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Photographer tackles grueling Frogtown course
A runner passes through a stream during the 10-mile Frogtown Trail Challenge. FCN photographer Autumn Vetter braved the elements along with 800 people for the annual cross-terrain trek. - photo by Autumn Vetter

You may recognize my name from the photos that appear throughout this newspaper.

But when I’m not photographing our great county, I’m lacing up my running shoes. Running is where I think, plan and have quiet time.

I planned my wedding decor while running a 10K (6.2 miles) this past summer.

I had an epiphany about what to get my husband for Christmas while running a 7-miler two weeks ago, and then brainstormed this piece while running the 10-mile Frogtown Trail Challenge on Oct. 8.

When I first signed up for the Frogtown, I thought I knew what I was in for.

I traversed the trail via four-wheeler with event organizer and property owner Chris Garmon several weekends in a row to get photos for the paper.

I saw the ravines, creek, near-vertical hills and cargo net, all decorated with pink ribbon to keep runners on track.

And after training on the trails at Sawnee Mountain and Central Park, I thought I was prepared.

But Frogtown is more than a race. It’s a weekend of camping, running and socializing.

After collecting my packet Oct. 7, setting up my tent (actually, watching my husband do it), and taking photos at the bon fire, it was time to retire for the night.

At 5 a.m. Saturday, the morning came too soon. We were up before the birds, and the unseasonably early chill made us feel frozen.

After some coffee and jelly-filled, powder-sugar-covered donuts (mmm, breakfast of champions) and some journalistic duties, it was time to race.

As myself, the two poor souls I’d convinced to undertake it with me, and 800 of our closest running friends shivered at the start line, my friend Cheryl asked, "Autumn, what did you get me into?"

What indeed.

Hills have become the bane of my running experience. Therefore, the first two miles at Frogtown were the most difficult of my life.

A mile in, we thought things were going well until we found ourselves scrambling up a muddy hill, hands and knees in the dirt.

Around mile three, after getting separated from my company, I hit the stream for the first time, becoming soaked in 40-degree water.

I then gave up all inclinations that I might get out of this no worse for wear.

About the 4.5-mile mark, I ran over a water moccasin in waste-deep water. At mile six, I’ve never been happier to change into a dry pair of shoes at the "foot-washing station."

At 6.1 miles, any remaining happy feelings vanished after having to go through yet another puddle and up another muddy hill. The dream of warm, dry feet was long over.

At mile seven, I started giving myself little pep talks. "Just one more mile," I lied every few feet.

Every mile or so, occasional flat trails, pretty scenery and the peaceful chirping of birds would lull me into thinking I was doing pretty well.

And although the comforting wind and sweet smell of the woods never changed, I then hit a log "bridge" 15 feet in the air and 6 inches wide.

Several choice words — words my Mama wouldn’t be proud to hear — escaped. But how could I help it when I hit yet another hill at the7.5-mile mark?

Just before mile eight, one of my fellow runner’s words drifted through the trees: "You know, last year when I ran this, they kept telling me that I was almost there. And I kept believing them."

Amen, brother.

In the eighth mile, I began jumping over logs. My days of as a hurdler on the middle school track team came swooping back.

At the beginning of mile nine, I landed face first in the sand. I’ll be brushing grit out of my teeth for months.

I told myself, "Just one more mile." And this time it was the truth.

Plus, at that point, what else could they possibly throw at me?

A cargo net. That’s what.

At mile 9.5, I heard, "Get off my net! I’ve got real runners coming up behind you! I didn’t sign you up for this — this is all your fault!"

Well wasn’t that the truth? I was putting myself through this ... but after the cargo net (and a "good job" from Mr. Drill Sergeant), it was just another half mile to the end.

After crossing the finish line at 2 hours and 39 minutes, I’d never been so wet, muddy, sore or tired. But then again, I’d never had so much fun.

Now I can fully stand behind Frogtown’s slogan: "This ain’t yo mama’s trail race!"

Until next year Frogtown.