According to the Beat the Blerch website, the race was described as this:
“WHAT IS THIS CRAZY NONSENSE? Beat The Blerch is a 10k, half marathon, and full marathon inspired by this comic about running. Organized by The Oatmeal, 2014 was the inaugural year of this race and now it’s your chance to figuratively (and literally), Beat The Blerch in NJ 2015.”
What it should’ve said is this:
“You know that The Oatmeal encourages you to run outdoors and preferably in a loop so you can “mitigate monotony”. You’ve seen mountains and evergreens in his book, so be sure to connect the dots before registering. Join us for a gorgeous mountainside trail hike with intermittent spurts of running through the steep and winding hills of the beautiful Lewis Morris State Park in New Jersey. Enjoy the scenery while you trip and slip as you lug your body through the woods, over rocks, roots, and fallen trees. Careen downhill like a flailing toddler but be sure to catch yourself and use your momentum to swing around a tree trunk as you sharply change directions. It’ll be scary and sort of fun, but mostly exhausting. Sign up today!”
It was whirlwind 24 hours, so let’s just start from the beginning.
Packet pickup was at Road Runner Sports in Paramus, NJ. The experience was stress free and I was pleasantly surprised by how few people were in the store picking up their bibs and goodies. Employees were friendly and accommodating. The Oatmeal was autographing books, and his staff was super helpful. We totally fell in love with the Beat the Blerch hats and visors that were for sale. My brain was on overload by the sheer fact that we were in the same room as The Oatmeal and that he was going to have to make eye contact and maybe even talk to me… maybe.
Yes! Yes, he did and we even had a pleasant conversation with him since no one else was in the line waiting for an autograph. We chatted briefly about whether or not he was running at the race (he said yes, in a giant smelly fat suit) and about a crazy idea we had for Port-O-Potty line management. He signed our hats and we snapped a few pictures.
I love how he looks like he’s trying to get away from us, but we wouldn’t let him. Ha!
He even took the time to draw a Blerch Bunny in the cover of my well loved book…
We stood quietly watching the creative genius at work. It was amazing to have the opportunity to watch his process for a few minutes.
We gave the goody bag an A+. We loved sweatbands, Blerch tattoos, a great tech shirt, magnets, and stickers. Back in the hotel room we played and planned. Flat Jane and Flat Candice were ready. All was right in Jane’s world because our race bib numbers were divisible by 3.
When we went to sleep Friday night, we had no idea what we were about to get into…
Saturday morning we made it through Morristown, NJ and headed toward the park. We came across hills and signs like this —
We turned into the park and started up a steep incline and just looked at each other in fear. Halfway up the hill to the parking lot we saw a mile marker – it had a number 6 on it and I immediately felt a wave of anxiety start in my stomach that flooded through my body.
We found our parking spot in a field and just sat for a few moments trying to psych ourselves up. I’ll never forget the moment when I said, “It can’t be any worse than Hershey.” …….. Famous last words……..
We got out of the car just to survey the people around us. We heard a really REALLY fit girl behind us talking. She was telling a runner in a car next to her that her friend runs these trails frequently and said ……… I heard “trails” and then I think I had a stroke………..I didn’t hear anything else that she said.
Ignoring everything around us – hills, trees, and more hills, we just headed toward the music. To get to the start, we had to walk down the other side of the GIANT hill we had to drive up to get to the parking lot.
We arrived at the race area at a lake that looked like it was happily resting from all the summertime fun. It was a gorgeous morning, beautiful location, and the weather was perfection. Low 60’s and partly cloudy, we knew this was going to greatly work to our advantage. Blissfully ignorant to the type of course we’d be running, we were still hoping to PR. The race area had an The Oatmeal tent where Matt Inman was signing autographs, a few couches and Blerchs to take pictures with, some cake like goody wrapped with bacon (or maybe the bacon was wrapped in marshmallow – I couldn’t tell and the though of eating anything like that before the race made my stomach turn).
The Marathoners went off at about 8:10am, the Half Marathoners at 9am and the 10K participants at 9:30am.
The starting line was electric, just like they all are. Jane and I high-fived and wished each other luck as they turned us loose.
The start to the race was idyllic. There’s no better way to start a Saturday morning than running around a lake as the sunlight dances on the water, smelling crisp fresh air, and flowing with all of the positive energy around you. I looked at the lake, looked up at the sky, took a deep breath, made a statement of gratitude for the opportunity, and slipped into my zone…
And then we sharply turned into the woods and started our first ascent. Okay, okay, don’t worry, this won’t be too bad. I tried to talk myself into being comfortable with completely changing from running to more of a hopping from one sort of safe foot placement to another. I kept going, hiking and walking when I needed to. There were just certain parts where the trail was single file and everyone just looked like ants marching up a hill. I waited and waited to come out of the woods…I think I waited for about 5 miles. And then we came out of the woods and I felt the pavement under my feet, which was really good until all the gravel in my shoes rearranged itself to feel like 1000 tiny thumbtacks on the soles of my feet. No bueno. But I wasn’t stopping because if I stopped, I wasn’t starting again. I was already feeling tired as if I was between miles 8-9 and we were only at about 5. I shook my feet out a little bit to shake the gravel to the front, sides, or back of the shoes. I didn’t care, as long as it wasn’t the bottom. Out of the woods, we started up a long hill. I would say about a half of a mile. Then we got to the top of that hill and turned left a the entrance to the state park. Remember the feeling of dread I mentioned when we drove into the park? It was back and 100% intensified. My anxiety was through the roof. This was the first section of this mile long hill. This is just the start…
I realize that it doesn’t look like much in this picture, but I can assure you that it was more grueling than I thought. I made it up halfway then had to walk…again… After this mammoth hill we turned and went back into the woods. The course was relentless.
Over and over I kept thinking, thank goodness we joined CrossFit and made strength training an integral part of this race preparation. This was a test of endurance, but it felt like it was more of one feat of strength after another. Each mile felt like it took 1.5-2 miles worth of energy. I was spent by mile 9 and my ankles were really sore. Mile 10 brought some relief in the form of walking. I think I hiked most of this mile behind other walkers, but I can’t be sure. There wasn’t much room to go around people, so I just stayed in line and hiked. By mile 11.5 I felt like I needed to make my own 10 second video diary entry, Blair Witch style:
After that point I really just wanted to get to the end so I did what I could to maneuver around people and to keep pushing so I wouldn’t lose too much momentum. I tripped more during this last mile and a half, my legs were so tired. It wasn’t until about 12.75 miles or so (I’m guessing – my GPS watch went completely squirrely in the woods and wasn’t calculating anything accurately) we finally exited the trail and started to come back around the race area to the finish line. I couldn’t believe how good the flat ground felt, it was a completely different experience those last few tenths of a mile to the finish line. I can only imagine what my finish line photo looks like. I was pretty much giving that race the double birds and I’m sure I have a look of angry confusion as to what just happened those last few hours.
Jane and I impressed ourselves. We had no idea what to expect for time and I was actually anticipating that I would be somewhere around 3 hours. Much to our delight, we both finished with better times than we could’ve ever imagined.
The post race activities were simple and fun. We took a picture with a Blerch, got our bibs autographed by The Oatmeal (my shirt was too sweaty so I resisted the urge to ask), and we skipped past a buffet line of chips, cake, and other yummy bad for you foods. Only a few more hills away and we made it back to the car. Dusty and dirty, exhilarated and spent, we tried to make sense of the whole experience.
Random thoughts about the race:
*While they don’t look like they hurt, my feet felt like they were shredded. I really wished I had trail shoes and different socks.
*I would definitely do the race again, but would opt for the 10K…or maybe not. Today I’m not so sure I wouldn’t do the half again.
*I thought I would be way more sore today, but I’m only sore in my ankles. I am thankful for the yoga classes I’ve been attending, which certainly helped with my ankle stability and mobility. My legs are tired, but not sore.
*Mama D pointed out that the race was more of a workout rather than a race. You had to think about each move, each step, each maneuver.
*That was a big ol’ slice of humble pie.
TIPS FOR BEAT THE BLERCH East Coast (if I didn’t scared you off for 2016):
- DO take your own water. There weren’t many hydration stops along the way in the woods and I would’ve died without my fuel/hydration belt.
- DO wear trail shoes and expect to get dusty, scrapes, picker bush attacks, and possibly even poison something.
- DO this race if you are looking for a challenge.
- DO train on some trails…and HILLS! DO NOT expect to feel good if you’ve just run around town and on the track. Find the biggest hill you can and then run up and down it at least 26 times.
- DO strength train at least 2x/week before doing this event. Box jumps, burpees, core work, squats, box step ups, and lots of glute/hamstring work will serve you very well.
- DO yoga as a part of your training to remain injury free and to work on those stabilizer muscles.
- DO NOT expect to PR unless you are a trail runner by nature.
- DO expect that each mile will take more out of you than usual.
- DO buy the parking pass for $7 at packet pick up…or not….people who rode the school bus shuttle didn’t have to walk up a beastly hill get to their vehicles, but we didn’t have to wait in any lines and felt more in control of our time.
- DO expect the whole experience to feel surreal!
Keep moving forward,