I looked across the room at the microwave that showed me clearly that the time was 4:32am or at least as clearly as one can see when they first wake up. It was an hour before I planned on getting up to start my race day routine but I didn’t care. I rolled out of bed, found a shirt put on some shoes, then I made my way down to the hotel lobby where I knew hot coffee was there waiting for me. Breakfast would be served in a grab bag at 6 am but I would already be gone by the time they put them out. The hotel provided coffee twenty-four hours a day and I had some cliff bars that I had brought along which combined with coffee would be my fuel to start the day. As I made my way down the hallway back to my room I realized the soreness in my legs that I had brought with me on the trip was gone. This week had been a tough training week for me. I had gone all out on my strength training early in the week and followed that up with a challenging speed work out the day after as well. Needless to say when Thursday rolled around I was wondering if I would even be able to walk let alone run the Wildflower half marathon trail run when the weekend rolled around. I stayed true to my training plan on Thursday and Friday because my commitment to running 167 miles as the segment 17 runner for MS Run the US is more important than any race I run. I see these trail races as training runs to help prepare me for my segment of the relay which I am told is very hilly. Don’t get me wrong I am one hundred percent a competitor and doing part of my training in a racing environment really helps me push through the tough times mentally and physically.
I thought that after running other trail races I had seen and experienced every challenge I would face at the Wildflower trail run. I was wrong. Other trails had elevation gains, roots, rocks, mud, and hot temperatures so I was ready for that. Sand was something I had not planned for, or even considered to be a challenge on a trail race until I experienced it myself. I am not talking about just a little bit of sand on a hard surface, I am talking about sand deep enough for you to sink down with every step you take. You would think that an ex beach volleyball player would have an advantage running on sand but he does not. My first thought was that I could run much faster in sand if I took my shoes off. I didn’t do that because I am not Barefoot Ted, and I also knew that would not be a smart thing to do on a trail race where the terrain changed every mile or so. I don’t know that my pace slowed much when running in the sandy areas but mentally I felt like I was moving much slower. The plus side was that running in sand was a much softer surface and there are definitely benefits to that as well.
I typically listen to audio books when I am traveling long distances in my truck and after my book finished I was still about an hour away from my destination. Not long enough to get far into an other book so I opted for the songs on my playlist. I mention this because on long runs I find myself reflecting over the book I am currently reading or listening to but today I found myself thinking about one of the songs I heard on my drive. “Everybody Lives” by Granger Smith is a song that for some reason resonated with me while out on the trails during this race. Check out the song if you haven’t heard it, but it is basically about how every persons life will end one day, but not everyone lives life while they are alive. Hundreds of us were out on the trail running and we all have a different story and a reason why we do what we do. Living life for everyone does not mean lacing up a pair of shoes and running trails or roads either. Living life is different for each one of us and I think that it is okay for us to not understand every persons journey in life. I do believe that part of living life is through each of us sharing our stories with one another. I have not flown around the world, climbed Everest, hiked the Appalachian or Pacific Trails but my own life experiences bring the stories of those who have to life for me.
We started the trail race with an out and back to touch the tower which was 1.4 miles before we began our two loop of 6.2 miles each. I have never been one to start off with a crazy fast pace on a long distance run but many people took off very fast on this one. I took off at about half speed knowing that it would likely be 2-3 miles before I fell into a comfortable pace. Once I completed the tower run and got onto the trail I was met with my first real climbing test of the day and noticed others had slowed to a walk up the climb. I opted to keep running while at the back of my mind wondering if everyone else knew something I didn’t know and that this was a sign of things to come for the rest of the loop. I made it through the climb and got into more normal trail running with some roots, rocks, and narrow trails. I found it difficult to pass people early on because of how small the trails were in some parts so I would just maintain that person’s pace until an area opened up for me to pass. It was probably three miles into the race before I was able to get out of the congested traffic on the trails. Around mile four I was running in a group with four of us when I caught either a root or possibly a tree stump with my right foot and went flying forward. It all happened in slow motion for me but I felt as if I flew for about 10 feet (actually probably only about 4 foot) before I landed on my left foot and was able to keep my balance and continue running. The guy running behind me asked me if I was okay. I had not slowed my pace and felt zero pain in my left leg so I replied “yes”. I felt good and started thinking back to seven years earlier about how scared I had been to even take a single step after the knee surgery on that same leg. I thought about all of the hours of physical therapy and even acupuncture that was done to get me back to full strength. I did not know back then that trail running would be something in my future. One minor right ankle roll a quarter mile after my trip and I am happy to report that was the only other misstep for the rest of the trail run.
It was hot and it was humid. Well it may have only been humid to me because I have done the majority of my running in San Angelo or Amarillo where it is hot and dry. I am told that my segment of the relay is pretty humid so I believe that any time that I can run with humidity will help me as well. I spent a large part of this race adjusting my hat. I typically wear my hat with the bill facing forward because it keeps more sweat out of my face that way. There were times on the trails that there would be random cool breezes of air in my face and I would turn my had backwards so that I could absorb as much of the cooler air as I could. I would turn the hat back around when the breeze went away and the sun was shining down on me. It was a back and forth game that I played the entire race and I am sure that anyone running behind me for any prolonged period of time found amusing.
I chose once again at this trail race not to take any water with me because the aid stations were not spaced too far apart and I wanted to carry as little extra weight with me as possible. I also run in basketball shorts for no real reason other than that is what I have always worn. I tell you this because after the last aid station stop I realized just how heavy my shorts were. Its not what you are probably thinking though. I didn’t pee on myself while I was running. My shirt had been completely soaked with sweat since mile five of the race and it could not absorb any more sweat at that point. I believe that every other drop of sweat worked its way down into my shorts and chosen to stay along for the rest of the race with me. I actually had to tighten the drawstring and roll up the waistband in my shorts while on the run to keep them from falling down as I pressed on to the finish line. My watch screen was wet and I did not have a dry piece of clothing on me to dry it off so that I could complete my run on Strava. It is probably time for me to look into something other than basketball shorts to run in.
I crossed the last bridge on the trail and I knew I was getting close to the area where I would turn on to a paved road where I would sprint uphill to the end. I made the turn and I gave everything I had until crossed the finish line (14th out of 104). I am not certain why I love sprinting to the end of every trail race but I do. It doesn’t matter the distance I always end up finding something deep down to push me all out to finish a race. It leaves me wondering after the race how much more I could have done while out on the trail but I don’t lose any sleep over it. Every single mile whether on a paved road, rocks, roots, sand on a trail, or on a treadmill (only out of necessity of course) is run with the goal of creating awareness of multiple sclerosis and raising funds so that one day we can wipe out this terrible disease.