It’s something I’ve delayed doing for a few months. First, I was in no shape to run. Then, other commitments got in the way. Secretly I’d hoped that a big snowstorm would open Prospect and delay this day a little longer. But there’s been no snow, and since I’d pre-registered, I couldn’t use that excuse either.
When he showed me the MRI of my torn meniscus and bone edema last spring, my doctor implied that my running career was over. In the summer, I began adding running back in to my regimen. Once or twice a week, and not for long.
For several months I’d wanted to jump into a running race, to see how my Euflexxa-injected knee would hold up. But at the same time, I don’t mind admitting that I was scared. Scared of a catastrophic fall that might lead to surgery or stop my winter in its tracks. Scared of crawling home with my knee all f’ed up halfway around the loop. And most of all, scared that I was gonna put on a number and jog, just to say I was in a race.
NJ Trail Series’s Winter Series takes place at Lewis Morris County Park. You can sign up for 5 km, 10 km or a half-marathon. If I may editorialize, this is a great way to organize an event. Runners can choose their most comfortable distance, and there’s a good turnout. I chose five kilometers because it’s a good replacement for an interval workout. And I didn’t know what was gonna happen with my knee.
The five kilometer group started at 10 AM, after the other two distances. The route was rolling with one longish climb. Although there are roots and rocks that’ll trip you up if you don’t pick up your feet, nothing in here is too technical.
For no good reason, I seeded myself at the front of the field. Organizer Rick McNulty counted down, and off we went. Jay Shuttleworth, who would finish in second place, led out at the start as we went around the lake. Within 500 meters he opened and extended a gap. For fear of blowing up rather than my knee, I didn’t try to close it.
Crossing the dam on Sunrise Lake, Matthew Crouthamel went by me. He’d go on to catch Shuttleworth and win the race. I dropped the only guy close behind me at the top of the only serious climb. For the next kilometer I caught sight of Crouthamel and Shuttleworth here and there, but I wasn’t catching them.
I settled in to a hard pace, not quite redlined but definitely going hard. Despite Friday’s rain, the trail was in good shape, with only a few muddy spots. I concentrated on maintaining my pace, running smooth and picking off runners in the 10 km and half. Pro tip: if you’re racing on singletrack, leave the portable music player in the car so you hear people coming behind you.
It was like old times, before all my injury issues. Warm up, adjust attitude, go out and hammer. On the day, I was third overall and the oldest podium finisher by 16 years. The motor is still there, and I wasn’t running scared. As I write this in the evening, everything feels fine.
There’s a huge difference between this race and the punishment of the Escarpment Trail Run. I don’t think I’m all the way back as a runner. But for now, I’m satisfied. Full results are available on NJ Trails’s web site.