My worst running mistake

Truthfully, more like my worst running mistakes. I set off on a long trail run, got semi-lost, and finally returned to the trailhead having run about 5 miles further than planned Before I go into detail, I want to clarify that at no point was I in actual danger (hi, Mom). Although I wasn’t prepared for the amount of time I ended up running,

  • I was never truly lost, as I always knew where I was in relation to the trailhead;
  • I had enough (though not an ideal amount of) water and food;
  • and the weather was mild and mostly overcast, so I wasn’t in danger of overheating and/or severe sunburn.

Mistake 1: assuming the trail is well-marked

This assumption held on my way up to Bear Lakes. The first trail junction had a sign

My route to the lakes on the right. The trail I intended to come down on the left.

As did the second

The trail I came up on the left. “Loop” trail on the right. Lake trail where I’m standing.

And the final junction just before the lakes.

Bear Lakes (my destination) straight ahead. Mystic Lake to the right.

Oh, you probably want to see the lakes too.

Just one lake, because the other one was covered in algae.

If I had just run back the same way I came up, there would be no story here. But the roundtrip distance that way was 12.6 miles, and I wanted to cover at least 13, which taking the “loop” trail would have accomplished. So I turned at the second trail junction. And that’s where the trail signs became less clear.

Mistake 2: not bringing a paper map

This might be a good time to mention that I bought a paper map literally the day before this run. I have no excuse.

The loop trail started off simply enough. It did obnoxiously start heading uphill again, but I tried not to let it bother me since I knew it would have to head back down soon. A mile or so in, there’s a big sign telling you where you are:

But shortly thereafter, things became more confusing. I came to a trail junction that I didn’t remember seeing on my paper map. It also wasn’t showing up on GPS. I knew which direction the trailhead was, though, so I took the trail headed that way.

Mistake 3: ignoring your trail instinct

Shortly after the trail intersection, I passed a sign informing me that I was leaving National Forest land. Ok, I didn’t know there was a trail easement through private land here. Maybe I should have gone the other way? Then I began to suspect I was in a cow pasture….

Salt block.

…then I realized I was definitely in a cow pasture.

But I kept going anyway. There was no shade in the pasture, the sun had come out, and the trail had started going uphill again. I was pretty grumpy, but resigned to probably running a couple extra miles.

Mistake 4: trying to do math 3 hours into a run

I’m kind of kidding about this one being a mistake….but kinda not. I finally came to a sign telling me I was back on National Forest land. Shortly thereafter, I found the loop trail again.

The sign just says “trail”.

I wasn’t very happy to see that it was part of the trail that I had already run, but I at least knew which way would take me back to the main trail. I headed that direction to avoid further mishaps.

I also fortunately had cell service at this point, so I texted my husband to let him know that I had gotten a bit off track and would be home in an hour or so. Ummmm about that….somehow when I was estimating how far I had to go to the trailhead, I left a 4-mile section of trail out of my calculation. So I thought I had ~3 miles left rather than ~7.

Mistake 5: bringing just barely enough fuel

Some time before mile 10 (my memory is fuzzy on exactly when), I finished off a gel that was the last of my food. I had brought a bottle of Tailwind (200 calories), a Honey Stinger waffle (150 calories), and the gel (100 calories) = 450 calories, which is about right for the 3ish hours I planned to be out on the trail.

By the time I joined up with the main trail – still 4+ miles from the trailhead – I was getting really hungry. I started scanning the sides of the trail for the thimbleberry bushes I had noticed on the way up. (Thimbleberries, a relative of raspberries, are one of the few wild berries I can identify confidently enough to eat.) I only found a few ripe berries though.

Mistake 6: not having extra water (or a way to get some)

Usually for a run of this length, I would completely fill my 1.5 L hydration pack. Since I had the bottle of Tailwind too, I only filled it about 2/3. Water is heavy, after all! You know what isn’t heavy though? A water filter, which I own, and should have packed.

Once my time on the trail passed 4 hours, I told myself I could walk the rest of the way back once I got to 4 1/2 hours or 17 miles. I was already beyond ready to walk – my feet hurt and I could barely convince my legs to keep moving. But I also wanted to get back to my car as soon as possible, and I didn’t want to run out of water. In the end, I only walked 1.3 miles out of 18.6, and I ran out of water just 1/2 a mile from the trailhead. But I was really thirsty the entire next day.

This also means I accidentally ran an entire 30K before my 30K race, so now I know I can do it. But hopefully faster than 5 hours next time.

Oh, and once I checked my paper map against my GPS track, I realized that the loop trail turnoff was before the cow pasture turnoff. I had not even seen it, but would have known to be looking for it if I had the paper map with mile markings.

The correct turnoff is at that sharp point on the green trail – to the yellow trail.

My actual route – the loop is the cow pasture.

In conclusion: bring extra water, bring extra fuel, bring a map.

Confession time: what’s your worst running mistake, or most potentially disastrous run?

Linking up with Holly and Wendy for Weekly Wrap

Linking up with Wild Workout Wednesday & Coaches’ Corner

28 Comment

  1. Karen says: Reply

    Hmmm…sounds a little big dangerous. Love, Mom

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      The cows may have been dangerous…

  2. Wendy says: Reply

    Looks like a beautiful place to get lost! LOL.

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      True! With the possible exception of the cow pasture…

  3. Having a paper map as a back up is always a good idea! We really do rely on technology for everything

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Once you are off road, the tech maps definitely don’t know everything

  4. Rachel says: Reply

    Oh man, this would have scared the heck out of me. Lol! But at least you were in a beautiful location!

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      I was never really scared, but it helped that I could practically see the highway!

  5. Laurie says: Reply

    Glad to hear that you are OK. I am not sure where you run, but there are some places that are pretty remote. I completely identify with not doing math when your brain is fuzzy from too much running. That has gotten me in trouble plenty of times.

    Once my hubby drove me to a nearby lake and dropped me off so that I could run home. I wanted to do a 20-mile long run. I wrote down all the turns (this was pre-GPS) so that I could find my way home. I got lost when I came to an intersection of Durlach Rd. and Durlach Rd. There were TWO Durlach Roads! I wound up going a few extra miles, and was not too happy!
    Laurie recently posted…The Chances We Didn’t TakeMy Profile

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Most of this trail actually parallels the highway (a few miles away). Some parts feel remote, but it isn’t really.

      I don’t know how I would have planned routes pre-GPS!

  6. I am so directionally challenged, I’d probably still be out there. Not to mention I’d probably never have that map. Now, in general, I’m pretty good about always packing more food than I think I’ll need. 🙂

    And let’s not even talk about runner’s math!

    My worst running mistakes were probably the several times I headed out for a run and got caught in a thunderstorm. Obviously I lived to tell the tale, but it’s always super scary (and not always avoidable, either).

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Right…the forecast just says “scattered showers” and all of a sudden you hear thunder. I’ve done that a few times!

  7. Debbie says: Reply

    I’m glad that we all are able to laugh along with you at your running mistake(s)! I’m glad it all turned out well. My running mistakes tend to be along the lines of not enough fuel or water, so pretty boring in the retelling. 🙂

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      I think we’ve all made those mistakes!

  8. Wow, this is freaky to me!!! My sense of direction is jacked, even with the sun in the sky to give me some perspective LOL Glad you had a happy ending, but I would have been a nervous wreck….

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Oh…my sense of direction is nonexistent in the flatlands…I need some mountains to orient by!

  9. Farrah says: Reply

    Oh man, I’m so glad you got back okay, and at least now you definitely know you can do a 30k?! Best of luck to you and I hope you stay super well hydrated!

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Thank you!

  10. Oh my goodness! I have been “lost” on a looped trail before…but not like this! This is one of my worst fears when it comes to exploring new trails… I have been an over-packer in the past, but have laxed in recent times. Good to see you are TOTALLY fine!!
    lindsey @ livinglovingrunner recently posted…Hawk100 w18 | training for 100MMy Profile

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      I hate overpacking on runs, but underpacking can definitely be worse!

  11. I’m glad everything turned out OK. At least it was a pretty place and a nice day for getting mis-directed (not lost!). And, now you know what that distance feel like. You are ready!

  12. Hmmm, I’ve run without water a few times, I’ve run in the dark, I’ve run off the “path”, I’ve run till I was scared. I think I’ve done it all and lived to tell about it…haha. Glad to see you are okay.

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Running in the dark is one I could not manage!

  13. I love your mum’s comment at the top!! So glad everything turned out okay and you’ve tested the distance without meaning to! I have a very bad trail record – I have done four and three were disasters – 1) Just a 5k Trail but assumed markings were correct, ended up getting lost and doing a 6k; 2) 15k Trail where me and my running buddy got MUGGED at the 10k point and then still had to cover 5k to get out knowing the attacker was lurking around; 3) 15k Trail where we were paranoid we were lost when we actually were not, but we kept backtracking to make sure!

    But I still love trail running – just need to get more “trail savvy”.

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      The mugging isn’t your mistake, but it’s certainly the scariest story. Glad you got out ok!

  14. I’m glad you weren’t truly lost and didn’t have any issues running the trail solo! I have never run such an involved trail…I would definitely need to have some maps on hand, just hiking with a map gets me confused, haha!

    Hmm, biggest mistake I’ve made on a run? It seems like starting out too fast has gotten me in trouble the most! I still remember darting out for a 5K and completely crashing and burning…it definitely humbled me!
    Janelle @ Run With No Regrets recently posted…Road to Recovery Week 3 RecapMy Profile

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      There are tons of connecting trails around here! I definitely need a map for anything more complicated than out-and-back.

  15. […] planned to run my longest 30K training run Labor Day weekend, but since I accidentally ran the whole race distance the week before, I needed a new plan. A glaring omission on my Montana adventure list is summiting […]

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