***The following is a work of fiction. This “race report” is being manufactured for Jamoosh’s Virtual Halfathon.***
I had initially been hesitant to register for the Mordor Half Marathon but only because the race would require travel to Middle Earth, and that’s race travel that stretches the budget. However, after reviewing the course map, surveying the potential field of participants, and speaking personally to the RD (Gandolf responds very promptly to email), I decided that this was a “can’t miss” opportunity.
Turns out, Middle Earth is actually in New Zealand, an island I’ve always wanted to visit anyway (who wouldn’t want to visit an island where sheep outnumber humans?!), so I caught the red eye flight from Ft Lauderdale to the Shire on Friday and was in Middle Earth by Saturday morning. I was a bit jet-lagged, but a day’s worth of rest was all I needed for Sunday’s race.
Sunday morning, I woke, well-rested and ready to run 13.1 miles. The course was a destination course that began in the Shire and ended at Mt. Doom, so the start line was set up right in the heart of the Shire – right outside the former residence of Bilbo Baggins. Upon arrival, I quickly hit up the port-a-potties and then got in my designated corral. I assume that because I am so short, I was corralled with the hobbits and dwarves and other short-legged beings, so I was pretty far back from the start line (elves were, predictably, up there with the elite runners). Despite the fact that I was far back, I was still able to enjoy Gandolf’s fireworks that were timed to coordinate with the race’s start, and which were impressive enough to rival any Disney display.
So, without further ado, Gandolf waved his wand, and we were off!
In miles 1-5, I struggled a bit to find my own rhythm. I don’t normally run through the countryside, so it was hard for me to establish my footing, but after the initial few miles through fields and woods, I was able to get the hang of “trail” running and I fell in step just behind most of the other humans (hobbits, at this point, were WAY back seeing as they had to stop for second breakfast). My time wasn’t as fast as it would be if this had been a road race, but I was comfortable with the pace I was running, so I felt happy with that.
Miles 6-10 were those perfect “cruise control” miles that sometimes happen in the middle of a long run – the kind of miles where I can just zone out and let the legs do their work; I love it when this kind of auto-pilot kicks on! Plus, I really needed that feeling because while the early miles had possessed some beautiful scenery, towards the end of this leg, as the course wound closer to Mordor itself, the landscape got tougher to navigate, and the running got down right HARD.
In the valleys leading into Mordor, there were lots of low shrubs and bushes that were prickly, dense and difficult to run through. It didn’t help that there were also an abundance of flies and gnats in this region, so I was swatting at the air as I ran, and this slowed me down considerably. I had remembered sunscreen, but not insect repellent, so I was suffering from a few bites on my face, legs and arms. Thankfully, by mile 11, we had passed that kind of harsh vegetation and bothersome fauna; however, that doesn’t mean the course got any easier at this point. To the contrary, as we passed through the Black Gate of Mordor, we were running into the last part of the race, but the last 2.1 miles were the hardest of the entire race for two reasons: the steep incline and the rocky (gravel, really) terrain.
Plus, it was hot as hell.
Being from FL means I’m pretty well acclimated to heat, but nothing compares to the heat emanating from a nearby, active volcano, so I was sweating buckets at this point and I had drunk all the water I was carrying with me. Big mistake since I had read in the race description that in the final miles, the race would not be providing any water stations. I knew I just had to suck it up and finish the remaining miles parched as I was, but it was hard to ignore the rough, sand-paper feel of my mouth and my lips were so dry and cracked at this point, they felt like the desert-landscape itself. My one consolation at this point was in comparing myself to my fellow runners and seeing them troubled by thirst in much the same way, so I knew I wasn’t alone in this challenging endeavor.
Finally, the finish at Mt. Doom’s base was in site, and the noise of the crowd reached out to me and motivated me to give this tough race the strong finish it deserved, so I gritted my teeth and kicked for all I could. The finish’s spectators were amazing, and I felt their energy push me in those final moments of the race, and when I crossed the finish line, I didn’t care what my time was, I was just glad to be done!
I walked through the finsher’s chute, picked up my medal:
And then gratefully collapsed with my precious and a bottle of water.
In the end, this was, by far, the toughest 13.1 miles I have ever run, and I can see how it’s billed as a “once in a lifetime” event since I think few people in their right mind would run it more than once; however, with that being said, it certainly is the race of a lifetime – I don’t think any future race will be able to compare to this experience!