“The longer and farther I ran, the more I realized I was chasing a state of mind—a place where worries that seemed monumental melted away, where the beauty and timelessness of the universe, of the present moment, came sharp into focus.”
~ Scott Jurek ~
It has now been a little more than 24 hours since the alarm sounded playing “Here comes the boom” by P.O.D. letting me know that it was race day. The weather had been a big question and a bit of a source of anxiety for the last couple of days. I am always nervous before a race but there were many unknowns going into this one and I really wanted to feel good about my performance today. More for building my mental focus during training and not so much for ego since I do not care about feeding the ego. What I do care about is feeling alive and being in the present moment which can be a struggle dealing with everyday life but I assure you trail running will always remind you quickly if you are not present. This morning I have the usual nervous jitters and doubts as we prepare to head out. We are getting there early because my wife is volunteering before the race plus I am pretty compulsive about being early anyway. The weather was not as bad as it could have been but when we arrive at the park the gate is locked so we wait, soon there is a line of cars behind us all waiting for the park to open. After an hour and a half or more the Sheriff came and opened the gate and we filed into the parking lot and hurried to the bathrooms in anticipation of the start. I got my race bib and returned to the car to pin it on and adjust my new AK race vest which I would be wearing for the first time.
The temperature is 25-26 degrees and it is windy with a thin layer of snow and ice on the ground when the horn sounds at . I know there is no point in getting to far up in the group so I pick a comfortable pace and work on finding people to pace with. After about a mile the group I am with begins to split in two and I decide to go with the group that is going ahead, seriously hoping I will not regret this later. Ultimately, I tell myself that I am going to enjoy being out in the woods and do my best and take whatever the course had to offer. I am pacing well with this group so I make my mind up to stay with them as we slip and slide down the trail. Two advantages of being slower are that the people will clear cobwebs when it is warm and show you where the slick spots are, but I suppose having a hundred or so people in front of us is making it slick as well. I am pleased with how I feel so far and that my mind seems to be clearing, feeling more alive than I have in a month. The aid station volunteer is enthusiastically cheering us on which helps keep us going as we exit the triangle on a much needed flat stretch. We come out along the street and head back into the woods and I am thinking 1/3 down and my focus is getting to the field which is about halfway. As we cross the field there is brief conversation and introductions since we can finally take our focus away from our feet for a few minutes. It really is a beautiful day when you consider that the weather is neither good or bad it is simply part of the day. We come out onto the road and push up the hill to the 5.8 mile aid station where we are cheered on by Santa and two other volunteers as we re-enter the trail. I begin to think about what it must feel like for people like Scott Jurek, Killian Jornet, and Anton Krupicka knowing two things. First, they all have more talent in their big toe than I have all together, and that the first place finisher will probably be home showered and having lunch by the time I cross the finish line but I neither bother me today.
At about the 8 mile mark I see the photographer and cheese it up a little giving him the double peace sign still feeling okay. There are a few big hills that still have to be dealt with before I can sample the chili. These are quad burning energy sucking hills that are slippery today so I am not going to tell you that I powered up them and blazed across the finish. Oh contraire, it was more like a Chris Berman call of rumblin, stumblin, bumblin my way to the top. One of the ladies I had been running with had strained her IT band and was hurting pretty bad and she told me to go ahead since we were only about 3/4 of a mile from the finish so after making sure she was okay to finish on her own I went on. I started to push the pace as I got closer and had one turn where both feet slid out from under me and it took every muscle I could recruit to keep from wiping out really hard. I can only imagine I looked like a cartoon character with my legs spinning three times faster than my body trying to dig my toes into the ground. By some miracle I was able to keep myself vertical and moving in the right direction and now I could hear voices of the few people left at the finish line. As I crossed I saw my relieved wife taking my picture and when Ben put my finisher metal around my neck, I got a chuckle when I asked “did I win”, I was informed in fact I did not win. There thankfully was some chili left and it was hot and delicious, just what I needed to warm me up after a hard run. I was tired, sore and although it took me 2 hours and 45 minutes to cover 10+ miles of very difficult trails I still felt good about the morning. I want to thank the Trail Nerds for being such a great group of people and for allowing me the opportunity to be part of the craziness.