With Mrs. Viper scheduled to work that afternoon, she decided not to spectate the race, as she always has. To save on parking at the small trailhead, she dropped me off and would pick me up when I called after I finished.
Prelude to a Race
Saturday was supposed to be an eight-miler, but I had signed up for the Dirty Dash, a 10-kilometer trail race over the Oak Hill and Plateau trails, part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Peninsula, Ohio.
To make up for the mileage, I arrived more than an hour early to pick up my packet and run a short warmup loop. Coincidentally, my friend Martini had arrived early to get in many more extra miles. He had just run the course backwards when I saw him, and I asked if he wanted to get in a couple miles before the race began at 9 a.m.
That was a mistake.
Our warmup started out fine, but the way the two trails interweave caused confusion. Submitting to Martini's veteran experience, we zigged when in retrospect we should have zagged.
Instead of heading toward the parking area and having a good half hour to recover before race time, we peeled back in the other direction on the other trail and ended up running almost five miles, including the "big hill" of the race, and made it back to the starting area with about 10 minutes before the race began.
Martini offered me an energy gel, and I took it. We jumped in line for the bathrooms, before jogging a quarter-mile to the starting line. My longest run of the year so far had been the eight-miler (supposed to be seven) the week before, and here I was about log 11 miles at race effort.
About to Get Dirty
The race was capped at 150, and I think last I heard they had 10 spaces open, so it wasn't a huge field. I wished Martini good luck and left him at the front of the pack to find a spot toward the rear.
We had a bit of rain Friday night, so there were some squishy muddy spots, but overall the terrain wasn't too sloppy. The temperature was in the 60s and humid. I wore shorts and shortsleeved shirt, along with my new trail shoes and
The big hill I alluded to during the warmup loop comes at about 2.5 miles of the race, after a sharp drop down -- I told you one of the trails was called Plateau, right? -- from a ridge to the first water station, the course makes a hairpin turn right back up for a steep mile-long climb that few could run. I sure couldn't, neither during the warmup nor now.
My left shoe tightened up on me, and I had to stop to loosen the laces. The adjustment worked for a while, but my shoe felt tight the rest of the race.
By the time I reached the top of the hill, my legs felt like gelatinous goo, and I was only halfway through the race. I took a few walk breaks on flats and walked most of the remaining hills. There were no on-course timing devices, and my phone was in my
The second water stop came with a little less than two miles to go. I walked through it, drinking my cupful and gathering myself for the finish. I was now beyond my longest run of the year and feeling as if I had hit my wall. This final portion of the race was flat, but in the way that trail runners say it's flat.
People were passing me. I tried to keep them in my sights. I played yo-yo with some, but had to let others go. I just needed to finish.
The race finished by returning to the same portion of the trail where we started. Rounding a bend, I knew the end was near even though I couldn't yet hear the cheers. There wasn't much left in the tank, but I intended to use it.
I summoned enough energy to pass a few of the runners who had passed me a couple paragraphs ago. Finally, I heard the cheers, entering a grassy clearing that was a wet mess. I stomped through the mud pit a couple yards before the finish line.
After I made it through the muck without falling, I looked up and saw the clock read 1:07:2x. I was early.
And so was Mrs. Viper.
I stumbled through the chute, handing my bib tag to the stringer at the end, and looked around dazedly. That's when I heard my wife calling my name. She had come to watch me after all. And they lived happily ever after.
Epilogue with Cramps
The race was tough. Probably tougher than it needed to be considering my accidentally too long warmup, but completing 11 miles felt great, and it meant I could rest easy Sunday, as I had also finished my weekly mileage.
I limped to the car. Mrs. Viper handed me some sweatpants and a plastic bag for my shoes, so I wouldn't dirty the car. My calves and feet and ribs cramped as I changed clothes.
In the car was a ham and cheese croissant and chocolate milk from our favorite breakfast place, the Blue Door Cafe and Bakery. Upon eating and Mrs. Viper leaving for work, I napped for most of the afternoon. I had finished my first trail race without falling and an average pace of 10:52 per mile. That idiotic warmup loop? I finished that with a mile pace of 11 minutes, on the nose. Not too bad at all.