I was a little concerned, lining up for the Waterfall Trail Run, what I’d gotten us into.
My sister and I were signed up for the 10K, while Colleen and her cousins Madison and Monroe were late additions to the 5K. This would be Colleen’s finale — and biggest challenge by far — in her weeklong 5K a day project. Was she ready to tackle that half mile of hills right off the starting line? Would she get lost in the woods if she fell too far behind?
Was I a bad mom for not ditching my plans and sticking with my youngest?
I was still fretting as the race started. Ben, who‘s been so busy that he hasn’t started his summer cross country conditioning, decided to accompany 9-year-old Monroe. She’s fairly speedy for her age, if inexperienced, and they galloped off ahead of Traci and I.
I looked back and saw Madison and Colleen slogging up the first hill. But they weren’t alone at the back of the pack, and Ben had agreed to go back and “rescue” Colleen after he finished, so once we entered the Kokiwanee Nature Preserve I quit fretting and just ran.
This is the 3rd year I’ve run this race near the confluence of the Wabash and Salamonie rivers, and it’s both beautiful and challenging. Crossing the creek just behind the waterfall isn’t nearly as risky as the muddy climbs and descents leading up to it. This year, thanks to a storm that blew through the day before, there were fallen trees to contend with along with the occasional stretch of “quicksand.”
Traci and I caught and then eventually passed Ben and Monroe as we neared the preserve exit and headed back out onto the road. We were feeling pretty good, but we had no idea what the second half of the course was like.
We passed the 5K finish line and kept going to the edge of the Salamonie Dam, where we descended several flights of stairs before crossing the base of the dam into the woods and another set of trails.
“The first part’s easier,” said a runner who was on her way out. Wow, was she right. The climbs on the 5K trail had steps notched into them. Here, we faced sheer walls of mud that were tough to get up and down without finding tree roots to hold onto.
“You know, this is a lot like an obstacle course,” Traci said as we ducked under a tree blocking the trail.
“Yeah,” I said. “Why do one of those Spartan races when trail runs are so much cheaper?”
We’d ceased worrying about our time, and even our kids, as we focused on our footing and figuring out which way to go.
“They said when in doubt, turn left,” said a guy who’d joined us at a confusing fork in the trail. We did — and probably wound up shaving a little distance off our run, judging from our time when we finally made it back to the finish line (after climbing those same several flights of stairs). Sixty-four minutes was too much for us to hope for given the difficulty of the trail.
But it had been a lot of fun, a great workout, and best of all we could see all the kids had made it back to the pavilion, where they were lining up for grilled burgers and watermelon.
They were excited to give us their report. Madison was thrilled she’d managed to catch Ben and Monroe near the finish. Monroe had won her age group, thanks to Ben pacing her. And Colleen had beat her 1-hour goal by finishing in 59 minutes flat.
“She wouldn’t have made it if I hadn’t gone back and got her to sprint,” Ben said. With no hope of coming up with a decent time on his own, he was at least enjoying his role in spurring on others.
And Madison amused us by recounting how Grandma and Uncle Brent kept texting her during the race. Who knows how she might’ve done if she hadn’t been fielding their texts?
Unlike Monroe, Colleen didn’t win a prize. But she was proud of her performance in the grand finale of her 5K a day project.
“There was this one lady ahead of me with a long pony tail, and every time she got 50 feet in front of me, that’s when I had to run,” she said. “And there was this pack of ladies behind me who were walking, and every time I could hear their footsteps, I knew I had to run. So I had two indicators of when I should run.”
As for the hills, Colleen had apparently not been as freaked out about them as I feared.
“I ran up them,” she said proudly. “When we were in the forest, the one lady behind me said, ‘We’ve got a good leader here, running up all these dang hills!’ “