One of my acquaintances on Twitter recently tweeted something about how he pities high school and college athletes because they always peak in college and then never get back into shape and turn into decrepit middle-aged weekend warriors or some such*. Well, I guess he was right (*sigh*) because I just ran a massive Personal Worst in the 5k, taking almost an hour to complete the course. My college PR was around 18 minutes, so that tells you how far I’ve fallen. *sobs dramatically*
What the heck actually happened?!?
Well, first off the 5k was actually nearer 5 miles – 4.3 by my and several friends’ GPS watches. I’m starting to suspect most of the trail races around here have veeeery loose tolerances for distances, maybe +/- 2 miles or so. I was running with MM** and we quickly realized the course was long when we hit 1.5 miles and were no where near the stated turn-around point, and then hit the 2 mile mark under the same circumstances. We finally hit the dang thing around 2.3 miles and MM asked the aid station for a whiskey to ease the suffering. Strangely, they only had gatorade and water…
Ok, so based on my easy run pace I should still be racing 4.3 miles in well under an hour, maybe 37 minutes tops. However, along with the added distance, the race director also underestimated what he’d stated as ‘10% off-trail post-holing’. The race had started with a deceptive 400m loop on groomed trail, and then had taken an unexpected turn straight up the side of the wooded hill covered in waist deep slushy snow. MM and I had ended up at the front over that first section since we were just in running shoes rather than clunky snowshoes like many other racers. However, we now dove to the side to allow three speedy snowshoers to pass and hopefully pack down at least some of the trail for us less-fortunate runners as they floated blissfully along.
Once the three snowshoers were by MM, myself, and two runners behind us got back onto the trail. Even with the slight packing offered by the far-ahead snowshoers, we all spent several sections alternating between cautious speed-walking, sliding on our butts, punching up to our thighs, and full-on crawling in an effort to stay ahead of the pack behind us. Once we recovered from the shock MM and I embraced the unexpected obstacle-course component and even found ourselves smiling as we stumbled around adding bruises to our knees and frost-bite to our toes. Unfortunately, that fun started wearing thin after about 20 minutes of shin and knee-bruising snow crust. That two mile mark? Yea that was still in knee-deep snow that had a crust almost as sharp as a cheese grater.
Fortunately, just after 2 miles we got to hurdle two snowbanks and gratefully wobble onto groomed trail. We each lost a YakTrax in the battle but figured we’d survive without them to the end at least since we were now on packed, smooth-ish trail. MM and I were now well clear of the other runners, and lengthened our lead by busting out what felt like 7:30 miles, but in the slush were actually 9:00+ miles (I’d stopped looking at my watch after we passed the two mile mark and I finally got my bearings on the landmarks). The final half mile was on iced-over trails, which was pretty hilarious with one traction device each. My left foot was having a hell of a time keeping up with my YakTrax’ed right foot.
After much slipping and sliding MM and I joyfully spied the finish line. We ran through side by side tying for 1st place overall in the 5k YakTrax category, attempting to smile in spite of frozen cheeks. The volunteers gave us our race swag of fuzzy blankets and wool hats (brilliant idea for a winter race btw – much better than a t-shirt in March in the high rockies!) and directed us to the nearby bonfire. There was hot cocoa and s’mores galore and we soon (mostly) forgot about the misery of the last hour as our friends finished and we all huddled together like exhausted, endorphin-filled penguins. My women’s cycling group ended up sweeping the 1st-3rd podium in the 5k and my friend’s husband was 2nd behind MM in the men’s division. Not bad for all of us running PW’s!
In spite of the unexpected shin-grating and massive PW, I had a blast kicking off the 2016 racing season and am looking forward to many more mis-measured trail races to come this summer in slightly less snowy conditions.
*Ok, I think it was more meant to point out the benefits of becoming athletic later in life but it made me laugh because Fish and I frequently bemoan our ‘retirement’ from competitive running and talk about how old we are in spite of both being still in our late 20’s. It’s really very sad 😛
**I should mention that MM hadn’t run since early Fall, and is a total stud for sticking with me through an hour-long obstacle-course type adventure that we’d both expected to take <30 minutes and consist of mostly flat, smooth running. Also I think I may have successfully lured him back into the running fold, at least as cross-training for his epic hiking adventures. Bwahahaha!