This being the time of year when I typically back off, I signed up for the 25k. I devolve into a water buffalo or blind cave cricket when the temps ratchet up along with the humidity, so this was just part of the bigger plan. Even after 18 years of historical weather data with the lowest high being 67 at Hells Hills, you cant ever really know. As it turns out, a cold front blows through overnight dumping a load of water in a short period of time and dropping the temp down into the 50s and then 40s. For me and all my odd picadillos, this is a blessing. Henry and then Lar both know me well enough to send me texts to tell me just so... it's a joe day!
Lar picks me up and drives us there in time to pick up packets and make ready to run. Henry finds us and we load up about mid-pack. It's chilly here in the open as the sun rises and the wind cuts into us. Lar is dressed for a snow storm, which is typical for her. If I didn't know her, I'd say she was way over-dressed. But I do know her and know she is good to go as is. For me, I have a lightweight long sleeve under a lightweight short sleeve with shorts and gloves, but I discard the gloves and long sleeve rather quickly. Once we get into the trees, which isn't all that far, my body heat and the wind block is enough to keep me rather comfortable for the duration with standard summer wear.
I had no idea until after I was done, but we have 142 souls in our herd of 25k runners. The combined groups of 50mi and 50k already on the trail is less than our count and another 118 wait behind us to start 15 minutes later for the 10k. All told, there's about 350 sets of shoes sliding through the mud and churning up the water. The first mile is rather hilly with a lot of mud and all those unfamiliar with mudding simply bog down. All three of us have more than a few rounds in these conditions, so it isn't far before we start passing. We know to surge on the downhills and quick march the ups, avoid the trees, and take the mid-path water instead of the shoe-sucking mud perimeter. By the top of Fat Chuck's, we'd separated ourselves from many of the others and continue without a crowd much sooner than I expect. By the time we reach Off-the-Lip unmanned aid, we'd been passed by a few small packs, and the first 10k runner. We stop to top off and properly tie my long sleeve around my waist.
The first mile is the toughest, as is the last, but everything in-between is a slightly rolling fun and fast course. The course pops in and out creek beds, which are usually dry. Today, with all the water, it's an endless sequence of water crossings. We barely get moving when the 3rd 10k runner weaves though us and he cant be older than 10 or taller than 4 foot. He's the last of the 10k runner's we'll see as this occurs just before we pass the 10k turn. Of late, I have taken to walking more early on in an attempt to not purge all my energy before I'm done, so thats what I do now. I run for a few, then walk for a few. This makes for an interesting rhythm to those who don't know what I'm doing, as I pass and get passed constantly. More than once, Henry makes noises that leads me to believe he wants us to drop him. Says he can't hold our speed, but then we walk and he catches up. He seems to think I'm waiting for him, and I'd love to do this entire run with him, but it's not about him at all. This is just my new pattern and if it seems to work for Henry as well as me. Lar's fine with whatever, regardless of what Henry does, so she is locked in. At one point during a shift between walking and running, a woman gets in front of us, so we tuck in behind her. When she asks if I wish to pass. I tell her no. She asks again, and I say no again. I tell her I'm fine right here as long as she keeps on at her current effort. She starts talking about her being over 50 and knowing she isn't fast and makes up for it by being consistent. I agree with her and tell her Henry and I are in our 60s, which seems to surprise her. Soon after, she misses a turn and we don't, and even though I tell her, we end up in front of her, and slowly pull ahead. Funny thing is, for the rest of the run, she's within sight either just in front of just behind us, and becomes a reference point. Where is she? There she is! No, she's over there.
And so on it goes, with us pulling in one after another as people seem drawn to us for a while before going off in front of us. It seems we are having so much fun with our odd conversation and laughter we attract those who are struggling and re-energize them. We drop Henry again at Bottle-in-Front-of-Me aid, where we get hugs from Melissa, but as has been the trend, he catches us again and remains. I get the Gu farts and Lar equates them to Dinosaur noises and somehow lost through interpretation becomes Dinosaurs-in-my-Pants, which only leads to more laughter. My dexterity seems to be fading as quickly as my eyes now-a-days, such that it has become normal for me to bust-my-ass at least once at every run. I seem to have adjusted to running with my poor vision over the last few years. One of my new totems is the bat because I seem to be able to navigate rough terrain even in the dark without my glasses or a light. But, of late, my reflexes have dimmed to the point that I no longer seem to be able to repair a trip or a stumble... and I hit the ground more often. So it is not surprise when I hit the ground yet again. Thankfully, everything out here is soft and forgiving. I get up and dust myself off while the others wait, take maybe 3 or 4 strides and I do it again... the ground. This time, I start laughing before I touch down and continue to laugh for another ten minutes. Actually I find it hard to get started again because I can't stop laughing. Hell, I don't know why... but so it is.
Lar stops to take care of some personal things and tells us to go on. Lots of creeks, water, and mud back through Tris Cross and Omar's Howl. The final creek is knee deep where there used to be a bridge just before the giant wooden rabbit. We're in the back field now where we once again feel the hard cold wind cut into us. Lar catches us as we walk into Tunnel-of-Pines aid where we visit with Nancy and Bill. With only five miles to go, you'd think we might feel some urgency to pick up the pace, but it's not what we do. If anything, our conversation gets more humorous, at least it is to us. Although we're now at the furthest point from where we started, because of the circuitous route out, it is much more of a strait line back, except for Blak Trak. After leaving Tunnel of Pines, we wade a wide creek, then take a track I haven't used in ten years, over to a large retention pond and then down Pine Pin to the Avenue of Pines. All of this between a tall stand of pines and a quiet bed of pine needles and nobody else around. The end run takes us down Miracle Mile and then finally Blak Trak.
This last bit is an entertaining roller-coaster ride without the mud. But, with the mud, dexterity and aggressiveness are required. The least bit of tentative nervousness and I'll be on my butt or clinging to a tree. As it is, we apply the happy feet philosophy of quickly running down each muddy downslope followed by a quick and carefully aggressive slow grind up the other bank. We pass a few people hanging to trees or going off into the surrounding woods to find a more desirable route. Ours is not a fast pace, but a careful one in which none of us falls or slides out. Its about a mile of this stimulating slip and slide before we pop out at the campground.
The final segment is anti-climatic in it's boring jeep road and fenceline, as we slowly drift home. Past the big work shed, round the pond, and the final chute to the finish, Henry says we need to stop before the finish to make sure we all finish with exactly the same time, inadvertently giving Henry a one-second finish ahead of Lar and I. The timing matt sensors reach out and find his timing chip first. As much as we had been so comfortable and laid back the entire race, it's so damn cold here in the open by the saloon, that we quickly head to our car to get out of the wind and into something dry and comfortable.... Before we have a beer