Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Soaking it Up at Mud Mountain

(Originally posted on Runners World Loop 7/23/11)
’m currently on a business trip, visiting the beautiful city of St. Louis, Missouri. I always bring my running gear with me when I travel, and find that the change of scenery often breathes some freshness into my runs. Maybe it’s the greenery and trees, because nearly everywhere in the world has more of both than Tucson. Of course, abundant plant life often comes with high humidity.
Most of the U.S. is currently experiencing a heat wave so my runs for the past few days in St. Louis have resulted in yours truly being a soggy mess by a mile or so in to the run. Tucson humidity is often below 10%, so even though I run at home in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, I’m not accustomed to running in a combination of high heat and high humidity like I’ve experienced in St. Louis.
This morning I decided to enjoy an out-of-town race, so I entered the Mud Mountain Cross-Country 5k Classic, held at the SIU campus in Edwardsville, Illinois. It was about a 30-minute drive from St. Louis, and along the way I crossed the Mississippi River. By the time I arrived, my mind was filled with dreamy thoughts of a lazy summer day rafting down the river, sort of a Tom Sawyer / Huck Finn type of day. Not necessarily the best pre-race mood, but I thought I was ready anyway.
The race itself was very well organized. It’s a benefit event for high school runners, and there were plenty of fast young people there. I picked up my timing chip, strapped it around my ankle, and noticed that the grass was rather tall (at least from the perspective of an Arizonan).
I  took a mile warm-up jog on the course, and was pleased to see how nice the scenery was. Tom and Huck could have run through these woods and found all sorts of mischief along the way. But I had to focus on the race preparations – this was not looking like an easy course, and definitely not one to set a 5k PR.
There were a lot of people there – probably around 700 or more including plenty of volunteers. One of my friends at the meeting, Pete Dillon from Georgia, also signed up for the race and we had a few minutes before the race to compare race strategies and complain about the heat. Looking up, we noticed that the sky was crystal clear – and the sun was taking full advantage of that fact!
When the gun went off promptly at 8:00, I quickly realized that I had started too far back. So I spent the first mile dodging people, and found myself passing racers for nearly the entire race. There were a few dirt patches, which meant I ran through a choking cloud of dust at those points. Despite the race’s name, there really wasn’t much mud. But the most challenging features of the course were the hills – although they were not terribly long, they were enough to significantly affect the pace. The finishing stretch was in full blazing sun which made the finish line more appealing, but also more difficult to reach. My final time was 20:37, which was 53rd overall out of 538. Many (but not all!) of the racers ahead of me were high school or college runners, and I have never seen so many people throwing up at the finish line! It was a true puke-fest as these youngsters pushed their race to the limit. I was 2nd in my age group, missing 1st by less than 7 seconds (although I didn’t know that at the time).
Here’s me and Pete (who also ran a great race) basking in the glory of the finish line. It’s not so obvious in the picture, but I was pretty much soaking wet after the race.
And here’s a photo of the medal that I won for placing in my age group:
After the race and awards ceremony, I re-ran the course twice at a slower pace to try to capture that magical Tom Sawyer-ish free feeling. But I have to admit, I’m not acclimated to the humidity so it was not as fun as it could have been. Still, running and racing in a new place was sure fun!
Final comments: I did hold back a little bit today, since the San Francisco Marathon is now only 8 days away, and I did not want to risk turning an ankle or pulling a muscle so close to that big event. Also, I am planning to return to St. Louis for the Rock’N’Roll Marathon in October – I sure hope it cools off a bit before then!

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