Monday, May 15, 2017

Since I started running a couple of years ago, I've tried to have time for at least one race a month. Sometimes that's tricky, given the demands that shiftwork makes on my schedule. Then there are other times when I can fit in two or even three races in a month. For May of this year I had time for two races. They were my thirty-third and thirty-fourth races since I started racing.

The Huckleberry Jam is a unique race. It's a 7.4 mile long, point-to-point race along the Huckleberry Trail, from Blacksburg to Christiansburg. The race organizers provide shuttle service back to the starting place in Blacksburg after the race. Lucky had planned to run a trail marathon on the morning of the Huckleberry Jam, but a combination of bad weather and a sinus infection changed her plans. So she came along with me, as she's done before, and provided support for my race. This time the support was mostly provided by driving to the finish line so I wouldn't have to take the shuttle back. By the time the race was over, I was really grateful. This race turned out to be on a memorably, unseasonably cold day in early May. And it wasn't just cold, it was also rainy. Running in that stuff turned out to be kinda fun... but standing around sweaty in a parking lot after the race, in cold wind and rain, is not what I would call fun.

There were a lot of challenges that came with this race, besides the wind and rain. The distance was a tricky needle to thread. Last month I ran what I swore, at the time, would be my last 10K. 10K's are hard races, you have to run pretty fast for what feels like a long time, and by the time I finish a 10K I'm usually absolutely beat. This race was very much like a 10K, except a little more than a mile longer, and I surprised myself by finding the wherewithal to maintain my 10K pace for most of the race. This was especially demanding during the last couple of miles of the Huckleberry Jam, which are predominately uphill. (Well, the last two miles are rolling hills, trending upward. Every time you "roll up" again, you roll a little further up than you did last time.)

When it was over, I'd managed to finish 24th in a field of 120 fit, capable runners. My personal goal was to finish the race in less than an hour, and my final time of fifty-six and a half minutes was music to my ears. I didn't place in the open or in my age-group, and doing so would have been nice. But ultimately I was OK with my numbers (my splits were imperfect, but you can't have everything, every time, right?) A couple of the members of my running club were there, too, and it was good to get to see them and run with them. This club is probably the best thing that running has brought into my life. The improvements to my health and well-being are obvious, but my favorite part of this running thing is the good, kind, genuine people that I've met over the past couple of years.

The following weekend I ran the Gallop For The Greenways in Roanoke, Virginia. The Roanoke Greenways is a system of paved and gravel-lined jogging trails, and it's just about my favorite place to run in the world. There are several different greenway trails that make up the entire network, but the Roanoke River Greenway in specific is my favorite. That is where I did my twenty-mile runs during my marathon training last year. That is where I ran the first race (The Roanoke River 8K) that felt like a real success for me. The Roanoke River Greenway is where I found myself as a runner. I cannot guess how many miles I have run on that greenway in total. I've had bad runs there, I've had painful runs there, but I have always felt at home running there. I was very happy to get to run a four mile race on the greenway, the proceeds from which actually went toward the upkeep of the Roanoke greenway system.

I went into the race with a fairly modest goal, to finish the four mile run in anything less than half an hour. My time was almost exactly twenty-nine minutes, so I managed to meet my personal goal. I was the fourteenth runner to cross the finish line in a field of 164, and I won my age group. It felt meaningful and satisfying to me to have such a successful run on the simple, modest jogging trail that I have come to think of as "my greenway."