Before last weekend, I'd run on real, actual state park trails three times -- two half marathons and a marathon relay. All were hard. Like, real hard. And I was unprepared for all of them. When I think "trail," I think "gravel path." Or mud. Flat. Whatever. Basically anything but road. Oh, but no. That is so not true. Trails are uneven. Strewn with rocks and roots. Sometimes the trail's not even obvious. Am I on a trail? It's all trees and uneven footing and hills. Oh god, the hills. You walk them. Running those hills is the stupidest idea you ever had. Trust me.
So last weekend when I had the opportunity to run 21 miles with a friend out on the trails, I was all SURE WHY NOT?!
It was the longest, most difficult, four-and-a-half hours of my whole big life. The trails were covered in snow and ice. The snow eventually weakened and became like sand. Have you ever run through sand? HARD. I've run entire marathons in less time. On roads. Where it's flat and rolling. Plus I had a cold. And it was cold outside. And windy. So, basically, what I'm saying is, THIS WAS THE BEST IDEA I EVER HAD.
I ran three out-and-backs on the trail, swapping warm, dry layers and socks in between each. Socks were wet. Clothes were soaked. And cold. I rotated gloves to let each pair dry out and warm up between each loop. Consumed a lot of water and fig newtons. Four of us started, and with all of us going for different mileage goals, only two of us finished together. He ran 28 miles. TWENTY-EIGHT MILES OF THAT. My brain hurts.
The last out-and-back (7 miles) was, I swear to God, the most harrowing hour-and-a-half of all time. Ever. Times eleventy. Thousand. My legs were cashed. I reached a point where I looked forward to the ridiculous hills because I knew we got to walk. "Walk the hills to recover," they say. Turns out walking up a cliff isn't so much recovering. But damn it felt good to stop running. We stopped periodically for water, which we'd begun to ration. I always seem to have a hard time remembering to drink when I'm running in the winter, but I'll be damned if that ice cold water didn't feel good going down.
"My everything hurts," he said. "My neck hurts from holding up my head."
That made me laugh, hard. I was 19 miles in. Except laughing was hard. Made my abs hurt. My abs hurt. Trail running works your entire body. Parts of your body I'm pretty sure don't even get used while running. His sentiment was so accurate. I was cold. I was wet. My lungs were sore from coughing. My nose was raw from wiping it on my glove.
One mile from the end we stopped at the lookout tower for water. We were at the highest point of the state park. The lookout tower -- with something like thirty-million flights of stairs -- looked like a beast. So what did we do? CLIMBED it. I blame the loss of both my motor skills and willpower, and also because he told me I could only have my water once I got to the top. It's funny because I quickly found my motor skills and willpower then. Climbing back down was just as hard.
The majority of the last mile was downhill, which you'd think would be amazing, but not when it's covered in ice and sharp turns and rocks and snow. My body was on autopilot, which seemed cool, but I'm positive if I just let myself go, I would've tumbled down the hill, hit every tree, broke every bone and just laid on the bottom in a blissful heap because OMG IT'S OVER. Do you see? I'M ALL DONE!
Actually being done was pretty phenomenal. All I wanted was the pavement of the parking lot. DRY! Pavement! Flat! Footing! I has footing! YOU GUYS I HAS FOOTING!
I nommed on about forty-hundred fig newtons and took my wet, cold clothes off before I even had a chance to drink water. I craved dry. And warm. And get-these-goddamn-shoes-off-my-feet. I had blisters, and knew, by that point, I'd done absolutely NOTHING to assist in the end of my cold. Oh, I was doomed. But none of that mattered because we were about to go stuff our faces with pizza. SO. much. pizza. My body was craving sodium so bad I actually salted my pizza, which I've only admitted out loud a handful of times. Because. That's fucking gross. But you should've tasted that pizza. There are no words for the glory.
The weekend ended and the week began with the most debilitating soreness ever of all time in the history of sore. My calves! My thighs! My! Oh my god! And my cold. Oh, my cold. I didn't even go to work on Monday. Laid up, coughing, snotting, blankets, tea, "Big Love" marathon.
So basically it was amazing. A different kind of amazing and difficulty than any run or any marathon I've completed. While I was sore, nothing hurt that shouldn't have. My knees didn't hurt, my shins didn't ache. My joints were fine. Trail running makes you stronger. It's -- contrary to the debilitating soreness -- easier on the body. It's scenic. And challenging. And when it's not covered in snow and ice, it's going to pretty much rule the entire world.
I... am in love.
Tomorrow I'm going back. Fourteen miles. Bam. Take that.