The Joy of Becoming a Trail Racer: Afton Trail Run Recap
6:00 am. The sun hadn’t even awakened the slumbering rolling hills of Afton State Park and already the sweat was pooling at the small of my back. Blazing hot and suffocatingly humid; welcome to July in Minnesota. I took a moment to survey the hills and watch the sun wake the land, and the handful of runners around me.
This was no ordinary July morning. This was a day for trail running; 31 miles of hills, meadows, riverside trails, and more hills. The anticipation from one runner to the next was as thick as the humidity, the comradery was contagious. I’d never experienced such a deeply embedded sense of community as this group of a few hundred crazy runners. The race hadn’t even started but I could already sense a palpable difference between the ethos of trail running and the marathons with which I was so familiar. I liked it.
The Starting Line
6:30 am. Runners strolled to the starting line. Small-talk filled the air and excitement was billowing. For the past 16 weeks I’d been training for this race. Never before had I experienced the unpredictability of trail running, so needless to say I was nervous. But even if the 16 weeks wasn’t a long enough training season, my stubborn heart would get me across the finish line. A few deep breaths, prayers for strength and joy, and before I knew it, we were off.
Philosophy of the Trail Runner
Within a quarter mile I was intoxicated by trail running. That ethos thing I was talking about, it only grew stronger with each passing stride. It’s so entirely different than road racing. It was, well, entirely unpretentious. These runners weren’t out here for bragging rights, and they certainly weren’t out here for a new saucy Facebook picture. No, they were out here for the love of it. I didn’t need to rely on my stubbornness to carry me through to the finish line, the sheer joy of it all was more than I needed.
Racing for Eternity
I was mesmerized by the splendor of the place that I didn’t even realize I was coming up on mile 15 – nearly half done! I wanted time to slow down. I wanted this race to last for eternity. My heart was elated, my body was strong, and view was dazzling. Who would ever want to finish this race? I just wanted to keep running. I felt as though I could run forever.
6 hours since start time and I had four little miles to go. I wanted to slow down. Not because I was tired. No, like I said, I could’ve run forever. Rather I was overcome with a strange sense of melancholy. Everything about this trail run was more than I could have imagined. The spirit of the volunteers was infectious, the authenticity of my fellow runners was disarming. And the wide spread of insanely delicious treats at each rest stop was greater than any Thanksgiving feast.
Running with the Heart
I didn’t slow my pace and before I knew it I was sprinting across the finish line. 6 hours and 30 minutes of pure, honest, running. Even at the finish my heart was boiling with joy. At the start of the race I wasn’t sure if I could finish 31 miles of hills and heat. I proved myself wrong. Maybe this runner’s heart of mine can do more than I thought. And maybe this runner’s heart of mine can carry me through the Superior 50 mile. Yeah. Maybe.
Although some of the major trails runs like the Endless Summer Trail Series has come to an end this year, you may want to checkout the Salomon Autumn Trail Series to get a taste of trail racing.