This was NOT a Disney Half-Marathon!

I should know, because the only other half-marathon I’ve ever run was the inaugural Walt Disney World Half Marathon in 2004 where I finished in the top 10% for women overall in 2:01:37. And today, despite being a much better runner than I was back then, my unofficial time was 2:52:00!

TK Gator Trail Run at Tanah Keeta

Enter another inaugural half marathon as today I ran the TK Gator Trail Run and placed second in my age group. To say the course was wet would be the understatement of the year. In fact, this one almost got me to the point of a DNF (did not finish)…mentally, not physically. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Course

The race took place at the boy scout camp, which is practically on the Palm Beach/Martin County line. In fact, it was literally in my back yard! The trail is technically on private property, which made it all the more intriguing and mysterious because pretty much everyone who ran today had never seen the course before. However, since the camp sits on the southern-most portion of Jonathan Dickinson State Park on a parcel of land that was deeded over to the boy scouts in the 1950’s, it looked a lot like the trails I ran last week at the DTR Full Moon race.

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There’s nothing like that feeling of running on soft, white sugar sand!

Most of the course traversed the Mike Machek Trail, a 5.2 mile loop made up of sugar sand, flatwoods, and other various types of wetlands. To complete the half-marathon, we had to run the trail loop twice, then the 5K route once, for a total of 13 miles. The first mile or so was dry as a bone and I started thinking to myself, “Hey, this isn’t so bad!” Famous last thoughts!!!

When the Water Hit the Fan

During Mile 2, the proverbial sh** hit the fan as the trail started to get “a little wet”. “OK, no problem,” I thought, “I’ve run in a little water before.” But as it turned out, it was more than a little water. What I’ve neglected to say up until this point is that since I knew it was going to be a tough race and a fairly long distance, I didn’t shoot right out of the gate in the beginning. In fact, I believe I was pretty much in last place by the time I saw water for the first time. After running through a few smallish puddles, we came around to bodies of water that were literally bursting at the gills, spilling out into everything surrounding them, including the marked trail.

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Yes, it was beautiful to say the least, but slogging through copious amounts of water can be very tiring on the legs and I knew they would have to be moving for three hours or so!  So I had decided to start out nice and easy. And I’d say it was around mile 2 1/2 or 3 when I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me. With each and every water-filled portion of the trail I was losing ground fast! And the water wasn’t just 50 or 100 yards long. In some areas it was a quarter-mile or longer before you were able to step up on dry land again. And by dry land, I mean roots and mud!

By the time I hit the four mile mark, and the trail once again looked like this for approximately a half mile…

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Yes-this is a TRAIL!!!

…I had really started to lose it. I thought to myself, “Would I have the mental fortitude to finish this 5-mile loop, run (or swim) it AGAIN, and then have enough strength left in my weary legs to run (or maybe even swim some more) for three more miles?! And where was everyone else? Surely I wasn’t the only one who was struggling both physically and mentally with this course?” And missing a trail marker right around this point and running around in circles for awhile only adding insult to injury.

Well, I am not a quitter and right then and there I decided to suck it up and finish what I had started!

Lap 2

On the second lap I decided to just have fun. Sure, I had been running alone for more than an hour with no other trail runners in sight but I wasn’t going to let that deter me. I started taking pictures and videos and just basically laughing to myself at the absurdity of what I had gotten myself into.

And then, when I thought I might have to finish the entire race without ever seeing another runner (there were, of course, volunteers at various aid stations along the way) I spotted a few up ahead. Yes-I was on the right track! And I’m not the only one who was struggling. I hate to say it but seeing other runners struggling like I was rejuvenated my spirit and I got a rush of adrenaline that carried me through the rest of the race.

Sure, these two girls weren’t running the half-marathon but that didn’t matter to me. At least I had caught up to somebody! (It turns out they were running the 5-miler).

The Final Leg

As it turned out, I wound up seeing and passing quite a few of the 5-mile runners, which was good for my ego but bad for my sense of direction! Because once I had passed all of them I was on my own again. As I approached the end of the second lap I managed to catch up to another half-marathoner right at the place I got lost on the first lap. (No, not the place I already mentioned, this was another place where I went off course for some distance!). I introduced myself to Charles from Delray Beach and found out he was new to running and only picked it up a month ago when he signed up for the race. Good for him, I thought, and also told him as much. We found the trail markers after a short while and finished up the lap and headed out together on the final 3-miles. What could go wrong now?

Well, as it turns out, a lot could go wrong, and did. About 2 miles into this final loop we ran into a few other half marathoners who were coming at us from the opposite direction. We were all like, “Eh, what? YOU’RE running the half-marathon? WE’RE running it too! Why are we running in opposite directions?!” Well, as it turned out, Charles and I were on the correct route (phew!) and so they turned around and joined us. But our success didn’t last long.

At this point, tons of campers were walking towards us, seemingly from all directions, carrying their coolers and tents and such, so we figured we were heading back in the right direction. The only problem was that after passing a yellow trail marker 50 yards back we couldn’t find another one! We ran a little further and still, no yellow ribbons. We backtracked and saw a left-hand turn so we went down that way a little and still, no markers. We did a 180 and headed back towards the others we had been running with (who had slowed down at that point so they were still behind us) and we told them that we couldn’t find any markers anywhere up ahead. What were we to do? Holy Moly-only one mile to go and now this! Well, we decided to just head back in the way the campers were coming from because we knew the entrance to the camp where we started was in that general direction. To make a longer story a little shorter, we never found the correct route, but we did manage to run 13 miles and eventually find the finish line, cross it and get an official time!

So…all in all, I am very happy with my results because I had the mental fortitude to finish, despite all of those obstacles. Would I do it again, you ask?

In a heartbeat!

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