On wobbly legs I got ready for this morning’s Mudball. Yesterday’s Get in Gear 10k had taken a lot out of my legs, but I still had 4.5 miles in there, I could feel it. Plus, trail running is different than road running. Plus, I need a shakeout, Plus, bragging rights. If not bragging rights, losing the run for once would keep me humble.
And so, on shaky legs, I headed to the bog. There, the usual gang of suspects had gathered. The first thing I discovered was that I wasn’t the only one who had run Get in Gear; a few others had the same swagger. At least two of the women were sure to beat me soundly, I knew, plus at least one of the girls. Keeping humble seemed to be the theme of the day. Until, to my surprise, John asked me to lead the kids’ race. I’d win something after all, even if it was with a head start in front of the biggest mud puddle.
This was possibly the most fun thing I have ever done in my entire running career. It consists of following a set of markers over a quarter-mile course, looking back to encourage the followers, then stepping out before the finish line. I gave the loop a test run to make sure I could spot all the markers because I get lost easily, but John had assured me it was an easy job, and it was. I’d watched Kirt do it in other years, and he made a good Pied Piper, but he couldn’t possibly have enjoyed it as much as I did.
After this great warmup, it was time to begin the Mudball, which would follow a 0.9 loop five times, almost exactly as the original Mudball did. John and Lee called out the start and we were off. Within a few minutes I remembered that this is a HARD course. It’s a fun race with a fun theme, but hard. One year when it was warm, it was the hardest race of the entire year for me if heart rate means anything. I don’t wear a heart rate monitor anymore because I trust my effort level now, but on tired legs, with a tired mind and on a hard course, yes, hard.
Yet, somehow I always forget the difficulty in the joy of tackling this crazy thing. The mud puddles add a small thrill. You have to slow down to pull your feet through them. Two runners lost a shoe in the mud this year. Legend has it that on other years, some shoes have never been found – lost sacrifices to the phantoms of the bog. You pull out of the mud eager to fly again.
At a recent trail running seminar at Mill City Running, it was noted that short trail races may be the wave of the future. I support this and it makes perfect sense. Runners may grow tired of the hassle and expense of road races, and turn to the trails. And why should trial running be all about ultras? A short, fast trail race is more than a trial run, and more than a road race. It’s an adventure! A battle! A celebration of freedom, nature and the human spirit!
Or so I told myself as I skidded through the course’s second mud puddle for the fourth time, and gradually lost track of the runners ahead who were also on lap four. Tired, giddy, dizzy, depleted and perhaps dehydrated, I faltered on a downhill and my head swam. Not knowing where to turn, I went straight, then realized it was the wrong uphill. Did I mention I get lost easy? So there I was, punishing myself with extra credit on an already hard run, then laughing to myself as I tried to catch back up. By the time I got back to the start/finish, I wasn’t even sure if I really had only one lap to go, but I did, so I found my second wind.
I finished on two feet, and my sore toe felt better than it had at the start. I credited the mud soak for that. Not that I recommend soaking your bruised toenails in mud, but it won’t hurt.
It’s a little bit interesting to note that except for a couple years when I flew solo, every time I’ve run the Mudball I’ve had a different companion to cheer me, though only one of actually ran it himself. Legend may say that in the end, one by one I outran them all. The Queen of the Mudball has no king! She rules alone, she does not “clean up nice,” she does not suffer these muddy-shoed ruffians, even though she is one of them. This is not an accurate theme, but legends are rarely based on unembellished truth.
Local legend Julie V. looks to be in full form based on today, and may soon be once more turning in age-graded performances of over 90%. I got another photo with her. At this point she’s asking why I want all these photos with her. I’m getting to be too much of an age-grouper groupie, and need to tone it down a bit. But here’s my one-more photo:
Local legend Steve Q. is also back in it, after battling illness for most of the winter. It feels like true springtime to see friends starting to get their strength back.
The organizers assure me that, though I’m no longer reigning Queen, the honor of Mudball royalty extends as long as a history of this run is kept. Thank you, MDRA!