AM: 10k easy
PM: 3 mile w/u
Target: win, don't get lost, don't fall
Actual: 2 for 3
|First place. OVERALL. North Shore Timing don't lie, y'all.|
Total: 7 miles
Daily total: 13+ miles
For the second Thursday in a row, this time in the evening, Jordan and I would be setting up the 'ol Karhu tent for the next installment of the North Shore YMCA Road Race Series. Despite the series moniker, this would actually be its sole trail race, although on the drive up I questioned how seriously that distinction should be interpreted. Would it be an over-the-river-and-through-the-woods, single track, legit, trail trail, or simply a glorified crushed gravel bike path? Since Haverhill was a tiny town almost a full hour north of Salem (which is already a solid 30 minutes north of the city), neither I nor any of my local running buddies had ever heard of, much less ventured up to, the trails at Winnekenni Park before.
Fortunately I arrived early (or rather Jordan, who was coming to the race directly from a sales trip in Rochester, was running late) and had some time to explore the race course on an extended warmup. I followed the trailhead into the woods, which picked up within a few hundred meters of the parking area, and was instantly captivated. I may not be the most adroit trail runner in a variety of ways--I think last weekend's misadventure with Emily proved I'm no Christopher Columbus (or maybe I am, since he ended up nowhere near where he was supposed to be either), and anyone who's seen me shuffling along on the roads can attest that I'm no nimble doe--but I must admit I'm a sucker for the free-spirited, rambling idea of them. And this trail, at least the part I saw on my out-and-back warmup, was right up my alley: wide, soft dirt paths, shrouded by a canopy of trees, minimally rocky and rooty but still very much in the depths of a forest. I turned around with reluctance 12 minutes later, knowing Jordan would be arriving soon and we would need to set up our branded area, but my entire countenance had shifted. On the drive up I'd been tired, cranky and decidedly not motivated to run a hard effort on this sticky, soupy, potentially thunderstorm-y summer evening after a long day of work, but now I couldn't wait to be set free on the path ahead.
Forty minutes later, Jordan and I toed the starting line (which was essentially an arbitrary marker in the middle of a grass field) and eyed the competition. There didn't look to be many other contenders except a tall, lanky guy in his early twenties wearing neon yellow Nike shorts. I suggested to Jordan, who was even more tired and more grumpy than I had been previously and had done another trail race the night before with one of his accounts in Rochester, that he just run with me and not push too hard. I even joked about recreating my (in)famous finish-line-hand-holding pose (now available at a Sears Portrait Studio near you!), which I first pioneered with Alice Rogers at a Whitewater Center trail race and then replicated a mere week later with Caitlin at a women's only 5-miler (the same depth of girl power and female solidarity having never been witnessed by the good people of Columbia, South Carolina before or since). He didn't acknowledge my suggestion, but he didn't have to. I knew he'd never actually do it. What self-respecting male would?!
|Previously the best moment of my entire life.|
Less than a minute later we were off, sprinting across the meadow and into the trail where I'd entered it before. It became immediately clear that our assessment of the field was spot on. No one had gone ahead of us, but I could hear breathing close behind that a furtive glance confirmed was emanating from Neon Shorts. For the first 2k or so we traversed the exact same route where I'd warmed up, which was almost completely flat and not very technical, and Neon Shorts' breathing grew fainter as Jordan and I began to pull away. That was easy, I thought. But soon the trail grew narrower, rockier, noticeably more technical, and suddenly I was the one being left behind. I watched with jealousy as Jordan nimbly navigated the increasingly challenging terrain, bounding over obstacles with the dexterity of a mountain goat, while I awkwardly and slowly plodded along in his wake. Neon Shorts had to be gaining on me. Sure enough, around 3k--although I'm only guessing, since during my earlier nature-infused euphoria I'd decided to "just, you know, run" without using my watch or even bothering to note the time of day at the start--the path took a sharp, improbable right turn up what I'm pretty sure could be described as an escarpment--the mere fact that I haven't heard that word since seventh grade geography indicates how decidedly out of my element I actually was out here in the wild--and I was forced to come to a dead stop, reach out to gain leverage from a nearby tree, and oh-so-gracefully hoist myself up and over. Neon Shorts passed me without so much as a sideways glance.
For the next few minutes, as the trail remained far too technical for me to gain any momentum, I resigned myself to third place with no hope of a Kodak-worthy finish. But then the path smoothed out again and I found myself overtaking Neon Shorts almost immediately. Like Jordan (who was out of sight by this point), he was far more adept than me at negotiating the trail, but the superiority of my aerobic fitness quickly asserted myself once the playing field (literally) leveled out. Though the trail soon narrowed again, hairpinning sharply this way and that, surrounded on all sides by thick, cloying brush, the ground remained smooth and a little muddy. Wait, make that a lot muddy. Actually--OOF! The next thing I knew I was on the ground, and hard, with an audible grunt. My right knee bore the brunt of the fall, but after pausing for a moment to mentally assess the condition of all my important body parts, I realized I was mostly no worse for the wear. The same clay-like mud that had caused me to slip like a cartoon character on a banana peel had also broken my fall in the softest way possible, resulting in a nasty scrape and mud-caked palms but nothing serious. Not wanting to risk being overtaken by Neon Shorts again, I was quickly up and on my way.
Approximately 20 minutes into the race the trail cleared, and I was directed by volunteers onto the paved shoulder of a nearby road. This was a relief, since there had been several critical decision-making junctures within the woods where I could have (and, for all I'd known at the time, actually did) take a wrong turn, but the presence of YMCA volunteers at least meant I was on the right track. Shortly thereafter I spotted Jordan up ahead in the distance but didn't see Neon Shorts anywhere behind. While I was relieved that my spot was secure, I was disappointed that my fabled photo finish with Jordan wouldn't take place. But then, inexplicably, I seemed to be gaining on him, and fast. As I entered one more short trail section and burst out onto the opposite side of the field where we'd started, it became apparent that he was waiting for me. Even more incredulously, he turned and said only a tad begrudgingly, "Are we really going to do the hand-holding thing?" Um, YES.
|Moments after the sweetest words he's ever said to me.|
Unfortunately, it seems as though the paparazzi was unprepared for our triumphant display, because the only photo I was able to secure was snapped just a split-second too late. It looks like we're just out for a lackadaisical stroll, which I suppose in some sense we were. This only means we'll have to replicate the pose again at another race sometime soon. I'm sure Jordan can't wait!
|Scars of battle|