Today was going to be, if things went generally well, another point-to-point run. This time, it would be thirteen miles longer than the one from this summer, back when nine miles was a post-injury accomplishment. I didn't want to think about the added distance, though. It just made it seem even longer. Today was going to be my birthday run, and I was going to enjoy it, I decided, even if I was a little apprehensive at the start.
Early this morning, I pulled into the vacant parking lot of the Serenova Tract entrance to J. B. Starkey Wilderness Preserve. Twenty two miles to go.
It was dark for the first few miles, but I knew the route and plodded along trying to find a rhythm in the blackness. The sun started to rise around mile four, which made it easier to relax. I wasn't as worried about tripping or stepping on a snake.
Shortly thereafter, I made my way to the Serenova powerlines. This time, the powerline stretch seemed shorter since it was familiar. Once I hit the Starkey paved bike path, I headed further east instead of west, like normal. Overall, I felt really good for eight and a half miles of trails. I was eager to make it out to the Suncoast Trail. It had been two years since I had seen that side of Starkey.
On the bike path, I felt strong. I was ready to fly on the pavement. During the last few miles on the path, I could start to feel my hip. Even though those were easily my fastest miles, I was ready for the soft ground again.
I found the path that jutted off near a water station without much trouble. This is where the unfamiliar paths began. Of course, I wanted to go off and explore, but I knew that by the end of this run, I wouldn't want to have gone farther than necessary. So, I stuck to my planned route and didn't get creative.
What I did discover along the way, though, was water. Lots and lots of water. My big mistake on planning this route was assuming that the water levels would be low enough to not get soaked when running through the lowest paths. Oh, how very wrong I was. Flooded Path 1 wasn't bad because it was shallow, clear, and flowing. Flooded Path 2 was essentially stagnant and black. The third was moving slightly, deep, and dark because of the depth (about calf to knee). I had no choice but to run directly through the third at about mile sixteen. There was no going back at that point. I was on my way back to the powelines and my mile nineteen marker.
My favorite miles were easily the few just over half way. The land was unfamiliar and vast. The path was extremely wide, with tall golden grasses swaying on either side. I felt small, a strange feeling, as I was dwarfed by the grasses inches above my head. These miles seemed peaceful and relaxed.
I hit the powerlines by my landmark pump-house. Three miles to go. Because I was drained and the trails were predominately deep sand, these were the most challenging miles. My hips had a hard time, but I pushed through it, knowing how close I was. These last miles went by surprisingly quickly. It helped that I knew the land well. This was home. I was back.