After a few miles I finally caught onto this trail running business…it’s called hiking. Well sort of. Uphill stretches, unless fairly short and boulder free, are hiked at a brisk pace. Flat and down hill stretches are jogged. I soon settled into a rhythm realizing I would be out on the trails much longer than originally anticipated. Being a very small event I soon found myself in complete solitude among the forest trees. It was almost a little unsettling to be completely alone in the middle of the forest. I actually considered sitting down and waiting for my mom to catch up. After all the first rule of safe hiking is not to go alone right?
Well, perhaps I misspoke. Alone except for one other visible runner about 20 feet in front of me. It was a little girl, outfitted with a purple trail running fanny pack and pink visor. Besides us there was not another visible life form in sight. She seemed to be keenly aware of my presence and determined to keep her 20 ft lead on me. Any time I started to jog she would tune into the audible change in my pace and start to run. We continued to run/hike in this unspoken but clearly coordinated fashion for a few miles before curiosity got the best of me.
I was slightly embarrassed to barely be keeping pace with probably the youngest racer in the event. Despite my advanced degree in the field of Exercise Science, I foolishly felt like my previous running experience, although a good 3 years in the past, would have had more carry-over to this event. I wanted to know how young my competitor was…I had to know! Besides, if the next 2 hours was going to carry on this way I may as well strike up a conversation with the little runner.
Me: “So uh, how old are you?”
Little Runner: “Eleven.”
Me: “Wow, I am impressed! I never did anything like this when I was your age.”
Little Runner: “Yeah.”
Me: “Is this your first time doing this race?”
Little Runner: “Yeah.”
Me: “Cool, this is my first trail run too. It’s a lot harder than I expected.”
Our conversation carried on this way for a while, me asking general questions and the Little Runner providing brief responses to the friendly stranger. Neither of us felt the need to exchange names as this point. We were both just enjoying the distraction of commiserating over our circumstances together. I figured our paces would eventually differ and one of us would drop off behind the other until it was no longer reasonable to keep talking.
The Little Runner eventually became more relaxed. As we settled into a rhythm together she began to volunteer more information about herself. Her father was running in the 30-mile race and her step mom the 7-mile. I was a little shocked they would leave their eleven year old to fend for herself on a 3 hour trail run through the forest, but then again she had experience running and could find support stations along the way.
Stay tuned for more on the Little Runner and our ascent up Windy Peak!