I popped my trail racing cherry Saturday at the Flirt with Dirt in Novi. This is not to say I had never beat feet in a forest before. Way back in the day I used to run on the Potowatomi Trail in Pinckney, which I was able to access by walking across the street from my house. Really. Feel free to be jealous, fellow southeast Michiganians. I am envious of my nine-years-ago self, having one of the region's premiere trails within walking distance of my house, but at the time I was a lackadasical runner, hardly serious at all, a brief spurt of action centered on a six-week span, and really did only flirt with the dirt before leaving it high and dry and forgotten when I moved to a different town.
I was ready to atone for past trail-teasing wrongs when I lined up with the field for this past Saturday's 5K. I knew I wanted to take it easy and be very careful because the LAST thing I needed to have happen was to twist my ankle on a tree root, because the Green Mountain Relay is fast approaching and I knew that my fearless leader (hi TK!) would kill me if I injured myself. So racing to beat the devil was right out. The race started on grass and the swish swish swish sound of shoes on grass brought me back to my cross country days. Then we ran through the gravel parking lot and into the woods. I hit mile 1 in 7:57, but most of that was on the grass/gravel. Once I entered the woods my pace dropped dramatically. I had to concentrate on not tripping and doing a faceplant into the dirt. The trail followed a crazy convoluted course and I was weaving from side to side, hardly ever getting a chance to run straight ahead. I never went on autopilot; I had to pay attention every second to where I was putting my feet. Then I got stuck behiind someone who was slower than me and I just could. not. pass. him. I should have shouted, "ON YOUR LEFT!" and maybe that would have made him move aside...but I'm too polite. Shocking, I know, what with all the swearing and bodily functions I talk about. When the trail exited the woods about 50 meters before the finish, I swung wide to the left, turned on the afterburners, and blew that guy away. I had so much fuel left in the tank it was ridiculous. I hit the finish in 28:54, which under normal road-based circumstances is a time which would make me wince and think "what the hell?" but this was trail running. As my friend put it later, "It's a different beast." Indeed. However, I still managed to place first in my age group. It was a fun day in the woods. There was a bit of mud (I got some smears on my legs...I guess that counts as my "flirt" with dirt, eh?), and it began to rain about a mile into the race, which seemed fitting, somehow.
The aspect of this race I was must stuck by was how quiet it was. It was so much more hushed than a road race. I heard the sound of raindrops pattering on the forest canopy above my head, I heard the occasional shout from a fellow runner deep in the woods, but other than that...most of the time I could barely hear the soft whisper of my own footsteps on the dirt. The event was sold out, totally at capacity...but one never could have guessed that from trail level.
Races, races, and more races...when will the madness end? I just...can't...stop...HELP!
Final stats: 28:54/9:17 per mile/1st out of 12 AG/10 out of 94 women/28 out of 155 overall