Sunday, July 15, 2012

Was it follow the orange and not the white or....

So I ended up in upstate NY for a couple weeks for work only 1 week after returning from Europe. It's getting hard for me to say I'm actually from Oklahoma since I haven't been in the state much lately. Anyhoo, I ended up here over a weekend so I figured I'd look for a race to run. I really wanted a marathon but couldn't find one anywhere near here. In fact, I couldn't find any road race longer than a 5k. There was, however, a 15k trail run just North of here. That's right, I said TRAIL. I hate trails. I get hurt on trails. Trails are bad. Those are my running dogmas. But when there's nothing else to run and only a lonely hotel room to keep me company even my dogmas go out the window.

The Forest Frolic 15k is put on by the Finger Lakes Running club. They also have a 7k but if I'm gonna run trails I'm gonna run trails by God! The thing about upstate NY is that it can be pretty hilly. Actually it's very hilly. I knew this going in so my race strategy was to go out slow and expect the worst. The other thing about upstate NY is that it's really green with lot's of trees. This makes trails narrow and overgrown.
About 150 people ran this race split about evenly between the 7 and 15k. A pretty good turnout for a trail race in the middle of upstate NY. I saw license plates from Virginia and South Carolina but wasn't sure that they had actually come from that far away. The trail itself was way off the beaten path. A couple 2 lane roads followed by a couple more gravel roads passed cattle farms and fields got me to the start. No parking lot, just a trail cut into the woods off the gravel road. Luckily I saw many other people were already there or else I may have left in fear for my safety. I swore if I heard banjos and squealing I was leaving!

The race started very informally with some course instructions. Since most of the runners were local the director made a lot of references to things I didn't understand. The one thing I did hear was to follow the ORANGE streamers and DON'T follow the white. Got it, Orange good White bad. That's all Willie needs to know. I'm off!!

The beginning of the race is downhill. Very downhill! It was an old grown-over dirt road with lots of rocks and run-off trenches. The footing was horrible for a road racer like me. I thought sure if this was the trail I was destined to fall many times. The amazing thing to me were the other runners that took down the hill with reckless abandon! The let it fly and didn't seem to miss a step. I, on the other had, was tip-toeing down this pile of slippery rocks like a grandmother. Screw 'em, I wasn't going to fall in the first 1/2 mile.

Funny thing about long steep downhills is that they so often lead to long steep uphills. Yep. Hit the bottom and immediately started going up. Straight up. Everyone was walking. We hadn't reached mile 1. We were walking. GREAT DECISION WILLIE! THIS RACE ROCKS! Mid-way up Mt St. HolyCrap, the 15kers get a choice of continuing straight up the hill or turning left and winding up the hill. The course is a figure-8 so it seems you can run either direction and get the same distance.

Pride is a stupid thing. Why doesn't the pride part of my brain feel the consequences of the things it makes me do? Stupid pride.

I'm a runner damn it! I looked that hill and the face and continued straight up the face of the mountain. Walking, of course, but walking straight up the SOB!

The trail narrowed down to.... well the trail really became the tiny bit of ground between the massive trees that surrounded us. I decided that I shouldn't be left alone out here so I picked a runner in front of me and decided to stick with them no matter what. The pain of trying to run fast would be nothing compared to the sure death that awaited me from getting lost and decomposing rapidly in this rain forest. The trail wound it's way up and down hills, across cricks (creeks for you high society people), through fern covered areas, and clear ground underneath tall pine trees. I will admit that it was a beautiful area. Not that I saw anything but the few inches of root-covered, slippery, muddy ground. Every now and then I looked up to make sure my "guide" was still within sight but mostly I spent the race searching wildly for some solid footing.

When I found a short period of level ground I noticed that the orange streamers were gone and there were white marks on the trees. The instructions I heard said white is bad, orange is good. WTF? My guide continued on without concern but I had to stop and make sure we weren't the only people on this trail. I had a momentary worry that my "guide" was actually a psychopathic runner slayer that lured their victims into uncharted parts of trail runs and ate them. That worry passed quickly because if that were true I would be happier with the quick death of being eaten than with the slow death of decomposition. Luckily all this morbid thinking was for not because another group of runners came around the bend and convinced me that we were on the right trail. So much for race-day instructions.

Eventually we made our way out of the forest and ended up on the road leading to where we started. This was a major relief because I was sure we were going to have to run up the horrible mountain road we ran down at the start. I began to like the race director again because of that little bit of joy. I finished in a respectable time and in the middle of the pack. I was happy with a good, hard 9 mile run through the NY forest. Oh, and, I was alive! And they had beer!

Thanks for listening.

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