I typically do not like days that I wake up an hour before my alarm goes off. Today was different though. It’s trail racing day! It also happens to be my birthday. I am not a fan of turning older each year but when I found out that there was a trail race on my birthday I knew that was definitey something I could get excited about so I registered for the Coyote Trail Run 25K.
I found a parking spot at the Cleburne State Park, put on my trusty Brooks running shoes and laced them up. The temperature was in the 40’s when I arrived at the park and I had some decisions to make on what I would wear. I knew from previous experience that I tend to warm up pretty fast on the trail and too many layers were not a good thing for me. I grabbed a thin pullover and put a hoodie on. The sky was cloudy but I decided to take my sunglasses anyways because sometimes they help block the wind from my eyes as well.
I walked over to the line of runners waiting their turn to get shuttled over to the starting line. One of the vehicles taking us over was a van that packed as many people into it a time as they could and the other was a pickup truck. I ended up being the last person to fit in the bed of the pick up truck and I was instantly thankful I brought my hoodie as we headed off to the starting line. It was a cold trip but it was fun though, I love being around other runners. I did have a moment when we took off in the truck that I thought maybe I should take my shades off of the top of my hat and hold on to them but I decided against it. Then a few minutes later I saw a pair of shades flying trough the air behind the truck and I couldn’t help but be impressed at how well they flew. The lady across from me asked if they were mine. I replied yes. She asked if they were expensive. I said no, just 30 bucks, but I had a feeling inside that I would be missing them at some point in the race.
We arrived at the start line, exited the truck, did our temperature checks and got our racing bibs. I checked in at the starting line and took off on my sixteen mile trail race adventure. I had zero idea what was ahead of me and I prefer it that way. The trail had a rocks, wildflowers, elevation gain, trees, more elevation, a river jump, and then some really big elevation climbs. This race for me was an 8 mile loop with 1250’ elevation climb that I would complete two times.
The first part of the race was pretty normal just dodging rocks and making mental notes of things I might need to be aware of for my second loop around. I did not take any water with me on this race because I felt like I would be able to maintain hydration at the aid stations along the way. I arrived at the first aid station and I drank a cup of water, and then another of Gatorade as quick as I could and got back on the trail. The second half of the loop was much more technical. I got to jump over a river crossing, ran through fields of wildflowers, and met some climbs that slowed me to a walking pace.
Trail running is a lot like riding a motorcycle. When you ride long enough you are going to wreck at some point. When you run trails long enough you are going to wreck as well. I wrecked 4 times at the Cleburne State Park. My first fall was epic. It was one of those moments where you are going downhill much faster than your legs want to move and then finally the law of gravity does what it does. I think if in high school my basketball coaches would have had me running down hill while dodging rocks I would have learned to move my feet much quicker and been much better at playing defense. I landed really hard on the right side of my body. My right knee and my right hip took most of the impact. I popped right up though and kept on going. Up until this point trail running I had not wiped out like that before.
I have been very lucky to be able to run after having 3 knee surgeries and as much as I love being free out running the roads or trails I live with a voice in the back of my mind telling me to be careful. I am thankful for the first fall because it really shut that voice up. As I ran on I thought about Frank Gore and how he came back from his two major knee surgeries in college to becoming one of the best running backs in the NFL. His story was my inspiration in physical therapy after my 3rd knee surgery. I don’t want to have another knee surgery but I also don’t want to spend the rest of my life playing everything so safe that I miss out on the excitement and adventure of trail racing.
At some point there was a root sticking out of the ground that wrapped around my right foot and tripped me. I did not fall but I made a mental note of it for my second time around. There was a pretty major climb as I got closer to completing the first loop that kicked my butt and I made a mental note of that as well. I finished the climb, realized my right shoe had come untied, ignored it and made my way to the finish/start line where I could stop at the aid station before starting my second loop.
I took a shot of pickle juice, gatorade, tied my shoe, and grabbed little bags of M&M’s and fruit snacks for the trail. I had finished the first loop with a time of a 1 hour and 34 mins according to my watch. I took off for my second loop and I felt great. The temperature was nice and the wind was minimal and I felt like my pace was where I wanted it to be. I knew what was up ahead of me on the second half of the loop so I also wanted to save some energy for the elevation gains. A tree branch knocked my hat off of my head so I stopped to pick it up and it was at this point that I realized my right eye was starting to bother me. The wind was not a factor, but when I wear my shades that tends to keep me from rubbing my eyes. My guess is some of the drift on my hands from my first fall got into my eye and irritated it. One thing I have learned about running is that typically whatever is bothering you typically goes away a mile or so down the road. I forgot about my eye because my left hamstring started cramping up on me. I knew I was close to the final aid station and there would be some pickle juice and electrolytes waiting there for me.
I arrived at the last aid station took a couple shots of pickle juice, and drank two cups of Gatorade and I got back on the trail. I got a comfortable pace going and prepared mentally for what I knew was ahead of me. I arrived at the river jump and I was able to clear it again without incident. I ran faster where I could knowing I would not be able to keep that pace for the elevation changes up ahead. I was very much aware of the spot that I fell when I got there and I reduced my speed and I am happy to say I did not fall there this time. However, another mile down the trail I came to the spot where a root had tripped me the first loop and I did not see it, but somehow it found me and tripped me a second time. It was at this point I looked at my watch only to realize that It had stopped recording as well. Might be time to get a new watch. I knew then that I had no idea how many miles I was from the finish line and would just have to push myself like it was right around the next corner.
I caught up to a group of people who were running and then walking up the steep climbs and I fell in behind them. I felt like I had too much energy to be walking that much so I went around them on the next spot that they started walking. As I passed the last person I rolled my ankle on a rock and fell onto my right knee. One of the girls asked if I was okay and I said yes, it was only my 4th fall of the day. I ran on. I finally came upon the last turn that took me to the finish line and I completed my second 25K trail race. I completed the race with a time of 3 hours 17 minutes and 45 seconds. This was much slower than the time of my first 25K trail race but I believe that is primarily due to the elevation climb on this course. My goal was to finish in the top 30. I finished 29th out of 120 runners.
I got to ride back to my truck in the shuttle van this time which was a much warmer trip. All of us were pretty sore after running and were afraid that if we sat down we might not be able to get back up. I crawled into the van and sat on the floor. I said I have no shame, and that I would be crawling out of the van to get out as well.
It has been many years since I last played competitive beach doubles volleyball or even a game of basketball. Three knee surgeries over a five year period left me thinking I would never play any sports again. I don’t think that the competitive drive in an individual ever goes away though. I am so thankful that running has found its way into my life. I enjoy pushing my body every time I lace up my shoes. I had bought into all these lies about what I could or couldn’t do. I now know that I don’t have a clue of what this body is capable of. I do know that I am very proud of all that I have accomplished as a runner, and I look forward to seeing what else I can do.