I couldn’t wait any longer. This weekend, I ran my first race of the year: the Knobstone Trail Race.
It’s an annual favorite that takes place in the Morgan Monroe State Forest, about 60 miles south of my house.
There were four distance options: 5K, 10K, 10M and half-marathon.
Seeing as this was my first race of the year, and my leg is still on the mend, I chose the shortest distance, the 5K.
Let’s start at the beginning. A few days ago, I thought: Running around my neighborhood has been all well and good for the past month or so, since I’ve tried to recover from my ITBS problem.
But things are improving, and I’ve seen lots of progress, and it’s time for a slightly bigger challenge.
So how about a trail run to see how my leg handles a little more stress?
On Friday, I took a whirl around the Internet to see what trail races were available over the weekend. A few clicks later, I saw this race.
Instantly, I knew I had to do it. It’s a beautiful stretch of trail through the hilly, old-growth forest of southern Indiana. The organizers do a good job.
I’ve run the race a few times over the years, including the 10M and half-marathon options.
Sure, the longer distance options were out of the question this year. But surely I could try the 5K without killing myself.
I mentioned the race to Jake, my 12-year-old son on Friday, and he said he would join me.
So at 7 a.m. Saturday, we headed out, ready to show each other what we were made of.
We got there in plenty of time to register and chat with other runners I haven’t seen in ages, including Jeff, who recently ran a Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim at the Grand Canyon; and Jim and Vicky, who are longtime trail ultrarunners.
After a few minutes of chit-chat, we lined up at the starting line near a shelter.
Then sharply at 9 a.m., the horn sounded. We trotted a few hundred yards down the road, then turned right onto a wide carriage trail.
Jake, a strong runner, stayed in my sight for a little while. Here he is, in the yellow shirt.
Soon, the trail narrowed to a singletrack, as it zig-zagged down a hillside.
We coasted downhill with glee, enjoying the cool air and the fall scenery.
At the bottom, we ran for another half-mile or so along the creek, and then it was time to cross. We trotted carefully across a moss-covered log. Jake jumped off the log a few places ahead of me and ran along the other side.
Of course, what goes down must go back up. No one knows this better than a trail runner.
This steep, long switchback got my heart pounding. I had to stop and catch my breath halfway up, so I took another picture.
By this time, Jake was far ahead of me. I didn’t see him again until the finish line.
I just prayed that he would make the critical turn up ahead, follow the 5K course, and not take a wrong turn, following the half-marathon course and get lost for hours. (See map above.)
I chugged along, keeping alert for rocks and roots, so I wouldn’t stumble. I also said a prayer of thanks that I was on a trail again. It was glorious, despite my almost comical lack of speed.
But I knew I was pushing my limits. After about 25 minutes, I began to feel tired, and realized this was the longest I had run in months. I downshifted into first gear, and even took a short walking break on the next two hills.
For me, this was turning into a race in name only. I was just tagging along for the fun, pushing my workout to a new place and a new distance. I enjoyed the sights and sounds of the autumn woods.
I ran with joy and gratitude. But I also ran with a lot of huffing and puffing, and even a little cursing during the steep uphills.
In other words, it was a typical day on the trails: beautiful and challenging.
And I was glad I did it.
The toughest part of the race, besides the steep uphills, was a long stretch of gravel road that gave my legs a bit of a pounding.
But I eventually made it to the finish line, where I saw Jake, sitting by the side of the road, waiting patiently for me. He said he had finished five minutes before me.
And he had a new hat. He said the official timer had told him he was one of the first (or maybe the first, I’m not clear) in his age group to finish, and thus got a lightweight running cap with the name of the race.
Alas, I’m sure I was one of the last in my age group (or any age group) to finish, with my pathetic time of 39:43.
But we were happy to be in the woods, father and son.
Then we headed over to the pavilion, where the staff had set out fruit, soup, chips and cider.
A nice volunteer ladled out a cup of hot, spicy cider.
Then we got set to go. Does it look like I made a 12-year-old happy?
So long, state forest. We’ll see you again soon.
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