The race: the Swamp Creek Stomp
The distance: five kilometers
The official time: civilizations rose and fell while I was out there
Heyyyyy there friends. SO. One of the things on my list of things I wanted to do this year was to run a trail race. I’ve run a few dozen road races at this point, and a couple of them have like, touched dirt, kinda, but I’ve definitely never done an actual trail race. I knew this one was gonna be a tough one, partially because trail races just inherently are tough, but I also log a vast majority, like 95%, of my miles on the treadmill or pavement. The one trail I do use is packed dirt and has no tree limbs or large rocks or creek crossings and y’all, I knew I was woefully underprepared but I DID IT. I was also concerned that the race did not actually exist, because it was on April 1st, and like, that would be a very jerk move to be like “LAWL THERE’S NO RACE GO HOME, SUCKERS” and runners are generally chill but WHAT IF.
I drove myself there on Saturday morning, and I knew I was nervous because I was doing the thing that I do when I’m nervous and driving which is to sing hymns, so it was 8:15 AM and I’m chugging along belting out “For All the Saints.” If you’re not familiar, it is an absolute banger and really gets the crowds going. Ball so hard. No, I don’t know why I do this, but I do, and it’s like “Lose Yourself” but for slow awkward Catholic girls in terms of pump up music.
I just made myself laugh picturing myself playing for the Yankees and asking for this as my walkup music oh my word
I get there and there are tbh not as many dogs as I was hoping for but other than that everyone is friendly and the race organizers are playing “Eye of the Tiger” as every race within a 100-mile radius of Philly is obligated to do (still love the song keep up the good work fam). The race announcer tells the 10k people that they had to make some adjustments to the course because we got like, feet of rain the night before and the course is a mess and one of the creek crossings is literally too high to be safe so I’m sitting there like “aight, mud. Mud is happening. It cool, I got this, I got my high socks on and garbage bags in my car for later, I ain’t scared, leggo.”
I DID NOT GOT THIS
The fun part about being a back-of-the-pack-er is that you get to follow everyone else and kinda see where to go and on road races, who cares, it’s not like they’re beating down the pavement and it’s no good to run on when you get there. NOT SO WITH A TRAIL RUN. I almost ate it crossing the actual start line because of mud, and within the first quarter mile we were 1. in the woods 2. in ankle-deep mud. A girl lost her shoe. Her dad fished it out and tried to retie the laces and oh my goodness watching him try to untie and then retie cold wet muddy laces with cold wet muddy hands was like if you filled up rubber gloves with JELL-O and then had to use them to practice your Boy Scout skills on exceptionally tough spaghetti. Homie was there for a while.
The runners before me were confidently placing their feet in the mud and then lifting them up and not??? falling over???? which??? how?????? I had to walk a large majority of the race simply because moving any faster would have been disastrous. Y’all remember that fight in motor oil from the Transporter movie? I was every bad guy without even a Statham to look at. The 10k runners had two laps to do and a good two dozen of them lapped me.
After a while I got into a bit of a not-terrible rhythm, grabbed on to some trees when necessary, my fitbit made some noises, I embraced the cold squishiness in my shoes, and IT’S THE EYE OF THE TIIIIIIGER. Then I actually checked my fitbit to see how far I’d gone and it was like, 90 feet. Nine feet. None feet, possibly, because it had tracked the walk from my car to the starting line. “Trail race” was a misnomer, as was “trail run.” “Trailslog.” But I was Doing It. I was Making My Dreams Come True. I was Leaning In, not because I wanted to but because hills [also, quick aside: Lean In and trail running are related in that they’re apparently really only applicable to white women??? Why you gotta be so white, racing, why]. And then, we had one of several creek crossings.
Y’all remember in Homeward Bound, when Shadow can’t get out of that mud ravine and you felt your entire being collapse in on you even though you’d seen the movie like 80 times and he’s exhausted and old and covered in mud and gets *so close* to the top a bunch of times but can’t hold on
That was me, trying to get in and out of the creek. There were ropes, and people to help, but there was basically no grip on the banks, so hands went in the mud, butt went in the mud, dignity went in the mud. There was a dude behind me who was also about to use the rope to climb down, and he was all “you can go first” and I was all “no you, good sir” and he was all “no it’s okay, I’m gonna be a while” and I was all “that’s exactly why I was offering to let you go first because samesies” and at this point the race’s Rope Watcher Guy is laughing at us both for being fainting delicate flowers. We both did it, though.
And then there was another creek crossing. A 10k runner came up behind me and straight launched himself from one bank to the other because idk we had like Olympic decathletes up in this woods and apparently the Oregon Trail has a cheat code for rivers called “just jump the sumbitch.” I personally, decided to caulk the wagon and float it and lost
- One set of clothing
- One wagon wheel
- My pride (drowned)
There were rocks and stuff in the creek, y’all, I ain’t about that turned ankle life. So I did the rest of the race with mud on um, places and my long sleeves were wet at the wrists because I had to put my hands into the creek to not fall over and look even worse than I already did oh GOD, WHERE IS THE WILLAMETTE VALLEY WHY ARE WE NOT THERE YET.
I am 90% sure I got kinda lost – I know GPS trackers aren’t the most reliable and hills will mess them up but when I’m well into 4 miles for a 5k I’m thinking I messed up. My hands did that thing where they get super puffy after a while of holding them at my sides, and the sun actually came out and I’d been out there longer than my 10k PR and like, what. So tired. The most tired. I napped like a beast when I got home.
Once I got to the end, I was able to run probably a third of a mile over some relatively dry gravel and grass. At this point, I was very aware that I was the last, actual last, 5k runner out on the course, because the two girls who were behind me quit and hopped on an ATV back to the start, so I suppose I beat two ten-year-olds? I’ve never actually DFL’ed (dead effing last) a race before, but I’m almost glad I did – it was new and humbling but also meant that I actually finished, which was great. In the last section, one of the guys giving directions saw a 10k runner about to pass me, and they yelled “don’t let him beat you!” and I yelled back “it’s okay, he’s lapped me already” and they laughed and runners are just cool, yo.
I got me a shirt and soft pretzels at the end (additional bonus to Philly-area races: always got them soft pretzels) and then somehow got back to my car and removed what layers I could, put trashbags down on the car seat (garbage sittin on garbage bags HEYOOOO) and drove home. Absolutely would and will repeat, and hopefully I will get the mud out from under my toenails Some Day.