trail or rocks were particularly slippery. Usually I interpreted his warnings as “time to walk this”, so eventually I fell behind him and was alone again (oops…guess I should’ve listened to those instructions…). No big deal…it’s a pretty easy trail to follow, not many ways you could turn wrong, and I’ve run on it a lot.
After a while I saw something reflective ahead of me, which turned out to be Patrick and Chuck. It took me a long time to catch up with them, and pretty soon after I did, Patrick took off again. He’s been doing a lot of running in preparation for the Kettle Moraine 100, and it shows. He had a really good night. Chuck and I ended up running together for pretty much the rest of the race, and it felt a lot like a regular training run. Just like every nighttime trail run I’ve done, I didn’t see anything but the legs and feet in front of me.
Most of the trail was great, though the new section of singletrack was super slippery. They haven’t finished bench cutting it, so it has a pretty good camber. Combine the slope with a lack of rocks and an excess of water, and you get a trail that’s slippery as…well, really hard to maintain traction on. There was a lot of walking going on here. We never walked too long, though, because the temperature was steadily dropping and we needed to keep warm. As hard as it was to keep your footing, as cold as it was, it was also a lot of fun, in a miserable sort of way. Running in the rain, splashing through puddles, and slipping in muddy spots makes me feel like a kid again, and there’s something oddly satisfying about persevering through crappy conditions that all the smart people are inside avoiding.
About halfway in, we reached the cemetery, the site of the mystery event. You had to find the name on the tallest gravestone and report it when you arrived back at the finish line. This may have been my first time in a cemetery after dark…good thing I had Chuck to protect me from any potential ghosts…and to help me read the name! The stone was so weathered that it was really hard to read. One person had to stand at the side lighting the stone so that you could use the shadows to read it. We made out Caroline’s name, climbed back out through the fence, and were on our way again.
Each of us fell once, neither bad falls, and I had a couple other hiccups. The GUs I’d eaten (thanks to Chuck and Bob, since I didn’t have time to pick any up) bothered my stomach; I didn’t feel full on sick, but both times I felt nauseous for a while. I’m wondering if GU affects me differently since I’ve changed how I’m eating. If so, it’s going to be a pain to figure out what I can eat. Also,my Garmin only made it about 5 miles before the battery died; I’d charged it, but maybe I didn’t get the prongs lined up right. The biggest problem, though, was when my hip started complaining about 9-10 miles in. I’ve been stretching it regularly, and it hasn’t been bothering me during runs, but maybe its limit is 9 or 10 miles. Regardless, it was a pretty uncomfortable last few miles.
|True, but it was coming from the sky.|
Back on the doubletrack with less protection from the wind, we definitely got colder. I found the glove I still had and put it on, hiding my bare hand in my shirt sleeve. I had to take a couple walk breaks because of my hip, but we kept them short since it didn’t really feel any better at a walk anyway. Finally we were at the top of the hill with just a mile or so down the Hamburg Trail back to the finish line. Wow, was it cold. The temperature was now in the 30′s and the rain, which had never stopped, was now turning to sleet. It was barely worth it to skirt puddles in the trail because we were so drenched. I don’t think I could have been any wetter unless I was completely submerged in water, and even then it would have been a toss up.
We were towards the back, and people who had already come in were either sheltering in their cars or had left already. Once you’d run that course, you were just too cold and wet to do anything but get dry and try to warm up (well, except Chris, who after finishing ran an extra 6 miles to meet up with his wife and run in with her. Husband of the Year material, that man.). It would’ve been a very quiet finish line, but Robin, Lori, and Susan were standing out in the cold rain waiting for runners. Coming into the finish and hearing their cowbells and cheers was glorious.
The first order of business was to change into dry clothes, and this might have been the most difficult part of the race. After digging through the clothes bomb that the back had turned into, I warned the guys in the van, “Don’t look back here unless you want a show,” and then on second thought added, “…or if you do.” It wasn’t until I undressed that I realized just how cold I was. I’d felt fine (well, I’d felt OK) while I was moving, but when I pulled down my pants I was so numb I couldn’t feel anything. “I can’t feel my ass,” I laughed to Robin, Lori, and Susan, who were trying valiently to keep me from flashing anyone left in the parking lot. Putting on my jeans was a trick, between trying to lift the leg with the sore hip and then getting a foot cramp as I tried to put my leg in; I may or may not have needed help putting my pants on…huge thanks to whomever may or may not have helped me out. My new fleece-lined boots were a godsend for my frozen feet, and once I was bundled up in three sweatshirts and a down coat I started warming up.
Once all the runners were in, we all headed to meet up with some other finishers at El Azteca Mexican restaurant for well-deserved food and, in some cases, jumbo margaritas. Wow, it was good. And the company was fantastic. We laughed, talked, ate, and laughed some more. I’m pretty sure that it was the biggest concentration of awesome people in the area, and I was so glad to be there with them.
Big thanks to Chuck and Robin for planning this craziness, to their families for supporting it and being there with us, to Patrick for helping mark the trails, and for Susan and David who came to help out and provide moral support. It was a personal worst for me in any half marathon, but that’s not what it was about anyway. As Chuck put it,
“What an amazing/awful and magical/miserable and great/terrible night to run!“
It was definitely all of that and more, and I, for one, can’t wait til next year’s edition.