Not long after the 12hour run back in November, Chuck and Robin of ROCK Racing told me they had an idea for an unsupported trail race at Lost Valley in Weldon Spring. It sounded like a great idea, and I was all in. What could be better than a trail half marathon in January? Simple, a trail half marathon in January at night! To make it even better they told me that in lieu of an entry fee they would suggest participants make a donation to the 100+Project. How awesome is that?
The SHivering Icy Trail Run was set and word of mouth spread so fast that the parks department contacted Chuck and wanted him to get a permit. I was kind of down on the whole permit process because I have had some unfavorable dealings with low level bureaucrats (don’t ask me about the permit for my shed) but everything went smoothly and the permit was issued. Saturday morning Chuck and I met up at the Mound and proceeded to mark the course. We rode our adventure bikes to make it go faster but it still took a lot longer than I thought it would. The day was warmer than I thought it was going to be and I had on way too many layers. When Chuck stopped to put up a reflective square I would peel of more layers. The warm temps were kind of bumming me out. This was supposed to be an event to be endured not some joyful romp through the park with smiles and good cheer, that’s what road races are for. I was assured that the temp was supposed to drop and that it would also rain, however because our weather has been crazy lately I wasn’t convinced.
I really didn’t help too much with the actual marking but a least Chuck didn’t have to go out alone. I made it home with just enough time to eat take a short nap and get ready to leave again so I could meet up with Robin to carpool back to the Mound. Because of the warm temps earlier in the day I decided to wear shorts. Plus since there was now a 100% chance of rain, running in wet shorts sounded better than running in wet pants. By the time we got to the Mound the temperature had dropped considerably and I was rethinking my shorts vs pants strategy. More and more people started showing up and I hopped from group to group (literally) while trying to stay warm. To help stay warm I put on my hoodie and decided that I would run with it.
When it was time to start Chuck and Robin called everyone over, took a group photo and gave some last minute instructions. Forty three people showed up to run the SHITR. Being around a large group of likeminded individuals always makes for a grand time even in horrible conditions. The route started with a dash to the top of the mound, which I am told is the highest point in St Charles county. The wind was whipping across the top of the mound and I was glad to have my hoodie. At the top we turned around and headed back down, this was when I noticed the first rain drops. The rain had come after all, this was going to be miserable. Excellent! Coming down from the Mound it wasn’t long until we were on the Hamburg trail and the decision to wear the hoodie was proving to be one layer too many. I ran down the Hamburg trail with Chuck, we were hoping that we marked the trail well enough so no one would get lost. When I stopped to take off my hoodie Chuck kept going and Kate caught up to me. I ran with her and Josh for a while then Josh rolled his ankle and told us to go on. Kate and I crossed the creek and hit the single track. I was putting a gap on her and would yell back when I got to a particularly difficult part that was extra slippery or rocky. It wasn’t long before we caught up to Chuck. At the end of the first section of singletrack was the turn for the short course. I noticed one of the reflective markers I had hung earlier had fallen on the ground, so I replaced it and continued on my way. The three of us ran together for a while longer until I decided to stretch my legs a bit. The next section of singletrack was a total nightmare! It is new and not worn in yet, and with the rain and the camber of the trail it was muddy and slicker than ice. Up until this point the rain and the cold weren’t too hard to deal with, but once we hit this section of trail, having to slow down to deal with the mud was allowing my core temp to drop and I was starting to get cold. To make matters worse I have only been on this section once so I was unsure how long it was before it joined back up with the older section. I ran as hard as I could while still being careful not to fall in the mud. Soon I caught up to Russ and then Luke. We ran together for a long time and I was glad when we got to the older section of trail for two reasons, first because there was no more off camber muddy mess to deal with and second, there was a long hill. Normally I am not that fond of hills but in this case it was the fastest way to raise my body temp. Not long after we reached the top of the hill I told Russ and Luke to be on the look out for the mystery task. Because simply running was too tame for this group Chuck and Robin told them to get the name off the tallest tombstone in the old cemetery. I think people enjoyed this aspect of the race, although with the rapidly deteriorating conditions I don’t think anyone was asked about it at the finish. It was still worth finding though. Luke and Russ spotted the cemetery easily enough because of the reflective tape Chuck and I placed earlier. We respectfully entered the cemetery and got the name. We met up with Robbie in the cemetery and we all headed back to the trail singing “Sweet Caroline”, the name on the tombstone.
Now the thing about this next section of trail is that to me it all looks the same even during the day so at night this problem was compounded. The first time I ever rode at Lost Valley I flatted out on a sweeping rocky curve in the trail. It sticks in my mind because it was the first flat I ever had to change in my adult life. I felt totally inept and it seemed like everyone was wondering why it was taking so long. They weren’t wondering that though because everyone there that day was a decent person. My friend Krystal offered me a GU packet to boot up the punctured sidewall, the problem was I didn’t know why she was giving it to me and it took a minute figure it out. Seriously, I felt totally incompetent. Eventually I got it fixed and we continued our ride. This story is relevant only because every time I am on this section and come to a sweeping rocky curve in the trail, and there are a few, I think “Hey this is that spot where I flatted”. It makes judging distance impossible because I know that I flatted close to the doubletrack. Every time I come to one of those sections I think I am almost to the end and when I realize I am not, the effect on my psyche is cumulative.
Luke and I were cruising along pretty good and had left Russ and Robbie behind. Luke was running really well especially since he was wearing an old pair of Nike Free’s since he forgot his trail shoes. He was slipping and sliding so much that I felt bad for him. At one point he slipped going up a small incline and his foot flew backward with such force that had I been a step closer he would have kicked me in the face. I can clearly remember seeing the sole of his shoe in the light of my headlamp. Soon we made it out of the woods and on to the doubletrack. This meant that we were on the home stretch. Being on the doubletrack meant that we were exposed to the wind which made the conditions that much worse. I kicked up the pace in an effort to keep warm and Luke and I ran together until we ran into the Smith’s who were hiking the short course. How badass is that? Lovely night for a stroll eh? I stopped and walked with them for a bit and Luke kept going. Once I noticed my hands getting cold again it was time to run. This time getting started was harder and I realized that I had made a critical error. I should have kept running with Luke. I was getting cold and my gloves, well all my clothes really were soaked through, and not offering much in the way of comfort. My thighs were starting to sting from the exposure too. I realized then that these conditions could very easily turn into a survival situation if someone got lost. I hoped that everyone behind me would find their way back to finish without harm.
I ran as much as I could and when the trail began the long downhill the thought of picking my hoodie up had a curious affect on my mood. I was anxious to reach it because even though it would be soaking wet I could still use it to help insulate my hands. At the same time though I knew from experience that when it gets wet like that it weighs close to eight pounds, and I would have to carry an eight pound weight another mile and a half back to the finish. I guess I would have to take the good with the bad.
When I reached the bottom of the hill I ran over to the rock pile and grabbed my hoodie. It was soaked and very heavy like I knew it would be. I wrapped it around my hands and started the long climb back to the Hamburg trail. My hands were starting to feel better, which only highlighted how bad everything else felt. The hoodie kept sliding down under its own weight rubbing against my legs. After a while I stopped and put my arms into the sleeves so it would be easier to carry. I tried to power up the hill but I just didn’t have it in me so I just did the best I could satisfied in the knowledge that once at the top I had around one mile to the finish. Back on the Hamburg trail it seemed like it conditions were even worse than on the doubletrack. I wanted this section to be over as quickly as possible but all I could muster was a slow shuffle toward the finish. I kept going and after what seemed like the longest mile ever found myself back at the finish.
When I crossed the finish line Robin, Lori, and Susan were there to cheer me on. They were the best finish line cheerleaders! Those were some awful conditions to run in but standing around waiting for people to finish was just as difficult. Truly all the volunteers were the unsung heroes of the day. After finishing all I could think about was getting warm and dry. I was done being cold and wet. I went to the back of Robin’s van to get my clothes and found Robin and Susan standing there trying to keep warm. All of the cars were occupied, so I was trying to figure out how to get changed without giving anyone a free show then I looked to my left and saw Russ strip down behind his van and change. I was so envious of his now dry clothes that the next time Robin and Susan went to cheer someone in I did the same. I was almost dressed by the time they made it back but I didn’t care because like Russ I now had dry clothes on. I saw an empty spot in Chuck’s jeep so I hopped in there and warmed up a bit, while eating some cookies and drinking a beer. Jacob was warm and toasty in the front seat. He took the short course and had been finished for over an hour already. I wanted so badly to go cheer for the other people that were coming in but getting back out in the cold was not on my to do list. Eventually there were only a few left out on the course and I got ousted from my warm seat because Chuck had to go pick up Christina from the lower parking lot. She was totally badass for doing the whole loop, and not short coursing it. She is way tougher than me. Chris and Kerri were the last across the finish line and we headed out to El Azteca to eat some Mexican food and share some stories. I heard Goldmember pooped his pants! He got a special award for that. I still don’t know the story but I’m looking forward to the Team Virtus report so I can get the low down.
The restaurant knew to expect us but I think it was still a strain on the wait staff so I left a really good tip for their efforts. There were so many racers still there when we arrived, probably 20 or so. Dinner was great and I didn’t want it to end. It made me a little sad every time someone got up to leave. It was a dinner party where no matter where you sat you would be next to an extraordinary person with a great story to tell. I sat next to Bill and Joe, two great guys, way faster than me but I won’t hold that against them. The food was great but soon it was our turn to say goodbye and we piled back into Robin’s van and headed back home.
I think it was after 11pm when I finally got home. I dropped my bag of wet clothes at the door, cleaned up a bit, and slid into bed. Beth asked how it was and I said. “Awful, just awful”.
Truthfully though it was awesome, awesome in a way that only the people sitting around those tables at the Mexican restaurant could understand. We had all endured something together and even though I didn’t actually talk to every single person who was there I still feel a bond with everyone of them, and that is something you can’t get from a road race.
Thanks goes out to Chuck, Robin, Lori, Rob, Jacob, Susan, and everyone that made this race happen.
We raised a lot of money for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America St Louis chapter through the 100+Project. I am honored and grateful that ROCK Racing decided to include the 100+Project in their race.
If you missed out on the race this year then you should totally feel jealous, and if you see someone trying to merge in traffic with a SHITR decal in their window you should give them room and allow them to move because they are badass and deserve your respect.
Next year the SHITR will be even better! Don’t miss it.