Today I got to run my first half marathon trail race since November 2017, and my first PA half since October 2017. Although I did run a 20 miler in eastern Pennsylvania 3 weeks ago, it felt really good to get back into the hills of central PA with a lot of the regulars in the PA trail running scene.
This race did not disappoint at all with all the features that one could expect on an early season trail race here. In 12.25 miles we saw wet stream crossings, meandering creek-side single track trail, barely runnable rock gardens, snow covered technical uphills that no normal human can run, and rhododendron thickets with roots that seem to be determined to trip you at any opportunity along with some amazing views of the surrounding forest with no underbrush to block them out. I started out the race about a third of the way back in the pack, where I often position myself to force a slower pace than I would naturally run if left to my gut feelings. This time I quickly realized that I was much too far back and that I would quickly run into traffic if I didn’t work my way forward before we hit the inevitable single track. I picked my way through the crowd, but not soon enough as I realized when we turned off the access road on which we started the race and almost immediately had a small creek to cross. There we were stuck in a long line of humans moving about as fast as the self checkout line at Walmart, where we grumbled and fussed and whined about the hold up. Eventually, joined by several other impatient fellows, I bypassed the line waiting to rock-hop across the creek and just splashed right through the water. Even after this it was difficult to pass the masses slowly picking their way through the rocks. While I do often strategically use other runners to cruise control myself through the first 8 or 9 miles at least, I do believe that this snail paced start actually hurt my overall race time. With that said, I did shave 10 minutes off of my last PA half marathon time.
Once again today, I was impressed with the sense of community that exists in the trail running community. On the trail we are all suffering together and at the event we are no longer classified as Democrats or Republicans, wealthy or poor, intelligent or uneducated. We are, simply, fellow trail runners. We encourage each other indiscriminately as we are passed or as we pass others on the trail. We swap stories as run, or slowly work up a steep incline. We chat too long with the volunteers at the aid stations. We shake hands with old associates while we run and adjust our paces to get in a few more minutes of conversation before we move on to meet later at the finish line. After changing into something warm, we grab a bite to eat, hydrate a little, and mill around with several hundred others who have just endured the same delightful punishing. We make new friends in the parking lot and we catch with old friends whom we haven’t seen over the winter. We may even get invited to spend the night in the treehouse of a casual acquaintance. If we are standing near the finish line we cheer loudly every time a runner approaches, even if it is an hour after we finished personally, and even if the are barely walking upright. We know what we have just gone through and we know that, one time, that was ourselves just barely making it to the finish. Then we might head back to the food tent and grab our third burger and join the herd who is checking out the results. We fuss for a minute with total strangers about how human we feel when we see the times of the top finishers.
These are a few of the reasons that I love this sport so much and will continue to promote it.
This is the sense of community that will turn heads in any business, organization or church.
What are we doing to develop it?
Keep running towards community, Jimmy Smucker