Most days, I run alone. But on Saturday, I had four times the fun. Colleen and the boys joined me for the DINO 5K trail race at Fort Ben Harrison.
It was a beautiful morning for it, too — low 60s and sunny skies. The nice weather attracted a big crowd, too, at least 400 runners — one of the largest fields I’ve seen at any DINO race.
This is one of my favorite races of the year. The park is only 15 minutes from our house. I know the trails inside and out, and have logged hundreds of miles on them. One day two summers ago, when I was training for the Buckeye Trail 50K, I ran 14 consecutive loops on the hilly, rocky Lawrence Creek Trail loop, for a total of about 25 rugged miles.
But today, our distance would be more modest: about 3.1 miles.
I knew the boys would do just fine. They are strong runners. The question was: could Mrs. Trail Boy and I tear up the trails, too?
For days beforehand, Jake and Steven made it clear they would clean my clock. “We’re going to roast you, Dad,” Jake said more than once.
I didn’t doubt him. I’m no speedster these days. My leg and overall fitness are still in the recovery mode. I knew I might have to walk the hills.
Mrs. Trail Boy, a longtime power walker, said she might run part of the race, but she planned to walk most of it.
So the big question was: How badly would Steve and Jake beat us?
Last year, Jake and I ran this race together. It was his first DINO race. He stuck with me for most of the distance, but put on a powerful kick at the end and beat me by about 20 seconds.
This year, Jake is 12 — older and faster. And I’m 52 — older and slower.
(Jake is getting in the habit of kicking my butt on the trails. Two weeks ago, he beat me by a whopping five minutes at the Knobstone Trail 5K, my first race of the year.)
And of course, Steven, 15, is a wild animal on the trails. He’s been running cross country since fourth grade, and just wrapped up his seventh season. He gets faster every year.
But then again, he has barely run a step since the season ended a few weeks ago. Like most teens, he likes sleeping in on weekends. Did he still have his speed?
The race would answer lots of questions for everyone. Races have a way of doing that.
We arrived at the park in time to pick up our numbers and do some light stretching. For a warm-up, the boys and I ran to the top of the sledding hill, and back down, and around the back of the field.
As we trotted back to the starting area, we noticed that the 15K race had just started. We stepped off the the trail to let the runners by.
The runners flew past us, crossed the road, and blasted up the sledding hill we had just come down from. Then they ran across the sledding hill ridgeline, descended down the far side.
The 5K was getting ready to start, so we all headed over to the starting area. The boys and Mrs. Trail Boy cheerfully posed for a pre-race photo. (I think poor Jake didn’t get enough sleep.)
Then the horn went off. We ran down an asphalt road for a few hundred yards, then turned up a steep trailhead, and climbed a few hundred feet. Then we ran a wide, hilly loop through the woods.
By this point, the boys were already out of sight. So was Colleen; she had dropped back, saying it was time to walk. I was by myself, so to speak, so I took a quick photo as I ran.
Then I put the camera away until the end. I would need all my strength to tackle the hills ahead.
My legs felt fine, I’m happy to say. But my heart and lungs, well, not so much. They were not used to this kind of workout. And that’s exactly why I was running this race. It was time to get them used to some tougher workouts than a few miles around my flat neighborhood.
I ran at a comfortable speed till the hills got to be too much. Then I had to slow down to a power walk once or twice. I didn’t want to collapse and die before I had a chance to run another marathon. No sense ending it all right here on Lawrence Creek Trail, for God and the world to see.
I huffed and puffed and pushed my tired legs up one hill and down another.
Eventually, I finally made it to the finish line in a verrry slow time of 31:26 — or a 10:07 pace. According to the race results that came out later, I finished 166th out of 247 runners in the 5K race.
Yep that’s slow — unless you compare it to my last 5K trail race, two weeks ago, when I ran even slower, with a finish time of 39:44. So I guess I’m improving, ever so gradually.
After I crossed the finish line, I looked around for Jake and Steven. They had beat me by a mile, or something like that, and were resting inside the pavilion, eating apples. Man, talk about rubbing it in.
According to race results, Steven finished in 22:09 — a 7:07 pace, for 29th out of 247 in the 5K race.
Jake finished in 25:59 — an 8:21 pace, for 92nd out of 247.
Then the boys and I went back to the finish line to wait for Mrs. Trail Boy. We passed the minutes telling war stories about the course.
“Those hills were pretty intense,” Steven admitted.
A few minutes later, Jake pointed down the course. “There’s Mom!”
And when she saw us, Colleen broke into a run and finished in style. Her time was 39:26.
We all got a drink of water and stretched our sore legs. Then we settled down to wait for the 15K finishers.
About 10 minutes later, off in the distance, we saw the 15K leader crest the sledding hill. He ran across the ridgeline, with no one at all on his heels. Then he descended the hill and made the wide loop to the finish line.
He burned up the course with a time of 53:50, or an average pace of 5:46.
That was amazing. The 15K course is not only three times as long as the 5K course, but it is much more difficult. It includes several very steep hills, two creek crossings, and a long stretch on a bridle trail, filled with horse droppings.
I’ve run the 15K course twice, when I was healthy, and my best time was 1:15, which I considered respectable. These hills can slow down the toughest trail runner to a 6:30 pace. So the leader’s time was incredible.
About three minutes later, the No. 2 runner in the 15K crossed the finish line. Then I saw a few running friends, including Jeff, who finished in 1:04:48.
Shortly afterward, I saw Jon, a friend from work, who blasted down the final stretch in a blur:
Jon finished in 1:05:54, for an average pace of 7:04, crossing the line 16th out of 172 in the 15K division. Jon is a speed demon, about 20 years younger than me. But to his credit, doesn’t mind being seen with an old, slow guy.
Then came the best part. We all trooped into the pavilion for a lunch provided by the race sponsor Qdoba. We loaded our plates with rice, beans, chicken, steak, and chips.
The boys went outside to munch their food in the sunshine.
On the way outside, I ran into Kayleah and Christy, who had run the 15K. They had smiles and wet feet, the true sign of trail runners.
Kayleah and Christy finished in about 1:25. (See 15K results here.)
Then it was time to head home for (what else?) showers and naps.
In a few more weeks, another race will beckon. I don’t know what it will be, but I can only hope that I’ll continue to get a little faster.
And at my current race of improvement, I just might set another PR in about 30 years.