The story of the day for the 2013 edition of the Otter Creek Trail Marathon, 16 and 8 milers was RAIN. I woke up in the wee hours of Saturday morning to a deafening roar of rain on the metal roof of my small house. Inches of rain were falling. On the way there, more fell. Once in the park though, the rain backed off which made getting to registration and prepping to run much more doable. The crowd was noticeably light, and who could blame all of those who stayed home. The trail system at Otter Creek is old and well built, but we had gotten an absurd amount of rain, and more was coming.
All three distances start together, and the perennial short distance ace, Murphy Sheets, rocketed off the front. Behind him, a gaggle of young guys tore through the first mile or so, but things were sorted out pretty quickly. A 16 miler I don't know, Ryan Althaus (wearing a Gopro and running for a fun lap), and I made up the lead group of three (well minus Murphy) by the time we were dropping in to Otter Creek itself. The trail was holding up surprisingly well. Huge puddles greeted us occasionally, but much of the trail surface wasn't too bad. Midway through that first lap, it started to rain again - hard. I enjoyed catching up with Ryan and the miles went by quickly. We dropped our companion on the climb to the ridge and wrapped up lap one. I had hit the ground only once and Ryan caught it on the Gopro - see attached.
Ryan peeled off to ditch the camera and said that he might come back out to try to catch me. I wanted to run fast enough to ensure that wouldn't happen (not that I didn't want his company). So, I just kept hammering on in the increasingly saturated woods. The major descent on the second lap wasn't too bad, but the thing I noticed from the top of the hill was this spider web appearance on the forest floor. It was whitish muddy water flowing down the hill on every trail and deer trail through the woods. Otter Creek itself was becoming engorged and the trail surface along side it was like those first few steps when you're running into the ocean. I had another couple much more spectacular wipe outs and made it through lap two feeling pretty solid - well mostly wet, but strong.
Lap three was all about just getting it behind me. My body was fatiguing a little due to the strange foot placements and the all-over-core/back engagement that it takes to get through such terrain. The two major water crossings were getting hairy. As I approached the first - a back-filled spot with a set of wooden stairs in it, I noticed that two runners were skirting around it by climbing way up the hill which looked much sketchier to me. Then once I saw the stairs, well the stair, I realized I was going for a dip. I waded in to almost my waist and then climbed up the submerged staircase. A volunteer, Mike Ford (who is an accomplished ultra runner) was running backward down the trail from his post at the Blue Hole aid station to make sure no one drowned at that spot. One other crossing, which was just a matter of skipping over a few rocks just two hours earlier, was a pushy and loud rushing creek of white water by the third lap. Things were getting hairy, and I was glad to be getting done.
I tried to maintain a decent clip through the second half of that last lap, but my body was feeling pretty worked from the strangely taxing water running that I had been doing for three hours. The course had disintegrated to muck, standing water, or more frequently - running water. Running uphill was more psychologically taxing because it appeared you were also going upstream. But, when I got close to wrapping up that last lap, I realized that my time wasn't that bad. In fact, I ran one minute faster that I did there last year. Crazy. It was bar none the wettest trail race I have ever done, on foot or bike. I love Otter Creek. It was my first marathon in 2008, and I've enjoyed every return trip since. This one will go down as one of the best, most challenging and most rewarding ones yet.
Huge kudos to Cynthia Heady and Headfirst Performance for another fantastic event. I love their races, partially because they're just great races, but mostly because Cynthia and Todd are wonderful people (and Cynthia's soups are to die for - sometimes I feel like I die a little running to reach that soup!).
Next up, trying to rip a 50k PR at The Pistol then getting recovered quickly to come out and pace Troy Shellhamer for the final 20 miles of his 100 at the same event. Hoping the Kentucky boys represent! Happy New Year.