I renamed this race Run at the Mud in 2009, the first year I did it. Andrew had gushed about this race: the hot soup at the finish, the beautiful waterfall, the fun trails. I couldn’t wait.
Well, it rained for a solid week beforehand and the only soup I saw was on the trails. Here are my memory snapshots: 1) Running in place on a hill, legs churning, feet slipping and going nowhere—guy grabs me and sets me off to the side to pass. 2) What waterfall? 3) Slogging up the hill to the finish, utterly filthy, wet and exhausted, only to hear my always-encouraging friend Steve shouting “NO SOUP STEPH!”
With that first experience it’s surprising I returned. I ran the 7 again in 2010 and then the 14 for the first time last year and loved it. Last year I had my first-ever 1st AG finish and my time was 2:01 and change, so when I signed up this year, two hours seemed like a great goal. But, I took some recovery time after Triple Lakes. Then I pretty much slacked off.
Suddenly the race was a week away. I re-adjusted my goal to try for even or negative splits (something I need to work on for the marathon distance) but after a promising set of 800s two weeks ago, I thought I’d see where I was at the end of lap 2 and set time goals from there.
I hosted the pre-race dinner again this year with two significant improvements: 1) I remembered to make the pasta, and 2) I did not melt anyone’s crock pot. I expect Martha herself to drop by any day now to induct me into the Hostess with the Mostest Hall of Fame.
Danny, Gordy, Steve, Jeff, Ken, Kerry, Shellie and I met earlier than needed to drink coffee and talk smack, then we piled into vehicles to caravan to Burlington. I was excited that this year’s t-shirts were gender-specific—same brand and cut as my Triple Lakes shirt in royal purple.
Had a chance to chat with Scott before the start of the race, and my former colleague Sandra, and say hi to a few others who I now recognize from local races. The local trail running community is a great and friendly one. However, I’m sure that the Peeps raised some eyebrows when we broke out in a chorus of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in the corral, minutes before the start.
The race started and I went out according to my plan—run hard down up the pavement and through the field to be well-situated when we duck into the woods. Right after you hit the single track and cross a bridge, there’s a hill where you have to slow down as you run single-file. That was crucial to my plan, because it gave me a chance to find my left lung, which I thought I’d lost in the pasture.
I like to project a fun-loving, laid-back running demeanor, but I do have a competitive streak (not to be confused with my tilting-at-windmills smack-talking for hopeless match-ups with much faster friends). It can be tough to dial back and let people pass on the first lap of a two-lap race. According to the results, 200 did the 7 miler while only 100 did the 14, so it was a good bet that many were just in for 7 miles. Or so I told myself.
The course isn’t too technical, with many runnable flat sections, including some pretty ones along the creek. The most treacherous parts involve steep, rocky descents obscured by fluffy, newly-fallen leaves. Although I know it’s foolish, I flew down some of these, because it is just that fun and yes, I have been lucky thus far. Plus, non-speedy runners like me count on gravity to save their energy/lungs for the hard hills. Gravity WORKS! Use it, friends!
Running conditions were perfect and my legs felt great. Several times I found myself gasping for breath, so I slowed down on the hills and then tried to pick it up on the flats and descents. My recent lack of hill training was evident. I also tried to make mental notes for lap 2 (some people have motivational mantras—mine are more like, “Pay attention! What mile is it again?”). I crossed the bouncy bridge to enter the mountain bike trail just past mile 5 and started an uphill slog. I knew this would be tough on lap 2, as well as the hill to the finish line.
I came up the hill and started lap 2—always a reality check as two-thirds of the runners finish amidst whoops and cheers, and spectators and 7 mile finishers steal furtive, pitying looks at those of us in for the next loop (I always imagine them making mental notes so they can provide a description to the authorities later). I also saw that I was just over an hour, and figured the two hour time goal was out of reach.
The second loop is actually my favorite…mostly alone and with fewer distractions. During the first loop your pace is largely dictated by other runners, but the second time around it’s up to you to set your pace and run your race. I let out a Wolfpack howl to Jeff and Danny, who were nearby, and tried to focus.
I lost my balance at the waterfall (which did not have much water falling) while on the right side of my friend Kerry on the angled boulder. I looked down and it was a BIG drop to the creek. I hoped the tread would hold on my shoes and kept moving. Whew.
Hit the last gravel hill and heard cheers from Steve, Shellie, and Ken, and crossed the finish line at 2:02 and some change. But, I had met my goal! I was honestly surprised, as I thought I’d been close to a 9 minute pace on lap 2.
After our crew was in safe and sound, we grabbed some hot soup (chicken noodle, yum) and headed back to the cars to change clothes. On the ground in front of the cars was an assortment of t-shirts, gloves and hats our group had tossed at the start of lap 2. THAT is what you call premium race parking.
Kerry, Steve and I had won awards, so most of our crew headed back, ate Chips Ahoy, and laid in the sun, waiting for the awards ceremony to start. The minutes went ticking by, people were dispersing, and we eventually decided to pick up our awards and head out.
I made it home and proudly showed Andrew my second-ever 1st AG award. He grinned, then said with barely restrained amusement, “Um, Steph…30-39?” I had mistakenly picked up the wrong plaque! At 41, I have been in the 40-49 age group for more than a year. I was mortified. I jumped onto the results as soon as they were posted, and contacted Shannon Johnstone in complete embarrassment about stealing her award. Fortunately, she was very nice about it and even thought it was hilarious.
She said not to bother mailing it, but how could I possibly keep this award knowing it isn’t mine? After all, my running buddies will assuredly bust my chops about it for the next year—I’ll have all the reminders I need without a plaque commemorating my foolish delusions of youth.