5 Mile Trail Running Race in the Rain

On Sunday, September 26th, my husband and I competed in the Everyone Runs trail running race at Catalina State Park in northwest Tucson. I’ll be honest. I’m not a very good runner. I enjoy swimming much more and sometimes running makes my body hurt. But I have been trying to become more versatile and resilient since the pandemic started since I had to endure weeks where I couldn’t go into the water.

Trail Running Race in the Rain

I decided to sign up for the trail running race about 6 weeks ago. I had been running two to three days a week, swimming three days a week, and practicing yoga most days. I never ran more than three miles in a day and knew the last two miles would be tough. We spent some time in Greer, Sedona, and Pinos Altos (north of Silver City, NM) – so I figured the altitude training might make the discomfort more manageable. I do think it helped me quite a bit.

My training runs weren’t very fast – maybe 13 or 14 minutes per mile. But that seemed to be about where my limit was right now, so I just went for it. My top priority during my early morning workouts is to walk away feeling energized, mentally alert, and grateful to be alive. I can’t do that if I push my aging body into a state of complete exhaustion.

Two days before the race, I noticed a rain prediction for Sunday morning. Monsoon season was over though, right? So it wouldn’t be anything to worry about, I figured. It might sprinkle for a few minutes or the ground might be wet when we arrived.

But no, we arrived on race day to a torrential downpour. Instead of starting us in assigned waves as originally planned, the race director let people start in a wave whenever they showed up at the starting line so we didn’t have to stand in the rain.

I liked that the air was cool and damp, but it was definitely a surprise to run through running washes and mud puddles. Far too often, I found my feet sliding unsteadily in the mud. At first, I tried to leap over the running water. Eventually, when my shoes became heavy and waterlogged, I strode right through the puddles and flowing water, splashing mud and water all around. I couldn’t look up from where my feet landed for long. But when I did, I saw the Catalina mountains were shrouded with fog and clouds. I felt rain pelting my face, tasted it on my lips, breathed it deep into my lungs.

The race was hard. But I kept going. A lot of younger people were passing me – sometimes like I was standing still. That chatter in my head told me many things I didn’t want to hear. That I was older than most of the other runners. That I was slower than most of them. That I was a miserable excuse for a runner. But I decided to fight back. I told myself that I could move past that negative mental chatter, that I didn’t have to listen to it.

I argued that I could keep on going, that I liked running in the damp morning air, that my body felt no different running now than it did 20 years ago, that I was going to finish strong. And I started to enjoy myself. I cheered for other runners. I imagined a favorite song playing in my head. I tried to experiment with my stride and pace.

And then I approached the final hill. I could barely propel my body in a forward direction. My stride decreased to an inch, maybe less. It was like I hit a wall. I felt breathless and like I might stumble. So I walked up the worst of it. Told myself I could still make it. My husband was on his way downhill. I knew eventually, I would be going down, instead of up the hill. And so I kept going. Eventually, the hill leveled off and I made the loop and approached the steep downhill. I took one last look at the Catalina Mountains and the wisps of fogs that drifted, obscuring part of their flanks before focusing on my feet as I made my way down the hill. Because if there’s one thing you need in this race, it’s good balance – for descending stairs and steep declines without landing on your backside, for jumping across rushing water or around big rocks or keeping your balance when you’re skating through mud.

My breath came back on that downhill descent. I know how hard the uphill is so I cheer for and encourage almost every runner I see with grueling expressions trying to move upward. I made one last unbalanced dance across stones and wet ground onto the pavement. And then I was running up the road on the final stretch to the finish. I knew then I would make it. I had my share of mud all over my legs, but I hadn’t fallen down or strained a muscle or given up. I heard a man announce my name and my bib number as I stepped across the pad. I wasn’t a fast runner. But I was indeed a runner. In 1 hour and 3 minutes, and 14 seconds, I had run 5.3 miles and made it to the finish!

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