I decided to not do my scheduled race for this weekend, the Strolling Jim Marathon in Wartrace, TN. Fortunately, there was a half marathon right here in Tallahassee on Saturday so I registered for it without giving too much thought to the consequences. That was not such a good idea, as I found out on race day.
But first let me explain about Strolling Jim. My main reason to avoid this race was a last-minute email from the RD that stated there would be zero portapotties on the course. Otherwise the race was extremely appealing; there was no time limit and the entire course was paved rolling hills. I knew many of the other racers and it would be great to see them again. But I just could not deal with the idea of abstaining for 6 hours or more. I canceled our hotel reservation and planned to spend a relaxing weekend at home.
And then I remembered Tails & Trails, a local half marathon to benefit the animal shelter. The race starts and finishes at the shelter and takes runners through Tom Brown Park, across the Lafayette Bridge, and around the J. R. Alford Greenway. It seemed a good substitute for the Strolling Jim. I had signed up for it last year but couldn’t make it because of my two foot surgeries. This would be a good time to do it, or so it seemed. The course is shaped like a lollipop, with a long out-and-back, and marked by floured arrows and in some places by small orange utility flags. I had no idea what the terrain was really like and I did not know anyone who had done the race before. But how bad could it be? After all, some trails are paved, some are packed dirt or crushed limestone, and some are rocky and rooty. I was gambling, but it was ‘just’ a half so, really, how bad could it be?
I soon found out. I am sure that trail lovers would also enjoy this course but for a paranoid trail racer like me, it turned out to be was sheer agony. As we gathered at the start line at 8 am, the weather was chilly (unusual for May in Tallahassee) so I wore a light jacket plus gloves and hand warmers. The runners who were doing the 10k and 5k (including my granddaughter) waited patiently until their start 30 minutes later. There was a countdown and we took off, with me at the back. Two walkers were behind me until we entered THE TRAIL itself and then I found myself completely alone. By mile two I gave serious consideration to turning around and making my way slowly over the huge tree roots back to my car. Only one problem – the faster 10k runners were beginning to overtake me and I hesitated to confront them if I turned back.
So I persisted. I figured if I could get to mile 5 and crossed the bridge that connected the initial trail to the greenway, maybe the terrain would change and I could speed up a little. If the trail was still too dangerous for me at that point, I could then decide whether to keep going or turn around and give up. The race had a 3 ½ hour time limit and I knew I would not make it. I was averaging a 20 minute per mile pace, even slower as I gingerly treaded around every tree root.
There were some grassy areas and in a few places the trail on the greenway section was mostly sand and pebbles. But every time I built up a little speed, I was slowed dramatically by another rocky section filled with roots. It was a trail lover’s dream but a road racer’s nightmare. A course marshal on a bike warned me about the time limit. I responded that I understood but was already too far in at that point to just give up. I emphasized I was okay if I had a DNF. This would be a training walk and I didn’t expect anyone to wait for me.
Two hours had passed and I had only gone six miles. When I could muster enough courage, I stopped looking at my feet and looked up to appreciate the beautiful scenery – a lake, the forests, a jackrabbit crossing right in front of me, the great weather. As I finally passed miles 7 and 8 on the greenway, I realized I was on the return trip. Of course, all the runners had finished well ahead of me and I managed to get lost twice, in part because the volunteers directing runners had left (who could blame them?) and also because some of the directional chalk arrows had disappeared.
I did finish the race finally. I didn’t fall or break any bones. Although the timing mat had long been pulled up, some wonderful volunteers remained to clock me in at 3:55:18 and hand me a medal, a bottle of water, and a banana. I thanked them profusely and walked back to my car. I was pleased I had been stubborn enough to finish. Despite coming in last and getting lost several times, I finished first in my age group (no matter that I was the only crazy 70-year-old woman in my age group). From now on, no more trail races – ever, ever again!