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Horror Stories from the Trail

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. That is the crux to success in running. The more you can visualize and practice dealing with adversity, the better armed you will be to gracefully overcome it when calamity inevitably strikes. To help you equip yourself (and also to take solace in the fact that you’re not alone in the struggle), we’ve rounded up some running horror stories from four tenacious women.

Jade Eaton, Boulder-based trail runner and Balega team member

An avid trail runner, Jade participated in the TransRockies Run earlier this summer, the multi-day point-to-point 120-mile trail running race which takes place across the Rocky Mountains. Later this summer she challenged herself with another long-distance run which quickly turned to a “Type 3” fun kind of race…

Trail races are meant to be adventurous — it's the reason us "Type 2" fun-lovers enter them in the first place. But sometimes "Type 2" fun escalates to "Type 3" and there is no fun, only misery. My most recent trail race, which my race partner and I now lovingly refer to as "the Hunger Games race" or "bee-maggedon," was quite literally the most painful event of my life — and I've run 120 miles through the Rocky Mountains. After a poorly marked trail which led us (and over half of the race field) nearly three miles in the wrong direction, we marched on, unaware that the "fun" had just begun. Over the next several miles, we proceeded to get stung repeatedly by yellowjackets whose nests were scattered along the trail. Screams came from in front of us and behind as people pushed through the swarms doing their best to come away with as few stings as possible. Some fellow runners were so allergic they had to be administered EpiPen’s mid-race while others simply dropped out completely due to the pain. We (reluctantly) soldiered on and came away with a mere seven stings between the two of us — a small victory compared to the others who spent the rest of their afternoon in the medical tent.

Takeaway: "Sometimes it's easy to forget that while trail running, you're likely sharing the beautiful scenery with some other (non-humans) as well," says Jade. "Typically, I think of bears, mountain lions and snakes as the animals I should be wary of but as it turns out, some of the tiniest creatures wreak the most havoc. Oh, and carry an EpiPen if you're allergic to bees." 

Amanda LaVergne, Impi ambassador

A five-time Boston Marathon finisher, Amanda LaVergne is accustomed to the unique brutality of the famed race. This year presented unprecedented obstacles. Hurricane conditions, and at just mile four….

It was cold. Rain was pounding. Wind was pushing. Seeing beyond the person in front of you was a challenge. So my poncho and I moved around to find a small pocket so that I could run without being hit by other poncho-wearing runners. Unfortunately, someone disposed of a black garbage bag on the course. I got tripped up in it and did a full on faceplant forward roll then ended up back on my feet like nothing ever happened while my surrounding runners went between pointing and laughing and concern. The freezing rain acted as an active ice bath and if I didn't still have the scars on my knee or the rip in my favorite leggings, I would have thought it never happened.

Takeaway: “Never trust a garbage bag unless you are wearing it,” says Amanda.  No race or run ever goes perfectly according to plan. When you hit a bump (or garbage bag) in the road, remember that it’s just part of the process and keep going.

Abby Mitchell, professional trail and ultra runner

Boulder, Colorado resident Abby Mitchell capitalizes on the wild landscape around her to fill her masochistic yearnings. She is a two-time Leadville 100 finisher and 2018 Silver Rush 50-mile champion, but before she ascended the trail and ultra-scene...

A couple years ago, my partner Cordis and I decided to attempt a long mountain run called the Pfiffner Traverse. It’s about 75 miles, and we knew a lot of it would consist of altitude-induced slogging along the Continental Divide in Colorado. Since I made the incredibly wise decision to attempt this just one week after my first 50-mile race, it should come as no surprise that after about 14 hours, my body decided it wanted no more of this outing. I was totally wrecked, behind on calories, and despite a day full of fun, was ready to pull the plug on this thing. In most cases, bailing on a run isn’t too bad. Maybe you have to call a friend to come grab you because you rolled an ankle, or maybe you ran out of water and have to slog home for a couple hours with cottonmouth. But here we were on the (remote and aptly named) Isolation Peak, in the dead of the night. The lights of Boulder sparkled far, far below and I wondered how long it would be before I was home. I could hear Cordis a couple hundred yards ahead, making a call on the radio to our friend who’d agreed to crew us at our next landmark, Monarch Lake. Though it was crackly, I remember his voice coming through loud and clear, “You’ve got a long night ahead of you.” I was delirious but cheerful and convinced that we’d be there in just a couple hours. Cordis beckoned me on… and on. One foot in front of the other. Just one more peak. (And one more peak after that.) We continued like this, through the night and into the sunrise, for another 10 hours.

Takeaway: “This night changed me forever,” Abby recalls. “The very idea that I was able to continue for another 10 hours in the mountains, after I thought I had next to nothing left, made me grasp endurance in a way that I had not before. We are stronger than we think we are. Mountain running continues to repeat this storyline to me again and again, and each time, I’m grateful for it.”

Rachel Denler, Impi ambassador

Marathoner and workhorse Rachel Denler is tough as nails and unafraid to fight it out on the race course. But her attitude towards the adversity that is entirely out of her control is even more inspiring: 

I got food poisoning (or something icky) the day before a marathon and stupidly decided to run anyway. Let’s just say I ended up in every Porta potty on course, and even had to duck into a fast food joint, during the race, to use their restroom. Lol that was a bad day.

Takeaway: “Avoid eating out the week of a race and stick to simple meals your stomach won’t react poorly to,” Rachel says. “And, if you’re traveling for a race, bring a small portable kit of things like Advil, Band-Aids, and Imodium A-D.” And be able to laugh at the situation...at least in hindsight.

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