Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Midsummer's Night Dream

I remember it like yesterday. It was 2006 on an unusually warm December afternoon. As I recall it was near sunset and I was doing everything I could to keep up with Dave Wakefield and Matthew Rodriquez as we pushed hard down the Blackfoot trail, hoping to get back to our cars before dark. Although I had lived in Topeka for the better part of twelve years, it was my first time out on the trails of Perry Lake State Park, and I was taken aback by its rugged beauty. As we ran, the subject of putting on a trail race came up, or maybe even a series!? All three of us loved running trails and felt, given the opportunity, others would too. At that time the closest thing to what we were talking about was the Topeka to Auburn Half Marathon and interestingly enough it was one of the largest drawing races in Topeka year after year. But would people actually drive out to Perry Lake and run a race up and down on rocky, rooted trails? They were already doing it in Kansas City, Ben Holmes and the Trail Nerds were seeing tremendous growth in the number of runners participating in trail events. But this wasn't Kansas City, this was Topeka, the town where members it's own business and banking community told us we'd be better off opening our store (Great Plains Running Co) somewhere else, because "people don't run in Topeka"

Although our first trail clinic drew only five runners, the Rock Creek Trail Series has enjoyed steady growth since our first race in May of 2007. We have been blessed not just by the growth, but more so, by the positive feedback we have received from so many runners, and the privilege of watching so many we now call friends, doing things they never could have imagined. The best part of my job is getting to stand at the finish line and congratulate people who I know just accomplished something they never thought possible.

So with that as a backdrop, the timing seemed right for a new challenge, for both runner and Race Director. I love running trails at night. I love how your senses are alive as you become totally immersed in the process of what you're doing, and wanted to give others the opportunity to share in that experience and to make it part of the Rock Creek Trail Series. While the race received a lot of initial curiosity we had no idea how many people would actually show up and do it and with early registration numbers so low I was concerned we had made a mistake. In the end however registration gained momentum and we headed into our big night with eighty runners from eight states (including Alaska, Ohio and Colorado) ready and willing to take on a new challenge.

Race week preparations were going as planned and then came Saturday. Without going into detail, I'll just Saturday challenged us in ways no other race had. This would be a good time for a well deserved shout out for Lee Crane and MK Thompson. Without the two of them I have no idea what might have happened that night. They truly saved the day, or should I say night.

The race went off with only a few "hitches" created by an overly tired race Director and some new timing/results software. The weather was beautiful and the trails were in great shape.
It was hard for me to take it all in as the runners started to arrive. Headlamps bobbing down the trail, marked with glow sticks, runners totally charged up about what they had just done, Norma manning "mission control", tiki torches and paper lanterns lighting up an awesome post race party organized by Karen and Co. and I would be remiss if I failed to mention our male volunteers sporting the latest in mermaid lingerie (you had to be there). Channel 49 had called the store and said they couldn't make it out, but if we took a picture on my cell and sent it to them they would try to mention it. I don't know why but that totally cracked me up. There was no way to capture what was happening with a picture, it was much bigger than that. The dream Matthew, Dave and I shared that December afternoon had been realized beyond my wildest expectations. I hope those who were there felt it, and claimed it as their own. It is awesome to see what is happening in the Topeka running community and throughout North East Kansas.

I hope you all walked into work Monday morning with just a little more swagger in your step than you did the week before. If not you should!

I hope you can join us on October 24th for our big year end finale, the Rock Creek 50K, Half Marathon and 5K. See you then.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Willie, Great Race !! This was my first race of the Rock Creek series and my first night race. The trails were well marked and the glow sticks added that little something extra that made you come away from the event saying, "Wow, that was fun". I just received my shirt in the mail, just as you promised. The sign of a good RD that follows through quickly with a promise. The Lake Perry trails are challenging while still runnable by anyone. I'm hooked and plan to run the 1/2 Mara in Oct. See you then.