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My First Adventure Race

At long last, I made it to the local Picnic Island Adventure Run last night, which is actually a series of three adventure races held in Tampa each summer at Picnic Island Park. I had been out of town for the previous two races of the summer, so I was determined to make this one.

Although the race was not set up to be intimidating or particularly brutal (think Tough Mudder), it was the first race I would run that had intentional obstacles--things I typically try to avoid. I knew parts of the race would take place in sand, water, and mud, and that there would be a hurdle to jump over, some tires to run through, and hills to zigzag up and down. For someone who does not typically run on anything but flat pavement, these obstacles caused a bit of concern for me beforehand. But because I was trying to fend off an injury to my right lower leg, I vowed I would not actually race but just run "for fun" (seriously, who really does that?). I've declared this before about previous races, but because my fairly competitive running group is always present at these races in some number, I also feel I must perform my best and push harder than I perhaps need to. (You may be asking, then why sign up for races? My answer is simply, peer pressure--it's alive and well.)

Lucky for me, my friend Shannon decided to sign up for the race as well. I knew it would be easier to avoid competition if I ran with a friend who also did not care to compete. And even luckier for the two of us, on the evening of the race, we met a new friend, Jen, who also did not want to compete. We all just wanted to have a jolly time running a few miles with an obstacle here and there, getting a little dirty in the process.

So on race night while the rest of the running group headed to the front of the race start, we took our place in the back. Just before the race began, the wind picked up and whipped around while the ominous clouds broke temporarily for a spattering of rain. I already felt a sense of adventure.

The race started off on the sandy shore by the bay water, causing the hoards of people in front of us to trudge slowly and funnel through the narrow pathway through the beach grass up ahead. It seemed our goal of not racing was going to be a reality whether we desired it or not. Once we got through the tight pathway, the route opened up a bit and we ran on the grass at a fairly easy pace, chit-chatting along the way. We came to a couple of dirt and rock mounds that were probably my favorite part of the race. It was a little risky jumping from rock to rock, but the random variety and the thrill of leaping childlike in the air delighted me greatly. Soon we came upon the sand pit with a cargo net stretched out on top, which we were to crawl under. I had no strategy but wanted only to go through as quickly as possible, so I dove onto the sand (probably unnecessarily) and army-crawled under the net. Next was the tire run, which was most challenging in that the tires were set up three wide and about six long so that two runners would run through side-by-side, sharing the middle row of tires. I made it through just fine, but it was one of those obstacles I envisioned myself completing more gracefully than I did, for fear of tangling my foot with the other runner's next to me. It had the potential to be truly ugly. Speaking of truly ugly, the next obstacle was a hurdle jump. At least, to jump was the goal. I'd never approached a hurdle before, so when I came up to it I paused and hesitated, then realized I had no momentum, so I ran back a ways to get some distance, then ran up to the hurdle again, then stopped, and gave in and placed my hands on it to help swing my legs over. I know, I whimped out. I'm a planner, and I had no plan for getting over this hurdle. (The symbolism does not escape me.)

Next in the course came the series of water trudging and mud collecting. Through at least four different passages, we made our way through knee-deep water and mangrove mud (the smelliest mud ever!), moving at a snail's pace. The passageways were thick with mosquitoes, and there was no running around the person in front, as the path was two-people wide at most and backed up from further ahead than we could see. We would leave the the water and get back on dry ground, only to be taken back through another murky passage, all the while accumulating swamp mud in our already squishy running shoes.

Once we were finally out of the muck, we were led back the grass (oh, the grass!) and through a zigzag pattern that was slightly uphill. I had heard from other previous race attendees that the zigzag came at the end, so I felt relieved that we were almost done. However, it turns out this was not the only zigzag path. After running about a half a mile more, we came to a much steeper hill with more zigzagging, which felt almost impossible to run through, since I'd expended all of my energy on the previous zigzag, which I thought was the end. I took the hills the only way I knew how--forward leaning and at full pace (I think of driving my old stick-shift VW up a hill, popping into first gear and gassing it for dear life, lest it roll back and cause a scene of disaster down below). After getting over the last hill, we saw a male finisher from our group cheering us on along the sideline. The encouragement was nice until he said we "only" had a half a mile to go (I was thinking at that point, maybe 100 ft.). When I looked up ahead to see what that half mile would entail, I saw more runners in water, but this time it was waist-deep, and the runners were single-file.

At first entrance, the water was cool and refreshing, which quickly turned to lukewarm and inhibiting. By that time, I felt like racing. The whole race had been a series of starting and stopping, and there was little opportunity to run fast until the end (when I admittedly broke my vow to not race--something about the mere knowledge of the clock at the finish line draws me toward it, faster and harder). But I could only drag my legs through so quickly. Once I was on the incline toward shore and the water was closer to knee height, I was able to run a bit more until I was out completely. And this is where I would normally dash with all my might toward that finishing line. But my legs would barely work; the massive effort I had put forth to run in the water tired and confused them, and they would hardly go. But when Jen came into my right peripheral view, I was able to dig in and push a little more for a strong enough finish, although I finished a second behind her, and Shannon just behind me. It was the best time I've had running with friends--racing or not.

After a post-race hosing down, thanks to a rather inattentive race volunteer who hosed out the inside of my ear (which had no mud in it, I might add), I reflected back on the race and thought, that was fun. I'd like to do another. Tough Mudder, here I come?


Annabella said…
That sounds so fun! I didn't know these things existed. That would be awesome if you did the Tough Mudder, too.

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