This weekend, I ran an underground 5k. It was every bit as awesome as it sounds. At first, I didn’t even want to register for this race, despite thinking it was awesome. My irrational fear of the mine collapsing kept me from signing up and when we had a board meeting scheduled for the Toy Lending Library, I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have to face my fear.
But then the board meeting got moved and I had no more excuses. I’d already told all my friends about the mine race. So I registered. It was the coolest thing I’ve done for a long time.
The Wampum mine, in Beaver Falls (about an hour northwest of Pittsburgh), stopped actively mining limestone in the 30s. Now, it’s a 50-acre storage facility. Underground, it’s 55 degrees year round. It’s a bit humid and the entire interior of the mine is all gravelly. I rather thought it would be paved for some reason…
The start and finish lines had to be above ground because the timing chips wouldn’t work underground, so the race started and finished outside in the 14-degree weather. That was pretty awful. But otherwise, as I wound through 49 turns inside, I just kept thinking about how interesting it all was. All these carefully constructed support columns served as dividers between rows of RVs, airstream trailers, carnival rides, boats, and food carts. Parking spot numbers were painted on the walls in yellow spray paint.
The ceiling was high enough that tractor trailers fit in there with plenty of room to spare and, well, they were able to construct a 3-mile running course inside. It was so vast. I never felt claustrophobic for a moment in there, but I did trip a few times where the gravel was uneven.
I saw a few runners wearing head lamps at the start and I thought they were being snarky, but the mine is only lit by wee strands of bare light bulbs, so it was pretty dark in there. Next time, I’ll bring a headlamp, too.
Corey and Miles came along to cheer for me, but primarily because they wanted to check out the mine. They were disappointed not to be allowed inside. They could only sit at the exit tunnel and wait for me to come by, and even to do that they had to register and sign out afterward. I was happy to have them there even if they were bummed to have made the trip!
I’ve been spending a lot of time researching depression and anxiety, so it was nice to get away from that heavy sort of work for awhile and just concentrate on running during the race. I didn’t train for it–I just don’t want to run outside when it’s icy and it’s been below freezing (well, well below freezing) for almost 2 months straight. So it was nice to re-awaken my muscles for something so interesting!
Here’s a video from the race 2 years ago to give you an idea of what it all looked like in there: