This weekend I ran in the Dirt Cheap Stage race for the first time. The Dirt Cheap is a two-day, three-race series that bounces around the hills of Mendon Ponds Park. It is a punishing course through bogs along winding trails, over logs and up and down hills. Oh God, the hills. Any thoughts I may have had of actually running the trails died at the bottom of the second nearly vertical ascent of the first race. I should add that the races are 3, 5.5 and 11 miles respectively. Which means that after each race I had the pleasure of knowing that only greater punishment was waiting. So I ran when I could, walked when I had to and tried not to fall. In my defense, I was not the only one who walked. Have I mentioned the mud?
Now for the good parts. Road races are fun: the mass of racers, the crowds of spectators and the big finish. But running this series I felt hard-core. There were less that 200 people, and most of them were serious runners, lean and strong. It was pretty cool to be one of them; I am a strong runner but not particularly lean. By the halfway point of the final, 11 mile course I was barely keeping up with one guy who was a flash of fluorescent yellow through the trees. I did not bother to look behind me. I ran through wide stands of bare trees with bright yellow leaves carpeting the trail underneath me. It was quite still and beautiful. I was glad I was not wearing my headphones.
After the finish I picked up the souvenir hoodie and walked back to my car. I called my wife and told her I had finished. As I drove home, I thought about the fact that I had suffered a minor stroke three years before, almost to the day. I had come through all that and was now capable of surviving the Dirt Cheap Stage Race. It was oddly comforting.