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Last Saturday, March 12 I ran the Wilderness Park Run for the Bridges trail race for the first time: a race aimed at raising funds to restore bridges needing restoration on trails in Lincoln. ‘Twas a challenging and fun race course. This race was to be a 10 mile race but was shortened to 8.7 miles for reasons I don’t know.

Anyway, before any race of this length, there is some preparation involved. So I prepped my flat runner photo for Snapchat and Instagram and carefully chose the right compression shamrock socks (Pro Compression) and trail shoes (Mizuno Kazan). Also, there was some KT Tape involved to prepare my feet for what was to come, trail races can be stressful on feet.

The race began in an unusual manner due to the very narrow width of the trails: one-by-one start single file on starter’s signal. It was a chip-timed race so this made it a little tougher to know where you were as far as placement.

When I was cleared to start, after turning an immediate corner, I sped up to accelerate because I knew this was one of those rare opportunities to pass and establish the race pace that I was aiming for: 7:30 pace. After passing many people, my first mile split was 6:52. Right on target.

Soon after that, one of my feet landed funny on a rock or twig, almost fell but caught myself. But my right hamstring felt that and I tweaked the hamstring muscle a little bit. I carefully slowed down slightly to try to allow the muscle to relax. But I was not able to relax this muscle much until after the race receiving some active release technique massage by a volunteer.

We would around some twists and turns and finally reached the somewhat familiar Jamaica Trail. I’ve run on this trail before. Do you like to run in Jamaica? Okay, so it was upon Jamaica Trail, I know. Here’s a sign that made me laugh a little at the strange irony of running in/upon Jamaica in Nebraska.

So we wound in a southerly direction over bridges and around trails. Tight corners and tree branches were well-marked with bright red ribbon. That was very helpful. Only a few branches on turns were unmarked. It was a little frustrating to not be able to pass easily on some of the narrow winding trail sections but trees/branches were in the way. It was a little muddy in some spots and very muddy in other places.

My original goal was to run sub-1:15 to PR my 10 mile time. But I soon realized that this pace was not going to be possible for that many miles with a tweaked hamstring, mud, and the unpredictability and turns of some of the trail portions I was unfamiliar with.

Nevertheless, I tried to hold to that pace as closely as possible. By mile 6, I was struggling to stay under 9 minute miles as I cautiously tried to run as strong as possible without aggravating the hamstring injury. The 6 mile split was 8:55.

After we reached Old Cheney Road on the southern side, we turned around to return to Wilderness Park. The terrain was mostly familiar from the first half although there was some looping on the course to prevent collisions with runners heading towards us.

The most awesome awestruck moment was just past mile 8, about 8.25-8.5 miles where I encountered a deep stretch of mud. I immediately thought of the La Brea tar pits but alas, this was not quite as dangerous (it looked it from the jet-black thick mud). Then, we were suddenly surrounded by the loud, melodious croaking of hundreds of frogs! I wish I could have captured the audio from that moment. It made me stop in my tracks for a moment and I was soaking in the surround sound of the happy frogs greeting us. We couldn’t see them but we could definitely hear them. They were happy in the swamp area and seemed to enjoy very much being visited by so many fun trail runners without any advance notice. The frogs didn’t seem to mind. Isn’t it funny how nature can completely redirect your entire experience of a race, making it more positive than it would be otherwise? What amazing surprises nature has for us!

Snapping back to reality, I realized the finish was near. My pace slipped to 9:12 in the last partial mile. Crossing the finish line, I stared bewildered at my Garmin saying 8.78 miles. Uh oh. Did I miss a turn? For a moment, I panicked that I must have missed a loop or accidentally turned at the 10k turnaround instead of the 10 mile (also known as the 8.7 mile). Then I quickly learned that the race was shortened to 8.7 miles. Don’t know why. I wasn’t complaining with my hamstring feeling painfully sore and stiff. Sometimes it’s best to lower our expectations if injuries interfere to allow us to recover before the next run and race.

Checking the results, I was surprised that I finished 10th overall of 63, 10th of 39 men, third in my 40-49 age group (my first top 10 in a race since winning the outdoor intramural men’s mile in college at TCU at 5:15). I barely held off the women’s top finisher, a speedy 20 year-old that I passed near the end. Then I remembered the Empyrean Trail 5k finish was 20th overall. 20th to 10th in one month. Interesting. So I was happy despite the merciful shortening of the race that allowed me to receive ART massage a little sooner.

Also, I was happy to see that one of my runners I’m coaching ran this race too. Didn’t know he was running it but it was nice to see his name and time on the list, proud that he did it as part of his half-marathon training.

So overall it was a wonderful abbreviated experience, complete with mud, melodious frogs, tight trail turns, good competition and fun. So as the memory slowly fades away I gently try to help my hamstring heal in time for this weekend’s State Farm 10 mile race.

Happy trails to you!