I’ve done this a million times before (so I thought)…
So part of my training consists of doing long and sometimes monotonous runs during the weekends. Not only can these runs be boring, but doing them alone makes me realize just how long it takes to go out there and complete the miles. I am very grateful for my runs in the city with the NYCRR coaches, but these are not every week. To supplement, I did a little research on some potential winter races to ease my pain a bit, because as the saying goes, misery loves company.
When I found an appropriate 10K on a day that I was slated to do 6 miles, I couldn’t sign up fast enough. After I clicked the “confirm” button on my computer, I was all set and it was out of sight and out of mind for the next month.
Fast forward to the week of my race. The winter weather had started to creep in, and so had my first bout of the common cold. I was trying to fight it by loading up on vitamins and Airborne like it was my job, but the night before the race I was on the losing end. I still didn’t want to give up, because I knew that if I chose to not run this race I would still have to do the mileage by myself the next day either on the treadmill, which is brutal, or outside in the rain, possibly even worse.
So I gave in and decided to go. When I told my husband I was racing, he voiced surprise. When I asked him why, he replied, “It is a trail race.” I curtly responded that I knew that. I mean, I’ve run trails…like at the Ridgewood Duck Pond. It’s in the woods. It feels like being in nature. However, what I knew and what I thought I knew were two different things.
The first of many signs that Joe may have been onto something was my drive. There was no direct address to this place, only some GPS coordinates, which lead me right to, you guessed it, the middle of nowhere. Good thing I was early because I was going to need this extra time to find the start line. I got out my phone and read the confirmation e-mail that the race sent the night before. It said that there were about 200 runners doing this race and that it would start at a place called Sunrise Lake. Hence, I drove around l looking for a lake and some cars, which luckily was just what I found. I parked and poked around at every runner’s prerace congregation spot…the porta potties. With a perplexed look, I asked, “Anyone know where you go for the NJ Trail Series.”
“Yes, keep walking until you hit a pavilion. You are in the right place.”
Phew, the first obstacle was tackled. As I walked up to check in for the race, I realized that I was grossly underdressed as the chill hit my spine. I came up to the check in and I told the man that I was here for the 10K. He corrected me by saying, “You mean, the BEAST.”
A bit taken aback, but still pretty clueless, I was grateful that I somehow paid the right amount of money to choose a free prize- a hat or a race t shirt. A hat it was, at the very least, I would not freeze.
I stood in the awkwardness of what is right before a race. I scanned the crowd and found someone who I thought I could make small conversation with. It was a much younger girl who too was training for a half marathon and actually one that I had run in the past. As we exchanged common courtesies, she asked if I had ever done something like this?
My response, “Yes, I’ve run a million 10K’s.”
Perplexed, she said, “But have you ever done trail racing. From what I’ve heard, this 10K is tougher than a half marathon!”
Oh boy, I’ve been in this situation before and I was starting to realize that my ignorance was not going to be bliss. I then scanned the other runners and noticed that the field was an 80/20 men to women ratio, also not a good sign for me. And everyone looked like a combination of folks that had run ultra marathons and had hiked the entire Appalachian Trail at the same time. The people were decked out in spandex, Camelbacks, trail shoes and had hooks hanging from everywhere – the type of hooks I remember seeing last when I went rock climbing. I looked down at myself and thought, “Yikes, I’m really in for it.”
The race started, and it really wasn’t bad – for the first few hundred yards, at least. We all ran around a lake which butted up against the trail, a.k.a. the Beast that we were to conquer. When we got there, it was single file trail running straight up a mountain. It gave the term “hill workout” a whole new meaning. And if the incline wasn’t enough, this mountain was fully equipped with other obstacles too. There were tree trunks to climb over, ankle twisting rocks, tree roots, leaves and mud. I slowly learned that this was what everyone meant when they said that the trail is quite different from the road.
As the race took me up a mountain and through the woods, I continued to hold onto my belief that no race could possibly be entirely in the woods. After every hill, bend, and mile, I expected the trail to lead to a flat road. This delusion turned out to be my strongest chance of survival; without this, I would have lost all hope. As I reached the 3 mile mark, I started to see the flaws in my logic. But I continued on, slowly sweating my hope away. Once I passed the 6 mile mark and there was still no sign of an exit, I finally came to the realization that I was wrong once again. However, with only .2 miles left, I gave it all that I had left. As I came around a bend I finally saw the familiar pavilion that I had come to an hour earlier, and I sprinted to the end. The trail was conquered, and surprisingly I was not feeling too defeated. The lesson of the day was that I learned that although I am not a trail racer, perseverance (and delusions) will get me through anything… if “anything” is a really tough 10K. I now am able to sit back and have a new appreciation for my fellow comrades who willingly choose this path.
I want to express my gratitude to Frank Palmer and Brittany Soto, Stefanie Kratter, and Matty and Lindsay Peters for your kind support and donations.