There's nothing quite like the feeling of flying down a small mountain you had just climbed up. Gravity, all of a sudden your best friend instead of your menacing antagonist, pulls you through the twists and turns of the dirt single track trail. All you have to do is keep your legs moving, matching your pace to whatever the slope dictates. Tall trees and pre-historic ferns zoom by, a blur in your peripheral as you focus in on the 20 feet in front of you, looking for where that next foot placement will go.
It had been close to a year since I had experienced those feelings, or worn the jet-black jersey of my running club, the Jacuzzi Boys Athletic Club. Other pursuits, such as climbing and making oatmeal had filled in my schedule to the point where running had become an afterthought, a way to get in 30 minutes of exercise or take my mind off of things for a moment. But this spring I knew Roam Oatmeal was going to be providing breakfast at the Tillamook Burn Trail Races, and it made sense to me to toe the line myself. I used to be a good track athlete in college, and had pulled together some decent performances in my post college years. Running had always been a huge part of my personality and self-identity, and that portion of me had waned in the past year. Which is not to say that was a bad thing. Life, goals, and priorities all change with time, and I have found that grasping for goals you have moved beyond acts more as an anchor than as the wind in your sails. I threw together a training schedule, got in the majority of my planned workouts, and came into the weekend feeling pretty good.
The long trail races, especially the ones with as much climbing as the Tillamook Burn, require a lot of patience. It is much too easy to feel good early in the race and then "bonk" hard later, totally depleted from too much early effort. This was in the fore of my mind as I toed the line, and overall, I would say the race went according to plan. On the second long climb of the course I was forced to walk large portions, but I was on a good pace overall and well past the halfway mark. At the top of the crest there was an aid station, and after a quick drink and some potato chips recharged my mentality, I found myself flying down the hill in a sea of green, very very happy that I had decided to race over the weekend.
My general exit from running for the past year had been voluntary. There was no massive injury, and no drastic life change, just a shift in what I spent my time doing. And now, remembering what it's like to run a few hard miles, I think I want to spend more of my time running again. The trails are calling me back, reminding me that the mud on the back of my legs, the starting line jitters, and even the long uphill climbs feel pretty damn good. Dirt trails, I'll be seeing you again soon.