Quadzilla

We Never Met Bob- Conquering Quadzilla 2012

By Angela Marchesani

Spontaneity is not my forte, but I’m working on it. And I just took a big leap in the right direction.

Recently, I was asked to represent Try Chips with Amanda Schlitzer at the Quadzilla 15K trail race in Schnecksville, PA.  The second-place winner would score a case of Try Chips at the end. It was a last minute request, due to unforeseen circumstances, and even though I had not trained for the race in the same way the other 400 runners had, I figured it was worth a try.

Because isn’t anything fun and challenging worth a try?

I ran the Broad Street Run 10-Miler in May. I ran the Warrior Dash mud run in June. But Quadzilla is a different breed of race. It’s all trail. No theatrics. And lots and lots of hills.  I knew I wasn’t fully prepared for the beast that is Quadzilla, but I wasn’t setting out to win it. I just wanted to finish it. Amanda of Try Chips had the same goal. “Who cares about time? We’ll just give it our best and try.”

A few days before the race, we noticed the race rule: Those who can’t finish in less than 3 hours will get the dreaded designation of DNF: Did Not Finish.

GULP.

Needless to say, I felt a little intimidated on the morning of the race. The heat didn’t help: Already 75 degrees and 78% humidity at 7am. We greeted the race director, Jill Forsythe, and got our race shirts (a simple grey technical T that I will be forever proud to wear). Then we made our way to the start line. Before that start call, Jill reiterated the finishing time rule, and introduced us all to Bob the sweeper. “Bob will be maintaining a 19:21 pace, so stay in front of him if you want to finish.”

As we awaited our start, I noticed that this different breed of race attracted a different breed of runners.

The runners looked fit, but mellow. There was strength without bravado. There were no bursts of flames at the start line or chest-pounding men. In fact, Jill’s simple start call, “Ready? Go,” brought a smile to my face.

It was clear that this event was not about ego or showiness: It was just about running and personal triumph.

We set off into the woods, and the pack stayed pretty tight for the first mile. In part due to volume, most of us slowed to a walk on the first hill. The course was unbelievably well-marked, which brought relief. My second-worst fear, after the fear of meeting Bob, was the fear of getting lost on the race course. I knew very early in that it wasn’t even a concern.

The first major decline almost set me back a bit, if only psychologically. I am scared of heights. So combine heights with steep terrain littered with precarious rocks and groups of people navigating the same portion of trail, and you’ve got a recipe for panic. But I stepped to the side, took one step at a time, and made it down without incident. A few friendly faces nodded in encouragement, with helped carry me through.

After the first mile, the crowd thinned, and Amanda and I found ourselves alone for stretches of trail. We walked most of the hills; it seemed physiologically impossible to do otherwise, with their steep grade. But based on the finishing times of those at the front of the pack, it’s quite possible for some people. My respect for their training and dedication (and admiration of their genes) swelled as I was reduced to a panting slow climb on the hills a few miles in.

“I just don’t want to see Bob,” I insisted to Amanda. We ran when we could, but the duration became shorter and shorter.

We continued to pass and be passed by a woman in blue named Tammy. “This is harder than childbirth!” she proclaimed at one point. She and I must have had different childbirth experiences. But it was getting tough. And Tammy recently completed a Tough Mudder race. I asked her how the two compared. “This is much harder,” she admitted.

And then she passed us again.

Later on in the race we were keeping pace with Tommy, another Tough Mudder finisher. It was his first Quadzilla. And he concurred, “This is definitely tougher.”

My right ankle started to hurt. The majority of the trail listed to the left, creating an unstable surface for my feet. The constant turn of my ankle began to weaken my stride. I stopped for ankle rolls and toe points, hoping to prevent injury. The steep downhills were a gamble; but my ankle held out.

We saw Tammy again, and she and I talked briefly about the challenges of parenting (my biggest “Try” yet!), and the importance of maintaining a life and personality outside of our parenting role. We approached a group of women on a persistent incline, and passed out our homemade energy bites.

At the second water station, a helpful volunteered filled our bottles and told us we had a little over two miles left to complete. I looked over my shoulder and said, “Well, we haven’t seen Bob yet…”

The volunteers laughed. “No, you won’t. He’s much further back.”

We set off with renewed vigor, because our chances of a DNF were now slim.

The heat started to get to me. The sun had burned off some haze, and though most of the course was through the woods, the temperature began to climb. I continued to drink water, but was uncertain at each point whether I wanted a snack or more water, or just an air-conditioned room and a nice, soft pillow. I felt a little queasy, a little headachey. I drank and took a few breaks in the shaded areas. I found relief in the cool breeze coming off the plants.

And then we came to the water crossing. Just a few inches of water to walk through, but quite a wide body. I briefly had concerns about finishing the final mile in soaked shoes: Would I blister? The road sneaks I was forced to wear were already dreadfully insufficient. But there was really no choice but to cross.

The second my feet hit the water, my whole body breathed a sigh of relief. If they ever make a cartoon version of Quadzilla, you will see this represented by a snake-y stream of steam emanating from my feet as the soundtrack “hisses” loudly. The cool foot bath was such a relief, and very well may have been what got me to the finish line.

With one mile left, we trekked on. It was a sneaky mile, though, which ended with a surprise out-and-back, just when you thought you’d be heading to the finish line. Every one we met at this point, from our position in the back of the pack, was tired and worn down and ready to be done.

We walked with a woman named Meghan, who had just vomited. She may have been dehydrated, but couldn’t stomach the thought of drinking anything. Her friend Liz went to get Gatorade, and Amanda poured the contents of her Camelbak down Meghan’s arms. And then the finish line was in sight.

I looked over my shoulder for Bob: No sign of him.

We approached the finish line and the clock read our finishing time: 2 hours, 47minutes.

Not half bad for a spontaneous try. We high-fived with our new friends.

We milled about afterwards, and talked with some Trybe members, like Laurie, who had finished a full hour ahead of us. We chatted about upcoming races and Try All By Fire. We thanked Jill for the amazingly-well coordinated event and said goodbye to the friends we had met on the trail.

The parking lot had cleared out, and once we stretched, we hopped in the car and cranked up the A/C.

We ate a little bit, but my stomach was still uncertain. I kept picking up snacks, then pushing them away in revulsion. We were Try Chips representatives without any more Try Chips (rule of thumb: Never give away your last pack!). We stopped on the way home for juice and sustenance.

After we feasted, we got back in the car to leave, and saw a man wearing a Try Chips shirt entering the building. We didn’t want to be weird and follow him into the store or anything.

So we waited outside to meet him.

When he came back out, Amanda asked to take a picture of him for the Try Chips website. He laughed, “Are you serious? I just won a case of Try Chips for finishing Quadzilla in second place!” By the time Amanda and I had finished the race, the winners were long gone.

He introduced himself at Tim Nash, and humored our paparazzi inclinations. He was excited to share his Try Chips with his wife, who also runs and is seeking healthier snack options. We talked for a short while before saying our goodbyes.

Amanda and I drove off, marveling at the coolness of life; we just spent a day challenging our bodies in beautiful nature with friendly and inspiring people, sharing healthy snacks with new friends.

This is the life.

So, going forward, I am more inclined to take on these spontaneous offers. To push outside my comfort zone, both physically and psychologically. And for that I want to say thank you to Try Chips for encouraging me to TRY, Jill Forsythe race director of the Quadzilla, my good friend Amanda, and all of the wonderful people we met while “taming the beast.”

And sorry we didn’t get to meet you, Bob: But maybe next year, but I hope not!

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