Alexa’s Thunder Run

Before COVID-19 hit I had planned on racing the USA. My plan was to run an official half marathon or further in every state. I got the idea in San Diego. I ran behind a guy who’s shirt stated that he ran a marathon in every U.S. state. I asked if it was true and he said that he actually did it twice over. I was in love with the idea. I decided that a marathon in every state was too spirited a goal but I could bang out a half marathon on a whim. It’s my preferred distance. I would love to be one of the 10% of Americans that retire in an RV but I doubt I’ll be able to sustain that type of lifestyle. Why wait until I retire to tour America?

A couple of weeks ago I ran a local trail half marathon and it was fun. I enjoy trail running. Although it requires more of an effort, I find it relaxing. My mind doesn’t run as much because I’m very focused on the natural obstacles in front of me. I like trail races because I don’t have to think about where I’m going, I just follow the arrows that mark the course. I don’t actually race at trail races, I just go to have a good time.

I found a website that lists half marathon events that are going on in every state. I found a trail race in NJ. I had attended cycling races in NJ, but I never did a running race there. It was very inexpensive so I signed up. By doing smaller, lesser known races, I can save a bit of money and see more common parts of that state.

I drove an hour and a half to Newton, NJ. It was a small, pretty town. The event was to be held in Kittany Valley State Park. There were many warning signals that this race would be tough but I chose to ignore them, plus I was already there. The first thing I noticed was that this park was in the mountains. When I opened my race packet I was delighted to see that it was loaded with goodies. It’s the best goodie bag I’ve ever received at a race! I knew then that this would be no cake run.

I left the car to use the porto potty before I put my bib and hydration pack on. There was a sad looking young lady walking by. She told me that she must’ve dropped her gloves as she was leaving the house. I told her to come to my car in a few minutes, that I always carry more than what I need. When she came to my car I loaned her the spare pair of gloves that I had in my bag.

As the start was drawing near, two ambulances came and parked in the spots closest to the finish line. I probably should’ve bailed then but I decided to give it a shot anyway. There weren’t many participants, possibly forty. This was basically an event for hardcore trail runners. Before the start they briefly explained the course. The first mile was a climb up to the radio tower! We started running and, as we were making our way up, it got steep and those before me started to walk up. I never walked during a race before but I followed suit because these people had experienced this course before. After I was situated at the top I started running. I heard someone fall behind me. I asked if they were ok but I didn’t hear the response, it was a female voice.

Not long after that, I fell for the first time. I wore a long sleeve top and pants. I knew I’d be a bit warm but, after falling for the first time at the last trail race, I decided to protect my skin from another possible fall. I wound up falling three times. The final fall would be the worse. This was a very technical trail course. There were rocks, tree roots, large stones, downed trees, steep climbs, narrow paths on steep cliffs, and steep descents. Although I wore my trail running shoes, I still twisted both feet. A few times. I did a mixture of walking and hiking through this tough course.

I had choices. I could’ve bailed at mile five when we looped back to the starting line before continuing on to the next part of the course. I could’ve bailed at mile seven when I came back to the main road. I could’ve bailed at mile eight when I made a wrong turn back to the same spot. The volunteer informed me that I had made a wrong turn and to go back to continue around the lake. I kept eyeing the road that went back to my car. She knew my thoughts and told me that she knows it’s hard and that’s why she’s not running.

I continued on. I whimpered at times, bellowed out in pain when I twisted my foot. Each time I fell I quickly got back to my feet. I was alone in the woods calling out “Medic!” as I continued on. After the last fall I got up but couldn’t breathe. I stopped to assess myself. My ribs weren’t tender and I felt nothing out of the ordinary so I continued on.

In the last couple of miles I saw two runners ahead of me. I was close but I was running my race at my pace with no desire to catch up. I saw the young man fall and not get back up. I went to him, he said he had a cramp. I helped him work the cramp out of his calf as he cried out in pain. He told me that he didn’t want to slow me down. Although there was a three hour cutoff, I couldn’t just leave him there. I got him to his feet and we walked together, arm in arm, over all of the rocks, stones, and roots. When he seemed better I let his arm go. When the terrain changed to smooth I ran on. He ran with me until he couldn’t anymore. That’s when I went ahead.

In the last mile I caught up to the other runner, an older gentleman. We chatted until his friend, who had run the 10K, came to run the last portion with him. I went on ahead of them to finish with an official time of three hours and three minutes. The timing mat was still there and, even though we didn’t make the cutoff, we were still considered finishers and received a medal. The young man came later, after the timing mat was taken down.

When the race director awarded me with my medal I cried. I explained that I didn’t know that I was capable of completing an event like this. I was the 33rd out of the 34 people who had completed the course and the 16th out of the 16 women that finished but I did it! I took a beating on the course but I stuck it out all the way to the end. I proved to myself that I can do extraordinary things. When I got back to my car, I saw that my gloves were put into my door handle. They didn’t feel damp. I wonder if that was the young lady that fell and if she had finished the race.

Over the course of this event many people encouraged me. The trail running community is a very supportive group of people. If I had more trails like this one closer to me, I’d run on them and get better at it. I could get into this type of running, it’s challenging but I would really enjoy it once I got accustomed to it. It’s beautiful and peaceful in the woods. I should’ve taken some pictures, especially when I was by that beautiful lake. I’m sorry about the lack of pictures in this post……

This event was run very well. The course was well marked. The volunteers were very helpful and encouraging. There was a good selection of food at the end which included vegan options. As I mentioned earlier the goodie bag was top notch. I was very impressed with this event.

As always I thank all of the people that believe in me and encourage me. I don’t know if any of this would be possible without that support. Thank you all very much for reading!