Ok, so that last part isn’t officially part of the race title, but it sure could have been, because that is sure what it turned out to be. It’s been a few years since I’ve ran in anything so horrible out on a trail so I suppose I was due…… the trail conditions are probably even a topic for a separate discussion as to whether or not races should even be ran on such trail conditions; surely it can’t be good for the trail. But, the race wasn’t called off, and so we shoed up to run a race where there may have been about 800 yards of good footing to start, if you some how missed the black ice we started the race on as we ran out of the parking lot and into the mud bath.
I love the rugged terrain of a southern trail and the harsh rocks that take your breathe away to run over. How the landscape seems to be cut jaggedly from the sides of hills leaving just enough edge space for runners to get decent enough footing in order to be able to climb up and down this spectacular terrain.
I was sharing this trail run with three of the best people I know (well, I know a lot of best people, which is lucky, but these three people are pretty best). They had started out to run a longer distance than myself and I was prepared to race the 20k. I knew the miles were a number that I could handle and I thought I would go out today, not knowing anyone, and just give it my all. These are the kinds of places I really love to run. I get to just compete with myself, not knowing anyone else there, I get to just put my own self out on the line and compete uninhibited.
The countdown to go-time was simple and without fan fare as I settled in to the front part of the pack in order to not get caught behind too many people I would want to try and pass. We had decent footing to start leaving from the parking lot, as long as you avoided the ice, and then it was gone……..and it was gone…….
The race was a hilly loop that was going to play to my strengths as a runner. I’m a self-proclaimed, put on my shoes kind of girl and go runner and this was exactly what you had to be in order to finish this course. There was no place for fancy in any of this muck and it was going to be one of those races that you look back on and feel pretty darn accomplished. Within steps my shoes were already caked in thick, dark mud, and my socks were wet. Every step of this 20k was surely going to be embraced and earned!
I found myself up with the front of the pack. Plenty of strong runners for me to try and keep up with and that’s exactly what I set to do with my run. There were a couple of girls that looked like really strong runners. I was nervous, but excited to see how I would do and if I’d have what I thought it was going to take to keep up with them in these conditions. I found that with each step of the first few miles, my breathe was beginning to settle in, and as I get to know myself more as a runner I could almost tell for you, the exact step that we hit two miles in and then three miles in as I was finally able to breathe again. As I was finding my breathe I was also finding my stride, continuing to go around runners, when trail openings presented themselves. I knew this was going to be a long race so I didn’t feel I needed to bush-wack my way around people, but stayed right on the heels of what I thought was the second woman and felt good about that.
I had fun when I came up on my friends that I had traveled down to the race with. They were out on the trail, already as muddy and wet as any of the rest of us, and it seemed at this point having fun, but also aware that this was going to get to be a long day fast. We exchanged compliments, smiles, and waves as I went around and kept on the heels of “my girl.” It was at about mile 5 that I came up on the third person in our travel party and he was clear. “Kacey, there’s a girl in front of you. I expect that to change on the next loop.” Never have I had such playfully intended words put so much, “pep in my step” as my sister would say. I knew this woman, was by talent, a stronger runner than I am (a runner just knows) but it seemed that I had a little something on the hills that kept me within touching distance and what would turn out to be my super-power for the race.
I followed her in on the first loop knowing that I didn’t need to sprint it in or get crazy quite yet. I figured I would see how she took the loop and literally, follow her lead. We came up to the mat, crossed, and kept right on going by the aid station. I guess we were keepin on today. Again, I knew the mileage was way within my wheel-house and so I stayed on.
There was never a time in the race that I didn’t think it was going to come down to a final sprint. This was a great looking runner who pushed a 7 minute pace as we came in to cross the mat and begin our second loop. She was great. I, however, happen to have a super-power, and it’s called hills. She seemed to be having trouble on the slimy and muddy hills and about two miles into the second loop I climbed to the left of a tree and went around her. Our eyes locked and a smile passed between us. She was awesome and I didn’t really know if I was making the right move, but in that moment I was just climbing faster than she was.
I kept climbing, reached the top, and then kept going. I felt her presence the entire rest of the race, and again, thought it was going to come down to a sprint at the end.
There were times where I was barely moving, but I never found that I had to walk. The thought of this strong woman behind me kept me running, however slow, running. I pushed up the hills, skidded around corners, grabbed tree roots for support, and sought out the rocks to run on in order to gain any sense of traction. Every step was laborious and heavy. Each miles seemed to be the longest mile that I had ever ran in my life, yet all the while I still felt strong. I felt strong, not fast, and this was just fine for the day. I saw my three, then four. Anyone can do two miles, even if I have to walk every step of the way, I will finish. I saw one mile and the balloons that indicated I had the hardest 800 of the race left to finish.
My mind wandered back to my 50 mile run on that hard-ass trail. The last mile of that loop was the hardest of the whole event and seemed to absolutely never end. But it did. And this would too. I could feel the blister on my left foot throbbing, my lungs burning, my legs really starting to feel the burden of carrying an extra 10 pounds on each of them, but I knew it would end. I just had to break out from the trees and I would see the last bit of road, which led to the last bit of now muddied grass, which led to the last bit of icy-slick road, which then led to the last steps across the mat, which finally led to the warm fire. Yes, I was done and because the only other girl who was left for me to pass, had dropped out of the race, I really had had no one left to pass. When I climbed around that girl on the side of that muddy hill, I had climbed out on top, in every sense.
Groovy Girls Go …….. With a Little Mud On Their Face