Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Muddy Welcome to Trail Running

What did I get myself into? About a mile into the race, I noticed a few dozen runners ahead of me, stopped. When I got closer I could see why: There was a stream, about 12 feet wide and a bit over a foot deep, and a row of stepping stones that people were waiting in line to cross single file. The line was long and I worried about losing too much time waiting, so I didn't know what to do. Do I want to get this wet, this early? Whatever—I jumped in, along with another couple of runners, and plodded across.

Soon I was glad I didn't waste time waiting back there, because as the course progressed it became clear that there'd be no way I'd make it through dry and unmuddied anyway. So I ran the next 25 miles with shoes full of water (free refills all day!), and it actually wasn't as bad as I feared. Maybe I was just distracted by all the hills (5800 feet elevation gain), slip-and-slide mud tracks and refreshing streams... The course had a four-mile out-and-back from the start and back to the finish, and a six-mile loop that we ran three times. And with each lap the mud got worse and worse; even by the second time around I wasn't running so much as plodding through muddy puddles (six inches deep for the most part). At least the weather was perfect: forties and overcast.

It was my first trail marathon, and though I'd "trained" on "trails," I was completely unprepared for this. And it sounded like everyone else was, too; even Tecumseh Trail Marathon veterans were taken aback by the conditions of the last-minute course (the traditional, point-to-point course was deemed too treacherous given the recent snowfalls, meltings and refreezes). And not to mention that my training base was a bit lacking; I couldn't run at all in November and half of December because of a calf strain (perhaps a result of my ambitious double-marathon October). Of course, I'm extremely grateful that the race, originally set for December 7, was rescheduled for January 11, because back in December I'm not sure I could have finished it. Even now, with such a sketchy training base, I wasn't sure how it'd go.

And I ran this race in shoes—the first in over a year, because I didn't think huaraches would be the best for icy conditions, especially since I don't have any good toe socks. And even though I didn't anticipate the mud, I don't think the model I have would have performed well in such conditions either... so, though my feet were cramped up and sad the whole time, I guess shoes were the best choice I could have made with what I had.

But I surprised myself: My energy was pretty even the whole time, at least until mile 22 or 23 when I had to take a walking break to bring in a strong finish, and nothing cramped up or hurt. And there was another surprise for me at the end: I placed third in my age group and got a nice little plaque.

So, it was a really nice day! First trail marathon and first time placing in my division. Hopefully this is the start of many more of both. Oh, and this (Indiana) marks the sixth state I've run a marathon in. On my way to 50 (plus D.C.).

Up next on the docket I've got: My first 50k on February 1, another 50k at the end of March, and the Ice Age 50 Mile on May 10.

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