Yes, I love me some Xterra. It’s more challenging than “normal” trail races, if trail races can even be considered normal, and thus you feel more badass when you finish an Xterra. Feelin’ pretty badass tonight.
I ran the Wildhorse Xterra last November and just kinda figured that it was the last race of that season, but it turns out that it was the first race of this season. Why is that important you may be asking at home? (It’s totally okay, if you’re not.) I made it a goal to run all three Florida Xterra races in a season. Before this morning, I thought I still had to run the November race to make a complete season. But I was wrong….TODAY’S race was the last of the season. So as of today, instead of November 3rd, I can cross that goal of the list. Sweet and badass. Moving on.
Several months ago, I registered for four or five races in one day. My husband asked, half joking half not, how much all those registrations cost. I spit out some number and he questioned it. So I explained. One of those races was a deferred registration from last year, so it cost us nothing at this point, and one of the races I signed him up as a volunteer so that I could run for free. Total bookkeeping accuracy verified. He wisely figured he’d be
traveling driving me to the race anyway, so why not volunteer and NOT have to run. So, today was his first race volunteer experience. (I tried to be helpful and suggest that at the waterstops, he pass out the water and not the Gatorade as it could be a sticky job.)
My race didn’t start until 8:30am but Volunteer Greg needed to be at the park at 6:45, so that meant a 4:50am wake-up for Sleeping Beauty, that ‘s Greg by the way, not me. I made coffee the night before and tried to make the pre-dawn travel to the woods as painless as possible for him. (He really is a trooper, I drag him to all kinds of craziness that usually results in little to no sleep for him.) We left the house precisely as I’d scheduled and headed off into the darkness. Our path to “the woods” goes over the famed Skyway Bridge. It’s sketchy even on a non-windy day and Greg and I have had to travel it in some bad weather, even being one of the last cars allowed to cross in a particularly heinous storm. Somehow it was less daunting in the morning darkness.
We arrived at the park just as the sun was making it’s appearance. We were the fourth car in the queue and the gate was still locked. Cue Greg with a smartass comment…”yep, we’re here…uncomfortably early.” (I do tend to mastermind our arrivals a little early EVERY time.)
Ten minutes passed and the gate opened. We parked the truck and jetted to the nearest port-a-potties. (There is something wonderful about being the very FIRST person to use a port-a-potty.) Greg took off for his duties and I walked around, got my race packet and waited for my friend, Matthew, to show up.
Once Matt arrived, we made what seemed like 47 bathroom trips ’cause you do NOT want to miss your opportunity, right? And waited for them to call our race to the start line. (I am a dork. My personal Xterra tradition is to take the tattoo they lovingly put in our swag bags and save it for the next race. So I arrive to each race with an emblazoned, albeit temporarily, calf.)
Matt and I didn’t really think about where we were in relation to other runners at the start and that hurt us a little later in the race. We were too far back for our speed. There were several places on the trail that we didn’t have room to pass and were forced to slow to a near walk until the trail opened up into double track and we could pass on the left. It was frustrating to be stuck behind those folks, but it was a considerable ego-boost to pass 35-40 people at time when the double track reappeared. (Hey, I’ll seize any opportunity I can to reach Badass status, if you haven’t noticed.)
The website and informational email mentioned something about a “river crossing.” Yeah, whatever. I’ve done your river crossings before, Xterra. Me and my GoreTex shoes and superior line-finding skills have kept me dry in past races. Oh, how wrong you can be. First of all, there were SEVERAL river crossings. And one of them was in water up to my collarbone about 4 ft deep. I am not exaggerating. There was a nice lady volunteer standing on the bridge above us instructing racers with phones and mp3 players to remove them and hold them above your head. She said, “as soon as you hit the water, you’ll drop three feet. Don’t worry, just keep your arms up, five feet in the air.” Yeah, that’s great, lady. I’m only 5’1″. All we could do was laugh and carry on and hope we didn’t lose a shoe. (Greg told us that a volunteer dove into that water to rescue a shoe sucked off the foot of a racer into the abyss of river mud. Apparently, the racer had attached his car keys to that particular shoe.) And that was 2.25 miles into the race with a few more “river crossings” to navigate. Below is a Google satellite image taken from Endomondo’s documentation of my day. You can clearly see that the river we crossed was more than double the width of the bridge constructed to clear it. Makes ya feel pretty badass.
I tried not to be consumed with mileage or pace and I certainly didn’t see any mile markers on the trail. I’m sure they were there as Tampa Races does a fantastic marking the trail, but I missed them. Every once in a while I would check Endomondo on my phone and folks around me would ask how far along we were. At 4.5 miles we collectively, soggily felt a little relief knowing that the end was near. Oh how wrong you can be AGAIN. That last half mile was the most technical bit of trail running I’ve
suffered experienced in Florida. (Another one of the myriad of reasons Xterra races are no joke.) It would have been SO easy to walk that last half mile, but that’s just not how I roll.
Matt and crossed the finish line together and reveled in the glorious morning that it was. (Contrary to my prior predictions, Matt did not leave me in the dust. Perhaps he was afraid that if he did he may not be able to find his way out of the woods. Perhaps he’s just a good buddy. We’ll probably never know the truth.)
Bad Wife full disclosure: I am, sadly and uncontrollably, one of those wives that almost always remarks “is that what you’re wearing” about 10 minutes before we leave the house. Since Greg is a Good Husband, if the occasion is one he thinks I really care about he just tells me to pick out his outfit so he doesn’t waste his time on the wrong one. We have a system. This morning, he picks out an aloha shirt. My first reaction was to tell him that I though he should wear a race shirt since we were heading to a race, duh. But I kept my mouth shut. He was giving up his precious weekend sleep-in time to chauffeur me to a race AND volunteer after all. And I’m so glad I kept my big wrong mouth shut. When you come out of a gnarly switchback, and see a sweet, smiling man in an aloha shirt at a waterstop holding two cups of water for ya and cheering “Go, Speedie! Go!” it’s pretty amazing and makes you wanna be a badass. (One of the race volunteer supervisors told Greg that he was thinking of making the aloha shirt thing a tradition/suggestion for future volunteers since his shirt made so many people smile.)
Post-race apple pie. It makes the people smile, too. Good Wife full disclosure: after taking a few bites of this fantastic apple pie I doubled back to nab a slice for Good Husband before it disappeared.
What a fantastic day! I thanked as many volunteers and park rangers as I could this morning, but I’d like to give a huge THANK YOU to you all here. Great races don’t just happen. Great races are crafted and fretted over and probably are the root of a few nightmares for the race director. Jim Hartnett, you sir, are a world-class race director. THANK YOU from one badass to another.