Unchartered Territory

After several months of hiatus from running events, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that forced most to be canceled or postponed, I felt desperate to squeeze one major race in July to make up for lost time and give myself an excuse to finally take a respite from running for my right foot to hopefully completely heal. Following a few rounds of prayers, I decided on a six-hour race at the Barn Blazin’, taking place on July 19, 2020, in Salem, Alabama, and signed up in the final evening of registration just three days prior. The event would take the precaution of commencing in multiple heats, each about a minute apart, amid the coronavirus concerns. I foolishly underestimated the unrelenting heat and humidity I would inevitably battle and remained oblivious to the course’s hills, tall grass, and lack of shades (as well as a venomous serpent some runners encountered and one of them courageously removed); I assumed the course to be entirely flat and comprise hard surfaces that would allow me to run smoothly and swiftly.

PC: Southern Singletrack Trail Series

I drove two hours to the event location the morning of on barely two hours of sleep and entered this literally and figuratively unchartered territory, my first time in Alabama and first time racing in this desert-like climate, determined to reach the ultramarathon distance; nevertheless, I realized this would be verging on impossible from the very first mile, as my legs immediately felt the tiring effect of the uneven trail, not to mention the feels-like temperature ready to rapidly hit nearly 110 degrees. A fellow runner mentioned this day to be the hottest day of the year for Alabama and the radio on my drive to the race warned of the day’s condition. The one-mile loop, actually longer based on the GPS watches of all participants, concludes with a lengthy uphill, and after the first three loops of nonstop running, I wondered why I wasted so much energy running up this hill when I could walk up slightly more slowly with significantly less effort. Once the heat struck its peak and refused to back down, I became concerned my body, especially my head, would react adversely; I do not believe I had ever been exposed to such vicious heat outdoors, and I set out to run and/or move for a quarter of a day in it. I was baffled and entertained simultaneously that oftentimes running provided wind and helped my body feel cooler than walking. I psychologically struggled the most in the first couple of hours but had confidence time would start flying the latter part of the race based on experience, which proved to be true. Perhaps sharing several loops with a fellow Christian lady and discussing various interesting topics with her contributed to this, keeping my mind off the physical exhaustion.

Awesome runners I interacted with throughout the six-hour adventure!

They sting!

Upon completing my thirteenth loop, I discovered the volunteers had iced Coke and Sprite in their cool box, just what I had been pining for for post-race, and I recklessly drank a can of one or the other during every one of the next five laps or so, after which the race director and volunteers cordially did not let me drink any more soda for the remainder because they thought that unwise. I consumed unfathomable amounts of fluids throughout the six hours but never felt the urge to use the bathroom, testament to just how profusely I sweated. My legs had much more to give, evident by my easily passing multiple participants whenever I decided to speed up, but overall I took the race considerably conservatively for fear of heat, which added chafes to parts of my body previously unfamiliar to chafing, painful to say the least. Both of my feet developed major blisters and subungual hematoma under several toenails from the mushy terrain and my fingers swelled to almost double their regular size, worrying me that maybe my face was equally bloated.

I completed 21 loops, 21.45 miles in 5:46:14 according to my Garmin, and both oddly and understandably I did not feel ashamed by this result, given the condition that would have made simply standing (or even sitting) challenging. Merely two out of sixteen six-hour participants crossed the loop finish a minimum of 26 times, implying 87.5% of the field did not even arrive at the marathon distance. As always, I thank Jesus for protecting me throughout yet another one of my foolhardy adventures.

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