The start was as intense as the carnage that followed. 200 meters in, a girl in front of me face planted, tripping over a shoe that became stuck in the mud by a runner in front who was apparently now continuing on semi-shod.
Tough Mudder? No. Spartan Race? No. We were running an incredibly tiny race, the first of the Spring Thaw Trail Series, a mountain biking and running series of three 5 & 10ks which, while incredibly muddy due to weather, were not supposed to be Mudders nor Spartanesque, nor were they, despite the event organizer’s name, REV3 Adventure, supposed to be particularly adventurous.
I signed up at the suggestion of my running partner, Matthew, and before we knew it, our good friends Alyson, Scott and Tora decided to join us. REV3 sponsors all kinds of adventure races, and people compete by boat, bike and on foot, both in shorter distances and multi-day orienteering races. Those are not the kind of races I'm trying to do. But this series was just a set of regular running and mountain biking trail races. And it was billed as rather benign: 3 trail races close to my town, on familiar terrain, described as semi-technical, but similar to what we run on locally every day. You could cycle or run, or do both, with two short distances to choose from. Racers would win points for placement in each race, and most important of all, there would be beer and burritos at the end. It would be fun to train through the winter, plus the distance might favor the foot that I had broken and re-broken last year.
I chose the 5k series, which the description said would be 5k, or longer, or maybe a little shorter depending on the race. The first “5k” would be 3.8 miles.
Over the winter I ran my heart out in what felt like strangely different training blocks with 4 and 5 mile “long” runs. In my heart I knew I would never become a competitive short distance runner, but I figured I would go for it the best I could, and post race, I would partake in my other favorite sport: enjoying alcoholic beverages.
Not long into the first race, as I watched Matthew and Alyson cruise off into the distance, the 5k (no, not just 5k, but longer! 3.8 miles, not 3.1 miles! It’s important to know that!) and 10k routes split, and we were plunged into mid-calf deep mud and snow.
In honor of the first race of spring, Mother Nature had created a small snowstorm followed by a freeze, then a thaw and a finally an incredibly warm sunny race day. This meant that we were sliding and picking our way through a deep ice bog. At some point I wondered, how could we be running over this terrain and still be upright? Or mostly upright. But as faster runners moved along in front of me, I just tried to keep up, figuring if they could run on this mud slick, uh, I had better make my best effort. It was the opposite of running across hot coals, but the intensity and terror was similar. Not that I’ve run across hot coals, but I’ve seen people run across hot coals on TV. And I can kind of understand choosing hot coals over deep mud and snow. Maybe.
I ran down a hill to the first water crossing. I’m pretty sure the creek would have been a mere trickle in an optimal situation, but in this case there was a line of runners, waiting to attempt to leap across knee deep ice water onto a muddy 45 degree slope. There was no way my short legs were going to clear the creek, plus I'm a badass, so I ran through the creek. This allowed me to get in front of several people, which in any race is a miracle for me. Being in front of ONE person in a race is a miracle for me. Good plan, I thought, and I implemented this method at the next two crossings as well.
My Salomon Cross-Max were draining perfectly and my feet and legs felt good but ohmyfuckinghell short distance races are tough and there's no time to breathe or to stop breathing, which is what I felt like doing. And then lie down. And heave. Or just expire. And we still had a half mile to go. And it was so slow.
Each step consisted of one of the following:
1. Land and slide 6-8 inches on top of mud, ice or slick meadow grass.
2. Land and sink beyond your ankle into mud or snow, then attempt to pull your foot out as it becomes sucked into the vortex of cold wet mush.
3. Land and feel incredulous that neither of the above happened, causing you to forget that you're on precarious terrain, landing again to either #1 or #2 on the next step.
4. Run through ankle to knee-deep water, washing off a lot of caked on mud, but sending a shock of coldness up through your body.
Give me a Half Marathon any day of the week and I will crush it. Slowly. Happily. This 5k racing stuff uh, hurts.
I ran up the last hill, and across the finish line, purple faced and maniacal. Alyson greeted me with the news that she had won her 5k age group and we watched Matthew come across the 10k line as his age group winner as well. Tora came in triumphant a few moments later and we all celebrated as we waited for Scott to race with the mountain bikes. And it wasn’t a Mud Run. And it was longer than a 5k. And we all made it. And we laughed about it afterward. And the beer tasted really nice.
In Race 1, I managed to meet all my goals:
1. Do not get injured
3. Do not finish last
4. Chick at least one guy (sorry to the one guy I beat and also thank you)
5. Have fun
To give you an idea of how slow this race was, the winning time for the (long) 5k was 24:29. I placed 41st out of 49 people total, with a time of 47:20. We had two weeks to get ready for Race 2.