I always try to come up with a killer first sentence to grab your attention on these race reports but I just don’t even know where to start with this one. This particular experience will be hard to put into words, which is a foreign feeling to me, but I will try to make you feel what I did. Every little side stitch and each little grainy bit of gravel that would be embedded in my palms by the end of it all. I had the most bizarre night ever on the trails of Sweetwater State Park, compliments of the Yeti Trail Runners.
Snakebite On Yo’ Ass is the epithet printed in a fancy font on the race bib so obviously with a name and claim like that, you’ve signed up for a good time! I’ll start with this; Summer in the Dirty South. Gnarly. Relentless and unforgiving humidity that makes you feel like there’s not enough water in the world you could ingest for relief. Back in the spring when registration opened on Ultrasignup (the place where all terrible ideas are born) I was pleasantly surprised to see that unlike last year, this was going to be a night time 50k. Maybe without the hellacious sun beaming down that would decrease the misery factor somewhat? I wavered on registration until 13 spots were left. Of course with one little email, peer pressure sealed the deal and I was in. 2016 is the fourth installment of the ol’ Snakebite and from what I understand the course has been slightly different each time. Naturally, I was excited to experience a different course than last year. I’ve always enjoyed night runs but had never run more than 4 miles on the trail after sunset. The 7pm start gives you about an hour before needing a headlamp, which I prefer as opposed to starting in complete darkness. It gives my eyes time to gradually adjust. In training, I had good intentions of doing night runs longer than 4 miles, but you know life happens and I’m a creature of habit so I continued training with my sunrise runs. I thought, “eh, I’ll be aiight. 4 miles, 30ish miles… whatever, it’s cool.” Well, I’d see about that.
I made the 3.5 hour trip to Lithia Springs GA with friends Megan, Chris and Emily. The ride to the race is always fun and I’ve had the pleasure of traveling with Megan & Emily on more than one occasion. My trusty trail friends are a guarantee to put me in a good, optimistic mood. We had at least a dozen local friends make the journey to GA so the Huntsville posse was out in full effect and ready to crush some pine needles. We arrived to find that our group had already staked out a great spot near the finish line so we lined up our things and busted out the camping chairs. (We’re going to call the finish line “camp” since that’s where the loops begin/end)
We located check-in, picked up race bibs and began last minute gear adjustments. I was already sweating so much that the Body Glide wasn’t even sticking to my skin so that was my first indication that it was going to be more fun that a barrel full of Wizard Of Oz monkeys. I drank my Diet Coke and it was go time.
The course consists of 3 loops that are 10-is miles, give or take. We aren’t road runners, we don’t nitpick over exact measurements because there is no such thing in trail running. After some entertaining and reassuring race instructions from RD Jason Green, we were off. It took about .17 miles (look at your watch much, eh?) before my side started cramping like a mother. Like a knife in the gut. What…? WHY NOW? It would come and go for the first 6 miles too. I distracted myself with conversation like I always do and begged the Race Gods to pleeeeeease make it stop. It was way too early for this. I began stressing then decided to quit the Negative Nelly and just focus on my breathing. I needed to enjoy the change of scenery. These trails felt so soft and buttery and piney, unlike the surfaces of the majority of trails I’m used to at home.
Immediately I was reminded that I do not do well in heat. 100% humidity. Not a surprise. Unless you flew in from Canada for this race, you knew exactly what you signed up for. August in the Dirty South. I looked at my Garmin again and after a tiny but ridiculously long 2.5 miles, I decided I might make it one loop at best. In my head I was starting to give up already. I felt like straight-up horse poo. Three weeks ago I signed up for my first 100 miler so I began beating myself up thinking if you can’t even handle a 50k at mile 2.5 (this being my EIGHTH one, I’m not new to this!) then you definitely can’t handle 100. Suck it up. Lindsey, I swear if you quit tonight, you are going to look like a total LOSER. Little did I know, nor did I even think about it at the time, but I was one of many on the course with that same exact miserable thought during the first loop. I’m told there was a whole lotta droppin’ going on.
After climbing the largest, most infinite hill that God ever created around mile 4.5, we pop out of the woods onto a wide open beautiful red dirt path that turns into a huge, rolling power-line cut. In my mind it looked like a scene from a movie; the wind blew a big cool breeze and with my pony tail flapping dramatically in the wind and the sun beginning to set in a blaze of pink and purple, the burden of the past hour that felt like the beginning of a migraine lifted in a matter of seconds. Maybe it was the Tailwind/Excedrine combo kicking in but I realized that I was going to be ok! I committed to finishing another Yeti Snakebite. I saw that gigantic-ass Flava Flav medal and I wasn’t going home without one. Luckily for me, the worst part of the experience had come and gone. The Suck had ended.
We bounced up then down then up then down along the power lines and through a narrow corridor of low-hanging branches into the woods. I fumbled in my vest pocket for my headlamp because just like that, it was as if someone turned off the lights. “Shit just got real. Really fast.” I had to focus and get my bearings as the thrill of the ending of The Suck was over. Play time had to be put on hold in order to brace myself mentally for a long night in the woods. I remember thinking that I felt like I did that one time when I ran (skated) Mountain Mist after the ice storm. I was in a state of hyper-awareness and if there were to be any physical pain, it would go straight to the back burner because all I could do was concentrate on my cautious footing. As the night progressed, the intense self-awareness would dissipate some as I adjusted. It was becoming very real right now that this wasn’t going to be like my 4 mile Friday night runs. I started singing. Yes, I sing to myself in my head during Ultras. A lot. This was definitely a good time to pull out the music so I played my favorite band in my head, Arcade Fire.The song that seemed most fitting, Here Comes the Night Time.
When I hear the beat, my spirit’s on me like a live-wire
A thousand horses running wild in a city on fire
But it starts in your feet, then it goes to your head
If you can’t feel it, then the roots are dead
And if you’re the judge, then what is our crime?
Here comes the night time.
Then you know what? The best damn part of the race happened. The river crossing. Thank you sweet baby Jesus for water and thank you to the RD and all of the sweet volunteers that were out there on the Chattahoochee for hours. (I have to say though, I was sickly jealous of you when I saw the pile of empty Dale’s Pale Ale cans. You suck for that but only for that.) Are you ready for this… it was a Kenny and Dolly themed Islands in the Stream crossing!!! Guess what my favorite song was when I was a kid? Yep you guessed it. Then you know what played in my head on and off for the rest of the night. It was delightful. The Man himself, Kenny Rodgers, made a special guest appearance. I laughed so hard my soggy Sketchers could’ve busted off of my feet. The water came up to my waist and it was cool and oh so refreshing, it was the oasis in the desert. The river would be the mid-point of the loop and you know how I’m mental and I love finding specific points on the course to break things up. This river crossing would become the thing to look forward to all night/morning long. I could’ve just made a 50k consisting of river crossing. Despite falling each time, I savored my moments in that water. This is the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing Rucky Chucky, I thought to myself.
The hardest part of the loop was over, and back to the breaking-things-up thing, I knew I could count on the second half of the loop to be icing compared to the first. Well, sort of. After shaking off the water like a wet dog, we climbed the embankment and snaked along the edge of the river for a good while. I love this segment and remembered it from last year’s course. After a while you come upon a hundred year old infinite wooden stair way that sways when more than 2 people climb at once. But hey, that’s part of the charm. We signed waivers, it’s all good. Up and up we go. After exiting the historical first set of stairs built in the state of Georgia, there’s more climbing! There are several switch backs in this section to keep you on your toes. We’d already climbed the big daddy hill so this wasn’t so bad. Besides, we get to do it 2 more times in case we didn’t get enough elevation the first time!
The rest of the loop isn’t too eventful, it’s a couple of miles of even, seemingly flat gravel roads and a small section of very rooty trail. This was the part where I started thinking too much. I felt The Sads (technical term I made up) creeping in. Normally that doesn’t hit me this early in the race. I’d been running with Ryan for the most part but he ran up a little ways and though I didn’t realize he and Megan and Emily weren’t but maybe a half mile in front of me, I had myself convinced that I was all alone. So alone in the world. I’m convinced that I’ll be the last person to finish and I’ll have to endure the other 2 loops solo. I was definitely going to get lost in the dark and bad things would definitely happen. I went through every emotion in the book in a span of 20 minutes. Happy, sad, and every color of the rainbow of feelings in between. It was bipolar running (another made up technical term) if there is such a thing. I had to snap out of it. I didn’t know it but thankfully I was less than a half mile from camp and my friends were there fueling and waiting. Silly me.
As I turned off of the gravel road on to the trail, I could hear the party back at camp. This always makes me smile and run faster. I start to see the multicolored Christmas lights lining the chute and I get giddy thinking about the dinner I never finished earlier, half of an Arby’s turkey sandwich. My stomach growled just thinking about it. And more Diet Coke. And chocolate covered coffee beans. Down the hatch and on to round two.
Second verse, same as the first.
I felt a surge of relief to be with my trio again. About 3 miles into the second loop (or 13, however you see it) my headlamp started dimming a noticeable amount. Thankfully I had batteries in my pocket and asked Ryan if he minded pausing for a second so I could use his light to see what I was doing. Normally I wouldn’t hold someone up on purpose but let’s get real, we weren’t breaking any speed records tonight. I had more batteries in my kit back at the finish line but surely I wouldn’t need them. Right? (WRONG as we will see later!) As we approached the power lines, I imagined how amazing this section would appear in the dark. I’d gaze across the wide expanse and see little dots of light from several headlamps bouncing up and down, climbing and descending the rolling hills. It was… well, magical. Like Disney magical and a little trippy too. Yep, this is worth the experience. Sweltering heat and humidity and I feel it all.
The volunteers at the river were a little more festive the second time around and I was still a tinge jealous that I wasn’t part of their Chattahoochee get-down. The rest of the second loop was pretty smooth. When we arrived at camp, it was time to refuel and normally I’d push through in a hurry to begin the last loop but again, no shattering of speed records here so we took a little longer than usual. I thought my friend Cary was miles ahead of us but there he was downing the Red Bull and really trying to push himself to begin round three. Cary is a well-seasoned runner who’s been through many challenging events. I could tell he wasn’t feeling it right now. He was fighting the drop. “You don’t want to quit, Cary!” “Yes, I do want to quit, Lindsey.” Ryan and I waited till he polished off his second Red Bull then tricked him into getting back on to the trail. As we took off, he proclaimed “I HATE YOU Jason Green!”
Third Time’s a Charm
I led for a while and as things go sometimes, I started feeling great! Ryan even complimented me, saying how I was trucking along at a good pace and going strong. “Yey-uh!!!! WOO HOO!!!!” I shouted. Before I could even finish my woo hoo, my right knee was kissing the gravel followed milliseconds later by both stinging palms. I always try to roll but instinctively my limbs flew out in front of me and locked up like a cat being shoved in a pet carrier. I don’t always fall on trails but when I do, I have a strict policy of making sure it’s always on flat terrain. All I could do was laugh because seriously, that was ridiculousness. The guys were polite not to laugh and after checking on me, Ryan promised to never compliment me again. By this time, Cary seemed to feel well enough to leave us in his dust on the infinite hill. That damn hill. I won’t have to see this hill for another whole year though! As I’m climbing for the last time, I looked down and saw something tiny and fast shimmering in the light. A baby snake! I was super excited to see a snake at the Yeti Snakebite, I don’t know why. But I was. It was fitting. It was clear I was becoming tired now because I tried to say, “baby snake, Ryan!” but it came out as “Bryan… ”
Halfway into loop 3 my headlamp began to fade. Again. Had we really been out there that long? I killed another set of batteries? I started to panic a little bit. I was ill with myself for having batteries back at camp and not in one of my many pockets. How stupid! I didn’t know it but Ryan had an extra Petzl in his pack and extra batteries too. I guess if you can’t be smart, at least hang out with people who are. Nearing the last few miles, I felt another surge and decided to go for it. As I approached the male runner in front of me, I smelled something wicked. I realized it was Cary I was about to pass. Hey friend! I’m so sorry buddy, but this is probably the only time I’m ever going to cross the finish line before you so I had to go for it. Megan’s smiling face and pigtails were the first thing I saw amongst all the pretty lights at the finish line. She greeted me with “is Cary behind you?” Before I could even say anything we both started laughing and I said “he’s ok, he’s with Ryan. I HAD TO!”
It ended up being my second slowest finish time in a 50k but it didn’t matter because I had a great time. The entire Huntsville crew endured with zero drops. Allie completed her first 50k and Liz took home the title of 2nd place female as well as 2nd place overall. David, Megan, Emily and Scott all got a really, um, interesting training run for their upcoming hundred-milers.
Above all, I learned this: for God’s sake, carry more than one set of batteries for your headlamp. Run with the person/people you trust the most who you know will always think of the things that you forgot and will save yo’ ass from a snakebite or from a fall or from dead batteries. I can list a few people I definitely owe for that so I try to carry extra whatever’s and pay it forward even if it’s to a stranger. There are no strangers on the trail though, we’re all friends. Just some are old and some are new.
Also, I was reminded of just how quickly things can turn around. When you want to quit, just wait. Hold on a little longer because this too shall pass. I already knew that but on this particular night, I saw it in myself and in others.
I’m not sure I’d say it was the “hardest” 50k I’ve ever run but it had a totally different set of challenges that I hadn’t dealt with before. It was most definitely the weirdest 50k though! I mean that as a compliment to the Yetis. Weird is good. I went to a thousand weird and different places in my mind that night. It was a very Alice In Wonderland kind of trip I’ll never forget. My only regret is not taking more pictures. Thank you, all of the volunteers and organizers, I know it’s a gigantic labor of love. My second Snakebite was a success and I will be back for round three in 2017!