Sunday, May 15, 2016

Adventures of a Mud Puppy

My quest to find running events that allow me to be as slow as I like continued this weekend with the Seaton Soaker Trail Race. This race is part of the Ontario Ultra and Trail Race Series (Outrace), and offers 15, 25, and 50k distances. I chose the middle option. The shortest wouldn’t have satisfied me, and the longest would have killed me.
Photo: Seaton Soaker Trail Race
The course follows the Seaton Hiking Trail, a forested, mostly single-lane path with moderate hills that winds along Duffins Creek in Ajax, just east of Toronto. About 3 km from the end there is a shallow river crossing, which is useful to wash the excess mud off the lower body. This can be a revitalizing sensation, as the water temperature in spring is anything but tepid.

I ran this race last year on a warm sunny day in May. Unless you live in Honolulu though, not all days in May are warm and sunny, and this past Saturday was one of the other kind. It was on the cool side, and I would describe the precipitation as an ambitious Scotch mist. The rain wasn’t really an issue weather-wise, but the trails, already quite muddy from spring runoff, were especially challenging.
Meaning slippery. This year's event wasn’t so much a soaker as it was a slider. A lot of the time I was either schmucking my way through ankle-deep mud or clinging to a tree branch to keep from slipping down a hill. I would have felt more stable dancing the Nutcracker on a hockey rink.
The precariousness of balance reminded me of my friend Pam’s description of a gravel-road bike race called Barry-Roubaix.
As always, I appreciated the volunteers because among other things they smiled dutifully at my lame attempts at humour as I passed, even though they must have been soaked and chilled to the bone. I continue to believe that it is easier to be a runner than a volunteer, but more noble to be the latter.
Yes, that's me under there.
I managed to stay more or less upright for the first half of the day, but heading back into the forest after the turnaround at 12.5k, I finally lost it and went down. My landing was soft and sloppy, like one of those slow motion films of a duck landing on the water, legs outstretched in front, wings flapping away. Naturally, the first thing I did was to look around and see if anyone else had seen me. But this is one of the advantages of being at the back of the pack: there are few people nearby.
By the end of the morning I was covered in mud and getting weary of losing my footing every two minutes, but I still finished smiling, with lots of energy to spare. I sprinted up the final hill to the finish line, ready (if not even remotely able) to do it all again.
It is a lovely thing to be running through a forest. The surface – when it is not as slick as quicksilver – is soft and yielding to the feet. The air is still and quiet. I believe that the nearness of the trees and other features makes it seem as if I am moving a lot faster than I am. Frankly, it is more fun than counting lampposts or stoplights along a city street.
Of course, I rarely see much of the scenery moving past me; I am too busy trying not to trip over anything. My eyes are always fixed on the path underneath my feet.  A trail race course could traverse a nudist resort and I probably wouldn’t notice.
Running trails is a full-body workout, every step requires a different landing, and my arms seem to be constantly flapping about in different directions to help me keep my balance. No elliptical trainer bends and twists my aging body so effectively.
I marvel at the people who can really move over a course like this (and there were many of them). Although I don’t aspire to any finish results above the bottom page, I would like to become a bit more efficient and confident in my trail running (and maybe fall a bit less).