Actually, this more of an event report than a race report. See I don’t exactly race cross country events. I participate. I leave the racing to others. In fact, I leave the fast trail running to others. When I try to pick up the pace or even match the pace of those around me, I tend to fall. Just as Mark who has witnessed several of these tumbles. In fact, he’s learned to recognize the verbal cues that eek out of me when he’s the lead, noting that a fall is likely on the way.
So to recap: I’m a klutz in general, have trouble staying upright on trail runs and yet participated in the annual Mud Run in Boston, N.Y. The race is billed as a “European-style cross-country run” which, according to the website, means there are “rolling hills, creeks, wooded trails, gullies, dips and natural barriers … and lots of mud.”
I’m not sure why that makes the race particularly European style, but then again, I’m not very knowledgeable about the cross country or trail running world. So I’ll take their word for it. Of course what the leave out in the course description is that along with the hills, creeks, gullies and dips are rocks, roots and ruts.
I’m guessing you can see where this is leading for me.
But first, the Mud Run is a spectacle. There are runners of all abilities and ages and shapes. Some are cross country veterans. Some are doing their first trail runs ever. The race attracts a large contingent of teenagers and high school runners and other various athletic teams run the race together. (Girls go first. Boys go second. In essence, they run two gender-specific races.) Both the teenage boys and teenage girls enjoy the mud … perhaps a bit too much. They dive into. They splash. They throw it at each other. They stop and smear it on their faces. Why? Did you need a reason to something like that when you were 16?
In the women’s race, you have to be careful of the teenage girls, especially in the beginning. The trail in places narrows and the girls have a tendency to get wrapped up in their own fun and games. You can easily be a mud casualty if you don’t try to anticipate where they’re going.
After a while, the Mud Girls find their own space either way in the front or way in the back. The serious and fast cross country runners have finished the race by the time I reach the halfway point and this is where I settle in with other women like me — the ones who are just out to either enjoy the run or survive it.
Early in the course, the trail comes out of the woods, crosses a field and turns back into the woods. This field is grassy and the long, dry grass nicely conceals several ruts along the path. My right foot falls into one of these ruts and my ankle rolls and twists at the same time. I yell an expletive deleted then quickly cover my mouth and apologize. I really need to watch my potty mouth in public.
As other women zoomed past me, they asked if I was ok, having witnessed the contortion from behind. I thanked them for their concerned and walked for a few minutes while the discomfort subsided. I started to run again. My foot felt strange.
Then again, I grabbed two different pairs of sneakers for this race. Yep. I wanted to take an old pair of kicks that could get muddy and be thrown out at the end of the day. Only thing was, I grabbed one New Balance shoe and one Asics shoe. Lucky for me they were for different feet. If only my clumsiness could be blamed on the shoes.
But I soldiered on. Lateral movement made me twinge, but I could run forward with no problem and put weight on my ankle, so I was confident it was just a tweak. I saw another woman running ahead of me roll her ankle badly on some small rocks on the trail. I stopped to see if she was OK and she said yes. It wasn’t a good day for ankles on the trail.
As the race continued I ran into some Mud Girls who were walking having expended themselves in mud wars earlier on. Those rolling hills got steeper and longer and the bulk of us back of the packers decided to walk. I didn’t want to stress my ankle and I wasn’t running fast anyway, so I took the bigger hills with a strong, fast walk and began to run as the terrain crested.
Through this stretch I passed several women of different fitness levels and I started to feel pretty darn happy. I wanted to become a cheerleader for us all, but noticing the looks on their faces I’m not sure if my spirited commentary would be taken with the intention with which it would be offered. It’s odd to say, but I was proud of all of us — for getting outside our comfort zones, for being in nature, for being part of a community, even if it’s just for a few hours on a Monday evening.
That’s the beauty of the Mud Run. You can enjoy the spectacle of the high school kids and marvel at the talent of the best runners in the field. But at the end of the day, it’s about a shared experience and the ability to roll, literally, with what the day brings you.
And my ankle? Nothing a little ice and ibuprofen can’t fix.