Yesterday, I ran my first trail 5k race in Ashland, Nebraska, about halfway between Lincoln and Omaha. It was a challenging race: hills, snow, ice, mud, sharp turns, a few short slippery bridges, and branches/sticks on the course made for a fun but challenging adventurous race. This race course with snow and ice on it was indeed a wild adventure. And there people running it without Yaktrax. Somehow the winner of the race ran this in 19:44. Talk about hearing, following, and responding to the call of the wild. Do you remember the “Call of the Wild” book by Jack London? I think of the call of the wild a lot when I am running trails in particular just because of the varied unexpected nature of trail running and the need to be spontaneously or instantaneously responding to hazards. Trail running requires a different higher level of mindfulness than I think some other forms of running do. Maybe if one runs and races enough trails, some of it becomes automatic. But much of it is not, especially when you a running an unfamiliar course for the first time having only seen a map of it and running only a mile or so of it before the race. There were spots where I thought a sled or skis might have been more effective than shoes. There was a wild, unpredictable variable on this course yesterday.
Ashland is a small city near Mahoney State Park, Nebraskans and Midwesterners who live near Nebraska know about where Mahoney is, near the Platte River in Cass County. It is a hilly area and I knew that, flat near the riverbed.
Early that morning, I arrived to pick up my packet and walk/run around a little. I debated whether or not to race in Yaktrax for the first time (have run in Yaktrax a lot, just hadn’t raced in them yet). Finally I decided that would be necessary noticing there was a lot of snow and ice still on the ground, a little more snow than Lincoln got recently. I selected the Topo Athletic MT trail shoes for the race, zero-drop good trail shoes that I have run a full trail marathon in before so I knew they could perform. I almost wore my Mizuno Wave Kazans for the race but decided that the Topos would be lighter and faster for a shorter race.
We gathered shortly before 11am, the start time. No starting gun for the start (rather informal but it is a smaller race), just a 5-second countdown but we were chip timed and that became relevant at the finish. I’ll explain why. I did some passing and weaving to get to the pace group I wanted to run with and settled in behind a runner wearing Mizunos. I watched his feet very carefully to notice where to step and where not to step based on where he had good footing and where his feet slipped. I know I lost some time slowing down for turns that appeared a little slippery due to the snowfall that still blanketed the ground. The first 1/2 mile or so of the course was not too difficult, mainly just had to watch out for some orange flags sticking up out of the ground marking the midpoint of the course.
The race course is an out and back with a loop on the southern side. There is a cross on the hill marking an uphill portion of the course going into the second mile. When you see it coming back, you know it’s mostly downhill from there.
At 2 miles, I was really feeling winded, the hills, snow, ice, and mud were sapping my strength a little. So I decided to take a short walk break. My breathing was labored, I could tell and nasal breathing wasn’t working because my nose was running (not runny, running). After a short breather, I returned to try to regain some momentum. I noticed I hadn’t really allowed a lot of people to pass me but the Mizuno runner in front of me had galloped along at a faster pace and I couldn’t catch him. I tried.
At 3 miles, I was trying to pick up some speed when another runner passed me wearing a Mankato Marathon shirt. I wondered if my brother Dennis knows him as Dennis lives in Mankato, Minnesota. I debated chasing him or not and decided to stay as close to him as possible and to try to pass him again when the footing was safe. It took a lot of strength and gusto at the end but very near the finish, I realized this runner wasn’t wearing Yaktrax and I was. He began hesitating, running more cautiously, maybe to avoid slipping on the ice/snow at the finish. Even though we had bricks/cobblestone at the end with snow and ice, I pressed the internal turbo button to try to pass him. This runner let up his pace slightly at the end and I took advantage. If you saw it you would think I only beat him by by nose or my toes. But checking later, I realized that with net time, I finished 2 full seconds ahead of him although it looked like a photo finish.
I heard the announcer say something about 17th but didn’t catch it all. Later I realized he was saying I was the 17th male (of 141) to finish. So I sneaked into 20th place overall (of 319 finishers) at the finish taking advantage of a little fartlek boost (pass me and I’ll pass you back). I hoped to finish in the top 3 in my age group even though I knew that would be unlikely for a first trail 5k under these conditions. Found out I finished 5th of 34 (was 5th in age group at Run Laughlin in my last race so maybe this is a pattern or at least a trend). Not bad for runstreak day 810. Really it was the second mile where I struggled a little with the unpredictable terrain that was unmarked in spots (especially going downhill). My second mile was slower: 9:39 compared to 8:13 first mile. But I finished with a stronger 3rd mile (8:39) and a fast final burst (7:02) to finish in 27:27 officially. It’s a nice catchy repeating number. Easy to remember anyway.
After the race, there was a runner lunch or “runch” with hot food and beer from Lazlo’s Restaurant and Empyrean Brewery in Lincoln. BBQ beef sandwiches, salad, chips, soup, and cookies. Good eats with delicious barbeque and with the beer, including my favorite from this microbrewery, Third Stone Brown, that really made for a nice relaxing post-race meal. Sat with other families from Lincoln (a kid who won the kids division and a mom who ran to 3rd place in her division. Random raffle prizes were given out to people including clothing, a vivofit and someone won free beer for a year.
It was a great gathering of 320 or so runners and families. It’s an off-the-beaten-path race, wild in spots, and challenging in a good way. It was a success. I learned that there is a big difference between running cautiously and slowly in Yaktrax and racing in them in a wild trail running environment. But with practice, I know my skills will improve and excel as I learn and soak up running knowledge from the mud, snow, ice, and wild adventure of trail running.
Happy Trails until we meet again!