Fortunately for me, my love for food is matched by my love for trail running. It somehow manages to balance things out, quite literally. Except during holiday season, when all running seems to halt and is replaced by cookie exchanges, extravagant meals, and intensely high levels of saturated fat.
This holiday season was extraordinary in many ways. The food was incredible. The time spent with family, unparalleled. The culminating event of the vacation…well, I can’t clearly remember how that ended up to be a part of the schedule. And for a brief moment mid-way through, I questioned my sanity level.
January 5, we’d somehow decided, would be a fantastic opportunity to run a 25K trail race in the mountains of West Virginia. Somewhere between mouthfuls of End of the World Cheesecake and Christmas Dinner Beef Wellington, I heard my own little inner voice crying out desperately…”You’re running 15 miles in 11 days!” I was sure to drown that silly little voice out with crab and artichoke stuffed mushrooms as quickly as possible.
The race would take place in Kanahwa State Forest, just south of Charleston. The 25K would be one loop around, up and down, over and under, sometimes climbing hills by grabbing the roots growing out of the side of the slope. All of these twists and turns, the technical side of things, would be a large portion of what made the 4th Annual Frozen Sasquatch my up-til-this-point-all-time-favorite trail race. The hospitality of the volunteer crew fits in there as a component as well. What a fantastic group of people.
It was actually during the packet pick up at Robert’s Running Shop in Charleston when I began to realize that the Frozen Sasquatch had the capacity to earn the #1 spot in my Top 10 List of Favorite Trail Races. My bib number was attached to a nice Patagonia technical shirt (in my favorite shade of blue). Robert’s Running sold me what are now my favorite cold weather running socks. Two bonuses of the trip, to be sure. However, the moment of clear understanding came when the race director, Mike Dolin, said some of the most brilliant words I’ve ever heard the day before a race. I’m not even sure he fully understands the magnitude of his comment, that even though his mouth was moving, I am sure that angels came down to sing the words in harmony as they streamed toward me.
“You know, all of the aide stations are stocked with M&M’s.”
And that was only the beginning. There were M&M’s of every variety, cheese cubes, pretzels filled with peanut butter. It was sheer bliss. Those tables that appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the woods of West Virginia made an already amazing trail run just that much better.
By the end of the race, my hands were orange, the pockets of my vest were dotted with green, blue, yellow, and brown candy coating marks, and somehow a plain M&M was lodged between the arch of my foot and my trail shoe. But I was never bothered by low energy or by hallucinations of chocolate cake through mile 14. I just ran. And ran…and ran. And I loved every minute of that race. Hopping over the streams, navigating downhill switchbacks, sorting out peanut M&M’s from the plain ones. I didn’t think it could get any better.
I didn’t think so, that is, until I crossed the finish line and dragged myself through the doorway that led to the post race party. Mike and the volunteers had put together a spread worthy of a Charles Dickens novel…all that was missing was the flaming plum pudding. Which actually sounds kind of gross anyhow.
I can’t list for you everything that was there…all I could smell was barbecue. I can’t remember if I had two or three pulled pork wraps after my new favorite trail race. I do remember talking to a very fun couple from Charleston, who were kind enough to tell me that I had barbecue sauce on my face after the second helping. I remember delicious oranges that tasted a little like grapefruit, and I remember every fabulous mile of that beautiful run.
Barbecue, M&M’s, and trail running. It just doesn’t get much better than that.