July 20th, 2013 is a day I will never forget. It changed me as a runner (for the better) and I use the mental picture of that day in a lot of my runs. The pain I experienced that day humbled me forever.
I am talking about the Running with the Devil event I took place in last summer. It was held on the south mountain of Mountain Creek Ski Resort in Vernon, New Jersey.
First, the basics, logistics, what have you. The event is part of the NJ Trail Series. It was directed by Rick and Jennifer McNulty. In regards to the event, its organization, support of the runners, it was run really well. Rick and Jennifer have a full support cast with tons of food and drinks for the runners. It is well planned and organized, including race updates constantly on every lap. This was my first NJ Trail Series event and I ran a second event in November, the NJ One Day event. This was equally awesome and showed me that the support, food/drink, and organization are the standard for Rick and Jennifer.
The Running with the Devil has a couple of time length options available. Basically, you pick 3, 6, or 12 hour time lengths to run up and down the south mountain as many times as you can before dying or ending. I chose the 3 hour length as it was to be by first shot at anything this crazy. The loop itself is about 1.5 miles up and then 1.5 miles down, give or take depending on how straight a line you take on either route.
When I began, I noticed a lot of people walking or going super slow towards the hill. I didn't want to look like an idiot so I kind up just kept pace with the leaders. It wasn't until we hit the first real climb did I realize, in about 30 seconds, that I had willingly decided to run up and down a ski hill. That's when it hit me in my mind, later on in my calves, we were talking about a slope used to ski down at high speeds. During the first loop up, I ran slow mostly and wondered what I got myself into. Then I got to the top and started the downhill part and realized the complete torture I was now in for.
The downhill phase is steeper than I have ever ran, on loose gravel, and changing slopes and grades constantly. All I could do was sprint down. I would say I averaged about 6:30/mile down the hills after suffering a slow painful pace up. I was ok after one loop, got a drink from my super helpful support team of Maura, the kids, and Maura's brother Terence, his wife, and kids (side note, Terence was very supportive, helpful, and kept me in the loop and checking in on me after each trip down). I do not remember what was said, but I think I relayed my amazement of the course.
The second loop is when the pain began. I had never experienced calve and quad pain like this. It was crazy burning on every step up the hill. All the runners were noticeably slower the second trip up, choosing to walk more, waiting for the leveling off. Somewhere during this loop I also noticed some pain in my feet and didn't understand why at first. The toes and feet were both getting sore, but not in the movements from the trip up. It was on the second trip down, I realized that my feet, and specifically my toes, were slamming into the front part of my toe box and just abusing my feet. Mix in the loose dirt and gravel sneaking into my shoes too. Also, this is when the runners began to talk more I noticed. I did, I know start to commiserate more and try to talk things out with fellow runners. We exchanged advice and I was given a good tip about getting some electrolyte tabs on a next loop.
The third loop, and what would be my last, went excruciatingly well for me. Kidding. At the end of the third loop, roughly 9 miles and 2:05 something in, I stopped. My legs had never been put to a a test like that, and I have to say, at the time, I considered it a failure. I had a goal of at least 12 miles, or 4 loops. It kicked my ass and didn't hold back. However, I did learn something from that day.
I learned that I can handle the pain. I learned that the "normal" hills I encounter during and on the road runs and races, are nothing. I have run hundreds of miles since then and have no concern for hills anymore. I no longer give them second thought. Hill running is a big part of my training as there are a bunch right around me. I now, always, think about the Running with the Devil event anytime I am on a hill of any consequence. It gets me through quite well. I can also say, the event helped me become a member of the black toenail club. From all the pounding, I came away with the first 3, yes 3, black toenails I have ever had. I used to have a thing about toenail injuries turning my stomach. In the last 5-6 months, I have lost 5 toenails do to this event and a couple other events, one not running related. Toenail injury phobia cured!
Finally, if you look at my right hand column, you will see a countdown calendar to the Running with the Devil event, 2014. Yes, I am doing it again, provided that it works schedule wise for the family. I will beat my goal this time and I know full well.... It's going to kick my ass. I cannot wait.