Not many would call me country, but what transpired in the deep woods of Tennessee yesterday will soon have dozens of Crushing Iron readers calling me a nature boy. The Dry Creek Marathon (and half) was another spectacular example in the long list of contributions Nashville Running Company has delivered to a growing, and wildly masochistic, running community.
I woke at 5:30 am, walked the dog, then followed my printed Mapquest directions to the covert Dry Creek Race Headquarters. I shared war stories with Corey, Wasky, and Jim, then dug into my pre-packed race bag. First thing I noticed was (even with the uncanny day-before-planning) I forgot my Swiftwick’s. Luckily I was wearing a pair of Timberland over-the-ankle-hikers, but this adds to my increasingly controversial history with socks.
The race started predictably enough. Wasky shot out of a cannon, and I stayed with Corey for a couple miles until I realized our 9 minute pace goal was in the 7’s. I dropped back, but an unexpected “ab flash” by NRC Kingpin, Lee Wilson, gave me the adrenaline I needed to attack the wilderness.
Around mile three, we turned off the rather smooth roads and plunged down a steep, single track–covered knee-deep in leaves. It reminded me of my childhood and I took a retroactive risk by falling to my ass and gliding across the leaves like I was riding a luge.
It was dicey to say the least, but I crashed at the bottom of the hill, dusted off my Vince Wyatt for judge tech shirt, and tore through the rushing creek. That’s when the race got unusual.
While crossing the first creek, my foot slammed the rocky bottom, narrowly missing a helpless turtle flipped on his back. I was somehow flooded with a surge of compassion and decided to rescue the powerless creature. I tiptoed into the water, grabbed the outer edges of his shell and somehow avoided the turtle’s vicious snap that would have quickly removed my forefinger. I moved him to deeper water and watched like a proud father as he swam into the sunrise.
The creek bottom gave way to a gorgeous meadow and, while drifting into meditation, I was startled by a piercing screech. The loud, Macaw-like gobble was a heinous distraction, but clearly a cry for help. I tread lightly as the commotion unfolded before me and I spotted a wild turkey with its talons trapped under a boulder.
I approached the frightening scene with caution and, for reasons I can’t humanly explain, started calling the helpless bird, Frank. I calmed him with Zen mantras, “Ohm little bird,” “be at peace wild one,” “soup, soup, relax.” Frank responded with timid unrest as I softly pet his mane.
I sacrificed race hydration by unloading my water bottle at his feet and watching in bewilderment as the hard soil turned to mud, releasing the talon to freedom. Unfortunately my generosity did not confirm our connection as Frank took a wicked parting swipe with his claw that broke skin through my stylish knee wrap.
I was waterless, bloody, and facing the meat of the 700 feet gain. A beastly two-mile climb stood in my path and my valiant rescue efforts were falling on deaf ears.
Halfway up the monster, I locked eyes with a fainthearted deer, and let me tell you, the expression “doe eyes,” is no joke. The rough winter had taken its toll and this animal was obviously struggling to find food. I stopped again and approached her with a handful of quinoa which she eagerly lapped from my hand before bashfully begging for more. I reached into fanny pack and pulled what was left of my nutrition to feed the starving doe.
I wanted to stay, but these interruptions were a major drag on my time. Thankfully this new Zen Racing approach is paying dividends in other ways.
At mile 7 my favorite race photographer, Carolyn Wasky, snapped a fantastic shot of me before I flew back through base camp. Little did she know, the story on my face was showing much more than pain. It was a life altering 7 miles . . . and the last 6 would never live up . . . or would they?
Virtual high fives greeted me as I lumbered though the campground and Jim graciously took the above picture with his iPhone. I stopped in my mind to give him a hug and he wished me well before swearing to uphold his oath as 2014 Social Chairman at my above ground swimming pool backyard resort.
The road was rocky, but all that was left was a 3 mile out and back.
It’s always painful to see competition going the other way but in an unbelievable move of generosity, the leader, Connor, graciously stopped in his tracks and poured what was left in his water bottle over my aching ankles. A true pro.
Shortly thereafter, I saw Bryan, of Pearl Izumi fame glide by me with complete grace while answering email on his phone. It was a remarkable show of “endurance racing” meets “stalwart employee.” I was absolutely captivated when he flashed a picture of the new Pearl Izumi Road N-zeros and delivered a quick, yet heart felt sales pitch on the move. Consider me sold.
One by one, Wasky, Corey, Daniel, and Steven flew by in the opposite direction and, rather than lose my cool, my mind drifted to the creatures I had saved that morning. It was a wonderful day for nature lovers and I secretly inducted myself into the fraternity.
Around 1:56, and easily under my 2 hour goal, I staggered to my first Trail 1/2 Marathon finish. I stood tall, soaked in the magnitude of the day’s events, then slowly walked to the food table . . . and ate everything in sight.