Within the first mile of The Claw trail race, I realized why it is named The Claw. This race boasts a twisty route diving in and out of the woods, palms slapping you in the face, and legendary chest deep river crossings. The Claw will grab you and challenge you to dig deep to make it through the race.
One Week Before the Race
My seventeen year old son, recently finished with high school track season, mentioned to me he’d like to try cross country in the fall. Anytime I have taken him off road to run, he usually complains that he “doesn’t like trails.” I pointed out that cross country is off road. “Yeah, I know mom.” I pointed out that he can join me on some trail runs to practice. “Yeah, okay mom.” I pointed out that he should do a few trail races with me. “Yeah, sure mom.” I pointed out that there happened to be a trail race less than five days away, and I would be happy to sign us up! Andy agreed, so we were in for The Claw 5 Miler at Alafia River State Park on Sunday, May 1st.
We got to the race, and Andy noticed right away that the terrain is hilly, compared to the flat sandy trails we usually run on in Starkey Park. I had participated in an Adventure Race in Alafia six years ago. I knew there are unique features to Alafia, including roller coaster hills, swtichbacks, creeks, and rivers. We were getting excited for a fun race. After checking in and picking up our race numbers, we ran into some friends of mine. They commented about the race being 6 miles today. What? Apparently, the race director sent an email late the night before announcing a minor change. Due to a re-route, the 5 mile and 10 mile races were now an extra mile long. Oh, okay. Andy was still ready for the race, we just decided to start out a little slower than what we were originally planning on.
Race Time: The Claw!
Race time came, the 10 mile started at 8:00am and the 5 (ahem, 6) mile started at 8:15am. Within the first mile, we were working hard and feeling challenged.
I was expecting trails like this:
But actually we were on trails like this:
We dove in and out of thick woods, with the palms and branches hitting us in the face as we ran past. The route was so twisty I had no idea which direction we were headed. Fortunately, the race was well marked with orange flags and orange tape leading the way. At about 2 miles, we crossed a shin deep creek. The water crossing wasn’t as bad as the horror stories we had heard about for this race! We carried on our twisty way, running through tight and narrow singletrack. There was no way you could pass or be passed. Eventually, we came to the river. Yes, THE RIVER. Oh, THIS was the water crossing we had heard about. I held my phone and my Garmin above my head, and we started wading through. Some people just dove in and swam across. As we got to the middle, we were in up to our chest. I was hoping that was the deepest!! It was, and we made it across. We started back on the trails. We weren’t even halfway yet!!
After the river, some of the trails got a little easier, and we had a chance to relax and recover. But then we dove back into the woods and onto the mountain bike trails. These were fun trails, and challenging too. The hills undulated up and down, banked on curves, and twisted this way and that. There were several wooden bridges crossing over ponds and swamps. We were having a good time on this section, and we were working hard. At one point, a runner a few up from us stopped dead in his tracks. He was convinced we were lost, as he had not seen any orange tape for a few minutes. I hadn’t seen any turn offs, so I was sure we were on the right trail. We carried on down the trail. We ran for quite a while without the reassuring orange tape to guide us. I kept telling myself that it was just because they didn’t have time to mark the trail since last night’s re-route. We ran on, and finally saw orange tape, with only about one mile left.
The hills were taking their toll, though, and I was doing my best to keep up with Andy. He was running good, and zipping around the turns. The trail was taking us closer to the finish, I knew that much. I stuck with Andy, and we finally could hear noise from the unseen finish line. A few more turns, and we were there! We were both finished, tired and hot! We both enjoyed the challenges of this race! Maybe next year we will return for the 10 Mile (11!) version of The Claw….
The Claw is put on by Tampa Races, they host several trail races around the Tampa area!