Friday, March 2, 2012

The Backyard Burn - A Race in the Woods

Somewhere between mile six and the man sitting in the chair with a sharpie to mark halfway, I tamped out the water in my soggy shoes. The creek crossing didn’t seem deep on the first step. It was the second one that dismantled my stride and submerged me to just below the knee. I executed the return crossing on the back portion of this out and back half marathon much better. What I didn’t expect was the bee sting at mile eight or the nettle bushes that left my side tingling for three days after near mile 11. And so came the battle scars earned from that first trail race back in 2010.

Since then, the woods have been a place to escape, to challenge myself, to recover, to explore, and to “wash my spirit clean.” It takes me back to a time when I was a young boy crashing through the woods behind my house with my best friend in tow, without a care or a thought in the world other than the simple pleasure of disappearing into this timeless place.

It was with these thoughts in mind – and the rave reviews of my trail racing veteran Sarah Finding Fit – that I decided to pin another bib on and go crashing through those woods again.

Without the benefit of a crystal ball or other such devices to tell the future, I clicked “submit” on my entry to the EX2 Adventures Backyard Burn Trail Series back in December. Four days later, I sprained my ankle. On a trail run.

The series – which begins this Sunday – pits runners against one another (and the terrain) over the course of four races on Virginia trails. Each race is roughly five miles (or ten if you wish to complete it twice) and runners can tally points throughout the series depending on where they finish in their age group. Age group prizes are pint glasses with your place printed on the side.

Sunday’s race takes place at Hemlock Overlook, a course that the race director bills as “the most technically challenging of the four.” Which means rocks, roots, and ridges. Just what I need for my rehabbed ankle.

In preparation, I’ve added some trail running to my longer runs and have been no worse for wear.

Ankle concerns aside, I think the appeal of the trail race – or trail run for that matter – is that primal connection when flying through the woods. It's slipping away from the known world and completely removing yourself from the rigors of the morning and evening commute and the traffic and exhaust clogged streets. It’s running through a place both brutal and beautiful all at once.

I factored in the first two races to my Rock ‘n Roll DC Half Marathon training plan with the idea that I would knock out my long run on Saturday and use the trail run as recovery, with the caveat that if I feel good, I will push the pace to put one of those pint glasses to good use later in the evening.

I hope that come Sunday night, I can toast to that. Either way, I look forward to escaping even if only for five miles....

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