The adventurous side of me has been wanting to take my road running legs to some trails for quite some time. However; my logical, side reminding me of how injury prone and clumsy I can be, always won the debate. The thought of getting sidelined from running due to a twisted ankle, busted knee or worse from a pine cone or tree root just never seemed worth it …that is, until Saturday.
I’ve had my eye on this little local trail race for a few months. Knowing that it would be the day after Major Hubs departure and the fact that it was promoted as a great race for beginners made it even more appealing. So, 6 hours after the hubs left and 10 minutes before online registration closed, I threw caution to the wind and signed up for my first trail race.
Three distances were offered …14k, 8k and 4k. While I was really tempted to just say ‘what the hell’ and choose the 14k, I decided maybe I should ease in with the 8k, since I haven’t run on any surface remotely resembling trails in almost two years.
After a short 30 minute drive, I arrived at the site, parked in a grassy area alongside a gravel road and walked up the hill to the registration and packet pick up area.
Immediately, I had one of those ‘Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore‘ moments. Trail races have a much different atmosphere and set up than road races. There was hot coffee, milk, chocolate milk and donuts in addition to the traditional fruit available pre-race.
The race is held on the cross-country course of Mississippi College which runs alongside a Buddy Butts park, a historical landmark which served as a German POW camp during WWII. The 14k course would include one loop on the cross country course then enter the single track trails of Butts park. The 4k and 8k would be run entirely on the cross country course. I will admit that I was a little disappointed to hear this. To be honest though, I never ran cross country and didn’t know exactly what a XC course would look like. In my mind, I pictured all grass and gravel ….and I really wanted to run a little single track.
After a few instructions and explanations regarding the different courses, we lined up in an open field along a wide invisible starting line marked only by a flag on each side …..all 75 of us. There were no fireworks, horns or gunshot to signal the start …just a simple ‘on your mark, get set, GO!’
Within the first quarter-mile, the course gradually narrowed into more of a normal trail width. Before too long, we encountered a little stream which was hard to see due to the fact that we were still running in grass. As I approached it, there was no time to think about how to navigate it other than to just jump it. Let me tell you, these 51-year-old legs haven’t jumped a creek in many, many years. I realized as I landed that I had a huge grin on my face and felt like a kid again. This was fun! Shortly thereafter, we entered the woods and hit a gravel path covered with leaves, small limbs and pine cones.
Still not what I would consider technical, I had to constantly look down, watching every step. Around 1.5 miles, the course opened back up into a grassy area where we found our first water stop.
We continued on grass path for about a half mile and then entered the most technical section of the XC course, in my opinion. There were several large muddy sections that extended the width of the trail. Do I just barrel straight through the middle of it or try to ease around the edge? I’m sure a seasoned trail runner would’ve just gone right through it …however, since I really wasn’t interested in losing a shoe in a mud hole, I chose to ease around the edge. In doing so, I had to push a few limbs aside and duck around them while trying not to slip in the mud. Sure, it slowed me down a little …but not as much as it would have if I had to dig a shoe out of the mud.
More tree roots and another creek brought us back to the starting area and back on a grass trail. This is where the 4k runners finished and we went on for a second loop. While I normally do not enjoy double loop races, this was an exception. I found myself anticipating certain sections that I had enjoyed the first time around and before I knew it, I was approaching the finish area. Now this was tough …we came out of the woods only to run uphill on grass to the finish line. Seriously? Uphills should never be a part of a finish line of any race! However, they did have volunteers standing at the bottom of hill as you exited the woods, ringing cowbells and cheering you on to the finish line.
Post race included more coffee and chocolate milk, donuts, cookies, fruit and biscuits with your choice of sausage gravy or crawfish spinach bisque. Yummy! Trail runners are obviously not worried about calories.
Like many trail races, there were no age group awards ..only overall male/female for each distance. And the winners were presented their awards as they crossed the finish line. This year their awards were unique to say the least …but definitely went along with the theme of the race!
I hung around and mingled with the other runners for a while, even running into a couple of people from high school. As I was leaving, some of the runners had changed into clean clothes and were getting ready for some friendly competition of corn hole.
I love the laid back atmosphere of a trail race. The runners were friendly, helpful and encouraging to all of us rookies. I also love how laid back they are about finish times. They really just don’t seem to matter to them. They are more interested in the how challenging the course is and how muddy they can get …the more the better! Lol
In the end, I’m glad that I didn’t go for the 14k (one person got lost on the single track) right out of the gate. This was the perfect course and distance to get my feet
wet muddy on and I’m pretty sure I’ll be back for more!
The good …no twisted ankles, no banged up knees or elbows and I did find a little mud to get into. The bad …apparently I picked up a nasty little hitchhiker somewhere along the way, maybe when I pushed the limbs back to ease around the big mud hole? Sunday, while sitting in church, I happened to run my hand beneath my hair and felt something stuck on my neck …I pulled it off having no thought as to what it would be. I’m not sure why I was so surprised to see that it was a tick! Yuck! Nasty little critters. I promptly squeezed the life out of him between my nails and made a quick trip to the bathroom to send him swirling down the toilet. One less tick in the woods! I wonder if Brad Paisley had been trail running when he wrote his song with the line “…..I want to check you for ticks’? Lol
Finish Time 59:40 / Avg Pace: 11:54 / Place 9 out of 20 (8k) / Gender Place 4 out of 12 (8k)
Not bad for a first timer!
Have you run any trail races? What was your experience? Ever sustained an injury trail running?