Armadillo by morning

Every once in a while, we take a field trip for our Saturday long run. This week, it was to Georgetown’s San Gabriel Park. Which required significantly more driving than my usual six-minute Saturday morning trip. Instead of waking up at 5 A.M., I had to get up at 4:30 and drive about 25ish miles (about 30 minutes on the toll road with a 75 MPH speed limit…) to get to the park for our 5:30 start.

The route began in the park, on a slightly uneven gravel trail–even with a headlamp I was kind of worried about twisting an ankle in the dark–but maybe a half-mile in, it switched to a paved sidewalk. Although streetlamp-type lights lit up the trail periodically, at times it was really dark. And after the first water stop, my friends got ahead of me–it was so creepy I might as well have spotted monsters under the bed. I had a light and my headphones were turned off, but every little noise made me jumpy. And me without my monster spray.

The trail forked in a couple of places, and some of the turns made me question my map-reading skills. It was still dark, but every once in a while, through the trees I could see a neon-colored shirt up ahead, so I was able to stay on-track.

Somewhere around three miles–it was still dark out–an animal surprised me on the trail ahead. As I got closer, I could tell it was an armadillo who clearly hadn’t seen me yet. Once it detected my presence, it shot off across the grass. I had no idea armadillos could move that fast!

Just past the armadillo crossing was the second water stop–followed by a giant hill leading into a neighborhood. And at the top? More incline. It was like half a mile of steady rise. I was already tired and this did not help. But I figured as long as I could see the others ahead, I wouldn’t get (too) lost. Because the map wasn’t helping me at all. Turn after turn through the neighborhood I followed the neon shirts, and I couldn’t figure out how they knew to make those turns–my map didn’t have those directions.

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I reached a dead-end and could not tell which way I was supposed to go–no neon shirts either way. But then a returning runner appeared from the left and answered that question. Finally at the five-mile point, I arrived at the third water stop and some friendly faces. I drank some water and Gatorade, then took out my map to figure out how the hell I was supposed to remember the route back. Turns out, I had to, you know, turn the page over. Brilliant.

On the way back, I ran through stood under someone’s sprinkler, and I walked a bit while I tried to figure out why my podcast wouldn’t play. Of course this was the moment my coach and a bunch of other gazelle-like runners came up behind me. Damn.

I gave up on fixing the first podcast and selected a different one, then picked up my pace. In fact, the rest of the way back I pushed myself, and it turns out my last three miles were my fastest. Even though my legs were tired, it was hot and humid, and I hadn’t run this far since my half-marathon in June. It was barely a respectable pace, but it was faster than the first seven miles.

Back at the park, a cheering squad (i.e. my friends) greeted me, which was exciting. Eventually I cooled off, changed into a clean shirt, and we all went to breakfast. Tacos and coffee for the win!

And no more armadillos.

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