Saturday, June 07, 2008

Mud run

(Photo by Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)

Date: June 7
Mileage: 12.1
June mileage: 247.5
Temperature: 51

The mud swallowed my shoe with a deep, slimy "shlorp." I pulled against the current with my free leg, but I was stuck, actually stuck, with frigid water rushing past my shins and salty liquid that was either sweat or sea water seeping between my lips. "Wow, I'm actually going to lose my shoe," I thought, and bent forward to gain more leverage. Another loud "shlorp" finally released my shoe, coated in five inches of cement-like mud but still attached to my foot, and I bolted toward the mirage of dry land, only to find more channels, more mud. Blood dripped down my legs from a menagerie of cuts sliced by the razor-sharp tall grass. The cold salt water burned my skin until it went numb. Tourist-laden float planes buzzed overhead. They were no doubt enthralled by the string of crazy Alaskans stretched out across the channel, a strange parade of running shorts, flailing arms, splashing, plunging, mud and blood. That's how fun the Spring Tide Scramble was.

The day turned out to be absolutely gorgeous, although a little on the chilly side. I showed up decked out in full winter layers, which I slowly shed as the sun sliced between clouds before the race began. I still had my wool socks on, which the real runners found amusing. "You're going to pick up some water weight there," one said. We all knew we'd come back carrying several pounds of mud. We talked about the course, an imaginary line from the island to the airport and back. "How far is it?" I asked. "About four miles," one guy told me. "But I think the winner last year finished it in 36, 38 minutes. It's a slow four miles."

I lined up with a friend whose boyfriend was racing the seven-mile version - a loop race but with more road and less mud. (Our out-and-back race had no road and all mud.) Our only goal was to beat him back. "How long do you think it will take you?" she asked. I looked up thoughtfully. "I don't know," I said. "Whenever I ride my bike on the beach, I usually spin 4 or 5 mph. I'm hoping to hit that."

I of course had to emphasize that I never run - *never* run - in order to pre-emptively disqualify the inevitable athletic embarrassment I was facing. The only rule in the race was to make it to point B and back. How we got there didn't matter. Someone shouted go and I jogged until I found a comfortable spot behind somebody else. I passed a couple of people and some simply dropped back, but for the most part, I stayed right on at least one person's tail for almost the entire distance, letting them choose the route and the steps over a course that had no boundaries. In the meantime, I felt pretty fresh and probably could have easily passed some of my "pacers" simply by amping it up a few more notches. But I've been out there before and I know some of those channels run deep. I was going to make sure I could see the head of the person in front of me at all times.

I met Karen on the turnaround and stopped briefly to take her picture (I had to stop because I discovered earlier that all the shots I took while moving came out slanted and fuzzy. Yes, I did actually take time to edit photos in the middle of a race that I was participating in.) At that point I was three or four minutes ahead of her. "What do you mean you don't run?" she said, smiling, but with a tinge of exasperation in her voice. A little ego boost to help power back over the mudflats. Thanks, Karen.

The fatigue set in during the final channel crossing, when that last "schlorp" sucked all the energy out of my legs like a vacuum. I stumbled for a hundred yards because I could not make my legs move faster. I felt like I was moving through wet cement, or one of those dreams where you want to run but you're stuck in place. I slogged and slogged and finally reached the razor grass again, where fresh skin cuts motivated me to high-kick like I had bees in my shorts and get the %$#@ out of there. Fun, fantastic fun. I finished with a time of 45:06, which I think made me either the fifth or sixth woman across the finish line. About 12 minutes behind the overall winner. I'll take it.

Another photo taken by my co-worker Michael. A few things stood out when I saw his photos. First was, "Hmmm, my shoelace is untied." Second was "Wow, my legs are really, really, really red." Third was, "I should have tried to reel in that No. 309 rather than stop and take a bunch of photos." Fourth was, "That really was a fun race."

I think I may have to re-examine my whole "running is awful" stance.