So I did a thing. I ran 635 miles in 72 days this summer, racing alongside 19,000 hearty souls all the way across the great state of Tennessee.
And apparently my GPS is broken because I ended up in Cuchara — at the running of the bulls.
A little backstory: in the ultramarathoning universe, there is a man who is hailed as the most brilliant, devious race director of all time: Lazarus Lake. You should Google him. He’s an evil genius. He’s created infamous races like Big’s Backyard Ultra — a race where runners must complete a roughly four-mile long course once an hour, every hour, for as long as they can keep moving. Until there’s only one runner left who hasn’t tapped out. And that runner is the winner. Last year, Maggie Guterl won, running a whopping 250 miles in just under three days.
And this is just one example of Laz’s crazy races.
Whelp, with practically all in-person running events cancelled due to the ‘Rona, Laz decided to create an epic virtual race this year — and thus the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee was born.
The rules are simple. Start running (or walking) on May 1. The goal is to complete a minimum of 635 miles, the distance from the westernmost tip to the easternmost tip of Tennessee (following a very circuitous route mapped out by Laz himself) by August 31. If you finish early, you can keep running. You can shoot for 1,000 miles. Or to cross Tennessee twice. Or three times. Or more. Who knows?
With nothing else to do this summer, I thought — why not? I’m not an ‘elite’ ultramarathoner. I’ll never get picked to compete in one of Laz’s real-life races. Here’s my chance! So, I signed up online.
And my running adventure was every bit as crazy as I would expect from a Laz Lake production.
I have stories — so many stories. Each day was epic. But the most epic day, with the most epic story, was my very LAST day of this running adventure. So that’s the story I shall tell you.
I decided that I could not finish the GVRAT as I’d run the bulk of the GVRAT on my treadmill. No. I needed to finish somewhere beautiful, somewhere breathtaking, somewhere monumental — and preferably somewhere I could run all downhill. Because after running almost 635 miles in 72 days, I was TIRED. So, I made a plan. I would have my husband take me to the top of Cordova Pass. From there, I would run to the Dog Bar in Cuchara for a celebratory race-finish dinner. And I talked my buddy Juanita into running these last 12 miles with me.
So on June 12, Juanita and I met at the top of Cordova Pass for our easy run to the finish line in Tennessee a.k.a. Cuchara. Little did we know that there was a detour on the race route that would take us to Pamplona, Spain, for the running of the bulls.
Two miles from the top of the pass, we encountered a herd of cows. Big cows. With long, sharp horns. This is quite scary when you’re a runner, because cows don’t like to share the road with runners. They prefer trampling runners instead.
As we approached the herd, the meanest of the cows decided to mow Juanita down. As it charged her, I selflessly pushed Juanita out of harm’s way but found myself now directly in the path of the angry bovine. With little time to react, I had no choice. I launched myself over the cow in what could only be described as a triple somersault. I ALMOST stuck the landing, but tumbled one rotation too far, landing on my hands and knees as I slid along the road, coming to an eventual, not so graceful, stop.
This is the story I decided I would tell my husband when I got to the Dog Bar. But that is not what really happened. What really happened is Juanita and I saw the cows. I was distracted. And so I tripped over a rock and fell. Because I do that a lot when I’m running.
I DID really land on my hands and knees — scraping them all horribly in the process. And I DID really do this with a car behind me, full of tourists, who all saw my graceless tumble and no doubt took pictures. As they passed us, me sitting in the dirt on the side of the road using my water bottle to wash off some of the gore, the driver rolled down his window and asked us if we needed a ride to get help. Juanita answered for me. “No, she falls down all the time. She’ll be fine.”
Well, Juanita was half right, at least. I wasn’t quite ‘fine,’ but I DO trip — all the time. I couldn’t run all the way across Tennessee without falling at least ONCE. And it was truly a granddaddy of a tumble.
With blood trickling down my legs, I dusted myself off and we continued to run down the mountainside. I managed to smile and wave at each car that passed us, knowing that I looked truly ridiculous, covered in dirt and scrapes and bruises. But I didn’t care, because I was almost to the finish line.
Juanita helped me limp through the remaining miles. My excitement mounted as we drew closer and closer to Cuchara. Rounding the final corner, there it was: the Dog Bar. The finish. We picked up our pace and sprinted the last stretch to the restaurant. I was so excited, I forgot my owies and high fived my husband — just to wince in pain when I smacked my open wounds vigorously against his palm. Oh, well! I had finished!
And it was just as exciting as a Lazarus Lake race finish SHOULD be.