Running on trails in the woods.
This photo sums up my feeling about my first trail race.
Earlier this year, I decided I’d try a trail race. I love running. I love the woods. I hoped I’d love combining the two.
Today, I ran the Hartman Creek Trail Run 10K at Hartman Creek State Park. This is one of my favorite places. It was the closest state park to where I lived growing up. In high school, I spent a lot of summer days and weekends hiking and biking there. I make sure I go back at least once a year to hike around the lakes and swim.
I wasn’t sure what to expect for the race. I mean, I knew most of the trails. I knew to expect sand, roots, rocks, some small hills, a hardwood forest, a pine forest, and prairie. What I didn’t know was how fast or slow I would run it. I wasn’t sure how it would be to run the trails with other people. Frankly, I was hoping they wouldn’t ruin the experience. I didn’t know how my body would hold up to six miles on the trails.
As the Guy Clark quote on my bulletin board says, “Ain’t no chance if you don’t take it.” I needed to find out.
I woke up to a perfect crisp fall day. The temp was 57°, with baby blue skies and no breeze. I got to the park about forty-five minutes before my race began. I picked up the obligatory bib and t-shirt. It’s pretty much the color the sky was today. Suddenly, being in the woods and the shade, I was cold. Good thing I’ve learned from races and brought a change of clothes along. Running in my Dropkicks hoodie would have sucked.
This was a really small race – maybe 150 people. I watched the 25K racers start. The 10K racers hung out on the beach, stretching, talking, and shivering. I went through my game plan in my head: start slow – 10:45 for the first mile. Don’t charge up the the hills to keep the same speed, just keep the same level of effort. Eyes on the trail – don’t twist an ankle on a rock or trip on a stick. Start slow, finish strong.
There was one problem: being in the woods in a state park, I had very little cell signal and no internet. That meant no Runmeter, and no tweets from friends. In a way, it was nice, because the woods are a place for quiet. On the other hand, it was my first race without it, and I hated it.
At 8:30, off we went. As much as I wanted to start passing the people ahead of my right away, I hung back. I kept checking my Garmin and pacing myself. I knew the first mile and half was flat and I didn’t want to wear myself out. We headed out of the Hartman Lake beach and through the campground to loop around Allen Lake – my favorite. At a mile in, I was grinning ear to ear. I had my pace set. I was born to do this. The pine needles and sand were soft under my feet. The forest was full of birds and squirrels, not screaming onlookers and traffic – like most races.
Mile 2 brought the rolling hills through the hardwood forest. I had to hold myself back a little – I wanted to charge up the hills, and race down them. I held back. Then we crossed over the restored prairie section and entered the single-track in the pine forest.
The next 3 miles were pure joy. I can’t remember being happier running. I wasn’t going fast – the couple times I did look at my Garmin, I thought maybe it was broken. I felt like I was flying entirely too much to be going that slowly. Even if it felt like I ran uphill the entire 3 miles, I didn’t care. It was so primal, and so perfect. Sunlight breaking through the trees, squirrels chattering, woodpeckers pounding – all of it was perfect. My feet landed softly in the pine needles. I avoided the rocks and the roots, the branches and the pine cones.
The last mile and a half found me racing across the sunny prairie and down to the beach. Something odd happened, too – I passed people. In the last two miles, I passed people. I got stronger. I got faster. This has never happened. I was flying. As I came to the end, the crowd was fantastic, cheering everyone across the finish line.
This was my favorite race ever, and in my top 5 runs of all time. It was magical. From the weather to the scent of the air to the iced coffee at the finish line, it was amazing. It was the most physically challenging race yet – my legs are really sore – but I think I handled it well. I had a terrible time, and I don’t care. It was worth it.
I would like to move to the woods and run there forever and always, please.