One of the parts I enjoy the most about running is the storytelling. Our sport is so unique in the fact that we share much of our running lore and knowledge through mentoring and storytelling. We have all been through grueling races and training runs only to spend hours reminiscing the misery and adventure later.
Last weekend myself and several members of our running group, the Mad Cow Running Company (credit to Tyler our “hype-man” for the videos and water drops), visited the Sewanee Perimeter Trail. The trail stretches roughly 20 miles along the perimeter of the campus, within the Boundary of the University of the South and follows the bluff line of the Cumberland Plateau. The trail is mostly single track trail but does cross a few logging roads and runs on a paved portion near the local farmer’s market. The primary users of the trail are hikers and trail runners but there are some mixed use portions for horses and mountain bikes.
Our herd met at 8 am on Saturday at the Memorial Cross. We parked at the few spaces afforded by the small gravel lots near the cross and took a moment to check our gear and water, as well as, to take in the view of the cross and the valley which it overlooks below. The temperatures were already in the 80’s and forecasts called for temps to soar into the 90’s by noon with heat advisories and “real feel” temperatures expected to hit well into the hundreds. Two of our cows were kind enough to do early morning water drops at 8.4 and 14.2 miles. With temps as they were, we knew that we would easily go through our multiple liters of water during the 20 miles.
Five little bovines set off on the trail going counter-clockwise away from the Cross. For most of the first mile we did “power hiking” as the trail winds through some rocky portions that required a bit of finessing and climbing over rocks. In my opinion, the first mile is the prettiest but doesn’t have the great overlooks of the later portions of the trail. The sweaty herd alternated a mixture of walk and run intervals with the goal of taking it nice and easy to keep from getting overheated and planned to average about 15 minutes/mile.
The trail was a mixture of more technical portions covered with roots and rocks with more groomed portions that were very runnable. It goes without saying that there were hills. Many hills. The herd made it to the first water drop without major incident. We did have to make a few minor detours as parts of the trail were “under construction”. We were all grateful for the water drop as we had all nearly emptied our supplies of water in the first 8 miles. I won’t share the indecent comments made during the exuberance of having ice cold water.
And then the herd was off again. After a few miles, the cow in front of me stepped off the trail to let two oncoming runners pass. Said cow yelped. Not being the yelping type, I looked up to find said cow flailing and yelping and running away at speed. . . and a nest of yellow jackets. With no time to spare I changed course and shouted a warning to the runner behind me. But the damage was done and one of our herd had picked up a half-dozen or more stings. According to Wikipedia, yellow jackets are a hazard on this trail – nailed it.
After a quick assessment, our wounded cow was still able to continue and did not appear to be majorly allergic to stings. But, after a few miles our cow had itchy hands, swollen appendages, full body hives, and looked like he just got punched in the mouth. So as our herd often does in the case of an emergency, we huddled up and problem solved. Mercifully we were close to our next water drop which was also near a road. By taking the road, we were only 2ish miles from the cars rather than the 5-6 miles remaining on the trail. Half the cows ran to get their cars. One car to gather the wounded cow; one car to grab Benadryl and Zantac.
And this cow, this cow called our herd nurse who wasn’t able to join us but knew exactly what to do. She provided me with precise dosing instructions of what to take and how often. Let me just say, a person can consume a lot of Benadryl before they will overdose. Thanks to the quick work of the cows, we had a happy ending with everyone making it home safely and one cow having one heck of a Benadryl hangover.
The moral of this story is stick together and carry a better first aid kit on the trails. As for the future, the cows will be out running this trail and many others in the future. And in time, this story will move into the annals of running lore where 6 stings became 50 stings and yellow jackets become dragons. And more importantly, where cows become legendary.