Know when to walk away; know when to run.



Snow flurries were melting against the windshield as I rode out to the suburbs for my first trail run with friend and fellow Chicago running blogger, Eric. He had convinced me to sign up for yet another first in my newly awakened life as a runner: a trail run. Muddy Monk’s Double Down was to be my first Trail Race… that is, if I could convince myself to leave my apartment and make the trek away from Chicago, toward what Muddy Monk’s pictures online showed as a soupy mess of soil that resembled more of a mass of soggy quicksand than anything else.
The ‘Kings Road’ to RiverRun
Strapping on my Vibram’s a little bit more slowly, I began to rethink just how much faith I should put into how well ‘Barefoot Ted’ from Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Runhad claimed his minimalist shoes held up for trail running. But, seeing as how I haven’t been able to run in anything else since my IT band injury late last season, I figured if I do decide to run, it is definitely going to be in my ‘five finger’ shoes. Stability and protection for the bottom of my feet wasn’t as close to the front of my mind at the moment anyway, barefoot running shoes through icy cold water was, however.
After piling layer after layer into a bag I had picked up at a previous race expo, I grabbed a jacket and an extra hoodie and was out the door. I met Eric outside his apartment and we hauled our packed change of clothes that we would no doubt need to change into before getting back into the car after spending the morning traipsing through the freezing rain, snow, and mud, around the block to where he had parked his car. We tossed the gear in the trunk and headed north. The ‘morning commute’ on a Saturday is much faster that it is during a normal work day and we made it to Dam Number 1 woods out in Wheeling, IL much quicker than I had expected. We got out and walked around a bit to scope things out. Nice laid back setup. Couple tables, one for after race snacks, one for Muddy Monk Merch, one for onsite packet pickup, a stand for the Spartan Races, and a Chubby Wiener’s wiener wagon. There was a covered shelter typically used as a picnic area which was a welcome shelter from the cold wind after the race and other runners were similarly wandering about or waiting in line for the bathroom.
After we had our fill, we did what it seemed most of the others were doing as well, heading back to their car to keep warm and to shed their excess gear as there was no real need for a gear check for a race that everyone needs to drive to reach. As I changed into some more layers in the car to be ready for the chilly weather waiting outside of the heated vehicle revving me up with some classic rock tunes before the race, I watched other getting ready by doing their stretches outside of their vehicle.
Gear check: none and none really necessary as everyone drove or carpooled with someone who drove. Vehicles worked fine.
Waves/Corrales: One wave and one corral. With only four hundred runners, everyone is pretty self-sufficient as far as placement in the corral. People who want to jump after the ‘gun’ start right up front, those who have a good pace but want to make sure to compensate for a trail run rather than a street run take their places throughout the middle, and those who have dogs or are just out for the weather or the scenery hang back to smell the, yet to bloom this early in the season, roses. With this few people, runners just paced themselves out along the course.
Course Layout: well-planned out, wider at the beginnings to allow for people to distribute distance between themselves as they set into their own pace. A nice balance of solid surface where you can really break out and run and sloppy mess that you sign up for as an added challenge and badge of honor. As far as actual distance travel and accuracy, I cannot actually say as I forgot my GPS watch at home as did Eric, but I sure did ‘look’ like about six miles but it felt like a half marathon with all of the terrain! (Not that I would really know what a half marathon feels like yet).
Finish Line: since it was the ‘double down’, you could either run a 10K or a 20K and they had separate finish lanes for each. There was no chipped time but there were several individuals who would spot runners as they crossed the finish and manually note down their bib number and their finish time which was then logged into either the 10K or 20K logs and loaded into a spreadsheet that they had available on a monitor at one of the tables. Results were published promptly the same day, as were plenty of free pictures throughout the race and finish line. Well done all around by Muddy Monk and their volunteers! Also note: Chubby Wiener’s just signed up to work with Muddy Monk in future races and were taking numbers down during this race to see how many Vegan/Vegitarian options to bring next time. For this run, it was just some good ‘ol salad and toppings on a bun but next time they promised the full deal. There were plenty of other after race munchies to fill up on anyway including a supply of bananas, pretzels, cheese its, m&m’s, penunt butter stuffed pretcles, and more.
About fifteen minutes before the start, we emerged from our shelter and headed back over toward the pre/post-race area. I love how casual the race and the crowd was for this event. There were quite a few dogs here and there and some even joined us on the run! Great to see a dog out having fun with his people! Keeping in tune with the overall chill tone of the crowd, over the speakers where there was formerly music flowing, the DJ announces that they are probably going to get this race under way in the next couple of minutes. The crowd casually strolled over into the starting area, which was between a couple large flags and listened to the DJ continue for another minute to thank everyone and wish everyone a fun event. One minute till start. Thirty seconds. Count down from ten…and we’re off!
The water saturated ground felt like a soft cushion compared to the usual gravel or pavement I typically run on in the city. This is a welcome surprise and s good start. After running less than half a mile, I have already warmed up enough to remove my gloves and my fuzzy headband and stow them away in my hoody and pants pockets. My feet are still warm enough, but they haven’t seen any significant water yet and I have managed to doge the puddles I have passed up until this point. Before we got to mile two came the ocean I had been dreading. Ankle deep water, thirty feet across and no way to not get soaking wet. Embrace the horror. I trudged on as if it wasn’t there. It was as cold as I had figured, but what I didn’t figure, was that with my body warmed up from running, the cold actually felt refreshing. About halfway through, my feet started to feel a bit numb and I figured I should hurry along to the other side. After reaching ‘solid’ land again, after a few steps from each foot pounding blood back through to my extremities, my feet felt not only warm but relatively dry! The Vibrams didn’t hold onto water as much as typical shoes would and as there is so thin of material around your foot, the material is about the same temperature as your body it seems so it wasn’t my shoes that kept my feet warm but rather my feet that warmed back up my shoes! At this point I had not a care in the world and was free to bounce in every puddle I saw like the puppies that ran beside me.
Muddy Monk: you have successfully gotten me hooked on trail running and I will be back for more punishment. Sure glad I didn’t walk away and instead chose to run!

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