A run in the woods was a new experience for me. For over 50 years my family has been tramping around the woods just south of Grayling, Michigan. My Papa built a red cabin for his wife and three boys to come up and hunt when my Dad was just a boy. As a little girl we’d drive “Up North” (as us Michiganders call Northern Michigan) to Grayling to visit my grandparents in the home they spent most of their post-retirement years and we’d often take a quick drive down Oak Road to visit these spooky and dark woods that he spent so many important years of his life. When I was very little this just seemed like a place he hunted for deer and turkey, but my first summer in those woods they became magical to myself and my brother.
I hadn’t hit my teens quite yet and he hadn’t hit double digits. We stayed out in an old pop up camper for 5 days with no running water, no electricity, no toilets, and no modern amenities. At first I thought it was going to be awful, but it turned out to be the greatest summer trip of my life.
We spent most of our days reading, exploring, looking for deer, and making up things to do. There was no sense of urgency and every meal was for sustenance. It was also the first time we’d ever spent any real time with my Dad, who was always working. Fast forward to 25 years later and now we still make the trip every year. It’s usually only a weekend, but my Dad, my brother, my nephew, my husband and our three boys all make the trip. The same rules apply and it’s still my favorite thing to do in the universe.
This year we almost had to cancel our trip, but at the last minute we decided one or two days was better than zero, so we headed up minus Brosnan and Liam who were attending a funeral with their father, but Mike and I took Adam at 1.5 years for his second trip to stay in the woods. I was a little hesitant because I had 17 miles on deck for the weekend. I have tremendous anxiety before big runs, sometimes as much as a week in advance. This one was more of an unknown so it only added to the complexity of my neurosis.
To begin with, there was no real accurate way to add the GPS points up. I had to do an educated guess of what the mileage would be, and overshoot just to be safe. I knew that I would be doing off roading and trail running which I have not trained for and was not in shape for. This was also going to be a retirement run for my beloved pair of shoes. They had had quite enough of my crap.
There was also the question of bear. In our area there was a male who’d been frequenting the area for several years. Where we camp there was a blueberry patch nearby that they enjoyed eating. A mother and her two cubs had also been around for several years. We always take the proper precautions, but if you walk into a bears house you’re going to get ate! In seriousness though the last thing I wanted was an encounter with a bear. Black bear can run long distances up to 35 miles an hour and can climb quite well. An enormous amount of bear attacks come from runners unknowingly sneaking up on bear who are startled. I had to decide how to at least holster a blade to my pack adding even more weight, but it was better than bear mace.
After all of my budding concerns the night before none of us slept much. A pack of coyotes came within a few hundred yards of camp and took down a grown deer, (we found the remnants the next morning), there was a torrential downpour, and I had to share my sleeping bag with a toddler who seemed to be fighting all of the ninjas in his sleep. The result: Not much sleep to begin this trek. But at 6 I got up determined to get it done, even with all of my apprehension.
By the time I actually got out it was nearly 7, a full hour after I intended on already being out. My excitement to see deer along the way had diminished and my concern for a quickly rising sun became real. I didn’t have the energy I had hoped for, but I tried to set an even pace and stay focused and enjoy and the first 8 miles were enjoyable. I did see several deer, the quiet of the forest was incredible, the fresh air in my lungs was revitalizing, and the cool breeze was the perfect temperature.
At mile ten I was drained both mentally and physically. My legs had taken a beating from the gravel, sand and mud, but also from running on uneven terrain and running at a uncomfortable gait. By 13 the sun was bearing down and making me melt, but I was determined to finish strong. I knew once I got to the “canyon” (really just a big hill my dad named the canyon as a kid) it would be nearly a half mile down hill and then I’d be almost back to camp. The weight of my extra gear was putting extra stress on my back. 2-3 extra pounds on a run that long makes a HUGE difference.
I had at least kept hydrated so I wasn’t struggling with that. By mile 15 I was crushed. Up to that point I was making decent time in spite of my obstacles……..but this is what us runners call a WALL and it isn’t pretty.
I started to walk to try and collect myself, but I wanted to cry. Then I wanted to curl up on the side of the road and take a nap. Finally, I wanted to call my brother at camp and have him come pick me up. Even though I seriously contemplated it, I did none of those things. Instead, I grabbed my phone out of my pack. I still had service and messaged my running sister to tell her I couldn’t go on . She gave me exactly what I needed, the faith I had lost in myself and the strength to keep going. The next two miles were not fast, they were not pretty, and more walking happened, but I finished with 17.57 miles. It was the farthest I had ever ran on a solo run and though it got ugly it was done!
After runs like this a series of feelings can wash over. You can feel like a hero, like you can accomplish or do anything. Often you’re just too exhausted to do much more than base thoughts or activities. You can also feel like a failure for not doing it better. These runs I feel are the most pivotal in any training.
We have to get over our ego’s or our hopes and be humble and accept the result. We can only work harder to do better or do it differently next time. Not all runs are going to be full of glory and pride. You gather character, strength, and perseverance by moving past the sense of failure. You continue on with the work and that’s what counts. I still ran over 17 miles that day and I still finished in spite of the struggle. That’s what mattered. I wanted to give up, but I didn’t AND I asked for help when I needed it, so here I am.
20 is my next big number to hit. I hope that story is a little less eventful and a little more full of that glory. My runs this week have been strong and I feel confident even though elevation is going to be a challenge. Most of my training has been flat, but from miles 7-12 I’m going to be facing some serious hills. I hope the raccoons come out so they can hear me curse at the hills this time.