My relationship with trail running started when I signed up for this years DINO (Do INdiana Offroad) trail race series, thinking it was going to be more a set of cross country races than anything else. I was stoked to get off the roads, into the woods and wear spikes (spikes!!!) through it all, but when I went to my local running store to get some shoe advice I was warned that I should get actual trail shoes, not minimally padded xc spikes. I was a little bummed, but deferred to the professionals. Good thing I did.
As it turns out, trail running is absolutely NOTHING like cross country. Where the terrain of cross country is grass, trail running is on every single surface you can imagine, whether its dirt, rocks, sand, gravel, trees, asphalt, water, etc. Where cross country has hills, trail running has fear-inducing ascents! Where cross country has course sections into the woods, trail running is essentially THE WOODS.
So when I found myself chasing a trail running veteran from Colorado in my very first trail run I was a little taken aback at the speeds and sheer recklessness with which we were tearing through the woods, blasting off course through skin-ripping trees, jumping into 3 foot drops over fallen trees blocking our path, and screaming down dangerously steep descents. Cross country this certainly was NOT. And I was absolutely loving it. I felt like we were on edge of broken bones the entire race and after all was said and done, with a final sprint to the finish, I took inventory of my scrapes, cuts and bruises. I was hooked. This was certainly my kind of race….even without spikes.
So I continued on with the series, always fighting out to the finish with the same competitor every race and having a blast the whole time, each race coming back with another small wound of some sort, even managing to roll my ankle and limp the last mile in one particular competition. I consistently placed first or second in every 15k distance and am now facing just one more race to finish out the series, and since my other competitor moved back to Colorado I’m pretty much set to win the series itself. But this is not the end.
After the final DINO series race I am finishing out this racing year with one last hurrah, on the trails….for 26.2 miles. And damn am I excited. I mean, as if 26.2 miles isn’t grueling enough, throw in some super long climbs, focus breaking rollers, treacherous footing over roots and rocks, and quad busting descents….in December weather, and we’ve got ourselves a party. The race is the Tecumseh Trail Marathon and embodies the insanity that suits trail running culture -light-hearted, but tough as nails.
I had the pleasure of doing a couple 2 hour trail runs this past weekend, which has left my legs in nearly post-marathon condition, and part of those runs were on the course I will be racing on. While doing these runs I came to a very clear realization….this course is going to chew me up and spit me the hell out…and I’m looking forward to coming out the other side, no matter how beaten up. And I WILL get beaten up.
There are hardly any flat stretches I could see and even the flatest points on the course were pocked with ankle-breaking roots, hidden rocks and freezing stream crossings. Once you get beyond those you face long gradual, and sometimes not so gradual climbs, which transition into screaming downhills with 180 degree switchbacks, also spotted with hidden rocks and roots.
This weekend as I was rolling (not literally, but I’ll get to that) down one of the trail descents I suddenly found my upper body weight shifted forward when my toes caught either a root, rock or something else beneath me. As if in slow motion I came closer to the ground, put my hands out to catch my weight and slid forward, watching a rock hard….well…ROCK move closer and closer to my face, but just before I made contact I dipped my shoulder, rolled forward like a ninja and before I knew it I was up and running down the hill. It took me a few seconds to process how quickly I fell without warning and then was right back up. Honestly, it was pretty amusing, and I was just glad I wasn’t injured and could keep running on. And this happened being careful. This is also not uncommon. Welcome to trail running.
So in about 6 weeks I’ll be facing the amazingly beautiful, and all the same vicious, trails of Southern Indiana where I’ll be running 26.2 miles as fast as I can considering the conditions.
As if all that craziness wasn’t enticing enough, there’s one more element to Tecumseh that makes this race all the more exciting. Since 2003, when this race was first run, no one has ever broken the 3 hour barrier. The closest anyone has come is 3:03 and change….but this year I plan on being the first. I know it won’t be easy and it certainly won’t be a guarantee, despite the training I did for Chicago and my subsequent time there, because this trail stuff is an entirely different world. All it takes is one wrong mis-step and the race is over. All it takes is a massive misjudgment of endurance and those hills (up and down) will crush your body into submission. Still…it’s gonna be fun to go for it!!!
So for now, I’m getting my body back into hard-training condition, but with this past weekend’s two hour trail runs, I’m feeling confident that I’m ready to focus on a good dose of hillwork and final dose of intense running. Michelle and I have already started planning more trips south for hiking and running on the trails I’ll be racing, and I’m pretty thrilled about it all. So, with the help of my sponsors Vegan Dandies Marshmallows, I’ll be tackling one last marathon and going for the course record in the process. Of course, I’ll keep you all posted as to how this plays out.
For now, here are some amazing photos Michelle took of the trail….none of them showing the monsterous-nature of the trails, but certainly displaying their fall beauty.