July 25, 2013

Inaugural Turkey Creek 8K: newbie friendly with a splashy finale

It finally happened. After months and months of trying to talk my gym running buddies into hitting the trails with me, one of them finally took me up on the offer. Maybe she was excited to get outside and back to her wilderness roots, or, more likely, she was ready to silence my jibber jabber. Either way, we skipped over the step of a leisurely, peaceful trail run and opted for the inaugural Turkey Creek "Float Your Boat" Festival 8K Trail Race. Could someone come up with a longer name for that race, please?

Why a race for my friend's first trail run? The nice thing about trail racing is that even though trail runners are competitive they're also super friendly, so you don't have to worry about getting knocked down and hurdled if you get in some speedster's way at the start. Not that that's ever happened to me at a road race either, but there is usually a hippy, peace-and-rainbows vibe at trail races that makes it a great place to feel comfortable as a newbie.

Lisa and Lara, ready to hit the trails.

Because we had an 11-mile long run on the books, we woke up early to fit in the first six miles before the race, and then made a bathroom and shoe swapping pit stop before hopping into the car to head out to Turkey Creek. For those of you, like us, who've never been there before, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is located in Pinson, northeast of Birmingham. The preserve was established through a partnership of the Freshwater Land Trust and Alabama's Forever Wild Program and is co-managed by the Southern Environmental Center (the other, less-worshiped-in-Alabama SEC), and you have the option of exploring the creek and trails on your own or taking advantage of their hands-on programming at the environmental education center at the preserve's entrance.

Drew, Kathleen, Lisa, Lara, and Bob. Photo by Kathleen @ Motion Potion (thanks!).

I had heard through the trail-running grapevine that the trails at Turkey Creek were pretty mild, but the trails for the 8K were brand new to the public. While they weren't too crazy technical, there were definitely some challenging hills that took a bite out of our speed. The piece of trail we used for the race was around around 2 miles long. We ran a double loop, and the race directors added a piece of road that follows along the creek at the start to round us up to 8K.

At the start line.

My gym buddy and I stuck together throughout the race, hiking the hills when we needed to and flying down the other side when we could. Even though the trails weren't the most technical, my first-timer friend still had sore ankles the next day from navigating the course. I sometimes forget what it's like to be running trails for the first time, but there are a lot of little muscles that you find out you have after a trail race because they scream at you when you try to move the next day.

Kind of like we were screaming in this picture at the finish line. Help us! For serious, we need help.

Lisa and Lara (trail first-timer who ran like a pro)

The best, best, best (should I add a fourth?) part of this race was that the finish line shoots you out right beside the falls. The creek water was refreshingly cool for the steamy summer day, and it doubled as an ice bath for our tired race legs. Pretty much this was the best finish for a trail race that I've ever had. Combine this with the Chipotle burritos they brought in after Run for Kids Challenge 50K, and I would be in post-race heaven.

Post-race ice bath in the creek. Photo by Kathleen @ Motion Potion

My first thought when I saw the creek was, I absolutely have to bring my four kids back here. The falls are big enough to stir up some white water and look exciting, but small enough to safely slide down on your own or with an inner tube. Also, the water is shallow enough in most parts that you can let the littlest ones explore without too much worry.

When we returned later that day, Ezra gave the thumbs up to playing in the waterfalls.

Another fun part of this race series is the frying pan rewards for the winners. Not frying pan trophies or medals, actual frying pans. That's my kind of prize. Run your race and then head home to fry up some eggs and bacon.

Greg from Alabama Outdoors inspecting the race prizes.

For those who might be interested in checking out this race or more trails, Turkey Creek 8K is part of the Sizzlin' Summer Trail series, and the final race of the series is the upcoming Ruffner Mountain Adios Summer 5K/10K/15K Trail Race on August 10. Ruffner will definitely provide a challenge for every level of trail runner with its technical and hilly terrain. And guess who'll be there with me to check them out -- my gym buddy. Turns out that a set of sore ankles and a few tree hurdles didn't scare her off.