It was a best of times. It was the worst of times. It was a very average training run. So, where to start?
To begin, this race almost didn’t include me. Yesterday, I did a run that includes something called “fast-record speed,” meaning I ran with abandon after warming up over a 2 mile run that included some steady running and some intervals. During the third mile, I hit the gas and ran a 5:49 mile. Today was a scheduled day off, but what the heck….I decided that a job through the woods on a cool morning would do the heart some good.
The temperature this am was something like 32 degrees. By race time, it hadn’t really moved. By the time the race was over, it was perhaps a few degrees warmer. Dressing for that sort of weather is challenging, at best. Standing outside in the am, before leaving home, it felt like the need was for 2 layers on top, two on bottom, a hat and gloves. That said, I knew that if I wore all of that, I would be melting before the darn thing was over.
On the way there, I committed to having a good time and letting the number fall where they may. At check in, I revisited that thought. Those of us who registered on race day did not receive a hoodie or T-shirt until the race was over, and even then, it was on a first come first serve basis. There just weren’t enough hoodies to go around. Therefore, at sign up, I decided that I wanted to run faster than just a jog in the woods.
Trail races are dashes on narrow pathways, typically through a forest that includes hills, sharp turns, mud, roots and lots and lots of rocks. Did I say, “Narrow?” Narrow paths in these conditions means, “Thou shalt not pass!” OK..maybe you can pass those who are slower and in front of you, but it requires some planning and some courage. It is when you pass that twisting an ankle becomes a fear.
At the start of the race, the race director said that he was going to run us through a clearing to spread us out before we hit the woods. I heard, “if you want a hoodie, you need to run fast for the first mile, so you can be in the front by the time you hit the actual trails.”
I started near the front of the herd, to make the goal of some separation as easy as possible. The less people you have to pass, the more you can focus on running your race and not trying to be better than someone else’s race. When the gun sounded, the only competitors in front of me were a pack of 13 year olds. I thought they would run out of juice before we hit the woods. For the most part, that was true, but two of those kids had wheels. I put in 100% for the first mile, to get as close to the lead as possible, so when we hit the woods, running my race would be as easy as possible.
During the next 3 miles out in the woods, there were only 3 people that I needed pass to run my race. Last time I did a trail race, that number was more like 30, and I didn’t get to run my race until it was nearly over. This time, the run was smooth. As we neared the end of the trail run, one of the stronger young kids come into my field of view on the trail, and I had to run in his shadow for a couple of minutes for the trail was wide enough for me to safely pass him.
When we came out of the woods, I knew that I had done well. I had no twisted ankles and my energy levels were still high. Hitting the finish line, I was a little bummed to see that my average pace was more than 8 minutes per mile, but I also saw that there were not a lot of people in front of me. Just a few steps behind me was that kid, and I turned to greet him and tell him that he did a great job. As soon as I was done, his coach approached him and said the same thing….should have known that this kid was coached. He ran a great race.
I joyfully picked up a hoodie and went to the water table to start rehydrating. I guy from the race sponsors, Charlotte Running Company, came up to me and asked me to come to the stats tent, as they didn’t have any information on me in their computer system. I gave them what they asked for, and then went to the scoring tent to see how I performed. I entered my number at the machine in the kiosk, and it printed out my results: something like 20th overall and first in my age group. Considering this was to be just another training run, first place is pretty good!
I took my smile and hoodie to the car to get some caffeine and protein and wait for the gal who came with me to the race. She showed up 20 minutes later and reported that she twisted her ankle a couple of times, and she didn’t do as well as she had hoped.
I am home, well fed, showered and wearing my new hoodie.
Quite a “day off.”