What does the year 2020 and a 10, 20 or 30 mile run over hills and across muddy trails have in common?
They both suck!
Well, at least in the case of a run through the mud such as Western Reserve’s Bigfoot Trail Race this weekend, we got to ‘embrace the suck’ at our own choosing. We signed up for it. We endured. And we came out with a smile. For me, I could not be happier to have this experience at a time when so much else was missed this year.
The last in-person race I signed up to run was the Mohican Marathon back in March. As cases of COVID-19 began to rise, and races across the country were cancelled, so was the Mo Marathon. Myself and two friends were already booked for the lodge and still made the trip and ran the trails. But it was not the same. Looking back, it was an eerie experience. The trails were empty and so was the lodge. Us along with the staff of the lodge and the few other guests were all in shock of the current events and new restrictions that would become our new normal for the months ahead.
Now, in a year with so much hardship and loss taking place, missing a race or races really should not be such a big deal. But, as a runner, it is one of the ‘normal’ parts of life that could not be helped but missed this year.
As I look around my own environment, I am fortunate to not have had any serious loss. It has been a challenging year. Family life is different. Social life is different. Work is different. But my health, my family’s health, my job, and financial security are intact. I am very thankful for that. Everyone has not been so lucky.
A race this weekend was the perfect relief to go back to something that I have enjoyed so much in my life for the past few years.
This is the third year that I have ran Bigfoot. We had a good tradition of going camping the night before in the State Park. Yes, tent camping. In December. So, if you have ever run Bigfoot and were going by the half point aid station in the campground, saw tents, and wondered who would be dumb enough to tent camp in sub-zero temperatures prior to the race. Now you know. Unfortunately, we had to skip this part of the trip this year.
The 2018 race for me was absolutely the most challenging. I was in the 20-mile distance. It was my first real long-distance race on trail, and as it turns out, I was unprepared. To make matters worse, it was a freezing cold morning, and the rough, muddy trails were frozen to what might as well have been crumbled concrete. I had the wrong shoes, the wrong clothes, the wrong training. I walked in pain most of the second lap and hobbled over the finish line with a screaming IT band. Hard lessons learned.
So, with lessons learned, it was the 10-mile race for me this year.
The staggered, and socially distant start really did come with some inadvertent advantages. Gone was the adrenaline blast that comes with a full group start and the sprint up the first hill that separates the men from the thought-we-were-men. No offense ladies, it is just a figure of speech, you run past me as well as anyone.
The conditions were great! I expected an ankle-deep trudge through the mud and laced up accordingly. These trails are known for eating trail shoes. After four miles and the loss of all feeling below the ankles, I finally took a breather to loosen the laces. With newfound feet, I took in the views of Salt Fork State Park which were amazing as always! At a balmy 42 degrees it was hard to believe that the same race two years ago featured folks ice fishing out on the water.
Somehow, I really did believe the park ranger at the 8-mile mark saying it was the last hill we would have to climb. He was blasting ‘Eye of The Tiger’ which gave a much-needed boost and also made him inherently trustworthy.
The last two miles of the course were new this year. If you ever want to feel good about your golf game, I recommend playing hole numbers 10 and 11 of the Salt Fork State Park Golf Course. Each must have a vertical drop from tee to fairway that measures a hundred feet. I imagine I could drive the ball a mile. Unfortunately for the runners of the race, Vince’s Bigfoot course goes against the grain. It was a monster of a last leg only to see the finish line before lapping around the long way, and up another hill to the end.
But at the end of the race, it is not the sense of accomplishment we feel at the finish that keeps us coming back. It is the camaraderie in the challenges that we face together. The comfort in the pain that we know we are enduring together. So, the same in a tough race as it is in a tough year, we put our heads down, we smile, and we climb the hill.
Was Bigfoot seen? I like to think that maybe he made his way to high ground to hide out from a 20-dollar bar tab he left at the lodge from the week before. But then again, we covered the high ground. Maybe next year.