The last time I’d been to the French Park Dirt Days Trail Run, I was pregnant — too pregnant to run trails. I jealously stood around with pregnant Amie as we watched our fellow Angels huff and puff through the woods. Man, it looked fun. I promised I’d be back to the trails as soon as I could.
The previous summer, we had run the hilly (that seems like an understatement — mountainous, perhaps?) parks of Cincinnati every month in preparation for the Chicago Marathon. Even in marathon shape, those trails were hard. Really hard. Pretty much the hardest you can work for an hour without collapsing.
Ah, how quickly we forget.
So this year — a full FOUR YEARS since my last bout with the trails — when a friend asked me if I was interested in running French Park, I enthusiastically dusted off my trail shoes and geared up for a morning in the woods. I even coerced a trail virgin to join us. Sucker.
Like all of the Dirt Days Trail Series Runs, the start was relaxed and low-key. I found my number on the picnic table, haphazardly pinned it to my shirt and looked around for friends. There were probably only about 100 other runners there, and we all meandered to the top of the hill as they started shouting course directions through a megaphone. Keep the red flags on your right and don’t cross the caution tape. Got it.
Runners to you mark, get set, GO!
And we were off. I started down the hill with the Bad Angels who had met me at the trail, but we quickly separated as we went down the hill and headed into the woods. There’s no running together on a narrow trail, anyway, so it was just as well.
After the first half-mile through the grass and down a gentle hill, I was feeling really confident.
That quickly ended as we started up the first of MANY hills. Oh Lord, I remembered this feeling. Everything burned. My legs. My lungs. My skin. Good God, we were LESS THAN A MILE IN and I was already struggling. Have mercy!
I had opted to run sans music for a couple of reasons. One, because I think it’s important to be aware of your surroundings on the trail. And two, because I enjoy being aware of my surroundings on the trail. The chirping birds. The babbling brook. The sound of heavy breathing as runners gasp for air behind me while trying to pass. As the running got harder, I wished for my music, but I doubt that would have made it any easier. There’s no way around it: trail running is hard work.
We rolled over logs, tip-toed over the creek, ran over rickety bridges, cobbled up crooked stairs and slogged through the mud.
Near the halfway point, I could hear my daughter Nora yelling, “GO RUNNERS! GO! GO! GO!” through the woods. I figured she could see my bright orange hat through the thicket of trees, but I had no idea where they were. And man, she sounded far away. Mostly, I promised myself that I would be doing my best interpretation of running when she saw me.
At some point on the trail, you realize it’s not about pace, and more about survival. It’s called trail running, but really, it’s cross training. You have to use every muscle in your body to get through one of those things.
As I jumped over logs and roots, my arms made loud slapping noises and they hit against my body. Hills. Stairs. More hills. Bridges. Oh look! A fawn!
Finally we were running along the creek. I remembered this part! That meant we were in the home stretch. We crossed the creek one last time, and a girl I’d been following for awhile took a spill off a wobbly rock and into the water. She laughed and brushed herself off.
As we headed up one last steep set of stairs to the final climb, everyone slowed to hike up the hill, but Water Girl kept chugging and yelled over her shoulder, “I’m just trying not to hit the deck again!” in some sort of apology.
Up ahead, I could see the clearing. Head toward the light! We came out from the trees into the sunlight and headed up the grassy knoll one last time.
But hey! My kids were there! Playing on a swing set with my hubby. On Father’s Day, no less. Aww. My older daughter leapt off the swings and started running toward me! “Mommy! Let’s RUN!”
Oh boy. We still had about 100 meters to go, uphill. I slowed down to run in with her, but let’s be honest, I wasn’t going that fast, anyway. The crowd at the string-lined finish line was small, but they were all clapping and cheering us in. “Come on, Nora!” I said, “We can DO IT! We’re almost there!” She ran through the finish and said, “I’m tired! That was hard! Can I have a bagel?”
That’s my girl.
All in all, I’ll chalk this challenging run up as a success. I’ve never been able to “race” on the trails, as it always becomes more of a survival challenge for me. And that’s just fine. The trail was lovely, the runners were happy, and I got in one hell of a workout. Three days later, I’m still sore.
Until we meet again, Trails. Until we meet again. — Aidz