Saturday, April 21, 2012

The path not taken

With the exception of one 10k race in the late 90's, when I woke to the sound of rain pounding on the roof and decided to stay in bed (and later found out the race ended up being cancelled anyway), and one other race I deferred due to injury, I've never bailed on a race.

I consider it one of the hallmarks (aka: stupid traits) of endurance athletes to stick to it when the going gets tough and to gut it out under less then ideal circumstances. I've raced when I've been exhausted, sick, unprepared and even injured. I've pushed through swims in near-freezing temperatures, cycled in thunderstorms and run in torrential downpours that flooded streets.

So, in hindsight, I am feeling more than just a little bit lame for skipping out on my scheduled trail race today--my first-ever trail race and one of my bucket list items.

Aware of my interest in trail running, a friend told me about "Race for the Birds" (, a 4+ mile or 7+ mile trail run to benefit the Potomac Valley Audubon Society’s environmental education and outreach programs. The race, held at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Viriginia, on trails traversing forests and fields along the Potomac River, a venue not normally open to the public, was to be my first trail race.

image of runner

I was totally excited about the opportunity. I liked the mileage, the distance, the date and the location, and the fact that I had a friend willing to share the adventure with me. Before long, another friend signed on and the three of us were looking forward to a fun and fit "girls day out."

Alas, a perfect storm of "extenuating circumstances" combined to squash this race, an event that somehow, despite all of its appealing qualities, always seemed difficult to pull together, organize and commit to. It was a race that sometimes felt like it was "not meant to be."

The biggest obstacle for me was an IT band injury that's had me benched from running for most of the past three weeks. I'd downgraded my expectations from completing the longer run to hoping I could manage the shorter distance, walking if necessary, though I didn't completely trust myself to stick to that plan. Nevertheless, it wasn't cause enough for me to abandon the race.

However, since I would not be able to "race" in earnest, I started to feel guilty about leaving my husband to juggle logistics and transportation for two away lacrosse games, team pictures and a major school event just so I could "take a walk in the woods" and have lunch with friends.

The weather was the final nail in the race's coffin. Mid-week reports called for an 80% chance of rain and T-storms. This trifecta of conflicts was weighing on me. But, still, I was hopeful and willing to wait until the last minute to make the final call. My running mates? Not so much.

My friends also had obstacles to contend with, including health and training issues, and family obligations of their own.

Though my husband supported my venture and was prepared for his role as taxi driver and cheerleader, and I was prepared to drag my injured IT band to WVA for this trail run/walk, in the rain if need-be, I wasn't prepared to go it alone. Without the additional lure of a day out with the girls, without the companionship of my Thelma & Louise, it was just too much. Too many obstacles, too many negatives. The scales were tipped against this race and a group decision was made to bail, a decision I agreed to when the hammer finally came down.

But, looking back, I wish I'd had the fortitude to stick to my guns. To race against the odds, and in less than ideal circumstances, is part of the adventure and what makes each experience unique. Of course being prepared, being in good health and having optimal weather on race day is preferred, but it's the little kinks that often add a dash of flavor to the journey and reveal an athletes true stripes.

And guess what? I checked the weather this morning and it was 60 degrees and sunny in WVA. And, my knee is feeling no pain after a short brick run yesterday. So, perhaps the race that "wasn't meant to be" might have been destined after all.

And still the trail beckons . . .

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