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After years of sloth, I am now a mama who runs and practices yoga. I write about exercise; parenting a grownup child as well as two little kids; and whatever is annoying me at the moment.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"About as bad as it gets": 1st trail race, a race report

This about pretty much sums up the 15 miles we ran. Fun, right?Actually, it was.

I did my first trail race yesterday, the Paleozoic 25K/50K. I ran the 25K, figuring that was plenty to chew off for my first trail race. I had awesome running buddies Janelle and Krista, some half-assed training and a slightly bum knee. Good to go!

The race was brutal. And awesome.


We drove down from Chicago to Palos Park Saturday morning, after a week of (finally) temps in the 40s and a big snow melt. The week prior, the race director had emailed us to say he'd run the course and it was "extremely difficult" and nearly all snow and ice. He said he normally has a no-refunds policy but he'd try to make accommodations, considering the wretched winter and the resulting trail conditions. By the time Friday, the day before the race, rolled around, it was 50-50 mud and ice.

My friends and I gulped hard. One bought trail shoes. One brought her Yaktrax to the race, just in case. Me? I forgot mine. Yes. I remembered chapstick but forgot Yaktrax. God. But there was no way I was going to miss this. I've been thinking about a trail race for awhile, including a trail ultra this fall.
About 50 runners wait for the 25K race to start. The 50K-ers had already started an hour earlier. This race is a far cry from the Shamrock Shuffle, which has 20,000+ runners for an 8K.

Before the race started, we sat in the car to keep warm and observed. Some dudes were duct-taping their shoes. Janelle, never, ever shy, jumped out of the car to chat them up. She learned that the tape helps keep them from falling off your feet if you get stuck in mud and something about keeping kind of dry. Or something like that.

Race buddies Krista and Janelle. Aren't they cute?
They were nice. In fact, the 50 or so people who ran the 25k were so nice and friendly. The 50K-ers started an hour ahead of us. Man, they are a hard-core lot. It was interesting people-watching. Trail runners are their own breed. I loved the vibe.

Finally it was race time. We were loopy with nerves and excitement. I decided I needed to carry Krista's Yaktrax with me, "just in case". She laughed at me while I tried to stuff these things in my jacket pocket. I am a dork.

(By the way, when the race director tells you it's 50-50 mud/ice, you're not going to put them on and take them off. Don't bring them with you. I got tired of carrying them pretty fast).

The race director and his wife were awesome. Down to earth, normal people who look like they lived outdoors a lot. They explained how the out-and-back course was marked -- orange paint with arrows each way. Yellow trail, purple trail, yellow trail, green trail -- turnaround was a buffet of snacks, candy and cookies, Gatorade and Mountain Dew, and then run on back.

And we were off, following little orange flags planted in soil that was soaked. Our feet were immediately drenched in mud and water. I thought, 15 miles of this?

(After the race, the race director told us the park district system almost shut down his race, because the course conditions were so bad. I suppose if an emergency responder had to get to someone who got hurt, it would be nearly impossible. He told us he did a lot of trail running and these conditions were about "as bad as it gets".)

The never-ending mud was only broken up by lots and lots of hard and slushy ice. In fact, that pretty much describes 90 percent of the course. It was brutal footing. Especially when you're wearing regular running shoes. Studying everyone around me, who obviously seemed to know what they were doing, everyone wore some pretty cool trail shoes, and some even wore strange bootie-like things over there shoes.

(The first time I stepped in mud so deep it almost pulled my shoe off my foot, I got it. Oh, that's why that guy wore a bootie over his shoe. We tied our shoes tighter.)

1.6 miles in, there was a huge upward climb. Let me tell you, when there is a huge hill with a lot of ice and mud, it is difficult to tell if it's going to be easier or harder to go up vs down. (Verdict: they both SUCK.) We did it, and no one fell. Whew.

Nearly the whole trail was some combo of ice and mud. It was exhausting to manage the footing. But it was so, so awesome running in such a serene environment. My friends and I talked about how tired we were of crowded road races with lots of people and noise.

We hit puddle after puddle, a ton of ice, stepped in frigid streams. I fell once, but the soft ground made it no big deal. I loved it, I was so happy to be out in the woods. It was so quiet and peaceful. No cowbells, no people, just us, breathing and concentrating on our footing. The air was amazing.

About mile 4 we hit a bog, at least what I think a bog is like. We ran way around it, but unfortunately hit it on the way back. We walked through freezing water that was mid-calf high. OMG it was so cold. I had rocks and mud in my shoes nearly the entire run.

But the worst was the "green trail" which is the trail closest to the turnaround, and what the race director had called "wilderness". The footing was even more treacherous and we struggled even more. Hills, up or down, were sometimes walked out of sheer necessity, especially on the way back. I've never run in anything so challenging before.

But there were so many great things about facing those challenging conditions. Like, all of the other runners, including the folks doing ultras, saying hi and telling us "good job." The guy who stopped and held out his hand to help me get my footing. My friends, who were just awesome and who stuck with me. The Ritz crackers at the turnaround and the nice woman, Jennifer, who kept everything stocked. I remembered her from the days I used to do the "Chick Night" runs at our local running store. We chatted. And the friendly cops stationed at the few highways that ran through our course.

At the turnaround. Look at the yummy snacks to the left.

I finished the race is 3:42:10, smiling and arms up in the air. It felt so great to just run a race, and not race. It was so nice to not feel like throwing up or to give a crap about my time. It was the most pressure-free race I can remember. It was the first time I can remember feeling happy when I finished, instead of feeling like crap.

The runners doing the 50K have to run that loop I had just done twice. Once was plenty for me. I dove into the cooler for a Mt. Dew. I never drink Mt. Dew but it tasted so amazing, as did the cookies and orange slices.

We got cold pretty quickly -- it was cloudy and the temps barely flirted with 40 degrees -- so we headed back to the car, where we all pretty much had to strip down in the parking lot and change, we were so muddy and wet. Whoever was in the Palos Park police car may have gotten a little show, but we didn't care. It was so nice to be in warm, dry clothes.

I can't wait to do a trail race again.

1 comment:

  1. Nice job, all three of you! I'm Rich who worked with Jennifer (the nice woman :) at the turnaround aid station. And speaking on behalf of all of (myself :-), I'm glad all of us volunteers could help you on your way to a successful finish. Congratulations!
    Just a side note: those "booties" you described might possibly be what the hardcore (grizzled old) trail ultrarunners call "gaiters." In Florida they can eat you (just kidding!) but everywhere else gaiters are useful for keeping little rocks and sticks and stuff out of your shoes. They don't really provide much "holding power" to keep your shoes on your feet (I guess that's what those others were using the duct tape for). Oh, and as far as mud goes, this might not have been the worst there is. I once ran in mud so bad, it not only sucked shoes off of feet, it also sucked my sole right off my shoe!!! :-|