When I signed up to run the Cahaba River Ramble 10 Mile Trail Run with my mom and our friend, Maggie, I had no idea what an adventure it was going to be. The Cahaba River Society puts this race on every year, boasting of a beautiful trail run along the last free-flowing river in Alabama. It is one of the most beautiful places I have run, although it is in the middle of nowhere. That is not an exaggeration.
I suppose everywhere is somewhere, and the three towns located around the Cahaba River are Vance, Woodstock, and West Brocton. If you blink, you will miss all three. Friday afternoon, Mom and I drove to the Greystone Inn and Suites, which is in the middle of a field and nothing else. No Wal-mart, no gas station, no McDonald’s, nothing…except for the hotel.
Once we reached the hotel in Vance, AL we decided it would be a good idea to find the location of the race. We drove 20 minutes through Nowhere, Vance, Woodstock, and West Brocton, passed the 2nd wooden sign (as directed) to the dirt road supposedly named River Trace (although there were no signs, we just guessed). We turned down River Trace and there was nothing, nothing, and nothing. It was beautiful, but there were no race tents, not signs, no banners. Just us, the dirt road and the rushing Cahaba River. We eventually made our way out and decided that maybe they didn’t have much to do to get ready and they’d show up in the morning.
Sure enough, when we arrived the next morning, there was the registration/packet pick-up table and a few other people milling about. We got our packets, which included two t-shirts, some Feetures socks, some stickers, brochures and our race numbers. Mom and I borrowed some bug spray from one of the volunteers since we had forgotten to bring any and there was nowhere in Vance/Woodstock/West Brocton to purchase any (except maybe for the Dollar General).
The race was delayed 15 minutes so that one of the aid station attendants could get to his aid station in his canoe… and we were off.
The first mile and a half was down the gravel road which led to Caffee Creek. The 5k runners turned around at that point and the 10 mile runners crossed the creek. I decided I did not need the rope, but quickly changed my mind after I slipped down all the way up to my neck. The water was cold and refreshing, though, so I did not really mind.
After a cool dip in the creek, I felt refreshed and ready to run the trails. These trails were very diverse, from heavy packed dirt, leaves, and pine needles under the trees, to loose sand along the riverbank, to the deep mud and large puddles in the low spots. I was running along, loving the smell and the sounds of the river and the woods. Running trails always makes me think of the movie, Last of the Mohicans, and I imagine myself as Hawkeye running through the woods to rescue Cora (although when he gets there, I AM Cora).
So I was running along, loving every moment when all of a sudden my right foot landed on unsteady ground and my ankle turned with a snap. My breath caught and I hopped on one foot until I could get myself to put the right one down. I continued running, albeit slower, to see what my ankle would do. I looked at my Garmin to see that I was on mile 2.88. And just like the rest of the trip, I was in the middle of nowhere.
I really wanted to finish the race and so I kept running. Eventually the pain dulled to an ache and I knew I could tolerate that pain level. A man named Len caught up to me and we ran and chatted as I tried not to think about my ankle. I ran as carefully as I could so I would not turn it again, for I was sure that would send me over the edge.
The most excruciating moments were those going downhill. Len got ahead of me whenever we went downhill, but I caught him again when we climbed or ran on a flat surface. Before long, however, he left me on a long downhill as my run turned in to a slow hobble.
The miles passed quickly, despite the pain in my foot, and I still enjoyed the different scenery along the course. The only annoyances were the pesky horse flies that pegged me in the head from time to time, but I only suffered one real bite during the race. I looked forward to the second creek crossing because I knew the cold water would ease the pain in my ankle enough for me to finish the race on the flat gravel road.
The creek crossing was wonderful, as expected, and once out, I took off down the gravel road to catch the runner I’d named “Grandpa” who had passed me after Len. I did not realize that the “great equalizer” as described by the race director was yet to be run. I assumed we had already climbed it and so when we were directed to turn off the gravel road, I looked up and thought, no way.
The hill was so steep runners could not even walk it. This was a climb. It did not hurt my ankle, however, so I went as hard as I could go. Legs pumping and lungs heaving, I finally made it to the top and began to go…down. I don’t think I have ever wanted to reach the bottom of the hill so badly. I heard footsteps behind me and right before getting back on to the gravel road, a girl in a purple tank top passed me.
I joked with her about being glad that was over and said, “good job” as she ran ahead of me. I was okay with this for a time. Then I thought wait a minute, she was behind me for 9 miles. I don’ think she should finish in front of me. Silly, I know, especially under the circumstances, but I was annoyed that my ankle was slowing me down so I picked up my pace and went after her. All in good fun, of course.
She could hear me coming on the loud gravel road and she picked up her pace. So did I. We raced toward the end and I passed her right before the finish clock, beating her by a mere 4 seconds. I sort of felt bad about it afterward but…I’d been in whatever place that was for 9 miles. I figured I should keep it, despite the ankle issue.
I got some water and grabbed my camera, walking slowly back along the course to cheer for Mom and Maggie. Mom soon showed up, looking strong and Maggie along with her dog Molly soon followed. I stood in the river to ease any swelling and enjoyed the cool water after a long, hot run.
All in all, it was a good day. I enjoyed the scenery, the experience and I was grateful that I was able to finish the race (and maybe feeling a smidge hardcore in my own way). This week I’m holding off on the running (some) and doing more cycling, swimming and pilates…and getting ready for something brand new…