Man, did I have this one wrong.
And man oh man did I pay the price for it.
I went into my Wild Oak Trail 100-Mile solo supported adventure thinking that it was me vs. the mountains. That if I trained right, tapered well and drew myself up to my most full bad-ass stature at the start, there would be no option other than the full four loops. My psyche was "Damn the details and full steam ahead!!"
That approach got me just two loops, with the final four hours washing away in the worst suffer-fest of all my running.
Some observations, a mix of erroneous and otherwise ...
• I'm not THAT bad-ass. It would have been bad enough if the critter who destroyed my FS96 drop point aid had just eaten the Fritos, but that critter also punctured the gallon of water I had there. So Pacer No. 1 and dear buddy Jack Broaddus and I did Miles 16-26 in the steamy mid-day temps on half a bottle of water. Oopsie. Didn't seem all that bad at the time. Didn't seem all that bad largely because I have a remarkable ability to ignore any signs my body is sending me (such as that slight burning sensation in my lower back) that things will be getting really, really hard in the not too distant future thanks to this boo-boo. Interestingly, the critter left my Ensure untouched. No need to dwell on the ramifications of that. Next time: A more critter-challenged container sans critter-attractive food. Plenty of room in my pack to carry bars and salty snacks and such.
• I'm not THAT bad-ass, either. Having the option to take the old-school portion of the trail that crosses North River or take the newer Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition spur trail that adds about a mile to each loop but that keeps one's feet completely dry, I chose old school. An extra four miles might be an extra 1 hour plus across the entire four loops, right? Wow. An extra hour. I mean, that could mean the difference between 38 hours and 39 hours. Never mind that my feet would be completely dry the whole time and not as susceptible to blisters and ... (if you want to stop now and look up "stupid," I bet you find my mug nearby. Hopefully it's a flattering shot ... ). Next time: Take the bike spur. Keep the feet dry.
• It's just night running. Whatever. My Petzl Tikka 2 is A-OK for Umstead 100 and Crooked Road 24-Hour and Hinson Lake 24-Hour. It's not even close to OK for Wild Oak. Loop 2 pacer Dave Frazier (aka one of my dear buddies and also the Cold TWOT course record-holder) fired up his Princeton Tec head lamp and -- BAM -- now that's a head lamp. That thing emits more light than one of my Honda Element headlights. Maybe it's just me, but I'm thinking that I wouldn't have put myself in such a fix with my back if I had been able to see better and hadn't slipped 423 times during that foggy stretch after midnight. Next time: Use a real light system. And go practice with it.
• Back spasms suck, but not as badly as a 100-percent pain beat-down all the way across the lower back. I think I've only cramped up twice on runs in my life before this weekend. The third time back on top of Big Bald when I pulled up short after realizing that I was going off trail. ARRRGH SCREAM LIKE A GRADE-SCHOOL KID CALF CRAMP. No problem. Sat down. Stretched the toes. All is well. No way that's gonna happen again on this run ... until the final four hours, when my back essentially decided that it was gonna play a little game with me and see how many times it would make me throw up and sit down, in no particular order. Good news: I only threw up once. Almost within sight of the finish. Other news: I sat down a bagillion times. It never really helped, unless you consider that it made Frazier and I go so slowly that the sun actually came up as we were finishing the second loop. Next time: See above for critter-proof fluid placement.
• Four hours to go 6 miles in the dark and fog is a special kind of beat-down. I once ran an entire Wild Oak loop in less than 6 hours. I regularly ran one in 6:15. Thanks to the dehydration and the sleep factor and the remarkable Left Lean (yes, it does deserve initial capital letters!!), I took me 4 hours to go the final 6 miles. (Did I mention that Dave Frazier is a saint for staying with me? He is. And then some!)
• Hellbenders and Orb Weavers are amazing creatures. Thanks to my night out on Wild Oak with Dave, I can now identify both Hellbenders and Orb Weavers. I apologized to both Orb Weavers on the climb up Hankey for taking out their hard-earned work, although I was still pulling those sticky webs from parts of my hydration vest some five hours later.
• What the hell is THAT over there? Fog-covered Lookout Mountain area. 2:15 a.m. Dave sees these eyes peering out from the left side of the trail. None other than a bobcat. Lying down. Watching us watch him. Stunning. Absolutely stunning.
• All I have to do is taper for Wild Oak, and I'll be fine. Haha! HAHAHAH! AHAHAHAHA!! I am at times a remarkably obtuse ultra runner. There is so much more to one of these back country ultra runs -- even with fabulous support crew Vince Bowman and pacers Jack and Dave -- than showing up to the starting line in tip-top shape. Details matter. Next time: Put out extra water. Lots of it. In thick containers. Without food in them. Get a real head lamp. Buy some hiking poles and practice with them.
• It sure is special out there in those mountains. While I am still stinging from the indignity of falling so miserably short of my goal, there were so, so many hours of pure, unfettered one-foot-in-front-of-the-other joy being out there. I'll be forever grateful to Jack, Dave and Vince for helping me chase this dream of mine. This time, I came up massively shy. Yet oh, the stuff I learned. Next time: Plan some better. Be less aggressive. Take what the mountains give. Respect the place a bit more.
Will I dance with The Wild Oak Trail again? Yes. Yes I will.
And next time, I'll keep all the Fritos in my pack.