Race Report: There is plenty of joy in Wellsville

I wasn’t prepared.

That’s been my theme for much of 2017 when it comes to races. Unprepared it’s been. Which probably isn’t a completely fair assessment. I’ve been strength training. I’ve committed to doing yoga on a daily basis. I’ve been running. My unpreparedness comes from not following a formal training plan, not gearing my workouts in order to prepare for a particular race. So I haven’t been ready for things like speed. Or hills. Or going speedy on hills.

But life gives you some pretty amazing lessons if you stop sulking, stop thinking that you suck, stop trying to make life go in one specific direction.

And so we reach the story of the Ridge Walk & Run.

It was the 25th anniversary of the race in Wellsville, N.Y., in the southern tier of Western New York, pretty much 100 miles due south of where I live. I had heard about this race in the past and it intrigued me. But it was trails. And it was in October. I wasn’t sure I could run on trails. Or in October, considering my day (er, night and weekend) job as a sports reporter usually picks up steam right around then. (Also, I’ve usually used up most of my “can I have this weekend day off to do this race” allowances by Labor Day.)

Two things changed this year: (1) I started running more on trails and discovered I could indeed run off-road, that I wouldn’t get lost, and that no one would tear down the finish line before I got there and (2) I someone, randomly, ended up with the weekend off.

I haven’t been doing much distance, so the 5K was all I could reasonably expect to enter, although that 10K was awfully tempting. I registered two weeks before the race. With no training, just fitness, I headed to Wellsville on Sunday morning. Here’s what I encountered:

Fitness diversity
Sure, at most races you see people of all ages, backgrounds, and fitness levels. But this event is built for community wellness. There are so many things to choose from. There are three runs — 25K, 10K and 5K. But then there are walks. You can walk the 25K if you want. Or you can hike 6 miles. Or you can so a 2-mile guided nature walk. There are other distances as well. And I’m pretty sure some of those 6-mile hikers could kick my butt.

What started as an event created by local trail runners has turned into a signature event for UR/Jones Memorial Hospital. The current organizers are committed to keeping the proceeds in the community for health and wellness programs. Meanwhile, the event itself has always been on private land. The trails used require permission of more than 20 private landowners. That means a two-community spirit is required — one by the landowners to allow the event to happen, and one by the participants to respect the trails and the land. Both seemed to enthusiastic and the runners I encountered were some of the most respectful I’ve seen on a course.

A challenge
I already established I wasn’t specifically prepared for this race. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the first section which climbed, and climbed, and climbed, then turned, and, oh, climbed some more. Part of me wished I wore my GPS watch to get some kind of reading on elevation change. But I didn’t need the numbers. After maybe three minutes of running the entire back half of the pack started power-walking up the hill.

Eventually, we all started running again. But there are times when your walk is faster, more efficient, than your run. This was a first-hand experience throughout the race.

The trail was beautiful. The leaves created a pictured-perfect autumnal scene. I never lost sight of a runner in front of me. Never was too far in front of other runners. I felt part of a wonderful trail community. One that embraced the beauty of the day. One that shook its head at how difficult this course was, but ultimately smiled, because doing those hard things gets us out of our heads and back into our bodies.

With the intention to go out and enjoy the day, I stopped to take a selfie with a bear (ok, it was a volunteer dressed in a bear costume to make sure we made a correct turn on the course), took a few extra seconds at water stops to say thank you and correctly deposit my trash, and made sure to say something kind to every runner I saw. I looked around at the beauty that surrounded me. Never once did it occur to me how fast I was going or where I was going to finish. Never once did I feel “this sucks” even when it got hard. And a lot of it was hard.

The finish
My favorite part was the last half mile or so, not just because the course was downhill, but because it opened to a field with a beautiful, expansive view of the countryside. Sometimes I forget how much beauty there is in Western New York. I’m too busy rushing around to take the time to notice, to just be.

After crossing the finish line I went to the finisher’s tent to check in. (This is how they know you’re not still out on the trail and they have to send the horse, true story, to search for you.) My swag bag was filled with goodies. The food tent moved quickly and had plenty to eat with the addition of wine and beer tasting. There were hayrides and the SPCA brought some animals. It was one big picnic.

On my way out, I saw the results board, but I didn’t stop to check. I didn’t know my official (or heck, even my unofficial) time until the timing company sent me an email. Considering I walked some hills, stopped at water stations, and took a selfie (or two or three), my final time was, hey, not that bad after all.

There is a season for training with purpose. Training with intensity. Training to attain a certain goal at a certain race.

There is a season for training to be fit. To be ready for whatever life brings at you. To enjoy what the day brings.

My season has been the later. I’ve lacked focus, but part of that was intentional. Part of that has been growing into my athletic self and realizing what I need, where my energy is best spent. I wouldn’t trade the races I’ve done this year, or the hikes I’ve done with family, or the two mountains I summited.

I’m so happy life conspired to get me to Wellsville, giving me a day of complete gratitude — for running, for nature, for a supportive community.