I fully intended to write a race report for the SJRT 1/2 three weeks ago, but I was extremely sick, and then I was bitter, and then I got busy.
I woke up that morning feeling like I had slept for five minutes, although I’d gotten nearly 8 hours. My body just felt completely drained.
Staying awake during the 50-minute drive up to the San Joaquin River Gorge campground area was difficult. Luckily I didn’t completely conk out and crash. I arrived early, and after a quick stop in the porta-potty I went back to my car, reclined the driver seat and took a nap.
After 25 minutes or so I got out of my car again and started walking around, trying to wake up. I felt hot, but intentionally left my thermometer at home because I didn’t want to know if I had a fever. As long as I didn’t know the number (like 102), I was fine, right?
A few runners and volunteers commented on how tired I looked. “Wake up, Farin! Are you OK?” they called after me. Wow… I must look like shit.
I thanked Nate (race director) for stopping the rain long enough for us to enjoy the race. It was a beautiful morning, with the wildflowers blooming purple, yellow, gold and white all over the lush, green hills.
I made my way to the front of the pack for the start of the race. I wasn’t feeling well, but I might as well use every opportunity I can to get a good position.
With a siren (ha!) we’re off.
As the large pack of about 200 runners barrels down the road, a herd of cattle suddenly takes off as well, crossing the road just ahead of us. Am I in the wrong race? I didn’t recall signing up for The Running of the Bulls!
There are several men out in front, and I’m trailing — though even with the two other female leaders. Runner Moe is winning this one, for sure. Carmen… wow! I’ve never seen her so fast! Hopefully I can hang on to third. I clock a 6:35 first mile. Yikes.
Just after Mile 1, we finally get onto some dirt. The damp switchbacks are peaceful. I’m trailing a man, but not close enough to feel like I’m chasing him .. and I’m far enough ahead of the next man to not feel like I’m being chased. Slow and steady, we ascend.
After zig-zagging past the green gate, we start my least favorite part of the San Joaquin River Trail. I call them the hurdles, although that’s not really what they are. It’s a series of black rubber flaps whose purpose is probably to provide some traction on the steep hill. I have no idea… all I know is they’re annoying. I have to lift my feet higher so I don’t trip. I’m already climbing, and they’re asking more of my short little legs.
After the hurdles, the trail continues to roll up and down and side to side through the gorgeous landscape of the SJRT. Finally we descend to the road where the first aid station, about Mile 4, sits. We can hear it before we see it. Volunteers are cheering and offering water and electrolytes. I want nothing — but to stop.
I force myself to run past the station as quickly as possible so I don’t lose my nerve and truly drop out. By know I KNOW I have a fever. I’m also getting chills and body aches. This is the flu. I have the freakin’ flu.
I think back to all the times people asked me, “Should I run if I’m sick?” And I’ve always responded, “If it’s in your head, like nasal congestion, etc., then sure. Run. If it’s in your chest, it’s not such a good idea. And if you have a fever, DON’T.” And here I am, running with a fever. Stupid.
The mile down to the gorge bridge is uneventful. The bridge crossing is uneventful. The ascent up the Pa’san Loop sucks. I’m slowing down. My body is shutting down. I hate this feeling. I hate this race. I hate this day. I want to stop.
Thankfully I reach aid station #2 and hear a familiar “Hey, darlin’!” from my favorite hiker, Sara Fry. (Check out the awesome work she’s doing at Sierra Mapping Project. She refills my handheld water bottle and I tell her I feel like shit.
As I leave the station, my teammate Michele reaches it. Within a minute, she passes me. “I feel like shit. I think I have the flu,” I tell her.
“I do, too,” she says.
“Fever, chills, body aches?” I ask.
“Yeah, it feels awful,” she says. “Just keep it up; let’s push through it together.”
That sounds good for 20 seconds as I try to keep pace with her. Then a huge chill runs through my body and I’m like Nope. “Go get ’em Michele.”
The Pa’san Loop climbs and climbs and climbs to seemingly no end. It feels so much longer today. A few more ladies pass me; they seem shocked.
I watch as I mentally slip from the podium and have to start guessing which age group they’re in. Maybe I can still place in my age group? Or maybe I should just take it easy; one step in front of the other, no matter how slow, all the way to the finish.
I decide to give it my best effort. I’m already running with a fever — a big no-no. How much sicker can I get? Does it really matter if I run 10:30 per mile or 13:30 per mile? Either way I have a fever. Either way I have chills. Either way I’m going to have to complete this 14-mile course.
I pull myself together and chase after the girl who just passed me. We’ve reached the top of the Pa’san Loop and it’s downhill from here. Time for me to kill it.
I fly down the hill and pass two ladies on the way to the next aid station. Then we have the “dog leg” part of the race — a not-so-quick out-and-back. I like out-and-backs because I get to count how many people are ahead of me, and since we’re looking at each other face-to-face, I can see how much they’re hurting. The same goes for the people who are behind me. I get to see how much of a lead I have. Plus I can encourage my friends.
I hop over the largest water crossing of the race. The little stream is probably less than six feet across and requires me to step on a rock in the middle of it to get across. I see my teammate, Brandon, approaching. Dang, he’s already done the whole out-and-back?
We shout words of encouragement to each other and a few seconds later I hear a loud crash and “Agh, FUCK!”
“Are you OK??”
“Yeah! ….. FUCK!” yells Brandon.
I’ll have to be careful crossing that thing again on the way back. I hope he didn’t break anything.
All I can think about is the chills, fever and new feelings of nausea as I run to the turnaround point that seems to take FOREVER. Finally I see Kim holding a highlighter. She marks my bib and I take off.
I repeat “Good job” and “nice work” countless times as I pass people coming the opposite way. I hug Audrey, who tells me I look really bad. Thanks.
Fill up my water bottle at the aid station and make my way down the loop to the bridge. I enjoy the final bit of descent of the race before crossing the flat bridge and then heading up, up, up that last mile of the course to the campground parking lot.
I don’t care what place I’m in. The woman ahead of me is about 30 seconds away. I have no desire to catch her. I don’t care if she’s in my age group. I just want to stop running and take a nap. My body is drained. I need some ibuprofen, chicken soup and orange juice.
Reaching the first parking lot, I check my watch. 13.95 miles. Why can’t you just make the course 13.1 mile all of the other half marathons, Nate? Why? Oh yeah, this is SJRT. Where everything is harder than you expect it to be.
I get back onto a short section of trail to head to the finish line in the other parking lot. 14 miles, my watch buzzes.
I’m not sprinting to the finish. I don’t even look at my time. I cross and find a table to lean on. Someone brings me water and Gatorade. I sit down and wait for everyone else to come in. It would be rude to leave, but I’m sure I didn’t place and I just want to shower and sleep this flu off.
The rest of the time at the race is a blur. Audrey brings me a vegetarian burrito from Benaddiction. I go up and get my award. Turns out I DID place: 2nd in my age group.
Then I head home. Fell asleep at the wheel for a couple seconds at least five times. Not good.
That was just a horrible, horrible day.
I felt better the next day, about 11 a.m. or so. 24-hour (30-hour?) bug, I guess. 😦