I did my first 5K trail race this weekend. I finished second in the age group, but to be honest, there were only two of us in the group. And I was the third-oldest runner there.
Conditions were cool, foggy, and smoky (out in a rural area where burning is a common way of clearing land). I was hoping to see something of the surroundings, but the conditions declined my wishes. It was an hour-plus ride to the race, including traversing some dark roadways with nothing on them except other head and tail lights and a remarkable number of crossovers (giving you the chance to return to civilization, I guess). The race was small; a prelude to a much bigger all-day festival at a nearby campground. The town is small, mostly poor, mostly non-white residents — and one of the friendliest places I’ve been to in a long time. People come up and say hello. Runners commiserate about other recent running events, the weather, the real restrooms we had available, and what’s for breakfast post-race. People who don’t know you just walk up and start a conversation that isn’t about politics, vaccination status, or war. Not because those things aren’t important, but because it’s more rewarding to talk about normal things that don’t start a fight.
In my case, post-race was fried chicken. I’d been waiting for this for the 2 1/2 years since my last visit out here. I signed up for this racer to indulge in moist, steaming chicken, crispy skin, and a side of sweet tea. I arrived at the restaurant a few minutes before the 10 a.m. opening and a gentleman ahead of me offered to let me go ahead of him in line. I declined, saying I was fine waiting a few extra minutes since I’d been waiting since 2019 to return. He looked a little surprised, and an explanation ensued; I was not from the area, had to make a special trip, did the race, etc. He told me he was there to pick up food for a trip across the state, so his 10-year-old could compete in a BMX event. Once inside, and while waiting for our orders, we talked about bikes, bike racing, what we did for a living, what we loved about fried chicken, and plans for retirement. This was in the span of about 25 minutes. And while we started as strangers in line outside a great fried chicken joint at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, we found a lot in common in a short period of time.
He had to leave for the long drive. I stayed, and I think I scared the help by inhaling my order. I looked like the zombie chicken lady: sweaty, no makeup, hair a mess, in my running shorts and a clean but smelly T-shirt, scraping up batter bits from the box and guzzling tea. There were no grease stains in the box; the chicken is never greasy, and in my case, it never sits in the box that long anyway. Just to be virtuous, I did order a vegetable on the side. Coleslaw counts, right?
As for another trail race, I am considering one in three weeks’ time, in the very park where I do my training. Coincidence, you think?