Single Track Mind?

I don’t know what it is, but I always feel compelled to run a race on the 4th of July. In fact with the exception of 2016 I’ve run a race on Independence Day every year since I began running. There was the Pound Ridge NY 5k which was only my second race, my first experience with having to walk up a hill, and my first off-road running as that race ended crossing a grassy soccer field. I ran the July 4th 5k in Weston FL in 2014 and 2015 both of which were flat and entirely in the road but hot, hot, hot. Last year I ran Liberty by the Lake, a 10k in The Colony, Texas which had an unwelcome surprise – about half of it was on a muddy, traction-less trail that was just itching to break my ankle. Despite the sloppy track I persevered and finished in the top 3 of the old man group (see my post “Happy Trails to You”).

This year I decided to pad my Independence Day resume while combining the experiences of those past years by entering the Peavine Falls Run, one of the 4 signature races of the Birmingham Track Club. It’s hot as Florida, hillier than Pound Ridge and it ends with a mile or so running on a trail – a “single track trail” no less.  Now I’m sure that the trail runners out there know exactly what “single track trail” means, but I figured “hey it’s just a trail – I ran on one last year and it was fine”.  Umm hmmm.

The 8.2 (8.2!) mile race starts in Oak Mountain State Park near the Dogwood Picnic Pavilion. The first 1.2 miles are rolling hills but from there to about mile 4.2 it is basically straight uphill. I tried to stay at a comfortable pace for the climb so I was able to “run” all the way up without any walking breaks. I averaged around 9:30 going up which is slow for me but I was determined to run the entire race. And I figured I would make up a bunch of time on the downhill run.

I was running at a pretty good clip after the turn – mile 6 was 8:12, when all of a sudden the people in front of me started running into the woods. For a minute I thought maybe it was a mass bathroom break. I mean I know that the race basically ends on a trail, but I wasn’t seeing any trail; just this tiny little worn down path, barely wide enough for someone darting into the woods to relieve themselves to traverse. What’s worse, this pathetic little path was chock full of ankle breaking, face planting obstacles. Rocks, tree branches and roots, loose gravel, big ditches and little cliffs. Surely they weren’t expecting us to run on this. But I could see people wending their way through the woodlands in front of me, so I concluded that I must be in the right place even as unsuited to running it seemed. Last year’s muddy trail seemed like the autobahn in comparison.

Not 50 yards in I hooked my toe beneath a root and was forced to perform some pretty impressive calisthenics to stay on my feet. I immediately grasped what “single track trails” are all about and I surrendered all thoughts about pace to their demands. I had entered the woods in my usual position – that big gap where you’re too slow for the fast runners and too fast for the slow runners – but before long I could feel a back-up of runners behind me like a big tractor on a rural one lane road. I stayed as far right as I could to let the passing traffic make their way, all the while scanning for the next landmine. I came perilously close to falling another 3 times despite my cautious pace of 11:26 for mile 8. I emerged from the woods to the safety of my beloved asphalt and banged out the remaining distance at a brisk 6:46 – maybe not so much to finish strong as to escape the hobgoblins of the forest.

I finished the race in 1:18:20, a pace of 9:33. Not fast, but not hospitalized, so it’s a wash. From what I can gather I came in third in my old man age group but the field is so small (400 or so) that they don’t recognize winners of the usual age groups – just male/female, masters and grand masters.

I hate hills. I hate heat. Now I really hate trails. But when it comes to running on the 4th of July I have a “one track mind”, which is not to be confused with a “single track mind”. I’m declaring my independence from those trails from now on. Or at least until next year!

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