In order to expand your ability as a runner, it’s crucial that one is constantly looking for new adventures. Since last weekends race series is now at a close, I found myself starting to feel the temptations of ‘burnout’ along the 5K road races. The burnout sensation is far more fearful to my soul compared to that of injury or death; I don’t want to lose the fire of loving to run. Obviously, to prevent that from happening, I needed to make some adjustments.
Enter the MudBabes. Yes, this a real group of people out here in the flyover land of the United States. Each Monday evening they get together and take off for a few (several) miles along the trails of our countryside. One of their runners had invited me out to run along with these lovely folks. Aiming for a change of pace for myself, and perhaps a new vested interest in the running world I took the challenge to meet up with them on this warm evening.
It was going to be great to make new friends…
…or die at the feet of their own dedication to the trail gods.
June 20, 2016–Shawnee Mission Trails, Kansas: I had arrived fifteen minutes early to the trailhead where we would be taking off. I had finished my second peppermint and my first bottle of water. The air temperature was 94°F, the humidity added placed it near the 100°F mark. It is Kansas, this is not uncommon for 5:50 PM in June.
The group of MudBabes began to gather near one of the vehicles in the parking lot. While I was awkwardly awaiting seeing someone I actually recognized I began to view the trail routes along a board near the road. On this map I found cross country trails, hiking trails, walking trails, and mountain biking trails. There were so many options to choose from! Running along the asphalt trail lines through the park, gliding through the grass of a cross country course, or even enjoying a little bit of scenery on a hiking trail. How awesome could any of those options be?
We chose the mountain biking course to run on.
The. Mountain. Biking. Course.
Now, at 94°F it came to no surprise that these runners came prepared. They were in lightweight gear, several had head covering of some sort, and 99% of the group had either a hydration backpack or a bottle that is semi-permanently attached to the hand. I was the 1%. Years of knowledge (foolishness) had taught me that I do rather well on runs when it is hot outside and water isn’t easily accessible. I drink before and after, and I’m fine. Granted, that’s not the same as running on nature’s staircase worth of tree roots for miles on end. I assured the group that I was fine, and we began our ascend.
Trail running can easily be misunderstood in the non-running community. To many that means asphalt paved park controlled sidewalks or gravel/chat paths that carve along lakesides. However, what trail running really means is finding a way to introduce Mother Nature to parkour. Meaning, if she made it, you can run on it or over it.
The beginning of that path wasn’t even flat. I was learning to jog while both my feet were on two separate angles. Meaning, my brain had to control two feet at two angles that were determined to go forward in the same direction. My brain hurt from thinking within the first half mile.
Once we started moving, the trail was explained to us. The orange trail was 2.5 miles and the purple trail would wind up ending at 4.5 miles. We’d start on the orange and halfway we’d split to the purple, or stay on the orange. The choice was to each runner.
At this point it needs to be expressed that ‘MudBabes’ and ‘elite’ are two words that go hand-in-hand (I’d also personally add the words ‘Suicide Squad’ to the mix). I enjoy my 5K accomplishments on Saturday mornings. These folks enjoy their 25K, 50K, 50 mile, and 100 mile accomplishments. Ultra-marathon runners, heard of those folks before? The people that run for over 24 hours…straight? That was who I was running with into the gates of the hell on this day.
I confess, I started my course off fast. I was passing people, clearing roots, and just having the time of my life. That was for the first half mile, and one of the runners even made note that it isn’t wise to start fast. By the time the first mile had passed I was stumbling over roots, I was out of breath, and my head was spinning from trying to keep my feet moving correctly while dodging the Aggro-Crag death traps of razors rocks to each side of me. That’s when the same runner gave me solid advice; when we start to wear down we are more susceptive to tripping, falling, and becoming injured. Not finishing a trail race to an injury is not uncommon.
Originally, I thought, “I need to get my mileage in. So, obviously I need to take the 4.5 mile path today.” At the moment of the crossroads between orange and purple my thought had changed slightly to, “Sweet mother. I’ll take orange right now if it means that I can get out of this Hunger Games style running.” Over and over again I had heard, “2.5 miles on a trail really does feel like 4 miles”, which then made me wonder, “How on earth do you mentally survive 100 miles on this stuff?”
Thankfully, only a few runners went with the purple path. Many MudBabes were running races this weekend that involve 50K, 50 Mile, and 100 Mile courses. Understand, that unlike a 5K, you shouldn’t run a set of these races back-to-back in a weekend. The body can only handle so much and stress fractures are a serious and common threat to these runners.
It was on the way back to our starting point that I truly began to feel the suffering of my experience. I had started out walking on this segment. Thomas, behind me, made a statement that’ll forever resonate in my heart. Of course he said this prior to the Chubacraba I swear I heard in the trees:
Don’t worry, trail running is addictive. Once you spill a little blood to the trail gods, you’re forever hooked.
There is something to be said about the painfully addictive principles of trail running. Your body is required to work overtime to focus and keep pace. You are surrounded by nature in its entirety. Plus, no one can hear you scream at the time of your demise. Truly, trail runners are a very special group of people. Trail running is an event that does encourage the person to see how far the human body really can go in a certain amount of time.
At routes end I finally began to realize the poor, poor choice of not having water with me. Unfortunately the heat was taking its toll, and on several occasions I was told to go get my water from the car. When I arrived at the car I was cramping up with a horrible headache. Meaning, I was suffering from the heat. To further add pain to misery, this park was 40 minutes west of my house. Between that park and my house the temperature had dropped 20°F and it was pouring down rain.
I nearly cried.
As I stepped into the house, my wife, knowing of my foolish tendencies, looked at me and asked, “So, how was your run?” All while trying to not let her smile show. I gave her the rundown, the outline for this entry, and while I was searching for ice and something to eat…like a true new believer…I stopped and said:
I can’t wait until we meet again next week.