Chasing Sasquatch (and The Red Wolf) – Race Report By Mike Tarrolly
I’m not sure why the idea of running a race called the Sasquatch Trot was so intriguing. Until now I have been fueled by high profile events with lots of energy and people, but the hearing myself breathe on an isolated trail was exactly what’s been missing.
I got up early and drove along one of those unfamiliar numbered highways which never seem like the right road. About 40 minutes in, my breakfast and coffee had other ideas than remaining in my stomach so I pulled off at the corner of 269 and Statesville Road to introduce myself to the fine folks at Three Forks Express Fuel. I got the bathroom key, left a memorable aroma, and set out for Peaceful Hill.
The winding roads away from Watertown, TN were replete with “He has risen” white crosses, tractors for sale, and roadkill. I had once again left my comfort zone and only had a love for training to blame.
There was a lonely, hand written sign at the base of the long driveway declaring I was in the right place. Hay rolls sprawled in perfect symmetry like an alien culture dropped in for a wild weekend. The gravel poked my tires and led to to a creek bridge so low it would wash out in a light rain. That bridge would double as the start line and I couldn’t have been happier.
We parked in a massive field about 400 yards from registration and they shuttled us in the back of a pick up truck. I forked over 30 bucks to a very personable race organizer, Cody, who pushed the edge of fashion in his 70’s retro racer style with a hint of Richard Simmons. He was excited to offer me race number 99 and pull two dollars in change from his own jacket.
It was all good as the 60 or so racers took a relaxing driveway stroll back to the creek where we stretched for ten minutes before holding up our right hands and reciting the highly useful and mandatory “Racers Oath.” This was led by the other organizer, John, and spoken with passion, conviction, and hint of “we are kinda crazy mother fuckers.”
The Racers Oath
Do to the dangers of this course everyone was required to give the following oath.
Everyone raise their right hand look desperately deep into the eyes of one of the runners next to you and repeat after me
* Might I say that you are looking fabulous today
* I want to let you know that you are my Sacagawea to my Lewis and Clark.
* Take a good look at my face because it is the last time you will see it in this race. It’s all backside from here on out runner
* Take a look at your shoes because I have tied them together. Just kidding runner
* We may get lost, injured, or cry but I won’t tell if yo don’t runner
*If I see a Sasquatch chasing us in the woods please understand that tripping you is for the greater good.
* Lets do this
70’s Retro wrestled the megaphone from John and interlaced witty banter with an undertone of love for his baby. Cody was determined to make sure the 5 milers followed the pink tape and the 12 milers concentrated on yellow. They warned of loose gravel, slipper rocks, sink holes and an imposing hill at mile three. I wondered what the hell I was getting myself into.
The first mile was a nicely cut trail along the creek which veered toward the farmhouse as we began our circle of the property. I was breathing heavy and realized I was too close to other runners when I nearly wrenched my ankle on a log I never saw coming. I carved out space and settled into a relaxing pace with nature.
It was my first race in Inov8 shoes and I liked how the soft ground felt through the thin soles. My eyes were glued 10 feet ahead, engaged with my only competition, the relentless terrain.
I found a zone and took in scenery while trying to squeeze Cody’s reference to “Rattlesnake Hill” out of my mind. Trees whizzed by and I was alone with my thoughts, pounding wet leaves and hopping imaginary snakes. It was no longer a race, but a stroll through peaceful woods. Then, I saw another runner in the distance.
He was wearing a bright red shirt and my bliss was swallowed by a horror movie. I was chasing him and being chased at once. Running to catch, running not to be caught. The adrenaline spiked and I felt the animal inside dig in for Mr. Red Shirt.
It took me about point five seconds to realize it was a costume, but there was something about the creature that gave it momentary credibility. Later I learned it was John’s dad in the suit and I surmised there must be something about experience and wisdom that shines through a fake fur.
Mile two was a bit dicey, but the Sasquatch touch left a smile on my face. I weaved up and down small hills and followed the pink flags into dense woods. The path led us back and forth over a small and muddy creek then served a slippery 8 foot creek bank climb before continuing to the perimeter of a field where aid station volunteers did us a solid. And it was a good thing, because our lives were about to become hell.
John said there was a big hill waiting, but I don’t think runners really “hear” those kind of words. I actually thought I had already run that big hill in the previous succession of smaller ones.
My crosshairs locked on Mr. Red Shirt (who was now The Red Wolf) and I watched closely as he attacked the steep hill and hit a wall. I was 20 yards back and stayed on pace as we crawled up the gravel slope.
About 50 yards up, I remembered the advice many trail runners have given me, “if you can’t see the top of the hill, walk.” I’m not sure if this is true with great runners, or short runs, but for me, it sounded like a damn good idea. I fell into a walk as The Red Wolf spun his wheels.
About 30 yards later, I realized my walk was nearly the same pace as his run. It was almost like he heard me think because at that moment, The Wolf slowed to a walk and we observed nature for the next few hundred yards.
Before I could look behind me, a woman in bright pink shorts blazed past. I still had about 30 yards to the top, but for some reason this triggered my man-card and I put my head down to catch her, which proved to be a vital mistake.
I was strong and knew that, once I got down that hill, the final two miles would be mine. But the instant I crossed the top of that mountain I felt a sharp pain in the side of my knee. The IT band reared its ugly head again, this time on the left side.
I knew I was screwed and kept waiting for my right knee to join in the fun. I stared at the steep, rocky downhill and hoped the injury was phantom and would magically disappear.
I couldn’t even walk down the hill. I had to turn sideways and hop on my right leg, grimacing as I watched The Red Wolf vanish into the thick brush.
It was true, wolves are never hunted. His victory was secure, and I wasn’t even sure I would finish.
One by one, other runners flew past me. I swore and bitched with every step, mostly because I wanted tackle the downhill with reckless abandon. I was built for fast, athletic challenges and now I hobbled like a man without his crutches.
As bad as the knee hurt, I had that sneaking feeling it wasn’t serious. The downhill was broken by a few flats which I jogged without much pain, but near the bottom, I met my match.
The hill gained pitch and slowing was hopeless without falling to my knees. While it was one thing to lose The Wolf, it was quite another to be spotted crawling backwards like a lost tourist begging forgiveness from a bear.
I couldn’t stop, and wouldn’t crawl, so I let out a trail scream and hoped for the best.
My strides grew and I was covering 10 feet at a crack. I looked above and leaped like Tarzan for a hanging limb and flung airborne through the trees; a man possessed. Bark dug into my hands, leaves slit skin like paper cuts, and arms burned as I grabbed the last tree branch and launched myself to safety in a 3 foot pond of muddy water.
Okay, that didn’t really happen, but somehow I stayed on my feet and made it through a treacherous rock bed before heading to the open field. The knee held up and I pounded the grass in a last ditch effort to secure The Wolf.
The energy I saved on the hill was paying off and I methodically picked off three runners that flew past me on the downhill. That’s when I saw the opening. With a mile left, The Red Wolf was in sight . . . and walking.
The trail swung out, around, then right through one of the red barns where I braced myself for Sasquatch or big piles of horse shit, but neither got in my way. I raced hard toward the lake and briefly lost sight of my prey as he ran into another barn.
I put my head down to close the diminishing gap. The Wold was a couple hundred yards ahead, but his bright red fur seemed close enough to grab.
The trail weaved like an “S” and took me into the final barn. As I got closer I noticed the sliding door was only slightly open, which triggered a Sasquatch warning. I just knew that wild man/animal would, at the very least, stick out his leg and trip me. I was braced for a surprise attack and barely noticed the massive pile of hay bails blocking my progress. I suspended the Sasquatch fantasy and dove head first onto the pile of straw and climbed like a man possessed. I rolled off the backside, through the front door, and surveyed the horizon for red.
He was gone. The only red left was blood trickling from my hands.
I crossed the hay bail finish line and stood face to face with The Red Wolf. He gave me an evil grin, stuck out his paw and started making the weirdest sounds. I was like, “who the fuck is this guy and why was I chasing him?” Not really, The Red Wolf was a true gentleman/wolf who spoke quite eloquently and deserved the victory.
In reality, he beat me by two minutes and I probably wouldn’t have caught him with a good knee, but all of this makes for a better story.
Somehow the Peaceful Hill Sasquatch Trot is the perfect course for beginner or expert trail runners. There is true love cut into them there hills and it shows. The sprawling acreage is a gorgeous setting and the inaugural running class was a great foundation. Add the wood carved Sasquatch trophies, live music, beer, food, and hay bail podium and you can start to see why this run is destined to be selling out, and I will be making another trip to Peaceful Hill.
More Pictures Here