Monday, May 14, 2012

Race Report: Twisted Ankle Marathon

Well folks, marathon number two is now in the bag!  I feel a great sense of accomplishment, and had an awesome time on this one.  The location of the race was Summerville, Georgia, just northwest of Rome, at James H. "Sloppy" Floyd State Park.  The race name: The Twisted Ankle!  The terrain was mostly trail, some of it very technical, and the course involved running up and down a mountain multiple times.  To give you an idea of what we were up against, here's an elevation chart:

Notice those two pointy things that look like sheer cliffs?  Well they are both the same monster, otherwise known as "Becky's Bluff."  We were treated to a lovely double-dose!  In order to fit the race all on state land, this year the race had to be re-routed.  Therefore, we ran a blue trail and then a red trail.  Then, we did these same two trails a second time (while trying not to look at the lucky half-ers who got to call it a day after only one time.

My Garmin did not quite make it to 26 miles.  However, the woods might have made it harder to pick up signal.  Also, my watch notoriously short-changes me on mileage, even on my usual route which is clearly and accurately marked to the quarter mile.

So, where to begin: the good, the bad, or the downright ugly?!  Let's just say, I'm very pleased that I pretty much met all my goals for this marathon.  They were as follows:
  1. To NOT twist an ankle, bust a knee, or otherwise maim myself so that I could not run in the future
  2. To run with friends
  3. To have a really good time
  4. To finish this beast of a race
Notice how "run fast" was not on the list?  That's because it would have very likely conflicted with #1 above.  I have deemed myself a true trail-running klutz.

Before I get into details, here are the stats from a web link comically listed as "Full crazies results"
  • Time: 5:43:01
  • Average Pace: 13:06/mile
  • Age Group Place: 5/7
  • Females: 15/27
  • Overall: 71/107
Now, these numbers may look a little less than impressive, but I do believe the race director told us the night before that there were 56 females registered for the marathon.  SO...either 30 of them didn't show up, or quite a few didn't cross the finish line.  I know at least one lady who decided to cut it short.  This race was not for the feint of heart!

To see how I came to choose this marathon, please see my previous blog post titled Mountain Madness - Part I.  After driving up to North Carolina to visit my friend, Danielle, and run a half marathon with her, I was thrilled to have her come down here to run this one with me.  We enjoyed pizza for dinner the night before, and got all our stuff ready for the morning.

Sleep was kind to me and I managed to get a full night's rest.  However, I woke up nervous and fluttering.  The last words out of my husband's mouth were, "Break a leg!, er, I mean..."  On that happy note, we took off for the hour and a half drive to Summerville.  The ride did a lot toward calming our nerves.  Awaiting us were several friends.  Elise, Isabel, Charlie, and Max were running the half, while Tom, Paul, Danielle, and I were running the full.  Sweet Libby came out to cheer us on!

In stark contrast to my first stormy marathon (see the detailed race report), the weather was almost perfect, especially for mid-May.  Temps started at about 60 degrees with complete cloud cover.  Over the 5+ hours, they only rose to about 74, and we caught a nice breeze several times.  I was eternally grateful for that.

After a few final race instructions, we made a leisurely start of it.  We chuckled as the music played, "Another one bites the dust!" over the loud speaker.  Tom, Danielle, and I headed out together, laughing and chatting while the half marathoners took off at what seemed like a sprint.  We enjoyed watching the front of the pack runners glide around the opposite side of the lake from us.  They truly looked like a row of little ants on an important mission.

I carried my 23-oz. Camelbak "sippy cup" with me, filled with Gatorade.  I refilled that cup countless times over the course of the race and was glad to have every sip!  After rounding the lake, we took a right turn on a gravel road and started uphill.  Tom was cracking his usual jokes and keeping us very entertained (I know you're reading this, Tom!).  The race photographer was perched at a strategic location which we must have passed by at least 4 times.  It may have been more, but delirium prevents me from remembering.  Tom claimed that I deliberately blocked his photo opp. on the first lap, so he and Danielle conspired to hold their hands in front of my face for the second lap.  Ha!  I can't wait to see how those photos came out. By the last lap, we were acting quite silly.  Update: Sure enough...

After a bit, we ran past a campground where we could smell breakfast cooking.  Tom put in his order for bacon and eggs, but changed his mind when someone said they were making banana pancakes.  We constantly joked about how much more "fun" this was going to be the SECOND time around!  Unfortunately, by the second time we hit that spot breakfast was all packed up.  Along the way, I deemed it appropriate to conjure up 70s songs in my head and then sing them to entertain my friends.  Don't you wish you had been there?!  The only ones I can remember now is Jive Talkin' and Shake Your Booty.  Fun times.

Speaking of "shake your booty," this guy almost looks like he's mooning me behind the scenes before the race!  Could my goof-ball smile be the cause?

As we hit the many steep uphills, we slowed to a walk.  Then, we picked it back up again as soon as we got to the flat or downhill parts.  A few of the downward slopes were so severe that I had to plant my feet perpendicular to the ground and then shuffle them along to keep from sliding out of control.  Quickly we determined that I was faster at the flat or slightly uphill places, but that Danielle could easily smoke me in navigating all the downhills and the rough terrain.  Remember my number one goal about trying hard NOT to fall?

One place we seemed to pass an endless number of times was the Marble Mine.  Tom took this photo of Danielle and me.  We actually looked pretty fresh at this point.  Thank you, Danielle, for generously sharing your many race photos!

Near the end of the first 7-mile loop, we hit this thing called the firewall.  That was code for boulders, roots, logs, streams, and torturously steep slopes up and down.  Like a gazelle, Danielle, sauntered up and down and managed to get far enough ahead to take a couple shots of Tom and me as we stumbled and bumbled along.  On one of the hills I just stopped and had a little fake-sobbing pity party.  It felt good.

When you see this same shot close-up, you can kind of make out my look of despair as well as my pigeon-toed total lack of form.  Maybe this is why I fall so much...

Mile 8 was very tough as we headed toward Becky's Bluff.  Even the approach is rough.  By the time we got to that 0.6 miles of unbelievably steep grade, I had to stop for just a second to contemplate the slope.  I am eternally grateful for Tom's calm instructions of how to put one foot in front of the other and to give the front foot a rest each time.  Just the act of following his words helped take my mind off the pain.  Then, as Tom says, we would wobble along, kind of in a duck-like shuffle.

Just before mile 13, we listened to the cheers for all the half marathon finishers and tried not to feel too sorry for ourselves.  I actually stopped then for a very quick potty break since there was a flush toilet and no line.  Then we headed out for the second half of our adventure.  At least at this point, I was actually feeling pretty good.

As we got closer and closer to Becky's Bluff at mile 22, though, the hill just seemed to get steeper and steeper.  I took my first few steps up the bluff, and couldn't believe how tough it seemed.  I tried to use my hands to push my quads down for leverage, but they were so slimy from sweat that they just slipped right off.  At that point, I resorted to pulling on trees for support.  I would take five steps, cling to a tree, and look back.  Tom and another Daily Mile friend, Jeremy, were behind me.  Their faces reflected exactly what I was feeling.  I was moving so slowly that I was able to take note of several beetles on the ground.  I also remember thinking how beautifully the purple flowers looked and that they did not have to toil.  Then, I said a silent little prayer for strength, and plugged along.  That darn path just kept going forever!  It felt at least ten times harder the second time around.

When Tom and I reached the summit, I declared that was the hardest thing I had ever done in my whole life, including childbirth.  A guy sitting on a bench laughed and said I was at least the seventh person who had proclaimed those same words!

At least I knew the rest of the run would be relatively easy.  Little did I know that I was in for two last surprises.  I was running with a guy with roots in Tallahassee when we heard someone call out, "Snake!'  Upon hearing this, we cautiously navigated our way down the steep hill.  Finally we figured we were clear of the danger.  Without a thought, I trotted over a long, skinny, curved root.  Oops.  While I was in mid-air, the guy beside me shuffled to a complete stop trying to warn me.  Too late.  I looked back and saw that I had just jumped over an angry three-foot rattlesnake stretched right across the road!  My heart pounded as I looked back at it, and I tried to help my poor friend loosen up a muscle he had pulled in screeching to a stop.  Gulp.

My eyes were so wide open at that point that all I wanted to do was get to the finish line.  I knew I had less than two miles to go, so I hurried along.  Then it happened.  The FALL I had SO carefully avoided happened.  My legs were tired and I just got careless.  There was only gravel and a flat trail, but I had  somehow managed to fall...again.

I seem to be getting a tiny bit more skilled in falling because I instantly forced my body into a roll.  I laid there on my back with my legs in the air.  I looked up at the trees for just a moment and tried not to think.  Finally, the moment passed, and I pulled myself up, dusted off, and checked for injuries.  Thank goodness they were minor.  I had scraped my arm and shoulder up pretty bad, but the rest of me was fine.

I made a mad dash across the bridge and headed for the finish line.  I crossed it squealing with joy and flailing my arms about.  I'm sure it was a pretty amusing sight!  It was just so nice to finish with a tad bit of energy left.  I felt ten times better than I had at Albany.

After hitting the medical tent for some peroxide, scarfing down everything not nailed down, and posing for a couple of happy "after" shots, Danielle and I headed for the car where my pint of vanilla Haagen-Dazs was screaming for me!  Without even a feint twinge of guilt, I scooped/slurped it down.  Best thing I have EVER tasted!!


  1. What, you thought some of those hills were steep... just wait till you see what I add NEXT year!
    You did great, Gail... and nice to meet you!

    1. Twisted Ankle Race Disorganizer, Becky FingerMay 14, 2012 at 9:18 PM

      (That was me, Becky!)

    2. Thanks for a great and challenging race, Becky! If Becky's Bluff got any more steep, we would need to defy gravity or have some mighty sturdy tools to get up it!

  2. Great race report Gail...I love reading these reports, as it makes me feel a little like I was there. Very well done on your first trail marathon / rattlesnake hurdling experience !

    1. Thanks Michael! You are always so supportive with your comments. It's really fun to write the reports, share them, and read those of others. We learn so much and feel so connected that way. No more hurdling rattlesnakes for me. I'm all done!

  3. I'm glad you accepted the challenge with me- you did superbly on your first trail marathon! KUDOS on a job well done!! So... how pretty are the bruises today? hehe

    1. Thanks, and same to you! We might just have to add some of those race photos to our blog posts. I'm going to check on pricing. Bruises are surprisingly mild - yay!

  4. Wow, wow, wow! Wow to those hills, wow to that snake, and triple wow for your awesome photo finish. I constantly fall, so all that practice does make us fallers slightly better at it. My motto: roll out (to the tune of that Ludacris song).

    1. Thanks! And to think that I subjected myself to all of this (except the snake leaping part) pretty much voluntarily. there a Runners Anonymous meeting place nearby?

  5. I love the unknowing snake leap! Ha! I have yet to see any rattlesnakes but I've been on runs where I was warned they were ahead. I get more worried running up in North Georgia and seeing patches of fresh bear scat.

    Falling is a part of trail running. Everyone falls...consider yourself legit now. ;)

  6. Gail I think I jinxed you into falling- Sorry!! (BTW I’ve never fallen down running a race until I met you-go figure) I think between the rattlesnake we met up close and personal, the calf-lock up that followed and the fact we were less than two miles to the finish line I got a bit sloppy (pun intended) and ate it around 25-ish. I had no idea you fell down soon after I did, but my wife was on a bike at the short bridge when you came out and she said you were high-stepping and rocking toward the finish! At the end of the day I’m thankful we kept all of our teeth. For a while there I regretted not bringing a mouth guard for those radical downhill’s at warp speed! Dan Landrum

  7. I ALWAYS love your race pics girl, especially the finish line ones! You three must have been a riot on the trail! :D Great job and congratulations!

  8. that's awesome - congrats!!!!

  9. Awesome race report! You had a very good finish and time on a difficult course. I'm sure most of those 30 women who signed up where there, they just don't post the DNF folks. I've taken a few falls myself, one of them being just last Sunday running downhill. I was not hurt or scraped and not sure how I managed that! Great job. This was a race I wanted to run but it was on my daughter's birthday.