I signed up rather abruptly as the race was a free-B (read below) and even though I didn’t know what to expect with a name like “Swamp Squirrel,” I was excited. The race description stated: “5K run – 8 mile mountain bike – 1 mile obstacle run.”
I was confident in my abilities so I figured WHY NOT!?!
The stars aligned for me on this race: a fellow athlete was not able to participate and let me take her spot last minute; meaning I was racing for free! A local race friend went above and behind for me and was able to contact Kip, the race director, who edited the entry updating the bib to my name and age so I could compete in my proper age group. I was also fortunate enough to have a friend who lives in Tampa, five minutes from the park, thus allowing me to bypass the hour long commute It would have taken me from my home!
The inaugural race was limited to 250 people; race morning was foggy and we huddled alongside the Hillsborough River to hear instructions announced. I absently listened, tuning in and out as I noticed all the athletes around me, one in particular who fashioned a stuffed squirrel to his Camelbak; hilarious. I figured it was a good idea to start listening once I heard the race director start discussing different color ribbons which mark the directions of the race.
This was an adventure trail race so we would be running throughout the wilderness. The only other experience I hold with trail racing is a marathon I ran a couple years back and ended up getting completely lost in the middle of the woods with some friends, it was awesome but you don’t want to be out there alone and lost.
After some more race yik-yak we were off for the 5K portion. The thing with me and trail racing is that you have to watch every single step you take- there’s no zoning out: looking up at the sky and enjoying the breeze in your face or the scenery. It’s watching every step you take to dodge tree limbs and roots among other fun wilderness amenities. A rather large man hit the ground behind me, I stopped with a couple other people and made sure he was OK ( he was) and then trucked along. The 5K was honestly the “easiest” part. When I got back from the run I hopped on my bike, battled with my helmet strap, chugged some water (snap chatted my bff), and was off literally grinning ear to ear as spectators cheered me on.
I was able to borrow a mountain bike from my friend, Johnae, since I only have road bikes. The bike portion started on the road and then went uphill onto a sandy, rocky trail. I was enjoying the scenery when all the sudden I feel this huge hand on my lower back! I turned to see this man dressed in a full firefighter outfit grinning at me and telling me that he was going to give me a boost. I was like WTF is going on and then before I know it I’m jolted several feet ahead! And then he did it again! I was laughing so hard; apparently he saw my struggles and wanted to help by using his fireman strength.
The bike part was definitely the hardest. My fireman hero eventually left my side and I was left to my own devices tracking through sand; often times being unable to peddle thru and had to run with me bike. I took my hardest hit (literally) when I was winding through tight spaces with big trees. My handlebars clipped a tree and I fell off my bike into the bushes. Several people biked passed, asking me if I was OK. I was getting up fast and waving them off until I noticed my chain was completely fucked up. I tried and tried but was unable to get the chain back on. Thank God a fellow racer up ahead saw me and came back for me,m; I was even more lucky that he was a bike mechanic! He got my chain on so fast and was back on his bike and out of sight even faster. I was back in the game baby! I rode the three miles back to the transition area and started on my obstacle run.
The obstacle run was fun and quick. It was a mile of army crawling, going through tubes, jumping, and ducking. I saw someone’s blood in the tube and that was a little disturbing but hey it’s a swap squirrel race… It’s not meant to be pretty.
I was laughing the entire time I was having so much fun during this race. Every time I passed a race official or photographer, they started smiling and laughing too because it’s contagious! The atmosphere, the people, the adventure, what’s not to love?