Which isn’t a bad way to go at all, if you ask me. DWD features some pretty hard-core technical stuff – super-steep climbs and descents, mud pits, and trails that are only trails because you’re running in a mid-pack team and there’s already been 100 or so runners through that leg so far that day. If that’s what you think of when you think trail running, then, in my limited experience, most other trails seem relatively tame and totally doable. Sure, it might be viciously hilly, but it’ll probably be at least well-defined on-the-map single-track at the least.
So, yeah, basically all of my trail running experience has been through the 3 legs I’ve run at DWD every year for the past 5 years (except for 2006, when I was gallivanting around the UK with Nathan and Rachel). I keep saying I’d like to do more of it, and when I moved out to Seattle I got all excited about the local trail running opportunities I’d have here, but I just never do. When it comes time to run, I tend to toss on my shoes and head out the front door because it’s easier than finding someplace to run and figuring out a new trail system by myself. So despite all of the great trails right in my figurative backyard, I stuck to the roads because, well, because I was lazy, essentially.
Then someone sent a message about a local trail race series to the running alias at work. I filed it away thinking, “Hey, that sounds cool,” but didn’t do anything with it immediately. I was in the middle of the not-running-letting-the-bursitis-heal phase, and I figured I’d check it out later in the summer. Then I promptly forgot all about it, until this week when I was going through those e-mail files to see if there was anything in there I wanted to keep. (I’ll be leaving that job in two weeks – which is a whole separate story – and I’ll lose access to that e-mail file of “Things I Wanted to Save for Some Reason but Have Totally Forgotten About.) I came across that message again and…. hey! There’s one on Saturday! And they have a 5-mile option, which lines right up with how much I wanted to run this weekend. So I made a mental plan to check it out, and Thursday night with just a few hours to spare, I decided to make the commitment and pre-register online. (Mostly because it saved me nine dollars.)
This morning, I dragged myself out of bed at 8, got dressed and then headed out to Sammamish for the run. The schedule was going to be a bit tight – I’d finish running around 10:30, which would put me home right around 11, which would give me just enough time to shower before leaving again at 11:30 to get to Bothell by noon, where I was volunteering at the Brooks outlet sale – but it was workable. When I pulled up to the race start, I found it was just as low-key of an affair as I was hoping. There were some runners milling around, there was a tent for check-in, and 5 minutes before the race started we got a quick briefing on the course and course markings, then they said, “Go” and we all headed into the woods.
We started off on the wide main trail, which was super-soft and super wet. (A fact that, if you stopped and thought about it, wasn’t terribly shocking since it’d been raining for the past 24 hours at that point.) We all started off desperately avoiding the wet spots, but it soon became clear that was a pointless task. It was taking more work to go around things than through them, and, honestly, if this was how the beginning of the trail looked, our feet were going to get wet eventually. Might as well just make life easier on ourselves and get over it now. As soft and wet as that main trail was, it was nice to have the race start out on it, since there was plenty of room for people to pass each other and it meant that when we hit the single-track a mile into it, no one would have to worry about leapfrogging a whole bunch of slower people in front of them.
The nice thing about the single track was, sheltered by the trees like it was, it was in much better shape than the main trail. Sure, there were some pretty good puddles, but the mud wasn’t as soft and it was easier to run on. I got myself into a good groove and worked my way up and down the hills and around the curves. Every now and then I remembered to look up, because this was why I’d wanted to come out here this morning: it was pretty. We were running through the forest, where everything was impossibly green and coming back to life after winter. I wasn’t running hard – this was just a training run for me, not a race – so I was able to really enjoy the scenery when I wasn’t scanning the ground for Things I Could Trip On.
At some point, the woman who’d been running right behind me spoke up and said, “If I’m going to follow you the whole race, I feel like I should introduce myself! I’m Kim, and this is Jody. Go ahead and set the pace, and we’ll just tag along.” Well, OK then. I’ll admit – this has never happened to me. Usually when I can hear someone behind me for that long, they’re just waiting for a good spot to pass me, not sucking wind trying to keep up. I’ll admit – the competitive part of me was enjoying the fact that I was just out for a nice, relaxing run through the woods and she was clearly working a lot harder than me. I kept waiting for her to drop back, but she stuck with me until we hit the aid station at mile 4.
Just after mile 3, though, we came across a section where the trail was pretty wet for a good long chunk. There wasn’t really room to go around this puddle, but it wasn’t that deep. The race director had warned us about a place near mile 3 where we’d be forced to get our feet wet. The guy who was running behind the two women behind me asked if this was what he was talking about, and we all figured it must have been. Until we came around the next corner. Then we saw what he was talking about.
The trail was completely flooded out, enough that I came to a quick stop before moving forward. There was enough water that you couldn’t tell how deep the puddles were or how sticky the mud was going to be. There was a small path around it, but it involved climbing over some logs and there was a line – most of the main pack of runners, which had been just out of my sight until then, were backed up as they all climbed over the logs and navigated around the water. I thought about it for a second, then, deciding the mud probably wasn’t that bad since none of it so far had been sticky enough to loosen my shoes from my feet, I plowed right on through the water. The awesome part? My little group of runners followed me right on through. Apparently they figured I knew what I was doing. We passed a chunk of runners, one of which shouted “Hardcore! Yeah!” as we passed them by, trekking through the ankle-deep mud and water, and when we came out of the pond, we were right in the middle of the main pack. A few people passed us, but not as many as I was expecting.
Just before mile 4, we came off the single track and back to the main trail. I lost my little group as they stopped at the aid station and I just kept on going, figuring it was only a mile to the finish and they’d have water there, too. Coming back to the main trail was tough – my legs were tired from all of the up and down the hills in the woods and the ground was soft enough to be noticeably more work. I walked up most of the really long hill, then jogged it in to the finish. By my watch, I finished in 57:10, which is a few minutes faster than I expected. (I’d hit the aid station at 45:xx, which was way faster than I expected. Go figure.)
At the finish, they had wheat rolls and peanut butter and bananas and oranges and hot chocolate and water and sports drink. It was awesome. I had some water and made myself a little peanut butter and banana sandwich before heading home. It was right at this point in time that I realized a fatal flaw in my plan for the day: I was running in my Brooks Ravennas, which are the only pair of Brooks shoes I currently own. I was supposed to wear Brooks shoes to work the outlet sale.
I took them off to drive home in, and set them on the floor by the passenger seat, where they had the heat blowing on them all the way home. Then, once I got home, I banged the big chunks of mud off of them (they didn’t even get to come in the house, they were so dirty) and stuffed them full of newspaper to help dry them out while I went and cleaned myself off. This was no small feat, since the back of my legs looked like this:
Then, I wore my Crocs to drive to the sale while my shoes got to once again hang out on the floor on the passenger side with the heat blowing on them full-blast. I had to open the windows since it was so warm in the car, but I’ll tell you this: it worked. My shoes were about 75% dry when I put them back on, which was far better than I expected.
Before I left the sale at the end of my shift, I picked up a new pair of Cascadias. I plan on doing a lot more trail running this summer, so I figure I might as well have a pair of shoes designed to take that sort of abuse.