Toeing the Line at Thacher Park

by Jenna Robinson

                                                                Jenna in Rainforest

Do you remember what it is like to toe the line? To look down and see all of the worn sneakers pressed up to the freshly painted start line, ready to spring forward at the sound of the gun? To feel your heart pounding behind your chest as the adrenaline courses through your body? Recently, I was able to “bust some rust” and relive that feeling of live, in-person racing at the Thacher Park Trail Running Festival organized by ARE Event Productions.

These past six months have reshaped and redefined both training and racing for most athletes around the world. I like to plan my training around the races that I am signed up for, because racing is my biggest motivator. The competitive yet friendly nature of running-races is why I love this sport so much, and it provides me with the motivation needed to want to go for a run each day. Back in March, I quickly realized that the coronavirus was here to stay and that I would need to find new ways to stay motivated. Like many other runners I know, I began to sign up for virtual races.

The explosion of virtual racing has provided us with new opportunities to safely race against other people and to stay connected with our running communities. The latest race I signed up for is a months-long virtual Circumpolar Race Around the World, CRAW. Thanks to an article written by Dallas DeVries in the July 2018 edition of the Pace Setter, I have also started taking part in something called heatmapping, where you run every street in a city or town and generate beautiful maps of your progress. Both heatmapping and virtual races have been great outlets for my ‘need to compete’. Yet, I still felt the desire to race against others, to chase down the person ahead of me, and to cross real finish lines.

The need to stay safe and physically distanced from others makes executing an in-person race a major challenge. But, thanks to Josh Merlis and the many dedicated volunteers at the Thacher Park Trail Running Festival, I was able to compete in my first in-person race of this year! This festival consisted of a 10k, half-marathon, marathon, and 50k (wow!). This was not a road race. This was a hilly, root-filled, often single-tracked, trail race on a warm Sunday morning. I competed in (just) the 10k, kudos to all of the runners who raced the longer distances! The races all began at 8:30 AM, sharp. We lined up two at a time, separated by at least six feet, a cone, and our masks. Each pair of runners started the race five seconds after the pair ahead of them in order to avoid the usually-unavoidable close encounters at the start of a race. And just like that, we were off!

Any time a runner had to come within six feet of another person, we pulled our masks up, a very small sacrifice we were all willing to give if it meant that we were being safe. I was beyond happy to be out and racing again, no mask could wipe the smile off of my face! I ended up crossing the finish line first, with a time of 49:29 (an average of 7:58 per mile). The trophy I received was a small ten-inch branch from a tree, with a trail marker painted on it. This is definitely the best trophy I have ever received.

Thacher Park Trail Running Festival - 10k Race Results

If you are like me, and have been itching to get back out and do an in-person race, they are happening in the capital district area! I waited to sign up for a race that I felt would be completely safe, and this race was executed to perfection. Josh and his team gave me the confidence that in-person races can be small, safe, and most importantly FUN. I hope to see you all safe, happy, healthy, and hungry-for-competition at the next starting line!

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