Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Rabid Squirrel Half Marathon

The race started with a parade of racers chanting in greek chorus style, "Everybody Walks!". I'll just let that sentence settle into your brainpan for a moment. To say that the Rabid Squirrel is a "unique" race is an injustice. Actually I can't think of a single word to sum up the race, but here are a few choice ones: creative; random; fun!; excruciating; surprising; beautiful. The race organizer, Derek, is either a mad genius, or simply mad. It doesn't really matter since his race is awesome. I mean, where else are you going to be carrying acorns in your pocket as you stumble across rocky mountain trails? Or singing songs and dancing at aid station check points? No other race that I know of, that's for sure.

The Race
I'll forgo all my usual blather and just graphically describe my race experience. It will speak for itself.

The Start
We were organized into starting corrals based on the creativity and insanity of our written test results. You read that right. We took a test after signing up for the race. I won't spoil the wonderful, random nuttiness of the test for future participants by giving away the questions, but suffice it to say the questions left me scratching my head and laughing at times as I "answered" them. The corrals were labeled with various sledge hammer ratings. I was in the Rainbow Vomit corral.

I can't explain this madness, so I'll just copy Derek's explanation:

"your sanity score will be on your bib. no sledgehammer means you didn't take the test. the plain sledgehammer means you are just crazy enough to take the test. 

the white border is a score of "acorns". you are nuts, but you are still a squirrel in training, but you've got some growing to do. the yellow border means you are bananas! who doesn't love you?! but don't slip! 

the multi colored border means you are rainbow vomit (this was decided months ago, so we're not riding the fb wave). in your head there are pretty colors and thunderstorms and barfing unicorns barfing up pots of gold with little dancing green guys running around smile emoticon....and if you get the pink border, you scored "flamingo toothpaste". for all of us, this is self-explanatory... "

And in case  you were wondering, the corrals determined your starting order, which for the first half mile of very narrow single track trail, made the difference in being passed by many people, or having to pass many people. Next year, I'm shooting for Flamingo Toothpaste.

To Moore's Knob
After starting, we headed up to Moore's Knob. I have been to Hanging Rock State Park dozens of times, so I knew exactly what to expect: STONE STAIRS. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them. I know exactly how many, because I've counted them at my other favorite Hanging Rock race, Top Of the Mountain To Ya!. For the benefit of my fellow racers, I started counting them out loud as we ascended. I made it to 37 before I was told to "Shut up!" by friends (hi Brandy!) and strangers. So, I'll let you do your own counting from now on.

There are precisely a steaming, heaping, crap-load of these stairs leading up to Moore's Knob.

At the top of Moore's Knob, there was a check-in point and a tiny little aid station with pineapple chunks, gatorade and water (in tiny little shot cups). The view was simply gorgeous!

Sauratown and Pilot Mountains in the distance

To Magnolia Springs
After having my bib marked, I headed down off Moore' Knob towards Magnolia Springs. I kept waiting for the trail to become "runnable", but I was sorely disappointed. In fact, my hip flexors really started getting sore since all I seemed to do for the next mile was hop, skip, and dance down a very rocky gully that was labeled as a trail. Finally, near the bottom there was a whopping 50 yards of runnable trail before we started the grinding climb up to House Rock.

To House Rock
The climb up to House Rock wasn't as bad as the climb to Moore's Knob, but it still required a good bit of hard, joyless climbing.

My friend Brandy makes climbing look easy and happy.
I hate her.

Arriving at House Rock, there was again a small aid station with water, gatorade and a small selection of snacks. I grabbed a cookie and was about to leave when a volunteer with a bag of acorns said "Here, take this acorn!". Okay. Um, sure. This seems random, but I'm fine with that. I put the acorn in my pocket and continued down the trail towards Wolf Rock.

To Wolf Rock
For the next mile I had this acorn bouncing around in my pocket. I had all these strange triple nut thoughts rattling around in my brain, which I tried to keep to myself. Stumbling into the next little aid station at Wolf Rock, I was greeted by a volunteer who instructed me to smash my nut with a sledge hammer. I made sure it was the extra nut and smashed it hard!

Photo stolen from Chris Boyce, a man
who was both slower and smarter than
me in this race.

I may have been a bit too enthusiastic with my nut smashing. Sorry, Derek.

To Hanging Rock
After my smashing success at Wolf Rock, it was off to the next check-point at Hanging Rock. If I thought any of the previous climbs were stupidly unrunnable, the climb up to Hanging Rock proved to be the worst. Not only was it totally unrunnable, it was also swamped with day hikers. But I eventually made it to the top where another volunteer instructed me to dig through a bucket of acorns and find the one that had my initials written on it. I spent what seemed like an hour digging through a bunch of acorns unable to find the one with my initials. Eventually, I told the volunteer I couldn't find it. She looked in the buck and in one second, found my acorn, sitting right on top in plain view. The nuts in my brain had apparently been smashed in the first 7 miles of the race. I chucked it over the cliff edge, got a quick picture with my friend Heiko, who had been running with me for the past 5 miles or so, and then headed down, down, down.

Me and Heiko after carrying, smashing, and throwing nuts off cliffs.

Down, Down, Down to the Finish
Getting down off of Hanging Rock was nearly as difficult as getting to the top. Heiko and I took a wrong turn and ended up falling down a very steep rock filled gully. Luckily, the gully intersected the trail we were supposed to be on, so aside from hammering our legs, no damage done.

Arriving at the visitor center, we were again greeted by a volunteer who assigned us a song to remember and sing at the next checkpoint at the bottom of the mountain. I was lucky enough to be assigned the "Chicken Dance" song, which really has no words. I could barely remember my name at this point, so song lyrics would have been problematic to say the least.

Somewhere along the waterfalls section of the Indian Creek Trail, the trail became so steep that you had to side step your way down tiny little rock ledges that were supposed to be steps. It was in this section that Heiko and I were separated. I turned around at one point and he had simply disappeared. I learned later that he was attacked by the trail. I couldn't hear the thump of his body slamming into the ground over my own banging heartbeat and screaming quad muscles.

At the bottom of the mountain was the final aid station. A young volunteer asked me to sing my song. I stumbled around flapping my arms in a seemingly drunken imitation of the chicken dance chanting "Chicken Dance! Chicken Dance!". It's all I could manage with what brain power I had left.

At this point I just wanted to be done, but still had about 3 miles of rolling single track left. After several near wrong turns and some running through some very beautiful creek trail, I arrived at the Dan River, and what I thought would be the finish. I looked around in confusion at where the trail dead-ended at a boat launch into the river, but another friendly volunteer quickly informed me that the finish was only 0.2 miles downstream. Great, I thought, almost finished! But then she informed me that I would have to run through the river to get there.

Way down the river on the right in the white shirt is my friend Aline.
I somehow managed to catch her just before the finish way around the bend.
Sorry, Aline!

I tried everything to get down the river as quickly as possible. I ran in the middle on the rocks. Very slippery. I ran near the edge in the shallow water. Lots of tree roots and hidden snags. I ran along the bank immediately next to the river. Lots of sucking mud. I ran through the woods above the river. Briars, brush, and poison ivy. Nothing worked. It was all slow miserable going. And I loved every second of it!

Actually, the river finish was the best part of the race, and probably the reason I will endure this madess again in the future. This race was definitely insane, but just perfectly nutty in the best way.

Hand made finisher award. Custom bib. And timing "chip".