The Choose Your Own Ending Half Marathon

It’s taken me a minute to write about Saturday’s race.

I needed a little distance from it. Some time to work through my emotions. My resentments.

But really, most of my fellow runners have already shared their experiences.

They were mixed.

And not in a good way.

Sooooo, Sandman Extreme Half Marathon.

I would like to start by acknowledging that the proceeds from this race benefit the Wythe County Public Schools Foundation for Excellence. And few things are more important than ensuring that our kids have access to quality education and enrichment. So, I could feel ok that hopefully a decent portion of my $50 race fee went to this organization.

And then there’s the badass quotient of this race. It has the word “extreme” in it. So, that requires a level of ridiculousness that I can get behind. And the whole Sandman thing brings to mind sounds of light exiting and night entering and guitar solos and James Hetfield…

But 4:30 am wake up? That’s what I had to do to get to Rogue’s house in time to follow her to Wytheville. Where she threw boxes of Stinger Waffles and some Super Thunder Chocolate bars or something at me. Like that was gonna keep me sated enough to not whine out on the course.

It’s like she doesn’t even know me.

And then there was the treacherous drive, in the dark, down 81. Without glasses. Because the puppy.

But we made it.

And it was cold.

And I was whiny.

And the head of C&C, our dear sweet Roanoke Mayor of Running, tried to block me in the pre-race pic. So I forced him to cuddle with me for the pic. Because it was cold. And I was whiny. And I needed to be seen in the pic.

And then all twenty of us started the race.

It starts out super easy. We were running an 8:30 pace going out the first mile. Rogue asked if we planned to continue that pace throughout the race. Up Sand Mountain. A tall mountain. I mean, it’s a mountain. I was figuring the first rather flat mile was the only real opportunity I was gonna have to run with my busted Achilles and missing motivation.

And I was almost right. Except that halfway up the mountain, as I was walking happily (and comfortably) along, Rogue turns and says, “We’ve got this. Let’s go.” And then … makes me run. Up the mountain. Up Sand Mountain. Up the 1633 feet in elevation gain mountain.

I blame SCT. He’s training for Holiday Lake with GJB and kept challenging us and making us feel all peer pressured to perform. There’s a lot of pride in this community. I mean, I don’t have any of it. But it’s there.

Let me describe Sand Mountain for my Roanoke folks that haven’t run it. It’s like Peakwood and Hell Climb got together to create some bastard child that feels unloved so it goes around just setting fire to random shit and most of that random shit belongs to you.

It ain’t cute.

Rogue shared this photo from one of her people before the race. (Note: The entire town of Wytheville is her people.)

That’s what the top two miles of the mountain looked like before the race. That’s the kind of ridiculousness you want in a $50 extreme half. You want to run up 1633 feet of elevation where the top two miles are pure ice. You want the very real risk of slipping right off the side of a mountain. Make it worth the two and a half hour drive, ya know?

And so the road up the mountain wasn’t much better than that on race day. There was more slush mixed in with the ice. But the really slippery parts were on the outside of the road. The side on the edge of the mountain. The side you run on when you’re running back down the mountain. The rather steep mountain. Running. Because Rogue makes you run.

At the mile 7 aid station chick says, “It’s all downhill from here! … Except one more smidge of a hill.”

And it was downhill. Until we hit mile 9.

And this is where we encountered Rogue’s nemesis.

The “smidge of a hill.”

His name is Atkins Mill.

And he’s a dick.

Like, you know how Jefferson and Fishburn Parkway aren’t, like, super steep enough to justify walking, but they just insist on slowly inclining forever, pretending they’re all gentle and innocuous, when they’re really relentless, vicious cousins of that little Peakwood-Hell Climb bastard?

They kill your soul.

And then I somehow ended up alone. In the last mile or so. Because I was hungry. And desperate to end the misery. And get to the finish line chili Walters promised me would be there.

And when I say alone, I mean A-LONE. There was no one. I was in an unfamiliar town, running an unfamiliar route, completely alone. I panicked for a second. But then I thought, and here is where it all starts to go wrong, “What are the chances that even I could go off course in the last half mile of a race?”

Yeah.

I said that.

In my head. I said those words.

And shortly after that, I went off course.

I missed a turn.

In my defense, so did most of those behind me.

It was NOT marked. The turn. And I know the turn I missed.

Because I looked at it. And thought, “That looks like a place where this route should turn. But there are cones there. They seem to be blocking off the road. Are they blocking off the road to keep cars out so runners can run that way safely? Or are they blocking off the road to keep runners from going off-course? Good gracious, I’m hungry. I hope there are crackers with the chili. And coffee. I need coffee. And food. So much food. I’m gonna have breakfast after the chili. Did I pass a gas station on the way in? I’m definitely gonna need to get gas before I get back on 81. I don’t even like chili. But hot chili. It’s so cold out here. Why do I run in the winter? Is that a race sign?”

And by the time I had circled back around to the actual race route, I’d passed the cones and committed to going straight.

And then a pretty official-looking kid told me to turn right.

So I did.

And then a less official-looking and significantly younger child kind of implied, by standing up as I approached, that I should turn onto a path leading into a park.

So I did.

And then, again, there was no one.

And I got to the end of the path.

And there was still no one.

So I just went kind of straight. Until I saw a finish line. And a timer. That was not plugged in.

So I ran towards that. Until I saw SCT. And he was saying, “No Sunshine. You’re definitely off course.”

I feel like I knew that.

So I turned around. And did a couple of hesitant circles while SCT was pointing in directions. And then I committed to retracing my steps and going through a parking lot and finally finding another finish line. With an actual person and plugged in timer and everything.

And I finished the Sandman Extreme Half Marathon. With 13.5 miles.

And then runners started coming from all different directions across the finish line. Seriously. It was a “Choose-Your-Own-Ending” race course.

I mean, who needs race course volunteers or directional signs, right?

Or a finisher’s medal.

Who needs a finisher’s medal at the end of a $50 half marathon?

Or water.

Who needs water after mostly running 13.5 miles up and down a mountain?

Or food…

Wait.

No.

No. This is where I draw the line.

You do not. Absolutely DO NOT. Make me run a race. Of any distance. And not give me food at the end.

You see the issue here?

There was no FOOD for the runners at the end of the run. At the end of the 13.5 mile run. Up a mountain. An ice-covered mountain.

Now, I generally try to be a fairly pleasant human. Or at least not a violent human. I’ve been told I’m not necessarily as sweet as I thought. But I don’t just walk around screaming obscenities at people unprovoked.

But if the race director had actually been at the race that he “directed” …

But wait. WHY wasn’t the race director at the race? That he “directed?”

He apparently didn’t want to witness the shit show that he put on to benefit the children.

And now that I see that phrase, shit show, I realize. This is entirely our fault. Rogue’s. And mine.

Because we know.

We can’t go places without turning things into a shit show.

So, yeah. We apologize.

But on the bright side, Rogue is now really excited about the prospect of putting on our very own “Choose Your Own Course” race. She has some great ideas for it. I really hope she follows through. Because I won’t. But I’ll totally say I was part of thinking up the idea.

Also, apparently there were finisher’s medals. For some of us. If you were willing to wait an hour with no food or water for them to hand out the age group awards.

Which I wasn’t.

Anyway, if you need me, I’ll be going house to house in my neighborhood collecting everyone’s blankets because my heat pumps feel like 62 degrees is probably the temperature I need to exist at and like I mentioned before, I’m whiny. And cold.

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