I recently had the opportunity to try something completely different. This road warrior was invited to hit the trails at the Fat Ass Trail Run at the Batawa Ski Hill. If you think at all like I do, you may be concerned by the word TRAIL and even more concerned by the words SKI HILL. Yep, trail running on a mountain. Dirt and mud and steep climbs. Maybe not the most befitting race for a princess on the run, but I was determined to glam up the trails with some sparkle!
With the Niagara Falls Half-Marathon behind me, it seemed like a great time to completely shift gears for a moment and try something different. I don’t run trails and I definitely steer clear of mud runs. I have been asked many times to try a Warrior Dash or a Tough Mudder and I always have the same answer: NO THANKS. I like to wear pink shoes and pretty outfits when I run, and I am not a fan of risking life or limb, but make no mistake: this does not make me “soft” or “wimpy”. This attitude drives me nuts, so I was excited to lace up and run around a mountain, if only to be able to say that I had been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. Speaking of which, this is the saying on the t-shirt:
Fat Ass Trail Runs are meant to be no-frills race experiences: low on cost, high on experience. And this one, in its 9th year, was no different: no medals, no fanfare or send-off at the start line (in fact, it was difficult to figure out where to line up), a route marked with simple red flags here and there along the trail (meaning you could get lost – and some people did), and just 2 aid stations on the course. That said, the aid stations were fabulous: M&Ms, pretzels, gummies, coke and water. I later learned that these types of aid stations are hallmarks of ultra marathons and adventure races. Well…when in Rome! (Yes, I admit to stopping for chocolate mid-race. And no, those calories don’t count because I was racing.)
This race was actually my 20th start line. Yes, 20 RACES now under my iFitness race belt – kind of a crazy number considering I started running from zero less than 2 years ago. And yet there I was, lined up on a freezing cold November day, at the bottom of a mountain with no where to go but up. I was running the 10K event, but there were plenty of other distances to choose from: 25K, 17.5K, 7.5K and the 1K “Big Bum” Kids Race which my daughters were invited to run (you can read Alana’s recap of that race here).
I didn’t realize going into this run that it was actually adventure racing more than trail running. I was picturing well groomed trails on a mountain. I was ready for the climbs, but I was not ready for the narrow, uneven trails that had us moving single file up and down the mountain, nor was I ready for all of the mud! Granted, it had rained a lot leading up to the race, but the first 2K was simply an obstacle course, trying to get around the knee-deep mud. Everything was slippery so even as you tip-toed around the mud, trying to hold onto trees and branches to avoid falling in, you were relying on balance and luck. Contrary to what my muffin top might suggest, I actually have some decent core strength and balance (thanks to running and yoga) and man, did I need it!
Pretty much immediately, I had to let go of any preconceived notions I had about this run and just go with the flow. It was clearly not a race for time, as I had no real control over my pace and there were many places early on at the bottom of the hill where we were in stand-still lines to move around the mud. Even when we could get moving, it was not a fast run – at least, not if you wanted to stay upright and in one piece! Everything was slick and there were obstacles everywhere: tree roots, fallen branches, rocks and, when we reached the top, a whole mountain to fall down if you weren’t careful. Some spots were so steep we were literally holding onto trees as we made our careful descent.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this princess was not a fan of the mud. But this is not because I was afraid of getting dirty! I just wanted to run and lining up to slowly and carefully creep around mud pits is frustrating when you want to GO. I am a road warrior, used to running when the horn sounds. This was a completely new experience to be stopping and barely moving at all mid-race. While 99% of the runners created a bottleneck trying to get around the mud, there were a few lone rangers who opted to charge straight through it. And when I say mud, I don’t mean a little mud puddle. These were rivers of mud that were almost knee-deep. I couldn’t decide if I was impressed or horrified by these mud runners – maybe a bit of both.
Once we finally got out of the wetlands, we began the climb and I have to admit, I loved this part of the race. Part of it was just being able to break away from the crowds a bit and actually get moving. After the muddy mosh pit, we were able to spread out somewhat. But I was also surprised at my ability to charge up the hills, passing others and feeling strong. The fall leaves were gorgeous, I was enjoying the scenery, and I was no longer freezing. Suddenly, I was in no rush for this race to end.
Then came my favourite part of the run – through the forest. I have no idea how long we were in the forest, but I could have run there all day. I felt like I was in a technicolor movie with the greenest of emerald green moss beneath my feet. It was just beautiful. I was half-expecting a Cullen to appear out of nowhere and battle a werewolf. Maybe I could be the lion or the lamb or whatever – I volunteer! It felt like all odds would be ever in my favour! Oh wait, that’s a different movie. But these were dangerous thoughts as the trails were narrow and full concentration was required. We were running right along the side of the mountain, so you could easily take a tumble and find yourself at the bottom in no time. Again, not so bad if there was a Cullen around…
No, time to focus. I knew I needed to run smart to get through this bad boy upright and healthy. There were just too many opportunities for injury. People were going down, as I witnessed. I know there were bigger problems further behind me and an ambulance was called. This was a dangerous course. I couldn’t decide if this made me totally badass or totally stupid. Signs like this didn’t help me decide which one.
After I went over on my ankle for the 20th time, I remember thinking, “Wow, I wonder how many times I can do that to my ankle and keep running.” After the Niagara Falls Half-Marathon, my next half-marathon seemed like eons away: 10 whole weeks…waaah! Well, I changed my tune on this run. I suddenly grasped that my first leg of Disney’s Coast to Coast Challenge, the Tinker Bell Half-Marathon, was only 10 weeks away – as in, I did not have time for a break or sprain or any other injury!
Soon enough, we were out of the woods – but in this case, that just meant back to the mud. Now that we were off the mountain, it was time to tip-toe around more mud pits, trying desperately not to fall in. It was dicey in spots, but there was no way I was going to ruin my sparkle skirt this close to the finish line. And speaking of the finish line, when we finally came out onto the road towards the end, I noticed 2 things: 1) Running on the even road felt weird after 10K of uneven ground, and 2) According to my dear Garmin, I had already run 10K so where was that damn finish line?!?
In the end, I ran closer to 11K and when I approached the Finish, things got confusing. There were multiple races coming in and it was hard to tell if we were supposed to cross or if we had to head out on a final leg. I have never stopped mere feet in front of a Finish line for direction before so that was new (and rather anti-climactic) but, being compliant to a fault, I did not want to cross early. I was given the go-ahead and crossed the mat. What a crazy race! Totally different than any other I have run. The biggest take-away was that just finishing (in one piece) was the goal of this one. I guess this is what adventure racing is all about: a different pace, different goals, different kind of accomplishment.
But just to make it a little more badass, I have to point out that blood was drawn on the race course. I crossed the finish line with a blood-stained arm which you can see in the race photo above. I don’t know why this makes me so proud. Maybe because all of the people who use the term “princess” as a derogatory term, meant to label “girlie runners” as too wimpy to handle a tough run, can now chew on this: I ran through mud, up and down a mountain, in freezing temperatures, and gave it my all: blood, sweat and tears (well, my eyes were watery from the wind – I’m counting it). I didn’t actually notice it when it happened, but snaking around the mud pits required getting up close and personal with some very thorny and prickly trees. I do remember checking to make sure my skirt had not been caught or ripped, but failed to notice my arm had been gauged. Still, the biggest concern was whether the stain would come out or not: it did. (Whew, wardrobe crisis averted.)
And with that, another Finish line was crossed and another race was checked off the list. My cheer squad was waiting for me and eager to share that my daughters had finished in the Top 10 in the Kids Big Bum 1K (which was also straight up and down a mountain). In fact, my 6-year old proceeded to explain that they were running so fast down the mountain that they had to fall down in order to stop. Not exactly what a mother wants to hear. Pure carnage, this race.
And it didn’t stop there! I felt like I’d dodged a bullet by surviving it without injury, but that night my ankle (remember the one I rolled over and over?) swelled up like no one’s business and hurt like hell. A little RICE and some Alleve dulled the pain and I went to bed, wondering if my forray into trail running had just cost me my Coast to Coast. Luckily, miraculously, and maybe due to pixie dust, I woke up feeling much better. I took it easy the next day with some gentle yoga and then hit the road 2 days after the race – I felt some twinges for the 1st kilometre, but my ankle warmed up and I am happy to say I have been training happily ever after since…back on the road, where I belong.
But make no mistake. This princess CAN and DID conquer a mountain, feeling strong and sparkling from start to finish. It is not the clothes you wear that makes you a runner. It’s not how far you run or how fast. It’s the daily commitment, the dedication and the perseverance. If these tools are in your arsenal, wear your tiara with your head held high. Be a badass princess and run proud.
Tell Us: Have you ever tried a trail run? Do you seek out races that will take you outside your comfort zone?