Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Races

It was the best of times; it was the best of times.
The last two Sundays I ran two very different 15K races. I didn't even come close to my best time at the distance, but it really doesn't matter. I was so struck by the contrast in the races that midway through the run on July 17 I thought I'd blog about it.
The July 10 race was the world-famous Boilermaker (I had to chuckle when I saw the typo on the cover of the official race program calling the race "world renouned"), a 9.3-mile romp through the streets of Utica. The July 17 race, the Forest Frolic, featured 9.3 miles along the Finger Lakes Trail east of Virgil.
The most treacherous part of the Boilermaker was trying to avoid the water cups hasty runners strew in their wake. The Forest Frolic presented one big trip-o-rama, around divots, through streams, over what seemed like a million fallen trees, orocks jutting out of the forest floor and roots, glorious roots, just waiting to grab a toe so a stumble became inevitable.
Both races present spectacle. The Boilermaker's is man-made, with musical acts every half-mile, runners wearing crazy garb, eager kids begging you to grab the popsicle they're handing out at mile 5, all the beer you can drink at the end party (something I never do; not that I don't like beer, just not at 10 in the morning). The Forest Frolic's appeal was all-natural--lush greenery at the forest edge, a stand of pink-tinted Norway spruce for a half-mile or so, soft pine-needle trails to cushion the feet (when the rocks and roots weren't so threatening).
About halfway in to the Forest Frolic, a runner came up behind me and we got talking about how this race differs so much from the Boilermaker. "Sure," he said, "but I could go for a popsicle about now."
Every year I tell myself I don't need to head to Utica, yet nearly every year I find myself there with 10,000 runners, waiting for that cannon to go off. There's just something compelling about racing for fun, not for time.
But I discovered that the Forest Frolic offers plenty of reasons to return to Virgil year after year. The miles I spent running alone, feeling like the only person out there (which I wasn't), felt strangely soothing. I kept thinking about Daniel Day-Lewis and The Last of the Mohicans, and the likelihood that I was running on centuries-old Indian trails. While the day was gradually warming up to near-record heat, I never felt overwhelmed by the temperature. At one point, a German-accented runner came up behind me, as we entered the aforementioned pink forest and said, "This is God's air conditioning, ja?"
Indeed. By the way, I beat that guy, not by much, but I beat him.

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