The Not-Dry Dry Run

I ran 13.1 miles for the first time on Sunday.

As my last planned long run, I extended from my 11 mile run last week, to the 12 mile goal, with the stated plan of running until I felt too tired to continue, up to my full 13.1 distance.

As I’m sure anyone who’s ever tried to run out and back to their home, there are limits to what you can do with loops and optional routes back; if you want to ‘get to 12 and then see if you’re done’, you either have to run out 6, back 6, and then somehow summon up the will to pass your own nice, dry, warm comfortable couch for that last, unwanted 1.1, or you have to find an alternate route that you can trick yourself into making a turn, less than a mile from home, that will add another mile on your route.

Much easier is just to run away from home the whole way, and bring a cell phone (and maybe cab fare, if you’re single.)

That’s what I did, plotting out a route to see the Willow Metropark which is just southeast of the Lower Huron Metropark where I have logged my long runs for the past few weeks. The run would be 12 miles from my neighborhood, into the North entrance of Lower Huron to the South entrance of Willow. Only about 2 miles of running on roads to get to Lower Huron, and then a nice long haul across the paved trails of the Metropark system, including a connector between Lower Huron and Willow. The 12 mile mark would bring me right next to my projected ride home, and I could finish out a lap of Willow’s circular path to get 13.1 if I had it in me. It was a good plan.

It was a great day for a run, cool and dim with only a vague threat of drizzles, so I went out in minimal gear, wearing short, tanktop, the Smart Wool socks I’ve fallen in love with for running, my camelbak for water, and 3 gus for the 2+ hours of running I was looking at.

The single smartest item on that list was wool socks. Because even though it did not rain on me an appreciable amount, this run was a constant contest against water.

At two miles, at the entrance to the running trail, I saw, but didn’t fully process a sign that said “Stay on Road or swim at your own risk”. I started to wonder if the low lying area ahead was flooded or swamped out, but when I saw the bottom of the first little ravine was dry and safe, I thought maybe it had something to do with the cyclists who were surging around me (maybe some kind of triathalon thing?).

I didn’t think too much of it until at about 4.5 miles I came to the footbridge crossing the Huron River and met up with the following scene:

Flooded Footbridge over the Huron River

The Real "Bridge to Nowhere"

Okay, thought I, no problem. I will just obey that sign from 2 MILES AGO and head up to the road.

Backtrack #1

Whoops, can't use that bridge.

My thoughts started to run as I got back into my run on the road, “Crazy weather this week must have put the Huron River up over its banks. Still, it’s nice and dry out, and this detour is hardly even worth mentioning. I will put up the pictures on my blog and this will be my funny story about my 13.1 mile run.”

Wrong.

The trail was flooded out again, this time a 100ft section swamped under 3-6″ of water where some houses overlook the park. Again, an easy detour onto the road.

I kept my feet dry like a fussy kitten.

That’s where the easy parts ended, and I got lost. I thought the LowerHuron-Willow connector would be as easy as just running down the trail and crossing a road, and it would have been, if I hadn’t made a wrong turn.

See if you can guess, from this aerial photo, where I should have gone, backtrack #2

When I got into ‘downtown’ New Boston, I realized I had no idea where the running trail was and backtracked again, looking for my mistake. Easily back on track, at around the 8 mile mark I met the Huron River again. This time, without a nice easy road to detour onto.

I saw the puddle up ahead. I saw that the water was flooded across the road. I saw that there was no transparent way around to the left or the right, and I didn’t know which way the trail went if I left it.

So I thought, “Maybe it’s not that deep.”

Now, if there isn’t an old adage about puddles, rivers and streams for travelers, it ought to be, “It is ALWAYS that deep.”

I plunged two steps into the puddle, but it was enough. The water was probably 4″ deep from the first, and my feet were instantly soaked. I made a motion which must have looked much like my cat running out the front door into the snow. I stopped in mid stride, planted my feet, and looked around miserably for help. Aside from a pink bicycle a quarter mile behind me (and did I hear the faint sound of giggling?) I didn’t see a thing. No detour. No easy route into the other park. And this puddle was 50-60ft long. But my feet were already wet. So I stopped my watch and trudged through. As the giggling girl on the pink bicycle passed me, I suppressed the urge to clothesline her, and tried to remember from my boy scout days whether wet wool would keep you warm (not a concern) or still not blister (more what I was worried about.) But I resolved to carry on regardless. I ran to the top of the next rise, and at a railroad crossing, before the next segment of trail, I saw a sign posted.

TRAIL IS CLOSED. WASHED OUT CONDITIONS AHEAD

An actual, mass manufactured, factory printed, bolted up sign. As the pink bicycle girl and her mother rode on down the trail, I secretly wished them to be carried away in a flood. Given that the river segment I had just forded had not even merited an orange roadcone half-heartedly placed nearby, I pondered what the water would be like ahead if it warranted what looked like a permanent metal sign. I sat down, removed my shoes and wrung out my socks (oh thank heavens for SmartWool!). A passing cyclist volunteered (after I waved him down, yelled until he removed his iPod and asked the question several times) some information about the trail ahead; it was pretty much underwater.

Not wanting to stop, not wanting to turn around, and not knowing what else to do, I struck out onto the nearby road and tried to keep a sharp eye for access to the trail I had left, or some other way into Willow to finish up my run. And if my judgment was impaired when I stepped into the puddle at 7.5 miles, my vision and logic were even more impaired by 9 miles when I ran across an overpass across I275. By the time I was on the other side and looking for familiar landmarks, I realized I was just north of the park. Problem is, the park has no northern entrance. If I kept along this course, I’d have to run the roads outside the park, and I’d hit 13 miles long before I got to Stephanie’s waiting car.

Wrong turn!

Backtrack #3 (of 4). Now I had to find the run/bike trail that I was pretty sure ran alongside the west side of I275, get onto it without breaking my neck, trespassing someplace that would get me shot, or crashing through the brush in 5″ running shorts.

Luckily, I found access to the trail at the bottom of a road nearby, and while it didn’t look like official trail access, it got me on to it. I was pretty sure that it hooked in to the LowerHuron-Willow connector. The run/bike trail along the highway is asphalt, but in a state of disrepair, heaved and broken in spots, with fallen brush and nature starting to encroach. I had to concentrate to maintain any kind of pace and not fall onto any of the unidentifiable pieces of highway trash that had blown or been discarded into the ‘ditch’ on the side of the highway. That concentration caused me to miss the white painted fence that indicated the connection to the trail I was looking for, and I ended up on an overpass again, this time alongside 275, looking down on the running trail I wanted to be on, trying to figure out how to get over, around or through the fencing that lined my trail.

!!!! STUPID OVERPASS

And that was backtrack #4 of 4. I found that entrance, pulled out my phone and stopped. I texted Steph my location and told her I'd be to the South Entrance soon, I pulled out my last gu, and set it in my pocket, and then set myself up to start running again. I haven't talked much about my pace here, but I was on track, if I ran a reasonable negative split, to catch the little grey guy on my garmin that represented an 11:00/mi pace. Sure, I had stopped, and turned around, I had turned off my watch for stomping through puddles and wringing out my socks, but I think those 'breaks' balance out against some of the adversity I had faced.

After that, the run was beautiful, but boring. Not much to say about those last 2 miles, which were through the quiet woods of the Willow Metropark, in some really great surroundings. I hit 13.1 for the first time, right by a lone tree in a clearing. Hands on my knees I looked at my watch and saw that I had finished my first 13.1 miles in 2:23:45.

11 days until the Pittsburgh Half Marathon.

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7 responses to “The Not-Dry Dry Run

  1. This post stressed me out! I’m a little neurotic about running…some little thing goes wrong and I freak. Fantastic run though, much faster than my first 13.1! You’re going to do great!

  2. Way to go for surviving this run (and then blogging about it in full detail)! Sounds like you are more than ready for your 1/2. You’ll do awesome!!

    • Thanks Lisa! Here’s hoping the puddles, detours and slowdowns roughly equal out to facing what the hilly city of Pittsburgh calls a ‘fast, flat course’.

  3. Pingback: 6 day streak | Wisely and Slow

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