Sometimes learnings come with surprises. Or surprises come with learnings. So it was with the Iroquioa Trail Test 18K race I ran last Saturday.
First of all, let me say outright that I failed the Test. It was a success in a lot of ways too, though.
Let me explain…
I decided to bail at about the halfway point of the race. Not because I was hurt, and not because I bonked. In fact, I ran the first loop of this two-loop race very strongly. It was an extremely technical course. The flat bits were only a short grassy wide trail at the beginning and end of the loop, and some sorta/kinda flat bits with little bits of boardwalk elsewhere on the course. The rest of it was constant climbing and descending on very rocky and rooty technical singletrack. As if that weren’t enough, running on the singletrack was complicated by the fact that sometimes one had to step aside for runners coming the other way (the fast runners for the 34K event, which began an hour and 15 minutes before the 18K). Everyone was really courteous, but it was unnerving.
OK, so lots of rocks, lots of roots, lots of climbing and descending. Pretty, though. This was, after all, the Niagara Escarpment, which has some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. The race was extremely well-organized, the entry field was small enough to be relatively comfortable for (I’m freaked out by crowds of any size), and the day was lovely (26C, sunny, with a very light wind, and only 51% humidity). I stayed upright with no difficulty at all, which surprised the heck out of me. (I think all the barefoot running I’ve done has really paid off re foot/ankle strength and proprioception.) My Soft Star Moc3s performed brilliantly, for all that they have absolutely no tread and only 2mm soles. And I felt cheerful and positive the whole time.
Why then did I drop out?
Easy answer… I simply realized that I wasn’t having fun, and decided I’d rather being doing something else with my morning. That may be a cop-out. Maybe I was more scared than I was willing to admit about falling and hurting myself. Maybe it was one of those days when I didn’t deal well with people being around me. Maybe I was just in way out of my depth for my first go at trail running.
What it felt like, though, was that I’d made the right decision. I gave it a try, found that I wasn’t comfortable, and moved on. So I bailed at the nd of the first loop, went to my car, and sat in the sun eating the mix of beef jerky, dried figs, and almonds that I’d brought along. I felt relaxed and good. Then I drove home.
Now comes the interesting part.
A couple of days after the race, I found myself thinking that perhaps I’d actually enjoyed myself after all. More than that, as I continued to reflect on that odd feeling, I realized that I’d achieved a number of successes. One, I ran a trail race, and a technical one at that. Two, I didn’t faceplant. Three, I ran very strongly, especially on the climbs. Four, I made my decision to quit clearly and cleanly, and moved on from it without any fuss.
And you know what? I think I might run another trail race. Or maybe even more than one. I need some more time to process all of this good stuff. And that itself is pretty interesting. Learnings and surprises, surprises and learnings. They’re what life is all about.