My left knee felt a little questionable during a recovery run on Thursday night, but by Saturday morning it was feeling much better. A short bike ride through the woods, and I was all excited to run the trails Sunday morning. Still, I wasn't sure which distance I'd sign up for.
Sunday morning, I got a late start out the door, and arrived just in time to register. I saw Doug (@ReallyNotARunnr) on the way in and decided then that I felt good enough to give 9.5mi a shot. Registered quickly, and picked up a hat and gloves for $6. It was chillier than I thought it would be. Made my way back to the start/finish area and met up with Doug and the rest of the NERTs running. After a few minute delay, we were off.
Chris Russell (@cyktrussell) of RunRunLive fame was our pace runner at the onset. Chris was running "slow" that day. The pace was comfortable at first, and I hung with our group for about 2 miles or so. Eventually I dropped back and I lost Chris, Sandy, and Doug around the bends and over the hills in the deep forest. First 2 miles, according to Garmin - 09:17, 10:41
Over the next couple of miles, I went fairly slow (10:27, 10:58). Around mile 5, the pace started to pick up as the trail descended deep into a glacial kettle. I was surprised to see the splits from the Garmin later, as mile 6 was a pretty significant climb, and I still managed a sub-10:00 pace. Down and up - 09:17, 09:45. Mile 7 was largely uphill, and my pace slowed accordingly - 11:49.
At times, the pack of runners would thin, and I'd find myself alone on the trail. It's amazing how much of a zen-like quality trail running has. You're constantly engaged. In the moment. Watch out for that root, avoid that rock. Save some energy for that climb. Grab that tree. Don't hurt yourself. On the road, I find you can lose yourself in your head. On the trail, you lose yourself, to the trail.
Sometime around mile 8 or 8.5 - I saw Doug scaling one of the hills ahead of me on the trail. I called out to him, and he waited up for me. We ran the next 1-1.5 miles together (again, the Garmin was probably wrong on distance) and chatted about the trail, and tried to avoid injury. Doug had rolled his ankles on the course earlier, and had lost Sandy and Chris. Things were going great until about 1/2-3/4 mile to go, when I rolled my ankle. Wasn't too bad though, and after a few hops on it I was good to go.
We saw the finish and I asked him if he wanted to run it out. He said he wasn't sure what he had left in him but he'd give it a go. We took off down the final stretch, blowing past one older gentlemen and bearing down on a small dog on the trail. He surged. I surged. It was pretty exhilarating to have the energy left to open up like that at the end of a challenging course. Eventually, Doug edged me out for a one second victory in our first ever trail race.
After the race, I made my way over to the registration area and picked up my t-shirt. The NERTs hung out and had some post-race beer and food. Great time with some great running friends -
Thanks to everyone involved with this race. It was a blast. Thanks to Chris for putting the word out about this run. Definitely going on my check list of "to do" races for next year.
Until next time - run well my friends.