On Sunday March 10, 2013, Mike and I ran Fleet Feet’s 14th Quivering Quads Trail half marathon. Two days before the race, FF posted photos of the trail as they went out to mark it. Completely covered in snow…
So what? I’ve run in snow before. In fact, I had just run the Castlewood Cup two weeks earlier and the whole race was snowed over – it was great! Well, by Sunday the snow had melted after two 50ish degree days, and the forecast for race day? Rain. This perfect mix of snowmelt and storms moving in made for the most challenging course in the history of the race (Fleet Feet’s words, not mine.)
Mike and I arrived to Cuivre River State Park and immediately I was impressed by the beauty of the park. If you have never made the visit, I highly recommend it. FF did a good job of directing traffic and keeping cars off of the mud and on the pavement, and parking was plentiful. Shuttles came and picked up the racers and we were dropped off at the starting line. Now, I have done 3 half marathons in my life, and all were 10,000+ people. The QQ sets a cap at 500 participants, but it seemed less than 200 when I arrived. Had everyone stayed home on account of the rain? I had no idea, but I welcomed the small crowds. After milling about and talking to other racers, my wave was called up to the starting line – we were being set loose in waves of 25, and my wave went out at about 9:30. Off we go!
The first mile was a service road that sloped downward. Although this area had some rocks, it was mostly a mud pit. In those first few steps, you made the realization that there was no avoiding it. This was going to be a muddy, muddy run. I got to the half mile point, and fell in with a guy who was running his first trail race. We chatted excitedly about the conditions a bit, but as we made it to the single track, he went off ahead of me. I was thankful for the small size of the waves – it was nice to not have a bunch of people crowding the trails at the beginning.
The first 6 miles or so winded up and down through the park. When we ran in low areas there was a mist hanging around the creeks, and water was just flowing everywhere. It was truly beautiful. The trails were just mud, mud and more mud. I had run in mud before, but never like this. It was a challenge, but a fun one – and everyone seemed to be accepting that challenge. A lot of the people were chatty, and it was great laughing and talking with others along the way. So on that went. Down a slippery hill, through a creek, up a slippery hill, through a mud pit, back down, rinse, and repeat. This trail had about 20 (maybe more?) creek crossings. The water was cold and never less than ankle deep, so I was perpetually cycling between getting covered in mud and then being cleansed by these icy creeks.
At one point, I’m not sure what mile, you course takes you along a steep ledge on narrow track that overhangs a steep bank over Cuivre River. The people ahead of me were walking this area, and I thought, hell, I’m going to try to run this section. MISTAKE! As soon as I hit that narrow track, my feet flipped down the muddy hill until that led directly into the flood-stage Cuivre River. Animal instinct kicked in, I let out a savage cry and dug my fingers into the mud to avoid falling down the hill and into the river. I clambered back to my feet and walked the rest of the track. A guy behind me, after witnessing my stupidity said, “Yeah, let’s walk this part.”
At some point after mile 6, the rain started coming down hard. The chatting mostly seemed to stop at this point. It’s a hell of a feeling running through woods a hard rain with a bunch of other folks. The hurt was starting to set in, and we’re all going through some tough shit. There’s a lot to be said for that collective effort.
At some point (maybe mile 8ish?) there was the one creek crossing to rule them all. Right before this, I was up on top of a hill and heard a loud “WOOOOOH!!!” from an enthusiastic runner echoing from down below. “He must be crossing something deep,” I thought. As I got down to it, I watched someone in front of me cross it, and it was just about waist deep! I plunged into the water along side another lady and as we got to the deeper section, the current nearly took my feet out from under me. We both kind of grabbed each other to get steady, and barely remained standing. I apologized to her for nearly taking her out, and she apologized to me because she thought she almost did the same to me! After some nervous laughter, we ran on. We were some of the last runners to cross this section before a volunteer came out to string a guide line.
Not too long after this I noticed the guy who started with me and ran that first mile. I slowly reeled him in, and finally made it to a hill where I was clipping at his heels. He asked, “do you want to pass?” So I said, “Sure.” It’s still a race, right? 🙂 The rest of the race became that repeat of mud, hill, and creek. Anytime I passed somebody, they would say things like “Good job, man!” or “Looking strong!” That just seems to be the vibe I get from trail runners. Everyone’s quick to smile, offer encouragement, and help each other out.
At mile 12ish, you come within view of the finish line, but must run away from it down that same service road you begin on. This was mentally tough, and my feet were hurting from my new trail shoes – Brooks PureGrit 2’s that were giving me some mad hot spots. A guy let me pass him but then fell in right behind me. When we reached the turnaround with a half mile to go, I looked at him and he offered some encouraging words: “We’re almost there!” He stopped for a breather and I continued on.
I crossed the finish line alone to a few people cheering with a time of 2:36. I ate an orange and banana, drank a gatorade, wrapped myself in an emergency blanket and cheered on runners while waiting for Mike. I saw some tears from one who did not finish, I saw some big smiles, and some frustrated faces crossing that finish. It was pretty cool to see all those stories at the finish line, and again get that feeling of collective accomplishment. We all just waded through 13.1 miles of shit and came out clean on the other side. Ok, maybe still a little muddy. And not covered in shit. 336 racers, and 336 different stories of a really tough effort. Once Mike crossed, we didn’t stick around for long. We celebrated our finish in the nearby town of Troy, MO with an IMO’s pizza, Provel bites, and a few Budweisers while recalling bits and pieces of one of the most challenging races we have ever done.
All in all, it was a great race and a great memory. I’m very glad I did it and will be signing up again for next year’s. I plan to bring some sort of camera so I can document a bit of it, as well. See Mike’s post to get a good idea of the conditions of the race – he wore his GoPro.