Worst Running Experiences

I have written a lot about running. I have only been running for about five years but have managed to go from having to walk after a quarter mile to having finished four marathons in that time.  I am now able to to generally place in my age-groups for shorter races and have had generally very positive experiences.  If you scroll down you will see that I have written quite a bit about many of my great experiences and the positive impact running has had on my life.

Today, I thought I would share my worst running experiences.  I have had a few injuries, run in some nasty weather and dealt with the same issues as most runners.  Nipple-chafing is horrible. Chafing in general sucks. My body has shut down on me (Click this) I have had inattentive drivers almost hit me. I’ve literally had to dive out of the way of three. One person came so close that their mirror hit my hand. There are still jerks that swerve their cars at you just to see you jump to the side. I have fallen on ice. I think most of these are pretty typical.  Below, however, are my least favorite.

Dogs

First. I love dogs. I am a dog guy. The bigger the dog, the better. I am not necessarily a dog fan while running.

I’m running through my neighborhood with headphones in.  It is one of those freezing cold, snow -covered runs.  I’m just trying to log my miles, ignore my numb hands and listen to a little music.  The next thing I know, my left arm is jerked straight back, I stagger a step and am twisted around. As I try to make sense of what is happening , I wildly look over my left shoulder to see that my forearm is in the mouth of a golden retriever who has it’s legs braced and is pulling on my arm. My first instinct is to punch.

In a panic, I put everything I have into that shot and connect as cleanly as I ever have. I hit the dog square in the face with enough force that I am pretty sure that I broke my hand. The dog yelps, let’s go and takes off.  The owner comes running up to me.  “Hey!  you didn’t have to hit my dog!”  I am still trying to make sense of what happened and am a little concerned about my ringing hand and can only manage to say, “I didn’t know what it was doing.”  The owner sticks her finger in my face, says, “You’re an ***hole!” and chases after her dog.  To this day, I feel kinda bad for punching that dog, but it was unleashed, in a road, and jumped on me.  Maybe it was playing, but I just reacted.

Dog #2.  I am running down the road and see a woman raking her yard with a large dog.  The dog sees me and comes charging at me.  I know that I need to stop running to avoid the chase instinct and stand facing the dog.  It pulls up about 15 feet from me and starts to slowly circle me.  I am pretty good at reading dogs’ body language, but this one is alternating between wagging it’s tail and then laying its ears back and snarling.  I can not quite decide if it is going to wag up to me to get pet or if I am seconds away from being bit. What worries me most is that it is pretty clear that this dog does not really know what it is going to do next.

The lady is still standing in her yard watching. Without looking away from the dog I call out, “Hey, are we going to be cool here?”  Without moving she simply says, “I’m not real sure. He’s acting weird”  Her neurotic looking dog is still circling me and I am becoming less comfortable with its body language.  “Look. Can you please come get your dog?”  Again, without moving she says, “I am not sure he’d let me. We are going to have to wait to see what he does.”

This does not sit well so I say, “If your dog comes at me, I am going to kick in the head and I will not stop kicking until it is done moving or you come get. Up to you.”  She throws down her rake and says, “Fine.”  As she grabs the collar of her nut-job dog, she looks at me and says, “You’re an ***hole!” Yup.  Heard that before

The Most Scared I’ve ever been on a run

It is a beautiful summer day. Today’s route is not my favorite as I am running through a neighborhood that has a lot of families from the schools that I work in. I am not worried about any of them. I just like to keep work and personal life separate. I also prefer that students not know where live.

Regardless, I am running down the street when up ahead I see a couple adults I know from school.  They wave.  I look to my left, make eye-contact and raise my hand to acknowledge them.  As soon as my hand is up, my periphery vision glimpses a flash of sparks, smoke and a giant explosion rips through the air. It’s so loud, that it hurts.  The adults I am waving ate, dive behind their car. All I can think is, “Someone is shooting!” and I sprint.  I sprint ten yards ahead and scramble behind a random car in a driveway.

So many thoughts. Where is the shooter? Is the car between me and him or am I just sitting in the open? Should I stay here or should I just ran like mad? Where would I run? I’m confused, and I am not 100% sure that I would not be running right into danger. Was there only one shot, or did I panic and not hear the others?

I glance across the street and see the people I waved at starting to stand up. They peek  over their car. One of them points to where I had been. They both nod and start laughing.  They see me and yell “It’s OK!  We thought someone shot at you but it’s safe.”  I walk over and talk to them.  It turns out that a branch had blown into one of the city’s transformers.  It just happened that I had the misfortune of being almost directly under the pole when it exploded.  We all got a good laugh out of it, but I cut four miles out of that run and went straight home.

Too Proud

Two years ago, I won my age group and finished 5th overall at a local 10K.  It’s not going to happen today. Granted, I’ve been battling the flu bug that shut West Michigan down and I have been less intense in my training, but the cold, hard fact is that Father Time is starting to reel me in.  There is about a mile left and I know there are probably 20 people ahead of and that I am nearly 25 seconds/mile slower than I was two years ago. Worst of all, is that I am struggling miserably and just want this stupid race to be done.

With about a half-mile left, I try to push through and maybe pass one or two guys in my age-group to salvage the day a little. I catch a couple more and am going to be able to cruise across the line. Slower than years past and farther back in the pack, but whatever.  Then, with 50 yards left, it hits me.

I have never thrown up while running but my stomach just completely rolled. I think that maybe it’s just a quick reaction, but it immediately rolls again and hard enough that my cheeks puff.  I know that I am about to puke all over the finish line in front of all the spectators.  I can’t just do that right on the finish mat where everyone will be crossing, but I can’t run to the side into the spectators.  What is the etiquette for this type of thing? There has to be some type of protocol.  My stomach rolls a third time.  It is going to happen. Then the worst realization hits me.

There is nobody really close ahead of me. I glance over my shoulder and nobody is within 20 yards of me.  This means that the race photographer that is crouched by the finish line is 100% focused on me and is going to be able to snap off a bunch of pics of me finishing.  His lens is pointed at me and I have visions of three-picture sequences of me projectile-vomiting across the line are about to be on the internet.  I am going to be a meme.  It’s amazing what becomes important to someone while they are freaking out.

I cross the finish mat while making the gag noises and cut a 90 degree angle. I do not think I ran more than 18 inches past the timing pad before turning. Someone yells at me that I’m out of bounds, but I saw a gap in the sponsors van. I keep it together another three seconds while I squirm between two vans and stereo equipment to a small area where I am out of sight.  I will spare the details, but as things were happening my only thought was not about pain, what went wrong, frustration or anything like that. Instead, I was genuinely happy and thinking, “I am so glad I kept it together for those three seconds so there are no pictures!”

Those are the ones that immediately stand out to me.  Of course, I have had nails go through my shoes, been told that my feet hit the pavement obnoxiously loud, literally ran through wet cement while I day-dreamed (not proud), been mocked by college-aged women and been whistled at by a teacher before she recognized me but in general, running has been a positive experience.

So…what’s been your worst running experience?

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Ragnar Relay – Final Leg

You should probably click Ragnar Relay – Leg 1 and Ragnar Relay – Leg 2 before reading any further.

My last leg is only 6.6 miles but I am not excited about the cliff I have to run up at the end.  Check out this elevation map and the little treat that is waiting for me at the end. I joke with a tall blond runner that we better get grappling hooks.  She laughs and almost knocks my scrawny butt down when she slaps my back.  This must be what The Hound felt like when fighting Brienne of Tarth.  She leaves early and Team Beast’s 5th runner starts his leg ahead of me… again.

elevation

I finally start my watch on time.  I only need to run 8:30’s but I feel good and settle in at 7:45s.  I kill Team Beast’s runner about 1.5 miles in and say, “It’s so nice out, but I’m ready to be done with this.”  He laughs and says, “Damn it. You caught me on every one of my legs!”  Honestly, the only reason I talked to him was to make sure he noticed that. I can be such a jerk. I kill Brienne at mile 2.5.

I jacked up something in the ball of my foot on Leg 2.  It feels like there is a pebble under my skin and each foot strike is killing me. It’s still bothering me six months later.  At mile 4, I sit down, take my shoe off and try to massage it. Two things get me going. First, I’m scared my van is going to drive by and see me sitting on the road. I don’t need that kind of mocking. Second, I’m scared Team Beast is going to kill me as the foot has really slowed me down.

Running up Hacksaw Ridge is kind of a relief as my foot strikes are different. I wish I had a Sherpa right before Brienne of Tarth comes back from the dead and kills me with about half a mile left. I struggle, finish with an average pace of 8:23/mile and pass of the bracelet to Ryan for the last time. He’s only run 6 miles two or three times and he’s facing a 6.2 with some pretty long hills. Ryan’s been a little nervous about his last, and longest, leg.

This is a weird feeling. I am done. I can change into whatever I want and throw my third running outfit into a Zip-log bag (highly recommended odor-reducing trick). Ryan has to run and then Van 2 still has 3-4 hours left but it’s over for me. I’m done. As we drive to the exchange point, I can see that the Ragnar organizers really know what they are doing.  On our early drives, we saw between 0-2 runners.  Now we are driving by a steady stream of runners of various abilities.  When we get to the a drive-in theater for the Van Exchange point, it is crowded and there are a ton of people to meet and socialize with.  Ryan brings it home and Van 1 is done. All we have left to do is get to the finish line and run it in with Van 2 in a few hours.

cherry bowl

We decide that passing the time at a local brewery is not the smartest thing we have ever done. After one beer, we are all nodding off at 2:00 in the afternoon. We find some real food and meet our team about 100 yards from the finish line.  Pete comes around the corner and we all finish together.   I expected to finish around 100 out of 250 teams.  Somehow, a bunch of under-prepared, inexperienced, Ragnar-newbies who were in over their heads came in three hours ahead of our projected pace.  A finish time of 27 hours and thirty four minutes put us third in the Masters (old dude) division and 13th overall! Of all the races I have run, this is some of the best swag I have been given. The team medals are amazing and I love the baton for placing.

finishMedalsbaton

The next six or seven hours are actually pretty challenging.  The lack of sleep, and age, makes brewery hopping challenging and ten times tamer than it was 20 years ago but it is so much fun. I am able to have some pretty serious conversations with a couple guys I have not spoken to in 20 years.  As the night progresses, guys start dropping out and promises are made to do better about keeping in touch with the unspoken understanding that not much will change unless we see each other at Ragnar 2018.  The night ends at a brewery with people sharing their favorite part of the race. There are laughs. I talk about how cool it was to see everyone from my van at each exchange point.  Brownie talks of stepping over what he believed was a roadkill opossum until it got up and ran. The Smurf chokes me up a little as he talks about his 3AM leg.  He shares how he turned off his his music and head lamp (sorry Ragnar) before spending two miles running along Lake Michigan talking with someone whom he had recently lost. We all vow to race again next year and start trying to think of how to move up a few spots.  A 12th runner would help so Marty, Mark, and Greg don’t have to carry an extra leg.  Getting a Beast of our own wouldn’t hurt.

overtimeteam

One of my all-time favorite weekends ends and everyone goes their separate ways.  Ragnar was way more fun than I had anticipated. Truthfully, I had doubts that we would ever actually do it and kind of wanted it to fall through at various times. However, it far exceeded my expectations for fun.  I had the perfect team.  I also found it to be far less physically demanding than I expected.  With a 12-man-team, there is plenty of rest between legs.  Taking care of nutrition, bathrooms, and sleep can be a tiny bit tricky but I found the actual running to be less challenging than I expected.

Ultimately, I am a very blessed man.  I have been blessed with a family that not only lets me take a weekend for Ragnar, but encourages it. I am blessed to be able to financially run Ragnar. It’s not cheap. Entrance fees, food, travel, post-race lodging, gas and various other expenses make Ragnar a very real financial commitment.  I am blessed with health and a body that can drive all over northern Michigan while running 16-17 miles.  I am blessed that over twenty years ago I spent some time running around a campus with a bunch of guys wearing Greek letters. Everyone went their separate ways, but two decades later we were able to re-connect, plan out, and commit to a pretty intense race and I felt like we had never really missed a beat. For two days, I felt like it had only been a couple months since I had seen everyone and I am extremely grateful for those relationships.  I am a very blessed man.

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Ragnar Relay – Leg 2

If you haven’t read Ragnar Relay – Leg 1, you’re not going to have a clue what I’m talking about.

I forgot to start my watch again.  I am also regretting buying the cheapest headlamp I could find. It’s 11:00 PM, pitch black, and I’m running on some really chewed up roads. It’s only a 3.5 mile leg, but I have to run with my head tilted down so my cheap light will show the uneven terrain.  I am in the middle of nowhere.  In fact, I hear coyotes yapping and see several deer, opossums, and what I can only assume are Sasquatch by the road. My entire run consists of following the stupid white road line, glancing at my watch, and quick glances up to search for flashing red lights.  Ragnar requires that runners wear reflective gear and a flashing light on your back for the night runs.  It’s hard to judge distance, but each flashing light is a runner I want to track down.

For the second time, I “kill” Team Beast’s runner.  The guys on our team have talked about not seeing another runner for their entire legs but I know we have made up some serious time as I get 7 kills on this leg.  There are a lot more people around now.  I finish my leg having averaged 7:04/mile and am gassed. I pass off the bracelet to Ryan and start to search for the rest of my team.  It’s pitch black, everyone is wearing headlamps and quite frankly I’m pretty light-headed and dizzy after that leg.  All I can see, is a bunch of headlamps glaring at me and I accidentally wander into the woods until I can get my bearings.  I suddenly know what ET must have felt like at the beginning of his movie. I get mocked.

night

However, this is what I love about my team.   We have seen runners from so many other teams finish and say, “Where’s my next guy?” Some have had to go knock on van windows to get their next runner.  We never spoke about it, but everyone from our van met our runner a the end of every leg and saw the next guy off.  It didn’t matter if you were running the next leg or not. Everyone was there. Every time.

After Ryan again finishes his leg quicker than expected, we get the real Ragnar experience.  We drive an hour up the road, park in the middle of a racetrack with a hundred other vans and try to sleep from 1:00AM to 5:00AM while Van 2 runs the graveyard shift.  Almost every other team has rented massive vans. We are cheap and piled into our minivans and now I kind of regret it.  Everyone tries to play Tetris with their seats, keeps the van running for heat and tries to sleep in a weird position. It’s not comfortable, but what do you expect from a bunch of under-trained, inexperienced Ragnar newbies who are over their heads?

Van

I never sleep well in situations like this and end up getting 40 minutes. Part of it is that I was slow to recline my seat and got stuck in a miserable position. Part of is that other teams are coming in later than us and are socializing by the vans.  The bigger factor is that I am in a van with four other guys.  All of us have between seven and 14 miles on our legs and have been eating bad combinations of protein shakes, Gatorade, PBJ, trail mixes, jerky, etc.  The result is a symphony of flatulence on par with the campfire scene from Blazing Saddles.  It’s not a bunch of immature guys giggling away. In fact, everyone is asleep while they are dropping bombs.  It’s actually kind of amusing and I just smile as I track Van 2’s progress via texts.  However, the music of these four hours makes me vow to never run a co-ed Ragnar.

Sleep

It’s still dark when Craig takes off to start our Van 1’s last series of legs. Craig, Mark, and Marty picked up an extra leg and the following week we would learn that Craig had run four legs, totaling over 20 miles, on a bad stress fracture in his tibia.

We are all tired, and frankly kind of cold, as we wait in some random field for Craig to finish but everyone in my van is having so much fun that it does not really matter.  There is literally a rooster crowing as Marty starts his final leg.  Whereas we were the only ones at our first few exchange points, this one is crowded. We get to talk to teams that started significantly ahead of us. Some teams have dropped out. A few have picked up injuries or are slower than expected. We are just excited to have other teams around.

morning

Actually we are more excited that there are actually lines for the porta-potties. Sorry. This is the ugly side of Ragnar.  When you start in the last wave and quickly drop to last place, that means that 250 teams of 12 people have all been through those things before you arrive. Paint your own picture. If there are lines, that means there have not been as many people through.  Ragnar tip: Pack your own roll of TP.  You won’t regret it. Sorry.

Exchange ptteam

At 9:30 AM, I am standing at the start line for my last leg. It is warm. The sun is shining and I am completely relaxed.  I usually run angry. I tend to let my mind wander to things that bother me, people who have wronged me, or my frustrations and then run them out. It’s kind of my own weird running therapy.  However, this morning I have had way too much fun.  I have spent the past 21 hours with great friends and with guys I have not spoke to in two decades.  I can find nothing to piss me off and quite frankly do not even try.  I am looking forward to finishing this last 6.6 miles of Leg 29 and being done.

Our experienced runners have come through right at their predicted times or a little faster. Our less experienced guys have killed it and far exceeded expectations. The weather has been perfect. With little rain, we have been able to stretch our legs at the checkpoints instead of huddling inside a van. There have been very few glitches. Somehow, we are far ahead of our predicted finish.  I am expected to run this at around 8:45/mile which should be pretty easy. I feel like I have done my job with my first two legs and decide to just enjoy this one.

Team Beast’s Leg 29 runner takes off a few minutes before me.  Whoever their Beast is, must be really fast because this is the third time their runner has started ahead of me. But, he’s not that far ahead.  He’s mine…..

Final leg to follow