12, going on 27.1.

Guest Post by my daughter, Ali Callahan.

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So I decided to become an ultra marathoner.

An ultra marathon is anything over 26.2 miles. I don’t remember why I wanted to do it originally, but I have been training for a year. The first race I wanted to do was the Lake Martin 27.1 mile “fun run”, a trail race which my mom has done once and my dad has done a few times. So this year, Mom, a few of her friends, and I were signed up for the 27.1 mile fun run, and Dad was signed up for the 100 mile serious run. Nobody under 16 had ever done any of the distances at Lake Martin, and since I am 12, I was feeling kind of nervous about it (and a little impatient to get it over with,) until it got there and I felt -mostly- better. We were all staying together in a rental house on the night before the race and I went to bed really early.

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In the morning, we woke up at 5:30, filled our packs, tied our shoes, encouraged each other, and drove to the start/finish line. It was very cold so it was nice to find that the bathrooms were heated. We all got in a huddle in front of the start/finish line, then Mr. David, the race director, fired his gun in the air, and we all started running.

The race was divided into four sections, with an aid station between each one, and then a final 2 miles after the last aid station. It was easier to think about it as four separate trail runs than 27.1 miles as a whole.

First Eight Miles (0-8.2):

There were lots of water crossings and hills, and it was very fun because Dad, Mom, and I were together. However, there was a creek crossing and you had the choice of crossing on rocks or on a log. Mom wanted to cross on the rocks, but Dad and I wanted to go across the log. I stumbled and barely made it across and was about to tell Dad that he really shouldn’t do that because it would be worse if he fell in since he had like 95 miles left, but he was already halfway across. He stumbled in the same place I did, except his foot slipped, both his legs went into the water up to his calves, and he was okay but was frustrated at himself and went ahead for a bit – “to blow off steam”, according to him. At the first aid station I used the restroom, grabbed some pretzels and pickles, and we kept going.

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Next Five Miles (8.2-13.6):

I was happily skipping, singing, and talking to Mom and Dad. This was probably my favorite loop because we went through/over: a forest where there had been a controlled burn and had lots of burnt pinecones, a wide red road, a trail through tall reeds, and by a lake.

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When we came back around to the aid station and I did exactly what I did last time: used the restroom, grabbed some pickles and pretzels, oh! And stretched – it feels so good to do a backbend when you have been on your feet for four hours!

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Next Five Miles (13.6-19):

I was still very happy but tired. Dad was ahead of Mom and I now, because he left the aid station before us. There were way less water crossings. We didn’t think we would catch up to Dad, but we saw him at the top of a hill and I screamed “Dad!!”, and ran ahead until I caught up with him. When we got to the aid station, I got some Mountain Dew and a banana slice.

Next Six Miles (19-25.1):

The first couple miles were okay, but very hilly. Around mile 21, after an especially high hill, I got so tired that I was crying and I couldn’t think. It was so hard. So Mom pulled out her phone and played all my favorite songs, like “High Hopes”, “Hall of Fame”, and “Havana.”

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I barely made it back to the aid station where I got more Mountain Dew, the volunteers filled up my pack with water, and we left.

Last Two Miles (25.1-27.1):

I was better, but exhausted. It was more fun because Dad was with us again (he got ahead of us when I was crying, but we caught up to him at the aid station,) and the trail was super easy – it was just the first mile of the course again and back. At the one mile turnaround point, we had a group hug and we cheered and encouraged each other, and Dad kept going (since he was doing the 100), and Mom and I turned around.

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After one mile, we finished!

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We ate, drank, got our medals, and cheered our friends as they finished.

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The race took me eight hours, one minute, and 59 seconds. Afterwards, I was glad to be done, and sore. I was so tired the only thing that made sense to say was “ow.” It took a little while to feel satisfied – I had so many emotions I didn’t know what to feel.  The next day I felt better except for my shoulders, which felt like I had carried my cousin Andi for ten miles. But I was able to run/walk the last 1.5 miles with Dad Sunday evening as he finished his hundred miles.

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I think I’m glad I did it, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for other kids. However, I might do it again – if other kids did it with me.

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Things You Don’t Want to See In The Woods.

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“Because you don’t want to be alone in the woods and run into some random guy with an axe….”

These are the things girls say jokingly to each other when setting out for a trail run together. However, I run in the woods alone fairly regularly, and when I do, my mantra is more like “So I’m out here in the woods all alone and haven’t seen anyone for miles and am starting to feel creeped out BUT what are the chances that the one person I do see is an axe murderer?”

Axes apparently play a big part into the worst-case-scenario imaginings of woods and women. And that’s just where axes are supposed to stay. IN OUR IMAGINATIONS.

Except for this one time.

My friend Christen and I were out for a trail run. We were enjoying a very nice, normal, and safe loop around a well-trodden lake at a local state park. We hadn’t seen many people out that day yet, but there were a few. It had been a quiet mile or two when we saw a guy ahead of us with two dogs. It was a single track trail, so he pulled off to the side with the dogs well before we approached, as is how it usually goes for the oft-followed “the slower person pulls off the trail” rule. 

Except that he also felt the need to yell reassurances to us.

“Don’t worry!! They’re very friendly!! They won’t bother you!!”

I’m not a fan of dogs, but I’m also not usually worried about them. I found his warning…odd. He had just finished his reassurances when I reached his bend in the trail.

…And I noticed that he was leaning on a waist-length handle. My eyes followed the large handle down to the ground…where I saw a nicely sharpened, shiny axe blade.

Because split second unexpected situations in life sometimes can make one speak before thinking, I immediately shot back, “I’m more worried about your axe than I am the dogs!”

He nudged it lightheartedly.

“Oh, this? It’s just in case we see any snakes.”

I am a fan of snakes, however, and quickly shot back again. .

“What?? Why would you kill snakes?? You can’t kill snakes! You’re in a State Park!!”

(Not to mention that he was also carrying a VIOLENT and (not-yet-)BLOODY FREAKING WEAPON in a State Park and SURELY this was NOT okay.)

He jovially said, “Oh, don’t worry, we just kill the poisonous ones.”

By this time we were 100 feet down the trail from him and the reality of my rather rash and impudent conversation was starting to sink in. Had I just argued with the very first axe-wielding man-in-the-woods I’d ever run into on a trail run? 

Yes. Yes I had.

Obviously if I run into a real axe murderer, it’s gonna go so very well.

Meanwhile, Christen was having her own personal crisis. She pulled up beside me, panting, and said,

“Oh my goodness I didn’t even notice that he had an axe until you said something. THIS IS WHY I CAN NEVER RUN ALONE.”

We discussed axe man for the next mile, then pulled into a nearby bathroom. There was a State Park worker at the bathrooms, and I went back and forth, back and forth with myself as to whether I should report Axe Man. She seemed like such a nice State Park worker…I didn’t want her to die.

And then I heard him, not far off, whistling for one of his dogs…and I didn’t want to die for being a rat.

So I didn’t report him.

As we ran away from the bathrooms, he pulled alongside us in his truck.

Here it goes. Here we go.

“Y’all are making me just exhausted with all your running!!”

Yes, yes we are, sir. We’re clearly the problem here.

When The Intersection Rule Failed Us.

In our hiking club, we really only have one rule. (Aside from the obvious rules like don’t pick up snakes but CERTAINLY don’t scare them away because Miss Rachel will definitely want to see them and photograph them and maybe pick them up if she’s mostly sure they’re not venomous.)

The one rule is this: Stop at every intersection.

This rule is a rule because it is a regular occurrence for the kids (especially the older ones but sometimes the younger ones) to run ahead of the adults, who can sometimes be dragging a toddler behind them or on their back or hanging off their legs like a monkey.

On the particular hike for which this post was recorded, I was taking on the responsibility (and fun) of being hiking buddies with Elsa, my favorite first cousin once removed. (Please don’t tell my other first cousins once removed. This is between us.)

…As an aside, I googled and now understand very well what the difference is between a second cousin, first cousin once removed, third cousin, and second cousin once removed. Would you like me to explain it?

(I know you would. It’s fascinating and makes so much sense.)

It all depends on what level you’re on with reference to each other. The same level means that you share a grandparent, great grandparent, etc. A level apart means that my grandmother is your great grandmother. Following so far? So, first, second, and third cousins are all on the same level. First cousins share a grandparent. Second cousins share a great-grandparent. Third cousins share a great-great grandparent.

(Fun Fact: Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip are third cousins: their shared great-great-grandmother is Queen Victoria, who incidentally was married to her first cousin, Prince Albert. Because the British are weirder than Alabamians.)

Removed cousins are on different levels. First cousins once removed happen when person A’s grandparent is person B’s great-grandparent. So another way to look at it is you are first cousins once removed with your cousin’s children. You’d be first cousins twice removed with your cousin’s grandchildren. Got it?

…So back to Elsa, who is my favorite of all of my cousin’s children.

Elsa is four, and she’s just starting to grasp hiking expectations, rules, and standards. So she asked me, “Aunt Rachel, (because “First Cousin Once Removed Rachel” is pretty long for a four year old), what is an insterstection?”

I explained carefully that an intersection is anytime you can go more than one way on a trail. If you have to choose directions, it’s an intersection. And it’s very, very important that you always wait at every intersection for the adults, because if you chose the wrong way, and we assumed you chose the right way, you’d be lost, and it would be hard to find you.

She silently pondered my words, an unspoken gravity resting between us of what it would be like to be four and lost in the woods.

We plodded ahead, perhaps a tenth of a mile behind the big kids. As we came up a hill, we saw the big kids all piled in a semi-circle at an intersection. It was a “T” intersection, with a bench sitting opposite of the T. A teenage couple was sitting on the bench, and it appeared that they were having a silent standoff with our kids.

Then the teenage couple stood up, walked toward us, laughing slightly, politely said hi to us, and took off down the trail.

As we reached the children, they were all coughing, waving hands in front of their faces, gagging, and complaining in general about what was the worst skunky smelling cigars they’d ever smelled.

Yeah. That is not a fog of cigar smoke you’re standing in, children.

Our Stop-At-The-Intersection rule had…

– Forced the children to stand in a thick cloud of pot smoke,

– Created an awkward staring/social interaction, because the poor high teenagers had no idea why 10 children had just crowded around them in a semicircle.

(They’re probably still puzzling about that. I bet every time they get high they’re all like “yo, man, remember that one time, when all those kids surrounded us like they were the freakin’ Marine Corps or something?” “Yeah man. That was….weird.”)

– Totally killed their buzz.

Were the children better tempered for the rest of the hike?

Chill, might one say?

Perhaps.

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So maybe The Intersection Rule didn’t fail us after all.

(Then again, twenty minutes later, Noah did get exceptionally hangry and demanding as to why I hadn’t brought SNACKS on the hike, so the dreaded munchies may not have been worth it.)