Alternate title: That time I fell in love with trail running.
There’s nothing better than finding something new that lights. you. up. Something that just smacks you with goofy happiness and makes you feel grateful, excited, empowered, and more alive. Those times where you are so deeply in the moment, so connected to your body, so focused on what you’re doing that there’s simply no space for dwelling on the past or contemplating the future. There are many aspects of my life that can elicit these feelings – a great yoga class, walking by the ocean (or even the Chestnut Hill Reservoir), watching snow fall, a can’t-help-but-dance beat, or a wonderful story. Time to add another one to the list: trail running!
Bear Mountain was my third North Face Endurance Challenge Series race and whether it was that third-time charm, the lack of significant travel time to get there, or the near-perfect conditions, this one was my favorite.
Let’s be honest. It was my favorite because it was the most technical. As a gal who still considers herself very new to racing and the whole concept of running for distance/speed, faster courses and road races are always stressful for me. I have way more hiking experience than I do racing, so I tried to think of this as a speedy hike to take the pressure off and help me enjoy my surroundings. My teammates were super chill about this race and we were all in the same boat about just wanting to do our best and not stress. We were also dressed as Power Rangers, so how could I not have fun? I was feeling pretty strong and excited that morning, so based on everyone’s discussions about last year’s race, I had a rough goal of 1:10 but gave myself lots of leeway to see what happened.
After a quick bounce, the relayers were off. As soon as my first teammate was out of sight, I ran back to my bag to get ready since I was taking the second leg. By getting ready, I mean actually put on my trail shoes, tie up my hair, re-tie my hair, find sunscreen and douse my Irish skin, find a hat and then re-re-tie my hair, hop in place, run to the bathroom twice, frantically search for my water bottle, give up and mooch water off friends. All that kind of stuff you do when you’re nervous and excited and impatient.
After about an hour, we all started to get worried about our buddy who had taken the first leg. Our fears were confirmed when one NPer crossed the hand off point and told us that our Red Ranger had fallen, injured his ankle, and was asking for help to get back. We were instantly thrown into a bit of a panic trying to find out more and learn how we could help him. Obviously Red Ranger’s status was the most important thing, but we were also confused about how to move forward. Did we all wait for him? Should I just head out there? Is there a helicopter available for injured runner pick up?? Could we also ride in it for, you know, moral support and bonus aerial views?
Much to our delight, the Red Ranger pulled through and soon came back to the hand off point, clearly in pain but there and able to walk. I snagged the ankle monitor and took off. Chris ran beside me for a few minutes to get me excited, and then snapped some super unfortunate photos of me looking panicked. I decided to channel that adrenaline and let it push me forward through the first few miles, which are always the most stressful part of a race for me. Soon enough, I was on my own on the trail. The course was hilly to start and certainly as technical as promised, but there were longer stretches of flat, easy terrain than I expected. I somehow found myself loving the uphills (thank you Summit Ave!), and began passing people in a race for the first time in my life. As much as I try to just do my own thing when I run and not worry about where I stand, I have to admit: it felt really good to cruise by someone and be able to attribute it to my own hard work. I felt strong, tough, and just generally happy to be in the woods, focused on my footwork and letting everything else fall away.
That, my friends, is the beauty of trail running: you NEED to be completely tuned in to your body, your feet, and your surroundings or else you WILL fall flat on your face. (And truth be told, even if you are fully focused, you’re still pretty likely to fall on your face). On this trail, I realized that this form of running was truly a moving meditation for me, getting me out of my head and into my body. This presence and attention to body and breath is always the goal of yoga, so I felt an instant and exciting connection as I dodged roots and navigated this rocky terrain.
Unfortunately my adrenaline and speed only held out for so long, and I found myself slowing way down for the last mile and even walking some of the uphill. This let me know that I need to work on my endurance, but certainly didn’t stop me from crossing that finish line with a grin.
As soon as I was done I found myself bouncing in place, eager to get back out there. This is NOT NORMAL for me. Every other race I’ve done, I’ve finished exhausted and approaching puke-city with only one thought: where is my victory beer? This time around I was still exhausted, but I had so much fun climbing up and clamoring down those hiking trails that I wanted more. I’m sure if I had started back out I would have found myself completely regretting another round, but I had a taste of something sweet and I’m definitely seeking more.
After my other two teammates rounded out the race, we assessed our scrapes and aches and focused on perhaps the best part of racing: apres. A troop of us from the DC and Boston November Project tribes made our way back to the kickass house we had rented, complete with pool and hot tub. Let me tell you, having a cold IPA in a hot tub after running trails is about as good as it gets. Unless you fall into said hot tub and scrape yourself up (Maybe this happened to someone. Maybe his name was Capozzi. Maybe it looked a lot like this:)
All in all it was an awesome weekend that left me with a newfound love of trail running. I mean the math speaks for itself: woods + views + running + beers + friends = happy. I walked away with no scrapes or blisters (also not normal for me!), a profound appreciation for my body, and excitement for the next one. Not to mention checking “become Kimberly, the Pink Ranger” off my bucket list! Perhaps the greatest feat for our team was finding a Yellow Ranger to join our racks – none other than Dean Karnazes!
Just a few weeks until the next trail race – see you in Toronto!