Races in New Places, Memphis Edition

It seemed that my mother had developed an inexplicable urge to visit Graceland, and so when she called me to suggest that we meet in Memphis over MLK weekend to do that and run a trail race called the SwampStomper, I was all in. This was not only a new race in a new place, but also a new distance for me – a 25K!

After some hiccups in my training due to a foot issue and an atypical pre-race dinner of mystery meat gyros at a minor league hockey game in Mississippi, I wasn’t sure how this race was going to go for me. The very thorough race director, James, had sent all runners a lot of information and a map of the course a week ahead of time, so we had a good idea of what to expect. An out-and-back course on a single-track trail was something I had never done, and the thought of two-way traffic with other runners was a bit of a concern.

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We got to the race about 10 miles north of Memphis at Meeman Shelby Forest State Park in plenty of time for the 8:30 am start. After several trips to the restroom at the Nature Center, chatting with locals to get the low-down on the hills, and a last-minute mother-daugther wardrobe swap, we were ready to go! About a half mile on a park road spread out the pack of runners before we headed on to the trail. The trail was pretty technical, with lots of roots and cyprus knobs to watch out for. I have to admit, I fell victim (literally) to a root and took a spill before mile 3! Shortly after that we approached the “red loop” which was a loop that jetted off from the out-and-back route. This loop had some MAJOR hills; we’re talking hiking straight up, not running. The plus side was that once you finished that loop, you were done, didn’t have to do it again on the way back (thank goodness)! After finishing that loop, it was a seemingly never-ending stretch to the turn-around point. At this time, I was starting to encounter runners on the flip-flop (some 50Kers who started an hour before us, plus some fellow/faster 25Kers), I did my best to move to the side or just stop to let someone go on by me. One thing I loved about this race was the encouragement from other runners. Every time I crossed paths with someone there was a “good job!”, “you got it!”, or “go girl” exchanged. I reached the turn around spot (~9.5 miles) and grabbed some water, gatorade, a 1/4 of a PB&J sandwich, and a handful of M&Ms. I hadn’t trained with PB&J before this race, and I know it’s frowned upon to try something new on race day, but boy did that sandwich and candy give me new life. Running into my mother (literally), shortly after the turn around certainly gave me a boost too – although she did not accept my offer of M&Ms! We exchanged a quick hug and went on our ways! I felt good on the way back, I had my PowerGel around mile 12 and separated myself from other runners which let me find my own comfortable pace. At last I reached the home stretch of the parking lot and charged to the finish as the 6th female finisher overall – longest race/run ever, complete!

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Swamp Stomper 25K: Tara Tested, Mother-Daughter Approved! My mom and I both really enjoyed this race – the weather was perfect (sunny and blue skies, near 55 degrees by the end of the race), the course was beautiful and in great condition, aid stations were loaded with all sorts of runner-friendly food and supportive volunteers and spectators. One aid station was even decorated in a Hawaiian theme with party decorations hanging from the trees, and the post-race spread was an ample supply of cheeseburgers, burritos, salad, and pasta. A big thanks to the race director, James, for getting us both into the race when it was near capacity (and outfitting us with some cool keepsake medals)! I loved the atmosphere surrounding this race and the friendly, supportive runners and volunteers. If you ever find yourself in or around Memphis, TN, running “The SwampStomper” should be on your agenda, or at least taking a hike along the challenging “red loop” at Meeman Shelby Forest State Park!

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