race re-cap! happy(ish) trails.

It feels a bit out of context to be writing a re-cap of a race that I voluntarily entered, paid for, and suffered through when the world is aching right now from so much confusing and senseless pain and involuntary suffering.

Is it insensitive or lacking in empathy to push on with the act of living and share it with people, while so many others can’t? This is a philosophical question I ask myself in the face of so much tragedy. It’s easy to feel helpless and utterly lost in despair, wondering what can I do? I’m just one person out here, a tiny speck in the greater scheme of things.

I certainly don’t have any profound answers, but I do know that when we keep our eyes and hearts open to the chance to connect meaningfully with other human beings, it never seems like a waste of time. Or too small. Or insignificant. That’s what happened at my race yesterday, and my heart tells me it’s worth sharing.

First things first, a few quick details:

Grand Ridge Trail Half Marathon
Issaquah, Washington
November 14, 2015

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I don’t usually run trail races. In fact, this was only my second EVER. I ran my first trail race 10 years ago (a 50K ultra … thanks but no thanks on more of those). But I need to tick off eight 1/2 marathons this year for one of the goals I have, and this just happened to be the option available on a weekend I had open.

I got to the race start with no problems, and as you can see it was shaping up to be a typical sunshiney day in the good ol’ PNW. Ahem and cough.

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They don’t call it the Pacific NorthWET for nothin’.

Registration was a breeze and the volunteers were awesome. People who run trail races on the regular are the best kind of crazy and this race was no exception. I was surrounded by friendly weirdos who didn’t seem to notice the relentless downpour that Mother N had delivered for us. We all stood around at the start, happily listening to the race director give final instructions and details, antsy to get this party started.

But you guys, this Type-A germaphobe couldn’t help but glance down at her shiny, dry, mud-free running shoes and think quietly to herself, “It’s been nice knowing you, clean shoes. You too, dry socks. Until next time.”  

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They both know what’s coming.

And then, it was go time. The excitement on my face was palpable.

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I’m as concerned for my sanity as you are.

Annnnnd, off we went! The first 1/2 mile or so was a nice wide part of the trail that fit all the runners nicely. But then we cut up to a single-track trail which is exactly what it sounds like: single track, aka single file. Passing was not really a safe option with all the mud and slippery rocks, but that wasn’t a huge problem for moi because passing people at races isn’t really “my thing”.

At about mile two we came to a completely washed out area of the trail. A river runs through it isn’t just a Robert Redford tear-jerker from the 90’s, y’all.

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Kissing my dry socks guh-bye.

So there we were, all bottlenecked and unsure how to navigate this thing. A few brave souls were just going renegade on it and charging through. But I found myself standing frozen in place alongside a fellow runner who seemed equally perplexed.

I looked at this total stranger, she looked at me, and I said, “do you just wanna hold onto each other through this?” and I’d barely finished that question before she could say “YES”.

I took her hand and she took mine and we made our way.

And I was struck right then and there, standing up to my calves in frigid cold water, that this is what it’s all about: we need each other.

We need to hang on and not let go.

Even in – especially in – the face of uncertainty. Of adversity.

We made it across the slippery river, that stranger and I. We thanked each other and kept going. Pushing ahead.

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“Uh, oh! A river, A deep, cold river. We can’t go over it, We can’t go under it, We’ve gotta go throught it! Splish splosh, splish splosh….”

Around mile four, I came upon another beautiful expression of human kindness: bacon.

Yeah, you read that right.

There were angels at mile four disguised as humans and they were cooking bacon. BACON. And other delicious wonders. I was beside myself. I felt like I had found a mirage in the desert and my mind was playing tricks on me but it was REAL, you guys. I KNOW.

This was the one and only aid station on the course and since I had forgotten to bring my water bottle (in keeping with tradition, I always manage to forget something) I didn’t waste any time with thinking twice.

Here’s the inventory of what got in m’belly:

  • 2 strips of bacon
  • 1 cheese quesadilla
  • 1 chocolate chip cookie
  • 1 Oreo cookie, birthday cake flavored
  • 1 more strip of bacon for good measure
  • Gatorade-like liquid to wash it all down

I thanked these kind souls and was on my way with a fresh burst of energy. What can I say? I don’t really come equipped with the speed, or the skill for that matter, for this running nonsense but I do have the iron will – and stomach – to finish a race.

I finally reached the turn-around point which was a lot of touch-and-go downhill. I got passed left and right on this section because it turns out I’m a super cautious trail runner, not gonna lie. I just can’t play it fast and loose: I have too many races ahead of me and too many years behind me for those shenanigans. It’s just not me and I wasn’t going to risk a twisted ankle or worse to pretend otherwise.

As irony would have it, once I turned around and started huffing it back up the hill I literally said to myself, “Well, uphill is slower but safer” and then promptly tripped on a slippery rock and face planted smack dab into the mud.

Well alrighty then.

No worries. Even though I was now covered head to toe in mud and guck, I took quick stock of the sitch and found that I had managed to only bruise my ass and my ego.

Onward!

The next few miles were uneventful. And then I opened my mouth to take a deep breath and…

…a bug flew in. Mom always warned me about this! *shakes fist at sky*

That damn thing would not come up and he would not go down, no matter how hard I coughed and gagged, trying to avoid another clumsy face plant. So basically he just sat there, taking a free ride in the middle of my throat like an unwelcome hitchhiker.

So be it, I just wanted to be done.

Because of the way the course was laid out, I didn’t think I’d be seeing the Bacon Fairies™ again, but low-and-behold, there they were. Oh, the lucky stars I was counting.

I was only going to have some water to try and dislodge this li’l bugger, but since I was eating for two (bugs are people too?), I decided to have just one more piece of bacon. Alright, and a peanut butter cookie. FINE, I also had a chocolate chip cookie.

It still wouldn’t budge so I grabbed an Oreo as a last-ditch effort (desperate times, guys). That finally did the trick and I was back on my way. But first I washed all this down with a cup of Coke. You know, just in case all this food decided to upset my stomach. What?

With the freeloading bug gone, nothing newsworthy happened after that. I finished the race, high-fived some volunteers, shook the race director’s hand, took a selfie with a friendly stranger-slash-internet-friend that I’d met at a race last month and was on my way.

It was a wet day. It was a messy day. But also, it was a good day.

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Hi fun person that I don’t really know! Can I put your picture on my blog?

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This photo does not do justice to how much mud I actually brought home with me.

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RIP, clean shoes.

Would I do this race again? I don’t think so. Not because it wasn’t awesome and well-organized by great people. All of that is true, and I’m super grateful to live in an area with access to such awe-inspiring, gorgeous trails, but I just don’t have the daredevil gene in me to feel comfortable with this noise. Heck, I don’t even like roller coasters. Alright fine, I don’t even really feel that comfortable on a swing set.

And that’s ok. We’re all different. On the running path and the path of life.

There is room for all of us.

Run on, friends!

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2 Responses to race re-cap! happy(ish) trails.

  1. erin says:

    i love you. and i love your writing. and i love trails, but OMG I TOTALLY GET IT!!!! i have fallen so freaking many damn times since i started doing ultras… & i am not a daredevil by any means…i fall on the flat sections. :/ i’m loving the smoothness of roads these days…trails are fun as well….but yes, we are all different. and the same too. <3

  2. Karen says:

    I just did MY first trail half on November 8–what an insanely humbling experience!! I’m also really cautious on the trails, and while it luckily didn’t rain on the day of, it did rain heavily the day before, which meant lots of slippery leaves, rocks, and wooden bridges. No fun (or not much, anyway). I’m undecided as to whether or not I’ll do a trail half again, but I think I’d be up for a shorter race. It’s just a long time to be out there slogging away.

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