This year has been my year of racing simply. No race that costs over $10. I didn't plan this ahead of time, but the first few races of the year were free and I noticed something. A lot of really amazing stuff happens at these races. When you take away the t-shirt and the glory of the big crowd at the finish line, everyone gets down to the nitty-gritty of why they're racing. It's probably different for everyone, but that doesn't matter. What matters is we're doing it for a reason and not for a prize.
Bike races for $10 or less have been easy to find. Most gravel races are free. Buck Hill and Hillside are $10. Running races have been harder to come by. I found a free 40 miler in July and until this weekend that was it.
Last week, a Facebook friend posted a link to a free half marathon at Lowe's Creek, an unofficial event to test the course for the real deal next year. I showed up on Saturday with less than 20 other people. Our start line was a card table with a jug of water, some cookies and a piece of paper on which to sign in.
The race director handed me a piece of paper with directions. I panicked. I'm used to reading directions while biking, but while running singletrack? Surely I would break my ankle.
In the pre-race debrief we learned these directions were just for backup. The course was marked with pink tape.
Whew! That will make this much easier on my ankles.
We were also introduced to our lead bike, who would ride just ahead of the leader, showing the way.
There was a quick, "Three, two, one," and we all shuffled off down the trail. No one seemed to want to run in front. I figured now would be my one and only chance in my lifetime to run with the lead bike, even if it was just until the first turn, so I took off after him.
It took less than a mile to realize what a luxury this bike lead was. I didn't have to search for pink tape. I could do what I loved to do, put one foot in front of the other and just run. I felt like I was cheating. I had someone at my every whim. He waited at every turn. If I slowed, he slowed. If I had to go to the bathroom, he......
Oh no. what do I do with this lead bike now that I have to poop?
That's right. Three miles in I had to poop. Normally I would just sneak off in the trees and go, but what was I supposed to say to this kid? "Hey, can you wait for me while I take a dump?" just didn't seem appropriate.
I weighed my options. I didn't want to ask this young guy to wait while I pooped in the woods. The only portapotty was a few minutes off-course. My car was at the halfway point but there was no bathroom there and I certainly wasn't gonna poop in the new car.
I was out of options so I did the only thing I could. I held it for 10 miles and hoped like hell I didn't shit my tights.
Eventually, I could forget, at least for brief moments, that I had to go. Of course, I wasn't encouraged much by that fact that I knew there was no bathroom at the finish, but I figured the faster I got there, the quicker I could go so I ran, as fast as I could, getting back to my own nitty-gritty- that I'm here to give it everything I've got, even if I have to poop.
At the finish, my biker rode ahead, hopping off his bike so I would have at least one person waiting there to cheer. There was no big finish, just the two of us and my time written down on a piece of paper. That was okay by me. I got to race, with a lead biker as an added bonus. I got my nitty-gritty (and I finally got to go find a bathroom).
Race hard. Race simple. Try not to shit your pants.