As I drove through the farmlands of the outlying areas of Perry County yesterday morning, I contemplated the pending run. I knew the guy who created the course, and honestly, he’s kind of nuts. I was afraid of what the course might be like under normal conditions, but as I watched the skies through my windshield wipers, I was worried. I knew there would be nasty mud and slippery rocks. The former didn’t bother me at all; the latter scared the crap out of me. I was sixty minutes into my 85 minute drive, and I was regretting even waking up.
Thankfully, though it was hard, the Conococheague 50K Fat Ass wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
Let me begin by explaining what a “fat ass” is. Aside from being the body part on which I sit, a fat ass is a type of race. It means that you don’t pay an entrance fee. Since you pay nothing, you are guaranteed very little. You don’t get t-shirts or finishers’ awards. You don’t get a goody bag. You are asked to bring some water, Gatorade or food to share with the group. You typically get to join your fellow runners in a post-race barbeque of sorts. And there is always really good beer. I challenge you to find me an ultra runner who likes crappy beer. I am convinced they don’t exist.
This fat ass was in the furthest reaches of Perry County, PA. I grew up in PeCo, but had never been to this area west of New Germantown. It was flippin’ gorgeous. Living in the ‘burbs for 12 years, I forget just how lovely the rolling countryside can be. I made a mental note to revisit the area when I have some more time to take in the beauty of the area.
Part of the course was on the Tuscarora Trail, while the rest was on surrounding logging roads and ancillary trails. I had run sections of the Tuscarora Trail a couple of times before, and knew that it could be tough. It could be really tough. There are some sections where I’m convinced rocks go to die. And there are times that runners have the same thought.
The first 10 miles of the run were rather uneventful, save for the 3+ mile ascent up a logging road that felt like it took forever to climb. While picking delightful wild raspberries, we kept saying to each other, “Where is the hard stuff? This is too easy! Don has to have something more planned for us.”
We were right. Shoot, we were right. What goes up must come down.
What took us more than 3 miles to ascend took us only 0.75 miles to descend. Coming down nearly 1,000 feet in that short distance was exactly what I feared. I hate downhills. I especially hate rocky downhills. And I loathe slippery, rocky downhills. I took my spot at the back of our little pack and sort of crab-walked down a lot of the rocks. We just started a new insurance plan and have a high deductible, so I didn’t want to end up at urgent care! It took me forever to get down that mountain. Forever.
Over the next 4 miles we had some more steep climbs and descents, but nothing as awful as that one. When we got to the aid station at about mile 14, I asked if we had anything like we just encountered. Don said no, but that we had an “interesting” hill coming up. My only question was this: “Uphill or downhill?” He said it was uphill, but that we should expect to take about 30 minutes to go about 1/3 of a mile. What????
The uphill was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was steeeeeeep. Oh – and it was not a clear trail. The blazes were so hard to see, and the trail was fairly grown over. Somehow I ended up at the front of our little group. I surprised myself and positively blew up that mountain. I got to the top in 21 minutes and chilled out at some funky grave sites while I waited for my new found posse.
After that, the run was tough, but not overly so. The problem from that point on was figuring out where we needed to go. We were given a map, but not a turn sheet. We weren’t told which trails to follow. It was tricky. Thank God I was with a couple of very keen runners who: a.) had a sense of direction, b.) who could read a map, and c.) who were just awesome. We had to run through thick briar patches and raspberry bushes. We were being torn to shreds, and were simply hoping we were on the right trails. We were so loony at this point that we were convinced we saw a bear cub. Nope – it was the ears of a german shorthaired pointer as it bounded by. Silly runners.
We picked up a lost runner with just a couple of miles to go, and together the five of us trudged on to the finish. It took us 8:48 . . . 8 hours 48 minutes. My legs are ridiculously scratched up. My husband took one look at me yesterday and told me I should wear pants. Hell no! I am proud of them! I have bruises on my legs from encounters with random sticks and other protrusions along the way. I have some chafing on my back, arms and shoulders (which is better than where some people got it – ouch!) My quads are pretty darned sore, despite being in pretty good shape.
I needed this run. I needed it to be hard. I needed to have some crappy moments. I’ve recently been struggling with the motivation to run long distances. I felt like my trail miles were crap. This race helped get me excited about running again. It was one of those runs that was so hard that I swore at the finish I wouldn’t do again. Yet just hours later, I was babbling on and on about it and knew I wasn’t done with it.
I ran with some awesome people. I ran with a guy who hurt his ankle really bad somewhere around 17 or 18 miles. He figured he would drop out of the run at mile 22 (when we hit the start/finish for the second time). He muscled on to finish the full distance (31+ miles) with us. I ran with one of my favorite people on earth, Jen. I could run with her for days on end and have a blast the whole time.
Nearly everyone got lost, yet everyone seemed in great spirits at the finish line. We all shared some food, beverages, and stories at the finish line. We talked about the run, our running histories, our families, our pasts and our futures. A bunch of strangers ended the race with a new bond – a crazy bond, but a bond nonetheless.