Trail Running Pipeline and Reliving My Near Death Experience

August 16, 2023

I rolled over…Shit! 6:00am. I was supposed to be at the track running at 5:45am.

After four triathlons It has become very clear that my biggest weakness wasn’t the open water swim as I thought, but the run. My last race was lost on the run. I had first until about half way through the run and two guys In my group blew past me. It was disheartening to say the least.

Every race I am learning something new: When to bathroom break. Dismounting the bike quicker. Taking the extra time to put on socks for my run (something I am going back and forth with: Half marathon: yes, Olympic:no). Nutrition. Getting my shit on and off quicker. Remembering where my transition place is.

Daily data uploads of my workouts to Garmin/Training Peaks/Strava, coaching, support, rest, all are very important but experience learning the intangibles of the race can mean so much.

With all that being said I missed my chance this morning to work with coaches at a track in a structured environment to help with my tortoise-like run. To be fair I did do a very hard bike workout and swim the day before and I was already pretty tired from the exertion. I went to bed at 8:30 and was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

So, I opted for an out and back tempo trail run on Pipeline trail in beautiful Millcreek Canyon, which is about ten minutes from my house. I drove up to the top of Pipeline which is out of cell service and started the run in my typical pace: slow. Since all my runs are in my neighborhood on pretty flat roads I had to work on getting the rhythm of the trail while trying not to trip on the jutting rocks and split my face open. It’s definitely a different type of movement. Different but the same, ya know? Like playing acoustic guitar and switching to electric guitar. The mechanics are the same but the feel is different.

Being a slave to data I kept checking my watch. Tempo was slow. Back was hurting. Legs not responding as well as I had hoped. Usually I run with music at 180BPM to set my run tempo but today I just could not keep up. Getting so worked up on the numbers and going over and over in my mind how bad my run is I forgot to look around. It hit me that I do these things for the experience. I’m too damn old to think about actually winning overall races or getting sponsors like I did when I was 30 and racing mountain bikes. I finally was feeling fine with my run, had a good tempo going when I passed a trail that went up to an observation point. Then it hit me: I almost died on this trail.

Almost three years to the day I was on a date to watch the sunset and we went up this trail. She packed a lunch and wine and it was quite thoughtful and beautiful and we were having a great time getting to know each other when I realized after eating the dessert cookie that there was macadamia nuts in it. I am deathly allergic and did not have my epi pen. We started out of there as fast as we could but anaphylaxis came on quick. I vaguely remember passing out on the Pipeline trail and when I cam to it was dark and cold and she was above me screaming for help. There is no cell service that high up Millcreek so we were all alone. My shirt was ripped where she tried to catch me as I fell and she later told me that I was in full seizure and convulsing. We were a good mile from the car and she had to help me walk while I used her trekking pole for support. I passed out twice that night and could not put one foot in front of the other. For those that know this trail, the top of Pipeline trail is very narrow in places with a rock wall or brush to the north and a sheer drop off to the south. My date, all 100 pounds of her, went into full EMT rockstar mode. She kept telling me where to place my feet and motivating me along as we went. She got me back to the car and to the hospital that night and I am forever grateful.

Things didn’t pan out with her and we went our separate ways but the experience will be in my heart forever.

Every step I ran today on that path back to the car at the top of Pipeline I was recreating in my mind. That was as close to death as I had ever come. In my fugue state I saw something, I don’t quite remember what but It definitely changed me. I have to remember that this new sport I endeavored upon is just a sport. I have to appreciate all that life has and stop and look around every once and while. Forget the data and the numbers and races.

After all, you never know when that cookie is going to come for you.

Written by Corey Smaller Follow me on Instagram