It’s the first Saturday in May, so that means one thing: stay away from Downtown, where 35,000 crazy road runners and walkers are stepping on each other’s heels and shoving elbow-to-elbow at the Indy Mini, the nation’s largest half-marathon.
Instead, it’s time to head north to Zionsville, and run the Anti-Mini — a tiny, counter-cultural favorite of trail runners. The course runs along trails — a mix of dirt singletrack and groomed carriage trail. It’s a May tradition for me. (See here and here.)
Well, except this year.
To my surprise, when I showed up this morning, the course was re-routed. That’s because weeks of heavy rain have turned much of the singletrack portion of the course into sloppy, muddy pancake batter. It also pulled down branches and eroded creek banks.
The new course was less inspiring. Only about one-third of it ran on a soft surface — the crushed limestone carriage trail in Nancy Burton Park. The other two-thirds ran along a paved hike-bike straightaway on the Zionsville Rail Trail.
That meant runners had to compete with dog walkers, baby strollers, coffee drinkers, etc.
It meant a flatter, less scenic, less challenging course.
But what can you do? When the singletrack is flooded or mud-covered, you have to adjust. The race director can only do so much when Mother Nature floods the course.
Not that I was running the race today, by the way. These days, I’m still hobbling around, trying to let my right leg heal.
I just finished up my sixth session of physical therapy (two visits a week) and have a few more weeks to go. My therapist has been pretty aggressive with deep tissue massage during the last few visits, trying to undo the damage to my iliotibial band. So my leg is sore and tender. I might still be Trail Boy, but not the running kind. Just the limping kind.
But if I’m going out for a morning walk, I would rather do it at the Anti-Mini than anywhere else today. So that’s what I did, getting in about five miles of easy, scenic hiking.
Here are a few things I saw.
The first, of course, was this sign, which greeted me at the old starting line. Whoa! The was my first clue that the race had been moved. I had to get back in my car, which I had parked along Starkey Road, and drive a few blocks to the new starting line.
Once I got there, I watched runners meander around, sign waivers, fill up their water bottles, and otherwise have fun at this low-frills, bare-bones race, now in its ninth year.
About 20 minutes before starting time, the race director gathered the crowd of about 100 runners and told them about the course change. You could sense disappointment, but also understanding that this was no one’s fault, just something that had to be done. I actually felt bad for the race director, as he probably had to measure and prepare a new course at the last minute.
I also ran into Kayleah and Christy, old running friends, a few minutes before the race. I told them about the new change.
“What, no trails?” said Kayleah. “I am bummed.”
I couldn’t blame her.
Then at 7:20 or so, the race got started. Dozens of runners and walkers took off, heading north on the paved trail.
This portion of the course was pretty dull — more suited to strollers than trail runners.
So I quickly lost interest in following the trail north. I turned around, and headed south toward the carriage trail, where the out-and-back, bowtie course would eventually lead, at about mile five.
Meanwhile, I had the trail to myself. It was a pretty morning, even though clouds were moving in. The weatherman said we would get rain at about 10 a.m.
I run or walked this trail dozens of times, but never this slow. My leg was really sore. I sure hoped the therapist knew what he was doing, and that I was on the road to recovery.
But as I walked, I noticed a few new things, like the old railroad ties alongside the trail.
The runners would stay on the high ground, turning around at the end of the straightaway, and retracing their steps. (They would do this whole bowtie course twice.)
But I decided to take a look at the old course, which descended along the boardwalk to the creek. I was curious about the condition of the trail down there. So I headed down…
…to the lower trail. Much of it was soft and muddy. Big sections were covered with sand, where the trail had washed away.
I headed into the woods, where I saw one or two other hikers. But I mostly had the place to myself.
In a few minutes, I saw this sign:
Well, that explained a lot. No wonder the Anti-Mini was running someone else this year.
Still I wanted to see the damage for myself. I took a few steps beyond, and saw lots of storm debris….
…and mudholes and soft surfaces.
So I decided to head to another trail. I had a few other choices.
I picked up this trail. It wasn’t too bad, aside from a few small puddles. I hiked it for another mile or so…
…until I got back to the boardwalk, and climbed back to the top. (During previous years, running the Anti-Mini consisted of running this 3.1 mile loop four times, plus a little more at the end.)
At the top, I saw dozens of runners on the carriage trail, no doubt glad they were off the paved trail and now running on a soft surface, under a tree canopy.
As I headed back to the pavilion, I saw the lead runner heading my way. He had already run 11 or 12 miles, and was pushing hard on his second loop.
He blasted past me and kept running to the turnaround point. I got back to the finish line before him, but saw him finish a few minutes later. His finish time was one hour and 20 minutes. He said that was much faster than last year, when he ran it in one hour and 58 minutes.
“I didn’t have to run up the boardwalk four times this year,” he said with a laugh.
At this point, it started to drizzle, then began to rain a bit harder. I headed under the pavilion to keep dry, enjoying the sights and sounds of the trail race for a little while.
Then I headed home, with my hiker’s endorphins.
Anti-Mini, I’ll see you next year. I hope to run it. And I hope the singletrack will be nice and dry, and ready for runners.