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
As did the second
And the final junction just before the lakes.
Oh, you probably want to see the lakes too.
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….
…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.
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.
In conclusion: bring extra water, bring extra fuel, bring a map.
Confession time: what’s your worst running mistake, or most potentially disastrous run?