The Bay area was known for its bountiful trails and hills. There was no dearth of them as I browsed through the California marathon Calendar. The runner and nature lover in me was spoilt for choices as I looked at the images of some of the trail runs. I visualized myself running through the cascading brown meadows spread over acres which was enough incentive to click on the registration link.
It was a 25 km run that I had signed up for, probably due to realization that my legs were now ready to carry me further than 21 km which they were used to by now and probably bored. “Give us a little bit of challenge”, they seemed to say. So here I was driving down to Calero Park at San Jose which was about 40 minutes from Stanford, where I resided. The race was scheduled at 8:00 am and the bib collection for these runs took place one hour prior to the run, on the same day. It was rather chilly and I huddled up in one of the tents after collecting my bib. I got talking to the race director, Troy who had been conducting trail events since 2009. “I am glad it’s not raining,” he said. “Otherwise I would have had to cancel it.” I further learnt it was more or less managed by him solely and he was looking for more volunteers. As the runners began to line up at the venue, we were briefed about the course that we had to take.
There were only 2 aid stations and we were to follow the different colored ribbons and in some places, these would be absent. “Have faith in yourself and follow that one single road, it will get you through.” the race director mentioned. Nervousness began to creep in hoping that I wouldn’t get lost in these woods. There was no signal on my mobile phone and I offered a silent prayer to the almighty.
From the word go, dirt roads greeted us gently leading us to some never-ending inclines which forced even the strongest looking runners to walk up these dreadful slopes. Muddy, rustic looking, interspersed with shrubs and grass, it was as pristine as it could get. I heard some of runners muttering “Didn’t know it was going to be so tough”, as they staggered up the hilly terrain. One couldn’t run on it for too long and walk breaks were involuntarily infused. Deciding to treat it as a picnic, I prodded along the muddy pathway, wondering what I had gotten myself into.
I remembered mentioning to my husband that morning saying that I would finish in 3 hours and be back home by 12 noon. It appeared that this was going to take longer than 3 hours considering the daunting route which had pebbles strewn about like bread crumbs. No sane person would want to consider sprinting downhill unless they were ready to see their knees look like fried sausages tossed in ketchup.
At the end of the 5th km, I was almost ready to call it quits, rush back home and snuggle on the couch with a book. Just then I was greeted by a spectacular sight of the mountains glistening in the sun’s rays. I inhaled sharply, taking in the view as the sportsman spirit in me egged me to go on. ‘You are not here to quit’, a voice told me.
I noticed dried tufts of grass on either side as I ran along the narrow winding pathways. I caught a glimpse of a couple of runners at the distance and knew I was on the right track. Following the ribbons, I soon found myself running down some of the slopes albeit with great caution as I wasn’t too fond of sausages. Reaching the aid station, I refilled my bottle with water, grabbed some freshly cut fruits and set off on this jungle expedition after taking cues from the race director present there.
The pebbles on the ground reminded me of the Hansel and Gretel story wherein Hansel left a trail of them to find his way back home from the woods. At one point, it was just me and the sound of gentle rustle of the leaves, making me jump many a time half expecting to see a bear or a fox come out of its hiding and smacking my head later on for giving in to irrational fears and fantasies. Soon I heard voices floating in the air and looked up to see a couple of horse riders galloping into the woods after giving me a smile that depicted partly sympathy and partly admiration.
This run was one of its kind unlike the ones in the city where you would feel the presence of volunteers with placards carrying quirky messages. This one was a test of your endurance and patient levels. I finally reached the start point, completing 21 km and was asked to do the 5 km loop to complete my distance. Survival instincts kicked in and I finally reached the finish line. “You are still running, right?” asked one of the volunteers asked line with a grin and I responded with a faint smile.
I tucked in some nuts and sandwiches that was displayed on the table as I was famished being on my feet for hours together. Nature has a way of humbling you, I thought as I grabbed my phone only to see there was no reception yet. By now my husband must have wondered if I had been attacked by wolves or something. I requested one of the volunteers to drop me off at a point where I could call an Uber.
Trail runs were as brutal and carnal as they could get. It’s about how you hold your nerve throughout and come out stronger yet humbled at the thought that nature always triumphs.