This summer, I participated in the Gulf Winds Track Club’s Summer Trail Race Series 2014. The series was first held in 2013, and I did not participate. I spent much of that summer seeing other runners’ posts about the trail races, a combination of victorious and “wow can’t believe I survived in that heat” sentiments and wishing I had been part of it. Since the series sells out early (like, in April) I made sure and secure my spot when the opportunity presented itself this year.
One of my regrets about the trail races is that it was utterly impossible to take pictures of the trails since I was so focused on survival. That’s why you’re getting pictures of me instead of nature’s beauty. But I do have this one on the Cadillac Trail that I took one day while on a training run:
Before I recap my memories of the trail series, a quick look at each race:
The first race, on June 21, was a 4.5 miler on Tallahassee’s RedBug Trail. It began at 6 p.m. I ran my Charity Miles that day for the Alzheimers Association in conjunction with the date of the annual Summer Solstice “the longest day.” (The connection with Alzheimer’s is also why I wore purple.) Finished 113/114 in 1:26:45.
The second race, on July 12, was at the Swamp Forest Trail. It was a morning race, which meant cooler (relatively) weather. I was excited that this race included me crossing the 750 mile mark in my running for Gareth through I Run for Michael (my green shirt represents awareness of mitochondrial disorders (what Gareth has)). I ran for Feeding America via Charity Miles. Finished 108/109 in 1:04:42.
The third race, on July 26, was at the Magnolia Trail. One of the challenges of this race was the time (6 p.m. and HOT), the fact that I had been in New York City for the week prior, and my trip earlier that morning to my family reunion (and all that good southern family reunion chow!) I ran for Team RWB via Charity Miles in honor of Anna Runs America (Anna was running cross country in support of Team RWB as well as the Wounded Warrior Project). The “train” is my favorite memory of this race (the “train” is the small group of us who remained together for a significant portion of the race … toward the end I stepped aside and the others went ahead … but I loved the comments from everyone behind me about us being a train and “in this together.”). Finished 107/108 in 59:03.
The final race, on August 9, was on the Cadillac Trail (5.5 miles). I was so happy to be debuting my Idiots Running Club singlet. I was running for Team RWB (and Anna) again, also in memory of Murphy, one of our I Run for Michael children who had passed away (and for Gareth, as always…). Finished 86/88 in 1:40:31.
Choo Choo. As I mentioned in my recap of the Magnolia race, the little “train” of runners we created during the Magnolia race (and replicated to some extent during the Cadillac race) was so meaningful to me. The positive vibes from the runners behind me who liked the pace and were counting on me to keep it consistent made me feel so great. I have so often been last or next to last (which is fine!) but once in a while to feel like I am helping another runner hang in there is the best feeling.
HR Issues. During the two evening races, I came to a point in the race where I was struggling mightily with a very elevated heart rate. Far above my Zone 5 (and I rarely run at Zone 5 on purpose). After the RedBug race, I deactivated the beep that tells me I am above my max HR because it was disturbing to hear and I figured the other people on the trail with me didn’t want to hear the constant beeping either. I know (from conversations with other runners) that I am not the only one who struggled with HR issues during these races, but I found it frustrating (and worrisome).
Trail Beauty. I lost count of the times I thought “I wish I could take a picture of this to share” (mostly this was about beauty but other times I wanted people to see how darn technical and difficult some of these trails are because [wait for it.....] I AM NOT ACTUALLY A MOUNTAIN BIKE! (The races were on Mountain Bike trails.)) Pretty beats hard but these trails had plenty of both.
Trail Etiquette. One aspect of this race series that I loved (and that perplexed me at times) was the emphasis on trail etiquette. I can’t find the original email, but the parts I remember were: no earbuds, respect the trail, don’t leave anything you don’t take out, and pass on the left. There were other etiquette tips, but those are the ones I recall. I appreciate how much care was taken to respect the natural balance of the trails (including capping the series at 150 participants so as not to overestress it). I must admit I was frustrated to see a runner with earbuds (maybe (s)he had missed the instruction). It was a different set of rules than I was used to and I appreciated the way it made me think about running in this environment.
Popsicles and MoonPies Rock. You won’t see me complaining about the post-race spread (and there were healthy options too). I didn’t miss an opportunity to wolf down a post race Moon Pie. Yum.
Working Harder Than Ever. With the exception of a few ill-advised mid-summer runs I took without adequate (i.e., ANY) hydration before I got a hydration belt, this series was the single hardest running endeavor I have ever undertaken. Of course, the fact that it was the hardest makes it the most valued!
Sponsors. We were so fortunate to have the support of some generous sponsors (and props to the Race Director Bobby York for securing all of these donations). Salomon Running came out to all of the races, and at several of them let runners use their shoes for the race. Other sponsors included: Gulf Winds Track Club, Trail & Ski, Trail Runner Magazine, Earth Fare, Power Bar, Smart Wool, Buff Headwear, CamelBak, Eagles Nest Outfitters, Road ID, MoonPie, Damn Good Bikes, and Reflekt.
Volunteers. We had the best volunteers for this series! It takes some dedicated people to work through the sweat and keep us a) from getting lost b) hydrated c) encouraged and d) happy. These volunteers did all of that and more. They were incredible! The diligence taken to make sure the course was well marked is much appreciated. Don’t think I will ever forget “flags on the right”! Those who planted the flags are much valued!
FRIENDS. Many of our Moms Run This Town Tallahassee members participated in this series. There’s nothing like sharing this experience with friends. Thanks, ladies!
FINALLY. To close things out, I have a few thoughts on the trail series that elude any type of categorization. I am so glad I did this (I think that shows in my words and pictures). The experience made me explore how I really feel about my perennial back of the pack status. The trail environment put me even farther back than a road race would. As much as I jokingly say to people (frequently!), “oh I can’t tell you the number of races I have finished last in, with the law enforcement saying into their walkie talkies ‘hey do you think she’s the last one?'” I don’t take finishing last lightly. I work hard at my running and there is a competitive fire beneath this relatively calm exterior. Am I glad I never finished last? YES. Would I still be happy if I had? YES. Do I find it amusing that the race director said as I headed out for the final race, “My mountain biker isn’t here so when you pass the aid station, let them know you’re it?” YES (And in fairness I had sent him a message the night before imploring him to proceed with the end-of-race awards even though I would probably still be slogging my way through the 5.5 miles (as long as someone noted my time because Lord knows I wanted it noted!)). There were so many times I asked the people behind me “do you want to pass?” Why did I ask them instead of waiting for them to tell me they needed to pass? It was like a microcosm of my southern-bred polite girl life. I think the trail isn’t the place for that! I am also pleased as punch that I never fell down! These trails were tremendously technical (remember, we were runners not mountain bikes!) and I came close to falling many many times. I am grateful I didn’t (but of course I would have gotten back up and persevered!).
Our Gulf Winds Track Club singlets have the word “Trailahassee” on them in small print.
That small print got magnified in the prism of my own sweat this summer.
I am glad we spent the summer together, TRAILAHASSEE.