One of my all-time favorite races is the Picnic Island Adventure Run in Tampa, Florida. It is actually a series of three races that take place once a month on Friday nights in May, June, and July. Hot and humid do not begin to describe the weather at 6:45 p.m. on the small island in Tampa Bay under a cloudless summer sky. So once you’ve accepted the weather factor, you’re ready for the real challenge.
This adventure run is unique and definitely not one of those mud runs or extreme obstacle races where you sign away your life in a waiver. I don’t do dangerous races like that. Picnic Island is challenging, don’t get me wrong, but it is definitely more welcoming to all ages and abilities who are seeking adventure. The obstacles are minor; you crawl under a cargo net on your knees over sand, run through six big, inflated tubes, and then hurdle, jump, walk, or crawl over one hurdle. The rest of the run is on the beach, grassy areas with hills, a couple of very small sections over pavement, and quite a bit through mangroves. Oh the mangroves! You never know what to expect until you get there. This July 18th, high tide was coming in so the water through the mangroves was pretty deep, very warm, and muddy. Yes, a little bit of “ick” factor, especially if you go splashing through like I did and it hits you in the face.
I always sign up for the three race series but this year I was unable to race the May and June races due to my post Boston Marathon rest period and rehabbing an injury. I knew I was not in top shape, but was very excited to race Picnic Island as well as I could. From the gun, I was out of breath and knew I would be. I was just trying to hold on to my spot in the top five overall women as we approached the last section of “non-trails” before the toughest part of the course. I say “non-trails” because they are not trails; they are overgrown areas of vegetation that someone walked through when setting up the course and stomped down a single track area for us to squeeze through. I was almost through this section, which is my least favorite of the course, and I tripped. I had an out of body experience. I saw myself floating down towards the ground, almost as if in slow motion. As soon as my knees hit the rocks at the bottom of the slight downhill I popped up, probably cursed (can’t remember now), and quickly ran off.
I attacked the five or six steep hills that zigzag up and down from the beach because I was so shocked that I fell and a bit embarrassed. But I wasn’t feeling any pain yet so I finished strong and ended up placing third overall and won Masters. Once I hosed off my legs to assess the damage, then the pain kicked in. So this one was no picnic but even now, two weeks after the event, my knees are still scraped, bruised, and recovering but I cannot wait until next summer when I can run all three Picnic Island Adventure Runs!