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Sara Stover

Living a story worth telling. Shining a light on stories worth sharing.


Indian Ladder 15k Trail Race – Back to my Roots

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

July 31, 2016

Waking up to rain on the morning of a triathlon often makes me reconsider even racing. I’ve done enough riding in the rain to know that it’s freaky, and I’m always freezing! But waking up on the morning of the Indian Ladder Trail run to a downpour? I hopped out of bed cheering, because that meant mud, and trail runs are always more fun when you add mud! I was excited going into this race in general, because I was going back to my roots, and to literal roots… and rocks and trees too!
My separation from triathlon has left me feeling free to breathe, but a little melancholy too. Much like returning to your home town after you graduate from college. It’s sad to move on and close the door on that chapter of your life. But the friendships and memories made often last a life time. You’re more than a little relieved to put all the stress of studies behind you. And you realize that you can always go back, get a second degree, get your master’s!
Well, after my 4 years at the University of Ironman, returning to running feels like a homecoming to me! I bring these memories, knowledge and experience back with me, and there is a depth to my running now that wasn’t there before triathlon.
A few weeks ago I went back to Utica to do the Boilermaker, which was one of the first 15ks I ever ran, and still remains one of my favorites. And yesterday I returned to Thacher Park to run Indian Ladder again – A completely different experience from Boilermaker, but also a favorite race! Jeremiah and I climbed into the Silverado at 7:45am, with plenty of time to drive to the Helderberg Escarpment. I would be racing and Miah would be spectating, and it really was like old times! Back in my early days of running, Miah would drive me to my race, and spend his morning cheering and taking pictures. This was before he discovered that he could run… fast! And I have no doubt he could have outrun me yesterday had he raced, and I would have enjoyed trying to catch him. But there was something special about knowing Miah was there just to support me that made me feel like that girl I used to be before heart rate monitors and competitors!
The whereabouts of my heart rate monitor remains unknown, and wouldn’t have helped much in this race. I’m not sure why I even bothered wearing my Garmin actually! I caught up with my friend Cory before the start, and after deciding he would run the race with me, he asked what pace I planned to run. Cory has done a marathon and recently a half iron, but the Indian Ladder 15k would be his first trail race! “I have no idea!” I replied. The thing about trail running that is beautiful, but possibly frustrating is that the weather makes conditions unpredictable, and the terrain makes pace inconsistent (sometimes you are running a 12:00 mile uphill, sometimes you’re flying down at a 6:00 pace).  Either you embrace that aspect of trail running, or it drives you bonkers. My hope was that Cory was the former!
Cory and I moments before heading off into the woods for a very muddy run! 
“Shut up and Dance” was playing on the sound system as Race Director Mike Kelly had us head to the start line in a down pour… Or at least the general area where the start line was before it was washed away! Since this was the same song that was playing as I began the swim in Lavaman, and that day turned out fantastic, I took this as a good sign!
At the race start… We are all freezing! 
I reluctantly handed my rain jacket to Miah moments before the race started. Before I knew it, we were off and running up hill, and I was no longer cold. This is one race I wish I had a Go-pro for! Describing the next 9 plus miles in words will never do this course justice, but if I had a Go-pro, this is what you would have seen:
Over 80 runners tearing through a soggy field, completely soaked before we hit Mile 1. The bottleneck resulting from said runners all merging onto the trail at once. Mike told us to keep an eye out for a man trying to catch lobster who looked like the Gorton’s fisherman. Mike’s Dad did indeed resemble that iconic fisherman, in his yellow rain pants and jacket. I said HI and thanked him as he pointed us in the right direction!
You would have seen all the volunteers who were standing in a torrential downpour on this damp day, just to make sure that we didn’t get lost, or dehydrated. I thanked each and every one of these kind souls! And yelled “I guess I could just look up and open my mouth!” as I took water from an aid station.
You may have seen mud puddles that you could swim through. And me splashing along in water up to my knees, cheering and smiling like an idiot, because honestly I was having the time of my life! You would have seen us all jump over embankments, dash across the road, and dart around fences, trying not to lose our shoes in the swamp where a park used to be! And me sticking my arms out for balance as I jumped from rock to slimy rock along the creek bed.
Running through more puddles! And look at that rain! 
You could have seen me pop out of the woods and shout “Hi Jeremiah!” when I realized we were running behind the pavilion where Miah was huddled, trying to stay dry. You would have seen us bushwhack down single track and duck under overgrown branches. And you probably would have gasped as I lost my footing on a slippery rock, regaining it at the last second… at least three times! And you would have held your breath as you saw me almost eat it every time I ran over the slick planks of a wooden bridge.
You would see us find shelter from the rain under a canopy of trees, and perhaps hear the calming sound of rain falling on leaves and rocks as we ran along. You would have seen us emerge from the woods and cross the mountain bike moguls that were now mounds of mud. And me attempting to hold my pace when the trail became cluttered with roots… again! And wondered why some soaking wet girl who almost wiped out for the 12th time would be beaming as she dodged a boulder!
This is EXACTLY how I felt, and probably looked on Sunday at the race!
That girl I used to be is still there!  
You could have seen me pass everyone on the climbs, and then lose my lead as soon as I hit a descent.  You would have seen the bare chested man wearing headphones. I told Cory we HAD to catch him before the Finish line. Which I did… until he caught me on that last downhill! With my marathon only 6 weeks away, I was not about to throw myself down these switchbacks to catch Mr. Shirtless. Cory however ran him down in the end!
Where is the RESTROOM?! 
You would also see me sprint straight to the restroom once I crossed the Finish line. At Mile 8 my stomach completely cramped up, and I immediately regretted consuming that delicious turkey and roasted red pepper sub from Cardona’s the day before! Damn gluten! Never mind the fact that I know better… Ok, this time I learned my lesson!
What you wouldn’t see? Me checking my pace. Even if I wanted to, I didn’t dare look at my watch for fear that I would trip over a rock and face plant in the mud. After years of being shackled to a certain pace on a watch face, I welcomed this opportunity to run free and run hard!
So what did I learn from this race?
  • The obvious lesson, gluten is evil and the Thacher Park toilets have great pipes!
  • Another painful lesson, generic anti-chafing gel from Wal-mart is NOT waterproof
  • L’Oreal Voluminous Waterproof mascara IS monsoon / mud / and trail proof! And no L’Oreal does not sponsor me or have a clue I use their product, but I do… Because I may be a 38 year old tomboy, but mascara is my one girly splurge!
  • New Balance Vazee Summit Trail runners are amazing! This was my first time racing in them, and the lugged outsoles kept me from wiping out on some super slippery surfaces. The hydrohesion rubber outsole minimized the amount of water that should have pooled up in my shoes, and I was surprised by how little debris got in my shoes when I finally pulled them off! And no, New Balance does not endorse me either… but they should because I am in love with all FIVE pairs of Vazees that I own 🙂
  • Even in adverse conditions, I LOVE trail running and I can hold my own! I even placed 1st in my Age group, and won a great hat…           And then awarded myself with a nice long nap with my cats on a rainy Sunday!
  • And finally, going back to my roots, and back to the roots (and rocks and trees) of Thacher Park made me feel so alive I could burst. I felt like a carefree, fearless kid again! And this race just fed my budding dreams of running a trail marathon someday!
I am so grateful for the blessing of running right now. Because with every mile, I just sense that this is what I am meant to be doing in this season! But also because so much is changing in my life. These big shifts seem to be happening all at once (like closing on our new house right before I pack up and fly off to NC)! And when I need to hit pause and just breathe, running on a trail in the woods is a sanctuary for me. It’s my happy place!
This entry was posted in Sport.
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