Happy muddy birthday
This was the Run With Foxes race, a spring favorite of mine that runs deep in the Morgan Monroe State Forest in Martinsville, Ind.
Even in good weather, the trail is pretty rugged. There are switchbacks up and down 200-foot hillsides. There are gnarly roots that want to grab your shoes and send you sprawling down a 15-foot dropoff into the lake below. There are lots and lots of creek crossings, most of which will get your socks soaking wet.
In other words, I thought it would be a great place to have my midlife crisis. No, I don’t need a sports car or weekend in Vegas, just a trail. Remember who you’re talking to!
Kayleah is normally a road runner. We’ve run a lot of races together, including the Cleveland Marathon in 2007, where she qualifed for Boston.
But every once in a while, when I ask real nice, and she’ll run trails with me. And she usually has a lot of fun.
But this was a tough day to run trails. We’ve had weeks of rain. I knew the creeks would be high and the trail surfaces would be muddy and slippery, with a few shoe-sucking areas. So Kayleah truly went above and beyond the call of friendship.
Like I said, what’s a little mud between friends?
The race offered four distance options: a 5K, 10K, 10-mile and a half-marathon, using several different loops. Kayleah and I signed up for the half-marathon.
But I had a feeling I would not be able to make that distance. For the past three days, I’ve had a fever and low energy. On Thursday, I fell asleep in my clothes at 9 p.m. and woke up 10 hours later, still feeling lousy. On Friday, I rested as much as possible, drank lots of fluids and popped Advil.
This morning (Saturday), I woke up, still feeling a bit washed out. I took my temperature. It was 99.1, nothing to be alarmed about. Still, I knew I would have to be prepared to back off if my energy crashed or my temperature rose.
I got dressed and made the 75-minute drive to the forest. When I got there, I could see it would be a much smaller crowd than in years past. Only a couple hundred people were there, maybe half the size of the year before.
We got our race numbers and got ready to hit the trails.
At 9 a.m., the race director gave the signal and we trotted down a hilly road for about 150 yards until we hit the trailhead. Then we started getting our shoes nice and muddy.
At first, runners tried to dodge all the mud puddles. But after a mile or so, most realized it was a futile task, and plowed right through, kicking up water in all directions.
The woods were beautiful: green, lush and fresh, from all the rain. The sky was overcast, keeping the temperature in the 60s. Who wouldn’t have a great birthday at a place like this? Who needs Chuck E Cheese!
The race was fun and low key, at least in my little cluster, near the middle of the pack. We ran for fun, knowing the course was going to be tough enough without killing ourselves.
The toughest footwork came in navigating the steep downhill switchbacks on muddy ground. One false step, and you would sail over the edge, down the ravine, until you ran smack into a tree or rolled 100 or 200 feet down a hillside.
Some parts of the course were fairly dry, and it was a joy to run them, such as Jeep roads, high singletrack and some of the rolling hills. One section of the course that I normally love to run, because it traverses the beautiful forest floor for couple of miles, was a soaking wet mess.
Still, once you got into it, you could have some fun. Kayleah made it her job to count the creek crossings. Our rule of thumb was it didn’t count if you could jump across it. You had to get your socks soaking wet. We counted 25 creek crossings.
I ran strong for the first seven or eight miles, but eventually could feel my energy evaporating. I had to take walking breaks even on the Jeep roads.
At the nine-mile mark, there was a splitoff between the 10-mile race and the half-marathon. Sadly, I decided I would have to take the shorter trail. Kayleah, who was running nice and strong, joined me. So did another guy who had been running with us for the past mile or two.
We finished up in 2:03:55, not too bad for the conditions. (Last year, I ran the 10-mile course in 1:47, but the trails were nice and dry, and I wasn’t stopping every five minutes to shoot a photo. Damn blogs!)
I got home and took my temperature, and it was up to 100.4. So I guess I did the right thing but cutting it short. Next year, I pray for slightly drier trails and healthy body.
After a nap, I regained some strength, opened a few cards and gifts. Then we went out to dinner — Mr. and Mrs. Trail Boy and the trail kids. Fever or not, that beer sure tasted good.
Later, I dug into my birthday cherry pie. I even had a scoop of ice cream, so it was cherry pie a la mode.
Or perhaps in this case, a la mud.