In the year since I began running, I have run more than twenty races. From running on the hilly streets of downtown Lynchburg to the boardwalk at Virginia Beach, among the apple trees of Gross’ Orchard, and the flat streets of our state’s great capital, no race is exactly the same. I have learned a bit about racing, and even more about myself. I have, for example, discovered that I am, and have possibly deep down always been, a trail junkie.
For my first few months of running I stuck solely to pavement, and not yet having a Garmin, mostly to those places where the quarter miles were marked for me. It was after all, in those first few months anyways, all about the miles. I hadn’t yet truly developed an appetite for running, though I had definitely enjoyed my first few tastes enough to keep pursuing it. So it wasn’t until my first winter of running when the race calendar was still empty, that I came across a trail race in our town that looked appealing. Without much thought or second guessing, I signed myself and my husband up for the 5k on the trails of Candler’s Mountain.
I barely ‘trained’ for the next few weeks; it was cold and wet outside so I barely hit the track or the Black Water Creek path system where I usually trained at so often and instead forced a few runs on the treadmill and watched as the race grew closer, realizing I was about to run my first race on trails having never run on a trail before. Race week came and with it snow and ice. Race day came as well as reservations and regret for having registered. The race began, on a downhill no less and I fell in behind barefoot runners and trail enthusiasts.
What happened next surprised me. I ran my worst ever 5k, as far as the clock was concerned, and yet had one of the most exhilarating experiences of my entire life.
And just like that, I was hooked.
I immediately came home and signed up for the next trail race I could find. It happened to be Mountain Junkies Explore Your Limits 5k. Taking place just two weeks after the Candler’s Mountain 5k, we had little time to train. However, we did talk several others into this crazy thing called trail running and went with a full car load the next Saturday morning in search of Explore Park on the outskirts of Roanoke, Virginia.
This race was well organized. It was apparent from emails received from the race director the week leading up to the event, as well as the condition of the trails, that these self proclaimed Mountain Junkies take their races serious and are as committed to what they’re doing as are the runners who come out to run.
There were two races that morning, a 5k and a 10k. I ran the 5k, a beautifully scenic course with winding trails, muddy slopes and what felt like at the time, torturous hills, but was probably more like moderate hills when looking back. Everything you could want from a trail race. But then to top it all off, there was wonderful post-race food (I understood immediately why the website calls the Pumpkin Bread 'famous'), numerous door prizes and camaraderie. And then there was my first ever placement in my age division at a race, and that most coveted medal that accompanied it.
If I was enchanted by trail running before, now I was addicted.
I went on to run every Mountain Junkies and Liberty Mountain Trail Race I could. When schedules conflicted, I secretly wept. I joined other runners from the area to run weekly organized trail runs and grew more enthusiastic with each run, with each new trail discovered.
Trail running has made me a better runner and has given me even more appreciation for the sport of running. The trails never get tiresome and the scenery is always changing. There isn’t the hustle and bustle found on most roads, there is true peace, though seldom is it quiet. My husband has said it best when he compares trail running to a religious experience. Where else could you feel closer to God, more in awe of his creation?
I’ve decided that next year in addition to a few other races and goals, I want to run several local trail series including the entire Mountain Junkies series, R NUTS (Ronoke-Non Ultra Trail Series).I was really distressed that I couldn’t run their whole series this year so I’ve moved it to one of my top priorities for next year. Their obvious commitment to what they love and their desire to put on exceptional, challenging events that are fun and rewarding have me devoted to the 2011 series.
The first race of the 2011 series is a 10k at the beginning of January, the second annual Frozen Toe 10k. You’d better believe I’ll be there with bells on, and two layers of socks.