It has taken me a full week to collect my thoughts…many of which, along with my trail nectar (Tailwind), I spilled out along the dirt and trees in Omaha, Nebraska.
I took on the GOATz challenge.
GOATz (Greater Omaha Association of Trail Runnerz) is a group that lives in the Cornhusker State, and enjoy running around in the dirt. One of them happens to be last years female winner of the Western States 100. Make no mistake; for a place surrounded by…corn…there are some quick people that live in the woods.
GOATz is broken into four poor choices for you; the 5 mile if you are curious about bad life decisions, 10.5 mile if you would like to double your odds of regretful choices, the 21 mile for those who are convinced that life without pain is not a life worth living for, and the 50K in the event that your connection with humanity truly is that strained.
Naturally, I chose the 21 mile. Because, hey! I enjoy making bad choices and poor commitments in a 5th wheeler camper a month before this race.
The course is a full 10.5 loop around a lake in north Omaha, Nebraska. It is far enough north that you are removed from the major city, but not so far north that you are waving to folks in South Dakota. Understand, unlike my previous adventures, this course lacks rocks. However, there is a stark difference between lacking rocks and lacking hills. Hills, GOATz has plenty of those to offer (along with cute goat cartoons at each hills to remind you of the fool that you are). You will climb, you will want to sit down, and you will question how on earth Nebraska of all places can have so many strange challenges (and pine trees).
The 2016 course started with 515 runners. It turns out that, that is a ton of people lugging around water bottles, Tailwind, and Honey Stinger Waffles*. The 50K started 10 minutes before the 21/10.5/5 group took off. Incredibly, aside from the brief moment the course looked like the 405 in LA, people spread out rather quickly. The faster people moved forward…I did not.
Due to the lack of rocks, but also noting that it is an equestrian trail, please understand that you are guaranteed two things throughout your journey:
I told myself to go slow from the beginning. I had never tried a 21 mile race, I had never ran over 15 miles (two weeks prior), and realistically I had no idea what I was doing. I cruised with the main group for about two miles. I traveled through a few nasty climbs, some killer ruts, and a strange, peaceful sense of passing through a pine forest (pine needles on the ground are the best!). The first loop was not that bad until about mile eight. At the 5.5 aid station, while munching on a Honey Stinger Waffle, I sent a text to my wife informing her that at the start/finish I was dropping my vest and I needed sunglasses (this was also the first race I ever ran multiple loops). At mile eight, cruising through the deciduous forest of the Great Plains I was making good time. It was at that moment it happened.
IT=TREE SAPLING STUMP
I am not scared of rocks. I am not scared of snakes. I am not scared of running out of Tailwind…mostly. However, those stupid little stumps terrify the living hell out of me.
Commentator 1 (in my head): Shawn is having a great run today. He cleared out of the 5.5 aid station, took down a Honey Stinger Waffle, and is cruising through the jungles of northern Omaha. He looks to have three runners directly behind him, but what a pace the rookie has going for him today!
Commentator 2: Yes Jim, when we were speaking at the start/finish his wife made mention that his goal today was…
Commentator 1: Sorry to cut in Mark! Trouble out in the jungle! Shawn’s Saucony Ride9’s have found the secretly laid sapping stumps throughout the course. He did not try to save the ride, he just dove straight for the outside, avoiding three other people in this contact! Runners have slowed, he’s given the thumbs up with smile, and he is back up a running! Hopefully, this doesn’t change his plans for the day.
Knowing a group was behind me, I lost focus of where my heavy feet were going and I kicked one of the darn stumps with about every force within my being. I chose not to save myself, and instead leaned left into the tree line. This is the first time I hit the ground with actual force. Mud burrowed into the top of my handheld, my shoulder and hip made immediate contact, and in rolling I hyper-extended my right wrist. Through this whole process, unwinding in ten seconds, I bit down as hard as possible prior to impact. The runners past by (naturally, asking if I was alright), and I hopped back on the trail knowing Trail Tip #4 was holding true on this day. It took an entire mile for my jaw to stop hurting, it took seven days for my wrist to stop being sensitive to the touch, and even though it was not a fall that resulted in injury, the event put me into a funk leading into the start/finish.
The start/finish area is a hard reality. They do have a full aid station, but they also have the finish line…as in…it is over. When you start doing dumb(er) things in life, you stop getting to go through the finish line to end the event. You go through it to end your first loop. While trying not to cry, eating a Honey Stinger Waffle, and questioning how I was going to do a second loop, I dropped my vest with my wife, cleaned out the handheld to the best of my ability, and tossed on a pair of sunglasses. Usually there is a no point in sunglasses on the tree covered trails. However, there is a lot of exposure along the GOATz course.
Exposure (n): Where the sun burns you, the wind beats you, and Mother Nature takes her sweet time abusing you.
My wife, bless her soul, is not one to enjoy conversation when she knows that I am stalling. I tried talking to her, while getting a drink, and I turned around to say something else…and she was gone. In fact, like something out of a bad high school movie including a popular girl and a nerdy guy, she was back at her picnic table laughing with those around her. Never made eye contact again. I had no friends. I had to go back out.
The second helping of Satan’s little dish of delight went a bit quicker in the first 5.5 miles. I just moved to my own beat, which was good because I was all alone. At the start of my second loop on the 21 mile I could hear the cheers of the first and second place runners finishing…their 50K course. This was my day.
The second stop at the 5.5 aid station resulted in Honey Stinger Waffles and a few gummy bears. It was leaving that station that I truly started the sense the grave errors of my way.
If you ever lived on country roads you are well aware of the importance of a good suspension in a vehicle. Your body is designed in similar fashion, so much so, that like a bad Pinto the suspension can also go out in your body.
On this day, after the sapling stumps tried to kill me, being ignored by my wife (because I was stalling), and seeing the fast people finish well before me…it dawned on me.
I am a Ford Pinto.
The final five miles were some of the darkest times in my life. I was in this funky, strange trot through the woods. I could not run, but walking was not really an option either. My hips were not lying, they were done. My glutes had just upped and stopped functioning, and my big toe was burning for some strange reason. There were moments that I had realized how bad the race had become; people were passing me and saying, “Way to push through!”, also known as, “You poor thing. You look terrible!” and half a mile away from the start/finish I decided that I would force myself to run. One step fell in front of another, faster, faster, and faster and about the time I was thinking of completion the dull *pop* came from the hamstring in my right leg.
I hobbled over the start/finish line.
The finishers medal almost caused me to collapse under its weight.
I did not eat. I did not drink. I went straight to the massage table.
Afterwards, I took off my shoes and socks to discover that a callus had been partially ripped off my left toe. Pathetically, I tried not to faint at the sight.
Some Most races I am not in to win, and in some races the objective is merely to survive. It was not my day. It was not my race. It hurt like crazy, and I am so glad it is finished.
Later that day I had learned that the first and second 50K finishers had both broken the course records. Very few people (relatively) of the 515 runners failed to finish. My wife knocked out her second trail race, and one of my crazy, unstable mentor runners received a PR on the course. Plus, I got a hoodie because I signed up for a ‘long race’.
Overall, there are few places that run races as smoothly as the crew with GOATz. The aid stations were amazing, the course directions were fantastic, and the overall experience was awesome. Obviously, even though it was not my day, I would recommend this race, of any distance, for anyone. It is a great course for beginners and a nice challenge for experienced runners. Being 2.5 hours north of Kansas City makes it a nice two day event as well. As I told my wife, heading home sipping on Ginger Ale, there is nothing about the course or experience that made my race hard. GOATz as a whole is an amazing organization that the city of Omaha should have a lot of pride in.
What is next? I took my week of peace and quiet. Now, strength training begins and we begin to look at the Back 40 in Belle Vista, Arkansas in December.
I have to be insane to enjoy pain and story-telling so much that I want to go out and do it again.
*Biggest mistake of volunteering at an aid station? Trying a Honey Stinger Waffle. I. Cannot. Stop. Eating. Them. I told the aid station at mile 5.5 for GOATz that I was in this race solely to find the Honey Stinger Waffles.