The last time I ran a USNWC trail race, I swore I would never do it again.
It’s actually a funny story: two years ago, in a spur-of-the-moment decision, my friends and I decided to crash Tuck Fest, a 3-day fun-filled festival at the Whitewater Center. So we arrived fashionably late on the 2nd day, and after only 10 minutes of eyeballing the sickest race shirts walking around, I made the rash decision to sign up for the last 5k of the weekend, scheduled for the next morning. Yup…. I made the bold choice to run my first trail race solely based on some well-designed tees. 😊
Sure enough, I woke up bright ‘n early, laced up my kicks, and drove 25 miles back out to the Whitewater Center. Unbeknownst to me, a lovely rainstorm flooded the area overnight and was scheduled to rain on our parade once more. But we ran the race anyway, and instead of heralding a record 5k time, I checked off the completion of my very first mud run. It was miserable. We’re talking trashed Lululemon’s miserable. Not to mention, how incredibly pooped I was from the rolling hills of a grueling course. So as I drove home in a soiled car seat, I made a pact with myself that I would never: 1) run a trail race, nor 2) sign up just for the swag, ever again.
But the funniest part of it all: two years to the day, I signed up for the same race, for the same exact reason.😂 Well, and because my new favorite band, The Revitalists were scheduled to perform post-race. So I’m not sure if that makes me a lunatic or a race tee junkie, but thankfully, this time around, the odds were in my favor.
See this time, I switched things up a bit. I signed up for the very first 5k of the weekend, which happened to be a “twilight” run. In reality, it was more of a dusk run, but it was an exciting new endeavor nonetheless. And to spice things up even more, my sweet boyfriend, who has never run a formal 5k before, decided to join in on the fun!
Matt and I arrived at the Whitewater Center an hour early for the race. We wanted to have enough time to get our bearings straight, and we also wanted to catch the hyped-up Bicycle Stunt Show that was scheduled to take place before the race. (Yes, it was seriously as cool as it sounds.)
Then 7:15p came around and we made our way over to the Ridge Pavilion, where the starting line was set up. We joined a hearty crowd of about 100+ who were squeezing in some last minute stretches, and we shared some giggles about how some folks were taking this race way too seriously. (Because the chocolate protein bar I indulged in 30 minutes before ensured that I was not.) In fact, I think it’s fair to say that our minds were more focused on the post-race brews we would cheers in 30 short minutes.
With a few minutes to go, the crowd funneled over to the starting line. I grabbed Matt’s hand and dragged him to the very front of the bunch, directly under the “Start” banner, because I had to make sure he experienced the full adrenaline rush of his first race. He was reluctant and bashful, but when the gun went off seconds later, I’m pretty sure he loved every second of being a part of that opening sprint.
The first 100m was completely downhill, so I was out the gate with some haste. Then we winded around the whitewater rapids and stormed into the Tuck Fest crowds, with cheers coming in every direction. The energy of the onlookers pulsed through me and encouraged me to maintain an overly-ambitious 7:15 pace.
But this speedy gait came to a halt when we turned the corner into the ominous forest. In fact, if I remember correctly, the first steps into those dark woods led us up a mean uphill. And then five more of them immediately following. Actually, I’m pretty sure the uphill to downhill ratio of that race was 5:1. Quite baffling, really. So needless to say, by mile 1, I was dead. I hit a wall and decided this race would quickly become more of a hike if I didn’t regain some fire.
So just as I settled into a brief walk to catch my breath, my rookie-runner boyfriend snuck up behind me, gave me a pat on the back, and passed me with such ease. He was making this mountain climbing look easy! Seriously, he’s never run a race before, much less a trail run, and he was rocking a solid 8-min. pace!
After taking a few seconds to pick up my jaw, I hastily kicked it back into gear in an attempt to catch him. With my my eyes fixated on his bright red shirt as my target, I mistakenly forgot the cardinal rule of trail running: eyes on the ground. Always. And at the next hefty tree stump, I fell face-forward into a mouthful of dirt. My knee was scuffed up and my pride was momentarily shattered, but I took it as a slap in the face that maybe Bae deserved this win.
I followed behind him in an eye-shot distance for the remainder of the race, completely in awe of his stride. (Bare in mind that he is no seasoned runner, and he only jogs for leisure every now and then, but his pacing was unbreakable.) He kept his speed no matter the obstacle he faced, and I kid you not: he was the only runner I saw out on that course that didn’t walk. Not once. (Because to put things in perspective, I probably clocked 5 or 6 strolls. 😊 )
He even mounted the last heartbreaker hill with ease, and his slow-and-steady strategy took him through the finish line with power and an impressive time. (Oh, and bragging rights that I ate his dust in this race.) He absolutely killed it and I was so damn proud of him.
Admittedly, I was pretty embarrassed with my own performance out there. But by watching Matt’s first race, I got to witness what running is truly about. It’s about the power of the human heart, and the feats that can be accomplished when you don’t give up on yourself. Racing is about fighting through the adversity you face, and staying strong over every obstacle that comes your way. In his 3-mile journey, Matt reminded me of what it feels like when you first fall in love with this sport, and the glory you get when you heart beats for speed for the first time.
Sure, I had to listen to his taunts for the next hour or so, but seeing the pride in his eyes for his stellar performance made me fall in love again. With him. With running. With Tuck Fest. And I’m pretty sure that’s the textbook definition of a pretty perfect race.
29:45 finish time