I had hoped to find my friend Jen Lebendig out there. We had run Bear Creek together and planned to reunite at this race, but she was nursing an injury, so I had no running buddies there. No matter: I figured that I would end up running with someone my slow pace and make a new friend. The awesome race director Barry gave a little speech about how we should look for white blazes and white ribbons and if we hadn’t seen one for a while, we should turn around, and we were off. The crowd thinned out quickly, and it was only a matter of a half mile or so when I was in the back. In fact, it appeared to me that the engineer had unhooked the caboose from the rest of the train: there was nobody in sight! So, with no conversation to interrupt my thoughts, I concentrated on lifting my feet so I wouldn’t stumble and looking ahead for the white blazes and white ribbons. Sometimes I would go off course, but as soon as I realized I had not seen anything white in a while, I would turn around and retrace my steps until I saw a white blaze or ribbon and knew where to go. I was proud of myself because I’m not much of a navigator. I once left Richmond to meet my husband in Baltimore and realized I’d be late for dinner when I saw the signs for Emporia, Virginia.
I guess it was about mile three or so when I saw a woman walking toward me. Out for a stroll? But then I saw she was wearing a race number and felt badly that she was injured and obviously having to walk back to the start. I came upon her and startled her. “What!?! You have already turned around at the endpoint of this race and are on your way back?” she said, but with little conviction given that I do not look like one of “those” runners. After discussing the fact that one of us was obviously lost and convincing one another that neither of us was good at navigation, we went our separate ways. Soon, I arrived at a creek that looked eerily familiar. I had, indeed, taken a wrong turn. I turned around and ran the other way again, carefully looking for white blazes. Maybe a mile or so later, I saw the creek again. This time, I decided to walk from this point possibly to the next aid station, just to ensure that I made it past whatever turn I was missing. Slowly, carefully, following the white blazes, I found the creek again. I stopped then to take a photo. I mean, why not? I was clearly in love with this creek. I went out again, and ended up at the creek even sooner than before. Would I ever get out of this forest? At this point, a fast runner came up behind me, on his way into the finish. I decided I’d better follow him in, taking a “DNF,” which stands for Did Not Finish. I guess this was a good idea because I got lost three more times on the way back to the start, which was only three or four miles away. At this point, because I wasn't going to have an official finish time, I stopped and took photographs when I got lost. You can see a few on this blog: could you find your way through these trees? Anyway, eventually I got back home and I watched the fast people finish, and talk about the places they got lost. We thought the front-runner had set a course record, but it turns out he got confused and turned around about 150 yards before the official turnaround. I don’t know why that made me feel better.
I seem to learn something every time I race. This time, I learned, if the course is difficult to navigate, I need a running buddy to make sure I can find the way!