I promised you mud in Part 3, and only got as far as dirt. It will get messier, honest.
The dirt trail I followed upwards was cut through dense forest, and offered welcome shade. The trail was about as wide as a regular road lane, so I had plenty of room to choose which parts of the path to use. There were cheerful little mountain flowers brightening up the sides of the path.
In looking at the elevation chart for this race previously, I had anticipated a constant, steep climb, but this path switchbacked back and forth and broke up the hill with rolling, mini plateaus. I never had to face a big monster of a hill, only little rises, one after the other. I was getting tired, but I remembered from the chart that a fair bit of the distance in this leg was UP, so I made little deals with myself to keep pressing upward.
Often I encountered a birch or other slender tree along the way which had failed to remain completely upright, and had arched gracefully over my lane. I used these arches as cues: “I’ll run until that arch up ahead, and then take a short break” or, when I was chiding myself for walking too much and needed to pick it up: “Okay, at this next arch I will begin running again.” Of course, if there was any hint of flat or a dip I ran it.
The trail was not marked with flags, but it was pretty easy to follow. At intersections with other trails our route was clearly indicated with surveyor’s tape. At one of the turns a friendly short man with a white beard cheered me on and told me there was a water stop in the next kilometer. He had his bike with him, and when he showed up at another turn in the forest he reminded me of those little garden gnomes one sees everywhere. “Hey” I joked, “You look just like that other guy back there…”
There was hard packed dirt and rocks and roots and grass and sticks and moss and occasionally a few shallow puddles where water drained across the path. I leapfrogged with a woman from St. Albert who confessed, breathlessly, to never having run on trails before. Early on, we had plenty of room to work around puddles, as the path was so wide and the streams were so small. Eventually, the puddles and muddy bits grew bigger, and I realized that getting muddy was just going to be unavoidable.
I splashed straight through a couple of puddles. Whee! I relaxed my stride and felt liberated from the constraints of the course. I leapt and squished and felt muddy droplets land on on the backs of my legs. My toes were refreshed with cool water, and I re-captured the childish joy of mud mucking. Instead of slowing down to place my feet carefully, the muddy bits became places where I sped up to charge boldly through. It was exhilarating!
By the time I arrived at the second water stop I was marked as a mud runner. I received another cup of water and more encouragement and headed further on up the course. Around this time the St. Albert woman pulled on ahead, and I began hearing something else on the route behind me. What was it? A deer? A racer? A bear? Then it coughed terribly, and I realized it was a sick man. I was working hard, yet somehow a man with bronchitis had managed to catch up to me. His name was Ken, too (3rd Ken that day) and he had recently been a military police officer. No wonder it was hard to keep him down.
We ran through several more unavoidable mud pits. In some places the black mud gushed up over my shoelaces. I was really glad I’d double tied my laces before I started. I only kind of slipped once, in one of those lose-your-shoe suction situations, but my shoe stayed on and I stayed upright.
The rolling hills started to go down, more often than up. We crossed rushing, rocky white water streams on little bridges and flowed downwards beside them, flying up over rocks and bumps, just like the water. I let gravity pull me down as fast as I could manage, and sucked in lungfuls of crisp, fresh, mountain air.
I must have run downhill for over 20 minutes. Towards the end there was a small uphill and then the trail took me through the trees around the Nakiska parking lot. My right shoelace had come undone anyway, but I didn’t care, and I didn’t stop. I descended out of the trees to find the BluePaperClip.com team cheering me on in, and I yodeled noisily on in to the finish. We laughed and hugged and the girls exclaimed at how muddy I was. If mud equals joy, then I was a very joyous racer!
The Leg 10 racer had run at the same time as me and was already finished, so the team cued up for supper. Nicole came with me to my car and helped me kind of clean up. I changed into clean socks and shoes and then we joined the supper line too. I happily snagged a Big Rock beer, a hamburger, some veggies, an apple and a brownie.