With RATS looming on the horizon like a midsummer late afternoon thunderstorm… and a self diagnosis of Achilles tendonitis… I knew that I needed training… and I knew that I needed to be careful and not do anything stupid.
I had an idea…
My injury research had told me that I needed to run on firm even terrain.. and to avoid sidewalks…. I knew of just the place.
The Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail
It’s paved asphalt… flat… not even a crown to speak of… this idea led me to another idea I’d often had on my numerous trips back and forth on this trail on a bike… I’d even said aloud before… “I’d like to run this one day… not just part of it… but the whole thing”
I had some new gear to try out
in no time flat my pea brain put it all together….
And that, my friends is how an idea becomes a plan.
So… I found myself at the trailhead… just past dawn on Saturday morning. With my bladder full… (the Nathan one) a pack full of snax.. Ritz Bits, Uncrustable, gel flask, phone, keys etc…
I felt pretty much ready to go.
Now this was not my 1st outing with the Nathan… oh no… I’m not that stupid.. I’d run 5 the day before as a test. And after fiddling and fumbling with the straps I thought I’d gotten the fit pretty much right
The first few miles were pretty good… trying to go easy… knowing that it would be a long day… and yes, kids… adjusting my pack. I saw a raccoon… The restroom at mile 6 seemed perfectly placed.
It was interesting to take in the trail at a running pace vs a cycling one… I had a lot more time to check out the sides of the trail… and notice many side trails that I wondered where they went….
Around mile 10 my Achilles started to complain… just the right one… and just a little. My spirits were buoyed quickly thereafter when I passed the Baldwin rail station… and I knew that I only had a couple of miles to go until the end.
Not that I really needed a boost… the thought of not running all the way to the end… and back again was never considered… this is not necessarily a good trait. It has been pointed out to me as a weakness before… that I tend to follow through with things… to the bitter end… even if in so doing more harm than good is done…
Okay enough of the self psychoanalysis… I did get a bit jolly at the far end… opened a pack of Ritz bits in celebration but did not stick around… I just started shuffling back… 14.5 miles down and 14.5 to go.
On the return trip the mile markers were a countdown since all mileage is measured from the eastern end of the trail. That is really a good thing…. Because… I’m like an acrophobic in a multi storied building… once I get up to the high numbers I’d rather not know.
At around 9 to go I happened upon a couple of hikers resting beside the road… I’d seen them before… about a mile before the turnaround… at the time I thought them to be adults… but upon meeting them again I figured late high school early college age… One asked me how far I’d run… I answered 21.8 miles… the other dude was impressed… the one that asked me the question as much as called me a liar.
Well… I’d been thinking of taking an extended walk break… as my Achilles were both in high alert pain mode but… as I was one part pissed at being doubted by the punk… and one part buoyed by the other’s admiration I decided to run on.
I sang a lot… and since I had my headphones on and didn’t much care when passing cyclists laughed at me for doing so… I walked to ease the main in my legs… then ran faster since that hurt less as well… I wanted to break 6 hours… why? I don’t know… my pace had been painfully slow but… I had a goal… and something to focus on.
With about 3 miles to go I got passed by a cyclist I’d seen a few times already… he must have done 2 or more loops out there… he slowed down… told me good job and left with a thumbs up… simple thing but it made me feel a bit better as I soldiered to the finish.
As the trailhead came into view I felt a surge of emotion… nobody was there to hand me a medal… or a mug even… but I’d done something… proven something to myself… marked an item off my bucket list that few would know about and fewer would understand. My finish time was 5:57… three minutes to spare.