Back in the beginning of the year I set some goals for myself and one of them was to run a trail race (thankfully this one was easier than the other 2 which are still TBD…). I got my first taste of trail running last late summer/early fall when I trained and ran the Ragnar Relay Trail Race at Vail Lake. I hadn’t really had much experience running on trails before and training for that event led to a new love of trail running. Although at this point road racing is definitely my first love, trail running is pretty awesome. I love the feeling of being lost on the trail, tucked away in my own little world and I feel like the miles fly by since there is so much to think about and take in.
So when I found out that a new trail race was coming to town and it was a short 15 minute drive from my house, was on a Saturday (meaning I could still get more mileage on Sunday during marathon training), and started at 8 a.m., I was sold! My friends Vicky and Kelly were going to run the 5k as their first race back after having their son earlier this year which was another fun reason to sign up.
Race day came quickly and kind of caught me by surprise. It was a Saturday race and working all day Friday and not having to go an expo kind of erased any nerves I could have had leading up to it. Mike decided to do a longer trail run on a different trail of his own so I headed to the race on my own, arriving just over an hour early and realizing I was one of the first to arrive! I quickly checked in, used the restroom and then hung out for a while before taking off for a 2 mile warm-up.
When I got back, I took one more bathroom trip (no line!), pushed down a Gu and chugged some water, said hi to Vicky and Kelly, and then lined up at the start! People were crowding the start at first but once the announcer told everyone that the first 1.5 miles or so were single track and asked us to seed ourselves, a lot of the crowd moved back. A small group of us stayed in front and when the race started, we jetted off. I looked down and saw 6:30 average mile pace on my Garmin and knew I had to scale it back especially since I didn’t want to hold people up on the single track so I slowed a bit.
Despite slowing, I was still with the front pack and I followed them down the road and to the left. We had passed an entrance to the trail and one guy in the group said “I think we were supposed to go that way!” but there was no sign telling us to and there were orange cones ahead, so the group went full force. The entire group of 10k runners followed us. As we turned the corner we really started to realize we had gone the wrong way. We ran into the woods and there was no trail so we finally threw in the towel and turned around. I was just laughing – I had heard that wrong turns happen in trail races but I didn’t expect it to be so soon and for the ENTIRE race to make the wrong turn! As soon as our group turned back, we realized the rest of the 10k runners were also turning back and someone said something about how crappy it would be on the single track now. As soon as I heard that, I started to sprint up past the crowd on the left trying to get to the front. I still wanted a chance to be competitive in this race and I didn’t want to spend the first 1.5 miles trying to pass people on a narrow, steep and potentially dangerous trail.
Once we finally found the trail it was a steep and rocky 1 mile decent into the canyon on single track. Not many people passed and I felt like I was keeping up pretty well with the group of guys I was with. I’m fairly good at running quickly downhill but ONLY if there isn’t a lot of loose gravel and it’s not super steep. There were a few sections that were like this and I slowed way down to ensure my klutzy self wouldn’t eat crap. Once we got the bottom we crossed a cute little bridge and then were on single track for a little while longer before the road widened a bit. We passed the 1 mile marker and my watch said 1.4 or something close, so I already knew that any chance of a PR 10K was out the window (The only 10K I’ve run was immediately following a 10 mile training run. I also had no idea how hard the course would be and even without that extra 0.4 it definitely wouldn’t have been!).
I was breathing hard and working hard already. Although we were lucky that the sun wasn’t out and San Diego’s recent 90 degree weather had gone, it was still in the low 70s and very humid in the canyon. All the excitement over missing the turn and back tracking really got my heart rate up and I used a lot of energy in the first couple of miles. After I passed the official 2 mile marker, I slowed down a bit. I was running in a little pack with some guys and they all seemed to slow a bit too so I didn’t feel so bad about it. Eventually some of the pack split up but I ended up with just one guy who was wearing a red shirt. We played leapfrog and helped pace each other for almost the entire race (we thanked each other afterward for the motivation!).
This part of the trail was a long loop with some small rolling hills and part of the trail was loose sand, which is VERY hard to run on! For some reason I had thought this race was partially on a service road but instead it was on a set of trails that I had never known existed (and are just minutes from my work!). The trails were very beautiful and I couldn’t stop thinking about how incredibly different trail racing is compared to road racing. Once we neared the end of this loop we could see the leaders on the other side of a small riverbed. I saw one girl and not any others, so I knew that despite the whole wrong turn debacle I was still in 2nd!
I had skipped the first aid station but once I saw the next one around mile 3, I grabbed a large cup of water and walked a few steps so I could get it all down. This was the point in the race were the end seemed very far away and I felt like I was working too hard, so again, I slowed the pace a little. I was still keeping up with my red-shirted friend and we soon met up with some of the 5k runners for a short section which also happened to be single track again, and we were having to run around them. I tried to say “good job” or something similar as I passed. A lot of the 5k runners actually stopped and stood to the side and even said “nice work!” Trail runners are so nice!
We turned away from the 5k runners shortly after and started up what seemed at this point to be a beast hill. I happened to glance behind me and saw another woman for the first time all race. For a second as I was climbing I thought that I might not care if she passed me. I was so tired. I rationalized that at least 3rd would be still great. I even slowed to walk a section of the steep incline. Once I got to the top, the lead guys and the fast girls were coming back. Everyone was saying “good job” to me as I ran by and it really gave me a boost!
I cruised down the other side of the hill and felt a little better but then we turned onto a very narrow single track and started to climb again. Some sections were so steep that I had to walk again but I kept moving as quickly as I could. My breathing was really heavy and I was starting to fade. Negative thoughts were creeping in and I tried my best to push them back with positive self-talk. I muscled through it and when I reached the top, I did a quick u-turn around a cone and headed back and saw I’d made a little time on the woman behind me. There were two more women behind her. I decided then that I wasn’t going to give up – I was going to fight for that 2nd place spot!
I kept telling myself “this is your race to lose” and “just hang on!” It helped that I hit the 5 mile marker around here and knowing that there was only about a mile left helped ease the pain. I told myself it was about 8 minutes the finish (knowing this was a lie since the last mile is straight up) which also seemed to help. There was another section of very loose sand through this section and I somehow managed to pass 2 more guys on this part!
Once we crossed the little bridge I knew it was all up from there. I dug seriously deep for the last mile. Now we’d joined up with the 5k again but all the 5k runners were so incredibly supportive and were all cheering for us! A lot of them stopped and moved to the side to let the 10k runners go through. One woman said “there’s the 1st place girl!” and I said “2nd! And thank you!” and kept going, knowing the first place woman was so far ahead she’d missed her.
This last mile was brutal. I dug deep. I kept thinking how this race was one of the hardest efforts I’d ever put forth! I was in pain. I wasn’t wearing my heart rate monitor but I knew I kept dipping into Zone 5 on the steep inclines. I actually walked 4 more inclines because they were so steep, including the final incline which was literally 0.1 mile from the finish line (there were quite a few slower 5kers clogging it and I was so tired I just walked). Once I got off the trail onto the FLAT concrete, my legs instantly felt lighter. I ran in and Vicky and Kelly were at the finish cheering for me. I did it!
The consensus at the finish line was that it was a tough race! My watch said that I ran 6.53 miles with 1,000 feet of climbing. My time (I don’t know my official time as this was not a chip-timed event and results aren’t posted) according to my Garmin was 55:55 for the 6.53 miles, an 8:34 pace. Considering the difficulty of the terrain, I wasn’t concerned that I’m supposed to run 20 more miles even faster than that in 11 weeks at CIM to get my Boston qualifying time.
Vicky and Kelly left quickly after the finish to relieve their baby-sitter, but I wanted to stay for the awards ceremony. I ended up chatting with the red shirt guy, a couple of the lead guys (we all had a laugh about getting off course so quickly), and the fast girl who won (and finished 3rd overall, including guys! Oh yeah and was wearing Oiselle!). Several people congratulated me and told me I did a great job. It was seriously the most friendly finish line I’ve ever been to! The camaraderie and sportsmanship at trail races is really incredible. It was an extremely positive experience and I will definitely be adding more trail races to my race calendar!
Mike finished his trail run in time to make it over to the finish line for the awards ceremony so he was able to see me on the “podium.” I was really excited that there were actual trophies and that I get a free pair of compression socks!
Trails I love you…until we meet again!
If you do trail races, what is your favorite part?