I’m super late in getting this race recap posted, but a couple of weeks ago, I won an entry into the Running with the Tigers 5k trail run at the National Tiger Sanctuary in Saddlebrooke, Missouri. I won the entry just a few days before the race, so I really had minimal time to prepare for what was ultimately my first trail run.
Now, Casey and I are scheduled to run Bass Pro Shops’ Dogwood Canyon 15k this weekend, so I thought that Running with the Tigers would be a great warmup run for Dogwood Canyon. I was right. But it also terrified me. In fact, moments after crossing the finish line, I pulled out my phone and sent Casey a message:
“We are wholly unprepared for Dogwood.”
The brutal hills and tough terrain absolutely wrecked me, but in the most wonderful sense. I realized that I may be more suited to trail running than road running, as the beautiful mountain vistas and moments of solitude in nature called to my soul. But alas, I digress.
I arrived at the race a little earlier than usual since packet pickup was the morning of. I got my gear, headed back to my car to drop everything off and pin on my bib, and then walked back toward the festivities to take a look around. The Natural Tiger Sanctuary was really a lovely place. As I stood in line to use the restroom before the race, I was a couple of feet from a lemur, and just outside, I could see a tiger and a black panther. Definitely a different race environment than I’m used to.
I headed back outside after my turn at the facilities to watch the 15k runners take off. I milled about a bit more, and noticed that this race was delightfully low key. I was a little disappointed to see it was a gun start, but otherwise, I was so excited about the race. Finally, it was time for the 5k to leave, and I lined up with fifty or so other runners to take off.
The race started down a gravel hill, than pitched back up to a little ridge with a turnaround. As I made my way back down, I felt much more sure-footed than I expected.
The first half mile or so was an absolute blast. Fast downhills and woody, flat valley that was just so peaceful and serene to run through. Then just before hitting the one mile mark, I found myself face-to-face with the world’s biggest hill.
Probably not really. But it felt like it. I gave up my futile attempt to run up the hill part of the way up, realizing that the physical motion of running was not propelling me up the hill any fast than walking with a strong arm swing. With each turn, I was sure I was at the top.
With each turn, there was just more hill.
It was brutal and burning and frustrating and difficult. And I loved it.
The rest of the course was much the same – long, rocky hills punctuated by lovely flat stretches. Several times, I found myself running alone – something I rarely have experienced during road races. The solitude and beautiful surroundings made for an amazing morning.
Along the final stretch to the finish line, the course ran right alongside the big cat enclosures. Tigers paced and watched, unamused at my presence. A black panther eyes me and licked his lips as I passed, and I had no doubt he saw me as a tasty breakfast morsel. And at the very end, a curious cheetah trotted beside me until his enclosure came to it’s in, and I carried on the last few feet to the finish line on my own.
Although my time was unimpressive – just over 40 minutes – I ended up finishing 15th overall in the 5k and 6th among women. I was really thrilled with that performance!
But more than that, I truly enjoyed the challenge of the run, the beauty of the course, and what ended up being a wonderful fall morning spent doing what I love – running, connecting with nature, and living life as much as I can with each step that I take.
Running with the Tigers is absolutely going onto my 2017 race schedule!