I’m not the fastest runner by any means, but I’m definitely not the slowest. Usually I place myself roughly in the middle of the group at the start line and do pretty well at staying there. Today I made the mistake of staying in the back of the herd, and I sadly, pretty much stayed there through the race. As the gun went off in the air, the group of us (roughly 150 racers) piled on to the dirt road, and was instantly hit with steep hills. Normally hills don’t bother me, since I train on them heavily every day. The problem was that I don’t think the people in front of me do the same. Rather quickly there were lots of people stopping to walk, and I was sadly stuck behind them. Have you ever run behind alot of walkers? Then you know it sometimes gets easy to succumb to it yourself while you patiently wait for the opportunity to run around them. By the time I reached the split where the 5k runners went their own way, I realized that first mile was one of my worst ever.
The 10k runners are told to continue straight along the dirt road and I realize I have the road to myself. Finally, I can pick up some speed! That thought was VERY short lived, as the mud trenches were virtually impossible to avoid. Wearing my new Brooks (and first real running shoes) I hesitated in getting them dirty, so alas, I slowed down…constantly searching for ways to run around the worst spots, but rarely finding any. Don’t get me wrong, I was still having a ton of fun! It felt like I was fighting the adult side of me with the kid side of me, who just wanted to take all chances of falling into piles of mud and just go for it!
I started to get nervous after some time, that I may have missed a turn off the road when I finally spotted an orange arrow directing me to a trail up a steeper part of the mountain. Steeper and steeper the hill got, until I couldn’t run up the muddy terrain anymore, but was climbing it one step at a time. At close to the 3 mile mark, just when I felt the hills might defeat me, I looked up and saw the best thing I have ever seen during a difficult trail race. I saw motivational posters, encouraging me to continue with little inspirations quoted to help me reach the top. I couldn’t tell you what a single one said, but I’ll never forget how surprised I was to see them, and how much of a help they really were. Big props to whoever came up with that idea!
Before I reached the top of the horrendous hill, I started to hear cheering coming from the aid station ahead. The encouragement helped me to pick my step up a little and enjoy several cups of refreshing water. This section of the trail was simply beautiful. Despite being narrow and muddy, along with several sketchy switch backs due to the mud, it was downhill for the most part, and a nice way to rest up a little and get that second wind. Now I was booking it! By the time I reached the next water station, I was feeling pretty good and having a great time. Again, I was greeted with cheers and encouragement along with a nice cup of water, which I happily accepted. Before I entered this last section of the race, the water station volunteers pulled a toilet paper finish line across the start of the trail. I asked them what that was for, and they told me I’ve finished the last aid station and was headed for the end! So, I ran through the “finish” as goofy as I could, and started down the rest of the mountainside.
Finally, the last mile! As I navigate through the terrain, I spot a fellow runner ahead of me and I decide I’ll forgo worrying about the mud and keep this runner in my sights, just for fun. He must have sensed my presence, because his pace picked up every time I came into view. Part of me wanted to shout to him that I had no desire to pass him, but decided against it.
The home stretch! About a half mile from the finish, my mystery runner and I both landed back onto the muddy road we started on and after a short distance, spotted the finish line. Then something I didn’t expect happened. My mystery runner all but stopped running till I caught up to him. He said we both had been running together for so long and inspiring each other to keep at it, that it only seemed right to cross the finish line together! So, side by side, and neither one ahead of the other, we crossed the finish line. We shook hands, exchanged trail stories, and eventually went our own ways, but I will never forget that moment of camaraderie for the rest of my life.
I knew this would be my last race of the year, and I’m glad it was. It was the perfect distance and difficulty to still challenge myself without hating every minute of it. The weather was cool, and the mud added a fun element to the challenge. Overall, I never really caught up to the rest of the pack, but I wasn’t last…though I was close. I discovered, though, that out of that 150 runners, only roughly 25 women chose to run the 10k, so that gave me the pride and end to my season that I was looking for. Next year, I have every intention of indulging my inner child and coming out of the race covered head to toe with mud!