It was A Midsummer Night’s Trail Run that started it all. Like I said, I’ve been cramming an entire racing season into the past few weeks, so when I started to write about this I would have sworn to you that this event was in July. It seems so many runs ago, but NOPE, MNT was on August 12th. Just 8 weeks.
A 5-mile trail run through Mt. Airy, the run is sponsored by RCGC, which makes a point near and dear to my heart of keeping run fees CHEAP and swag minimal. I remembered having my eye on this one in 2013, mainly because I liked the name of it, but I hadn’t done any trail running at all other than the trail at my office and I didn’t know anyone else going. Basically, I talked myself out of it.
Since I’ve been training with Team RWB though, there’s definitely been a shift in my thinking about my training – and even better for me, there’s a trail running contingent in the group. When I saw the run event for 2014, I realized I would KNOW people AND after months of listening to my knee groan, FINALLY I’d gone a few consecutive runs with no flare ups on my knee. Now mind you, those runs were paved, and only 3-4 miles max, so I wasn’t exactly ready for this one. I also know that Mt. Airy is not wimpy trailing. Eric and I spend part of every Summer hiking the trails with the dogs. There are a LOT of elevation changes in Mt. Airy, that’s why it’s MOUNT Airy and not INCREDIBLY FLAT Airy.
So knowing I wasn’t fully ready to race it, I set the intention for myself of not worrying about it. Just get it done. Monitor the knee. Enjoy myself. So long as I started the line and crossed the finish, my Eagles would be there waiting for me when I crossed. Also, Maine decided to meet me there and run along too. Since my injury, I haven’t been able to run with her as much as we did before, so having her meet up was a nice bonus. I can never pass up on a chance to connect with my BFFs.
I had no problems parking, getting there about 20-mins before the start. Packet pick-up was race day, organized, quick and easy. (Am I the only one whose heart swoons over an uncomplicated packet pickup?) My car was close enough to walk my little swag back right back to it and get back to saying hello to my RWB peeps. I saw Maine getting out of her car. The event was that uncluttered – all of this was very easy – and there was plenty of space to stretch and socialize.
Then the race began.
The first mile was the getting used to it – trail running. I set myself at the back to start, so as we streamed into the trail, there were 2 girls ahead of me, 1 almost directly behind and another a little further back. I knew we were towards the end of the line but there were still another few runners a little further back than that. The trail was a single-file trail, no running 2-or-3 wide. As soon as I spied a broader spot, I stepped off right and let the girl right behind me pass. We’d been chatting but I could tell she was itching to speed it up and I didn’t want anyone breathing down my neck.
First mile split was around the 15-min mark. I can walk faster than that. Except that I hadn’t done any walking at all.
This, my friends, is the weird voodoo of trail running. You can be running the entire time, but the pace that you have to slow to when navigating tree roots and rock beds to keep from busting your ass, makes it seem like it would be quicker if you just walked it. Except in the same breath, you know that isn’t true. If you were walking, you’d still have to slow down your walk to navigate obstacles. Slowing down your slow. But your mind does this thing where it starts to compare your WALKING ON PAVEMENT times against your trail RUNNING times, and you realize you’d PR if you were walking. But then you look around, kinda laugh, and decide you don’t care. This is trail running.
After the first mile, I was mostly by myself for the next three. In a pavement race, that would be utterly depressing to me, but watching the greenery go by – Mt. Airy is forest, so trees, shrubs, rocks are most of your view – I still felt like I was flying. Plus, you have to concentrate on what you’re doing in the moment of trail running. You get lost in your head comparing this and that, you fall down and go boom. Fact. If the first split on my Garmin at 15+ mins gave me food for thought, my next split was just about 17 minutes. There’d been a lot more rock bed to navigate and I’d taken a pause to keep from getting hit by the same mountain biker twice. But somewhere in miles 2 and 3, I went from being cautious to feeling really happy about what I was doing. Mile 3 brought me back down into the 15-min range, and as the run opened up into the ONLY point where it broadens into meadow for a split second, there was the water stop. The gentleman running it asked “Are you Cynthia?” Yes. “Your friend is a little ahead of you, she said for me to keep an eye out for you.” Awww.
I wish I could tell you more about the trail, which trail names turned on to which and this one was this way and that cool thing about that one. I can’t. When I’m focusing, distance starts to blur into swatches of greenery. Plus, I have the sense of direction of a dryer sock. The one that never reappears when you’ve finished folding everything and are left with one unmatched sock. Yeah. I’m the lost sock.
Mile 4 the path started undulating more aggressively, but the track itself was wider and smoother, less rocks. 13+ on the mile 4 split and right about mile 3.5, one of the runners behind me came into view again. Sometimes just over a block’s length behind me. and sometimes much closer, I decided I would not be passed. I was fighting the good fight for my run, slow as it was and I wasn’t going to give up to someone behind me this late into it. I made concerted effort to keep my time up and navigate obstacles more aggressively.
Finally, the vegetation started to clear and I could hear people – UP THE HILL. Bless the hearts of up hill finishes everywhere – my, my, don’t they make us stronger. As I crossed the line, Maine was right there with a high-five. Some of the RWBers I don’t know yet were there, but the ones I did know came back to the finish as soon as they saw me. Apparently there were snacks up at the pavilion! Seeing as how I mainly run so I can eat what I want, knowing there were snacks made me happy too. When someone tells me it’s a “no frills” run, I don’t expect snacks. Snacks are frilly. AWESOMELY frilly!
Maine & I wandered up, got some GOOD sandwiches and chips. Included in the swag was a cute pint glass, but I didn’t really want a beer. Just lots of water. Y’all, trail running is HARD! I mean, regular running is hard for me too, but trail running is HARD!! That run really took a lot out of me! In the best way possible though – I was exhausted but I felt AMAZING. Happy. Content. It was a completely different thing than I normally feel when I’m racing pavement. I knew there were only a few runners left behind me to finish, but I honestly could have cared less. We stayed to listen to the awards, and I ended up winning a tote bag as a door prize.
A five-miler might have been a little aggressive for a first trail run choice, and the soreness of my hips and abs the next day let me know that was fact, but I’m glad I chose to try it.
This is on my ‘must-do’ list for next season.
LATE ADD-ON: That runner that I promised I wouldn’t let pass me – when I dug in deep and committed to really working the course, ended up checking in 4-minutes behind me. Amazing what you can do when you decide to try! (Phhhht.)
Since I don’t usually run with my phone or camera, picture is another one from the Northern Cali tour this Summer, taken by Eric. Yup, that’s my butt.