The 2010 La Sportiva Eldora 11K Trail Race turned into more of a 9-9.3K, rather than the expected 11K, though we still gained about 800’ in elevation throughout the course. Runners didn’t find out about the change until two minutes before the starting gun went off. Paul Karlssen, Race Director, expounded on the conditions and described the thigh-deep mud that covered a mile of the course. Seeing as how hundreds of runners could do serious environmental damage if we all tried to navigate the muck, the best choice was to re-route the race and bypass the goo.
I met Juli, Beth and Kathy at the race instead of carpooling with them. There were smiles and hugs all around, which helped keep us warm. We’re used to 60-70 degree temps at that hour of the morning, but the 9000’ elevation lowered the temp to a solid 50 with a mild breeze. I had originally planned on running in a tank top and shorts, but moments before we headed up the trail I ditched the tank top and re-pinned my race number to the front of my long-sleeve overshirt. It was loose-fitting but I figured it would ward off the chill.
Bill and the kids headed to the outskirts of the racers so they wouldn’t be trampled. Two seconds before the gun went off I heard “Go, Lara, Go!” and turned to wave at my family. It was super-awesome having them there; at that moment, I could have worn the tank top and been perfectly warm.
That being said, let’s back up to 18 hours before the race. Saturday afternoon I did something super-scary; I told my husband exactly how I felt. I was hurt that he didn’t seem interested in coming to my races and cheering. Typically I register for a few races each year, less than a handful. He waits for a signal of some sort that I want him there, and I wait to see if he seems interested in coming. It’s a vicious cycle that has lead to resentment on my part, because I finally realized that he only came to a race if I told him I wanted him there, thus negating the gift of his presence.
In this new era of breaking out of old patterns, I told him how hurt I was that he didn’t seem interested in watching me race. He listened and was so compassionate and apologetic; I knew that he never meant to belittle my racing or running life, but the hurt came from years of complacency. We cleared a lot of air that afternoon and spoke some truths about the state of our relationship and how we need to continue talking about the deep, scary feelings that we tend to bury. I may be strong in body, but I still have to work on strength in spirit if I want to gain any ground.
The starting gun went off at 7:30 sharp. I was near the front pile of humanity so I’d have a fighting chance of getting in front of the slower people and not have to pass so many on a narrow single-track. The first 0.6 miles was a steep, steady hill. I wore my Garmin to track the time, knowing I’d lose signal occasionally due to terrain and wouldn’t have an accurate count on distance or pace. My heart rate elevated quickly and didn’t come down until I passed through the finisher’s shoot.
Mirroring last year’s race, people sorted themselves out pretty quickly. Hills are a rough way to start any race, and if you’re strong on hills you’ll be near the front of the pack. I already knew that I wasn’t headed for a PR, so didn’t worry too much about pace. Exertion would be my indicator of how fast I traveled, and I had made up my mind to just have a good time.
The sky was overcast and a cool breeze sifted through the forest from time to time. I didn’t even wear my sunglasses, figuring that if the sun came out during the race I wouldn’t want them anyway because of the shadows.
Around mile 2 I heard voices up ahead, cheerful happy voices that came from people not running a race. The first aid station was just ahead. As I reached for a cup of water and slowed to drink a sip, a volunteered counting each person that came through said I was number 66. Knowing there were a whole lot of men in front of me cooled my competitive juices a hair (I don’t worry too much about the men in the pack, just the women). Just keep running, I told myself. You’re doing just fine.
Moments later, I was winding down the mountain again. The noise from the aid station faded and with all the twists and turns of the trail, I found myself keeping an eye on the closest runner, a guy out of reach and earshot. No one was running on my tail and I was suddenly… alone.
The easy breeze that rustled the treetops high above me broke the stillness of the mountain. Birds chirped and the soft thud of my footsteps as my shoes fell on the squashy path. I had the eerie feeling of being the last person in the race, as there was no noise behind me to change that impression. My mind wandered from the immediacy of the event to a Zen little happy place I like to visit when I run, and I felt myself relax. The self-imposed pressure of the race melted away and I was just a runner hanging out on a really cool trail on a cool Sunday morning.
My mellow lasted a few minutes, long enough for me to visit a few daydreams before finally hearing a heavy breather coming up from behind. He idled about 10 yards behind me for a while, until finally I glanced over my shoulder to see who was struggling so hard. It was a man, about my height, who carried his stooped shoulders with one side significantly higher than the other. We played leap-frog for the next couple miles, with him passing me on the uphills and me passing him on the downs. On the last big hill of the race he passed me once and for all.
And then, the moment of truth. Paul the Race Director told us there was a section of deep water on the trail, and there was nothing to do but go through it. Duly warned, I was glad to be wearing SmartWool socks inside my trail shoes. They wouldn’t keep me dry, but they would keep blisters from forming while running in wet footwear.
The water was at the bottom of a steep hill. I caught up to my friend Juli at the top of the hill and passed her coming down, which meant I got to the water first. Juli slowed down, not sure how deep it was or how rocky the bottom would be. Foolishly, I took my cue from the runners ahead of me and plowed forward with full gusto. If you’re going to get wet, then you may as well go for it with your whole being. No sense holding back, is my theory.
The water was up to my knees, and cool but not cold. Luckily the bottom of the trail was relatively clear and I didn’t turn my foot. The grasses growing nearby held the mud in place, and after 25 yards of a lovely little stream crossing, I was back on dry land. My shoes squished for a few steps until I squished the excess water from them, and even though my feet were sopping wet, I was pretty darn comfortable.
Juli passed me on another hill and as we descended one last time, I heard cheers. There were some pretty enthusiastic people at the finish line, and it made me smile. The last crossing was a meadow that had no trail, so the best thing to do was follow the crushed grass that other runners had trampled and try to avoid rocks. Volunteers stood at the opposite side of the meadow to point us in the right direction to the finish line, and after getting back on the dirt trail I cruised to the bottom.
Standing above the finish line were my people. Sophie was screaming herself hoarse, yelling “YAY, MOMMY,” followed by girl-shrieks that hit a high soprano register. Connor was yelling and using Bill’s phone to take a picture of me, and Bill used our camera to take another pic. He had the biggest grin on his face and yelled encouragement for me as I finished the race. Compared to them the other spectators were the walking dead. My family was smiling and taking pictures, and screaming my name. What an amazing, beautiful feeling.
A volunteer cut the timing chip from my shoe and after Bill handed me a bottle of water and I was released from a massive family bear hug, I hugged Juli. She was tickled to have people cheering for her at the finish line too, and thanked Bill and the kids for being there. We headed back to the finish and waited for Beth and Kathy to come around the corner, and took pictures and cheered like crazy for them as they ran the last 50 yards into the shoot. They had huge smiles on their faces, too. It’s really hard to not smile when people are yelling your name and screaming after you just did a crazy-hard trail race!
We headed over to a coffee shop and I peeled my wet shoes and socks from my feet, breathing a sigh as sunshine hit my tootsies. It was a blissful way to spend Sunday morning, and I’m incredibly grateful to my kids and Bill for getting up at 5:30, driving to Nederland and hanging out at the base of a mountain while I ran myself silly.
P.S. After all that, the stats feel like an afterthought. I ran a 55:44 for the race and came in 7th in my age-group. Don’t know what my pace was because the exact distance is unknown due to the last-minute course changes. It was probably between 9-9.3k overall, so an estimated 9:30-9:45 pace.