WinterRock 25K, Elk City Hiking Trail near Independence Kansas, January 7th, 2017
So there I was, no bullshit, powering over the jagged, rock infested single track of the WinterRock 25K course when I finally managed to pull within a few feet of a female runner I had been chasing for some time. We were in the last 5 kilometers of the course, a section of trail notorious for its liberal slashing of skin, bruising of bodies, and cracking of bones of runners brave enough to challenge it. Twelve miles into the race, I was feeling fast. My breathing was rhythmic and easy while I maintained myself just barely below that “red line” effort that will eventually cause you to crash. I had patiently been looking for a wider spot to pass on the left meanwhile keeping 6-10 foot distance between us.
She powered up a stack of rocks masquerading as trail and as I followed, I pushed off on my right foot to make the final step up to continue along the trail. The force of lifting most of my body upward with a slight forward motion created enough force that, thanks to the slippery piling of leaves on the rocks, my foot slipped and shot out from under me. Wielding dual handheld bottles for this exact reason, (they make excellent shock absorbers) I was ready to go down hard into the rocks. My left hand was already pumping forward due to the motion of running and easily hit the ground first, beginning to take the impact of my fall. My right arm was elbow back, hand and bottle by my waist as I was going down. For some reason, rather than jab forward to catch myself, I came directly over the top like a closer delivering and 0-2 pitch with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th! With every bit of speed I could muster, I rotated my shoulder around about 270 degrees – arm fully extended – managing to get my right hand in position to assist my left in catching my crashing body – thus saving my face and teeth from a very abrupt stop. Unfortunately, while my hand made it around in time, the centrifugal force applied to my bottle caused it to slip off of my hand and take flight like a ballistic missile. The unintentional missile strike made contact with its chosen target, scoring a powerful direct hit; the right hamstring of the female trail runner I had been looking to pass. After catching myself, I looked up just in time to see her dip slightly and turn around with a look on her face that said, “What the hell was that? I hope it wasn’t a fucking rattlesnake!” I shouted the first thing that came to my mind, “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to throw my water bottle at you!” She looked at me like I was an alien speaking a strange intergalactic language, turned around, did a double take, and then asked, “You ok?” Climbing down the side of a steep hill trying to recover my missile – err, um – bottle. I said again, “I’m fine, sorry about that.” In all the races I have run, this is the first time I have heard of a runner hitting someone else with their water bottle, much less done it myself. I eventually passed her and somehow managed to finish in front of her – hoping the entire time it wasn’t because of the water bottle incident. At the finish line, I apologized again and she assured me it was no big deal but she would probably have a big bruise.