(What this photo shows is me coming across the finish line, 4th from last, but still finishing. What it does not show is all the MUD!)
February was a bad month. Little exercise, little motivation, little anything for me. We had snow and freezing rain just about every day, and I couldn't bother myself to care about doing much of anything. I spent most of my free time visiting my Mom in the rehab hospital where she was recovering from a knee replacement, and letting Little Bear entertain the residents.
There was one race I was planning on attempting, but the morning of the race found ice all over the roads so I opted out of it. Besides, I'd only run about three whole miles the whole month, and I wasn't sure I was in any kind of shape to try to run those all at once.
So in the last couple of days of February, I saw a note for a Trail Run called "Bound the Mound" which takes you on a course around Angel Mounds, a local Native American archaeological site. Having never done a trail run, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I decided -- pretty much the night before the event -- I was going to try it. All finishers got a hat at the end, and since I don't have any racing head-gear bling, it sounded like a good investment.
My Mom is my big running supporter, taking me to all my races, acting as parking attendant, hair-braider, water-bottle-keeper, and general morale officer. She's my biggest fan, and I can't imagine going to a race without her. I texted her the Friday night before the race and asked if she wanted to come with. "I'm game" she texts back. She's always game :)
It's cold, but not ridiculously cold. It's actually probably slightly warmer than the last October race I ran. This time I remember to bring gloves. There's a line at the same-day registration tent. I hand them my money and they hand me a race bib. These days, your timing chip is built into the bib, which is cool. I have my SPAT firmly attached to my laces, and I'm ready to get those little lights a blinking!
The announcer tells us there are three categories: 5k, 10k, and Half Mary. The 5k runners will do one lap, the 10ks will do 2, and Halfers do 4 and then an out-and-around in the parking lot. It's not crowded, but there's a good number of people milling about. The announcer tells us this is a hard course because of the mud (wait, mud? Who said anything about mud?) and the divots already in the frozen ground. He says this is no time for a PR run. I don't know what that means, but I assume personal record? I line up at the back of the pack and we set off.
Everything is fine for about a half mile. I'm keeping a slow pace because I don't know the terrain and the road is narrow enough that the brambles and branches are reaching out to scratch me. Still, whatever. No snakes. It's cold, but not uncomfortable. The frozen dirt is uneven, with divots from older footsteps mottling the ground and forcing you to pay attention, lest you twist an ankle. There is a little mud, which I run around. We're on grass, then wet and marshy grass, and then suddenly, up ahead, is the mud pool.
It's like something out of a horror movie, a gaping brown maw with hard rock teeth protruding at odd angles. Surface water gleams in the morning sunlight and you can see bits and pieces of dirty ice scattered around. The other runners have already broken the surface, leaving behind a thick goop of rocky and sticky mud. I try to go around it, but it stretches long past the trail. Following another runner, I pick what appears to be the path of least Disgusting, but I still find myself stepping down ankle-deep in cold, sticky mud. The other runner is actually stuck, her foot buried so deep in the muck that she can't get it out. Several of us stop to help her. There is a sign attached to a tree that reads "You actually paid money to do this!"
A few paces later there is more uneven squish, and I succumb to it. My right foot steps down into a suction cup of mud, and I can't pull it out in time, so down I go. My knee hits the mud, then I feel myself tumbling forward. I feel my face scrape against brush, but the mud holds me in place, preventing me from doing a full-blown somersault. I stand, and assure the other runners I'm okay, which I am. But I'm dirty and muddy, and now I can feel the dead leaves in my hair. Is this thing over yet?
"Packs" have now been defined, and my pack consists of a middle-aged man, two newer runners my age, and a younger but new runner, who is pacing me. We all introduce ourselves and make jokes and chit-chat as we blaze our trails. It is difficult to talk and run at the same time, but I'm enjoying the company. None of us thought to bring a machete, which at this point seems like extremely poor planning.
Less than five feet after the 1-mile-marker, we see the creek, which some of the more experienced runners call the "foot wash station." My pack groans, and we look for a patch of ice, a canoe, something. Seeing no alternative, I take the lead and step into the icy water. My feet are completely submerged in the frigid water, and now my tibia is cold, but I try to look at the bright side: I'm not as muddy.
It is at this point that I pretty much give up on the concept of "race" and instead the embrace the companion concept of "just finish." I walk with my pack, as we carefully navigate more mud and fallen branches. On the clear and dry areas we run, but it's a lope, a slow jog. We aren't thinking of medals (and they were only awarding bling to the overall finishers, so who cares anyway.) We are thinking of the pots of chili and chicken noodle soup that await us at the finish line. We are thinking of dry shoes and clean socks, and I especially am thinking of how happy I will be to see my SPAT's lights fully lit before 9am.
44 minutes after beginning, I sprint the last 100 yards or so to cross the finish mat and receive my ball cap hat. I smile for the cameras, but I'm sort of "over it" and ready to eat. Mom is there, proud as a peacock, even though I'm 10 minutes over my worst 5k time ever, and get mud on her coat when I hug her. She has made a friend in the volunteer tent, so we go over to the tables and sample the hot chicken noodle soup which is pretty delicious. I check my time, groan, but shrug it off. This was not the race for a PR, right? A man tries to hand me a trail-runner magazine and says he hopes to see me again. Not bloody likely, but I take the magazine anyway.
It's just past 9am and all the lights on my SPAT are lit up. I'm freezing, I'm muddy, and I'm ready for a hot shower, but I did something difficult today and I'm proud of myself. That fact alone is enough to warm my heart :)