It was a mildly rough morning on the trails at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, yesterday. The “Big Woods Run” half marathon and 10k both start at St. John’s Church in Faribault and send runners on a 1-mile long slight descent on pavement that usually also has an imperceptible tailwind. Runners then enter the park for 11 or 4 miles of running on dirt trails which are a) riddled with roots and rocks and b) partly or fully covered in dry, fluffy and terrain-disguising leaves that have recently fallen. The last mile follows the first mile, in reverse, plus an enormous headwind and a steeple that just doesn’t get bigger/closer fast enough.
Mere steps into the dirt portion, I tripped on a root, but didn’t fall. Then a few minutes later, it happened again. I started to get the sense that catching myself repeatedly like that may render me more damaged than actually hitting the ground: I’ve had a sore right hamstring/hip insertion lately and this day’s reindeer games were already making it talk to me, somewhat loudly.
Several miles went by, and BAM! a new root threw me to the ground, though strangely I had a enough momentum/presence of mind/sense of style to manage to curl into a semi-ball and somersault right back up onto my feet. I kept running, with a bleeding knee, answering fellow runners’ “are you ok?” with an “I’m good!” Shortly later I discovered a sore tooth/cheek. Odd… my face didn’t hit anything, except possibly my knee. Maybe my jaw slammed shut as part of that feat of Cirque de Soleil-esque grace. Who knows.
A minute or two later I fell again. “Damn, again?!?” I muttered. I’d already been looking forward to the next water stop: I was thirsty but didn’t bring water with me, which was already foolish on a long trail run but this week was doubly foolish as I caught a cold a few weeks ago that hadn’t fully left my body. Now I was also looking forward to the water stop as a chance to wash dirt out of my knee wound: muddy & bloody may be sexy but a staff infection in a few days doesn’t appeal so much. From my Fitbit/Strava recording you can see that the water stop was likely at mile 7.5.
At least two more times before I made it back to the pavement for that last mile, I tripped but managed to right myself before kissing dirt. What the heck!? I was running in trail shoes (the Hoka One One Challenger ATR) that I’d only tested once, with a 10-mile run on grassier terrain. Earlier that morning I had faced a tough decision; I’ve got trusted Brooks Cascadias that have a lower profile but they’re also starting to tear in the upper instep in a way that I thought may not last for 13.1 trail miles. Even when I wasn’t tripping over roots or rocks, I was scuffing the soles of these shoes a lot more than I had scuffed them or the other pair in prior runs.
Or, maybe my form was suffering somehow from the head cold I’d contracted three weeks ago, and mostly gotten rid of 1.5 weeks ago. My energy was mostly good, though in seeking more sleep, I ran a bit less in the last few weeks than I would have, had I been fully healthy. I’ve still got a light cough that surfaces every few minutes and more often when I run.
Maybe my past year of training for and running in two marathons has made changes to my gait that were not advantageous to trail running? That “marathon shuffle” was made for smooth pavement, not rolling hills, sometimes steep ones, and small obstacles.
As for many of my races, tough runs or challenging endurance events in the recent past, I wore a necklace with a Ganesha pendant. It’s pretty but also is a talisman to help remove obstacles from my path, from Hindu mythology. I don’t think I’m someone prone to superstition or who has a particular problem with obstacles, but a few years ago, I was introduced to a mantra that resonated for me. It was a catchy tune with easy syllables, but after investigating some of the stories of Ganesha in Hindu mythology, I liked it even more. It has stuck with me. This one from Healing Drum is my favorite recorded version.
While the day could have gone a lot worse, I can’t help but think maybe Ganesh didn’t help me out so much yesterday. My fate was in my own hands (…legs and mind), of course, but on the other hand, maybe I put on the necklace without really thinking about what I was asking it – or me – to do. Intention is a powerful thing. Did I incant a short “let this event go swiftly, without tumbles and with a few ‘wahoo!’s” as I set off? No. The morning started off with more of a general “oh I am so excited. I’ve missed this race for a few years and it’s just so beautiful and the bake sale afterward is so charming and I’m excited to visit with my friends Maggie and Thomas…”
Particularly for this event, in a setting so beautiful that it can be breathtaking, it’s easy to get distracted by the beautiful fall colors and play of light in this park. There are also the various -mostly friendly and supportive, compared to many road races- interactions that happen with other runners.
So: I appear to still be challenged by running around lots of other people and breathtaking nature. Ah well. Ever the loner and aesthete.
Back to Ganesha: I’ve recently read a terrific book about sound, music and yoga, The Yoga of Sound: Tapping the Hidden Power of Music and Chant. And, in attempting a summary to post here, I’m finding that I’ll need to read it again. There’s so much in the book that brings me helpful insight into anything related to sound in my various yoga experiences:
- The various powerful facets and types of mantra
- How words and vocal sounds have power to affect change even at a cellular level
- How to use “om” as a pranayama and meditation technique
- Why it may be ok if the (often Sanskrit) mantra words used in practice like Kirtan make no sense to me but the feel alright to sing
- Why creating rituals beyond things like the daily brushing of teeth or brewing of coffee can be beneficial
- The strangeness, beauty and power of Raga music
For now, I will allow that a little more focused attention may have helped keep me on my feet, yesterday morning. Perhaps even vocalizing a few “Om gam ganapataye namahas” as I donned the necklace, or the night before may have been a good idea. I’ve had a lot on my mind, and trail running’s no walk in the park! Maybe this person needed a walk, rather than a run, in that particular park.
I have no regret over the day, however. I started and finished with a smile and I thanked the green-shirted man who unknowingly paced me for my last 5 miles. Perhaps the best gift this event gave me was a powerful affirmation of a suspicion I’ve been nursing for awhile: road marathons aren’t my thing. I’d rather fall several times while running around in hilly, bumpy woods for a few hours than shuffle for 4+ hours on mostly level pavement with thousands and thousands of other people. I think this year’s Grandma’s may be my 2nd and last. Ever the defier! We shall see if word matches up with deed, in the coming few years.
Here’s some of that color I mentioned: