A few Saturdays ago Josh and I raced the Enoch Lee Race to Save the World 10k at Middle Run Valley Park in Newark, DE. A week before the race, while on our way to go mountain biking, Josh and I saw one of those yard signs (the ones politicians usually use) advertising for the race so we quickly Googled it to gather more information. A few days later, Josh convinced me to pre-register for the race as a way to celebrate the official start of my summer break. Although I knew I was no where near in race shape after a stressful semester of grad school, I figured it would be fun. After all, the course looped through some of our favorite trail running trails.
Saturday morning arrived and I ate my typical pre-race meal – peanut butter and banana on toast. The race began at 10 AM so we were able to sleep in a little bit and prepare for the day ahead of us (which we planned out to be a 10k race, followed by brunch, followed by a group mountain bike ride through the same trail system). We departed Josh’s around 8:30AM with race attire, mountain bike gear, and two mountain bikes.
My stomach was a bundle of nerves on our drive to the race. Multiple times I told Josh I felt like I was going to throw up (disclaimer: I never did). We arrived an hour early to the race, picked up our bibs, and waited anxiously for 10 AM to arrive. The morning was chilly and I felt unprepared with the clothing I had packed – shorts and a tank top. I scavenged up Josh’s arm sleeves and swapped out my tank top for a short-sleeve racing jersey. Josh paced around the truck and opened and closed his truck doors 5000 times.
Around 9:30 we decided to do a 1 mile warm-up. I was still a little chilly and my legs felt unprepared but by the time we ended our warm-up, I had decided to leave the arm sleeves in the truck. Better to start the race a little chilly, knowing I was going to warm up eventually.
Before the race started, the cadets from the University of Delaware (UD) did a flag ceremony and a group of women from a local church sang the National Anthem. It was Memorial Day Weekend so this was a nice touch to the morning. A family member of Enoch Lee, whom the race is memorialized for, made a brief speech explaining that race profits contribute to a scholarship for a biology major at UD. As a broke college student myself, I know how important scholarships can be!
The race started with a small loop around a grassy field before diving into single track. I started comfortably, not wanting to overexert early but also knowing that I needed to beat some of the crowd to the single track. I could see Josh up ahead at the front of the pack – go, Josh, go!
A lot of the race itself was a blur because the trails just kind of blend together. I knew that two women were ahead of me but didn’t have any intention to work to go catch them. The course terrain varied from smooth twists and turns to longer uphills to rewarding downhills. The trails were in great condition!
A local Delaware bike shop was stationed at the approximate half-way point with water and encouragement. It was nice to have people cheering out on the course as most of the course was isolated from spectator view. Trail runs are rarely spectator-friendly. After the water stop, there was a long uphill. It felt soooo long and I could feel myself progressively slowing as the climb continued. I probably could have walked faster, but I trudged along, my breathing becoming increasingly labored.
At the top, we were rewarded with flat, twisty single track. At this point, I was completely alone on the course and I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me and couldn’t hear any footsteps or breathing behind me. I just continued trudging along.
I didn’t recognize where we were in the trail system at this point in time even though Josh and I frequently mountain bike on these trails. The course followed trails we hadn’t looped through in over a year so I was completely disoriented.
Eventually the course landed us on my favorite downhill in the whole trail system. I was familiar with the downhill from mountain biking it and I knew exactly where the course was taking us!
After the downhill we made a left onto a long bridge and one of the race volunteers said “there’s a women not too far ahead of you”. That literally meant NOTHING to me. I was completely gassed. I hadn’t seen anyone ahead of me since about mile 2 and I definitely didn’t have the legs to go catch someone. So, I dismissed the comment and kept trudging.
I heard footsteps behind me and my gut told me it was probably a woman (note: I don’t look back ever during a race so I never know who might be closing in on me). The course crossed a stream (which I ran straight through, soaking my feet – no problem though, I wear the Altra Superiors which have optimal draining capabilities!). The person behind me, confirmed to be a woman once she asked me a question, asked “how much further?”. To this I said, “I have no idea”. Because 1) honestly, I had no idea where the finish line was in relation to where we were currently and 2) I don’t ever look at my watch during a race so I never know what mileage I’m at.
She ran right on my heels for 3/4 of the final uphill. For a second, I tried brainstorming ways I could get her off my heels (i.e. by sprinting up the hill) but I had no energy whatsoever to run faster than I was. I was simply in survival mode. My endurance meter had reached a big fat zero.
She eventually passed me and I felt bummed, knowing I had held 3rd overall female for 85% of the race. But I had nothing in me to try to physically react. So she trotted off, gapping me almost instantaneously. My only intrinsic goal was to keep running, no walking. And that’s what I did. Kept running until I crossed the finish line.
Once I got the finish, Josh offered me a cup of water. I stared at him and said “I’m at zero”. My endurance had expired around mile 5. The last mile was a slugfest. I probably could have walked faster but my own pride kept me running. We replenished with Gatorade we had brought and recapped our races.
Josh finished as the 1st overall male, 2nd place overall (figure that one out for yourself). He also had ran out of endurance which is to be expected considering he had only been running once or twice per week, not exceeding 3-4 mile runs (#naturaltalent). Regardless, I was proud of him. His natural ability to run fast amazes me time and time again.
I finished in 55:38, 18th/58 overall, 4th overall female, and 1/1 in my age group. Josh won a sweet travel coffee mug and a wooden phone holder (which he promises me to video chat with so he doesn’t have to prop his phone up awkwardly). I won a medal and some great S&S exposure.
I am glad that I did this race. Grad school had left me craving trail runs and races and, in a way, starting off summer break with a trail race was symbolic. Grad school requires endurance just like running. This race reaffirmed that I can be a grad student and a runner and be happy. I might not have as much endurance as I did last summer and the trails may challenge me even more so, but they will always be there for me to enjoy and for me to find bliss, serenity, and a welcoming running community.