In 2020, I ran my first trail marathon – virtually!
2020 has been the year of the pivot. No one could have predicted what this year would bring when we made our 2020 running goals. With nearly all races canceled, many runners have opted to go virtual or completely stop racing.
The beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and the quarantine was extremely emotional challenging for me, as I know it was for everyone. Once I pulled myself our of a major funk, I started to come up with ways to stay motivated. Luckily, I already worked out in my garage and ran a business from home. But I mourned the loss of my running buddies, run club and training plan.
My March half marathon was canceled just days before the race. A small group of us ran a virtual race instead. In April, I teamed up with a run coach on my Beachbody team to host a 6 week virtual race + stretch training group. We went on to host 2 more of these special groups and they were a major success! In total, in 2020 I have done 3 virtual half marathons, 2 virtual 5Ks and a virtual marathon!!! I have some insight and tips on how to run a virtual race but that’s for another post!
Training for my First Trail Marathon
My running buddy Megan and I had planned to do a road marathon in the late fall of 2020. Once it became obvious that fall races were certainly NOT happening, I threw around the idea of running a marathon virtually. I’ve ran 7 marathons and I know well that marathons are hard enough with crowds and support. When I thought about the actual act of running the race, I came up with the idea of running it on trails to avoid crowds and to give us a reason to explore some new trails in San Diego while we trained. Megan was on board and we mapped out a training plan and got to work!
The race date we chose was November 14th and we began to train in early August. I was just coming off a very mild knee sprain in July, so I had to increase my mileage nice and slow. I remember struggling to finish my first 12 mile run, Megan and another friend running ahead seemingly so easy, and thinking, “How will I ever run 14.2 more!?”
But, the body adapts. We slowly increased mileage and ran about half of our long runs on trails around North County San Diego. We ran on and around our virtual race course (which was inspired by the San Diego trail marathon and ultra course by Lake Hodges/Raptor Ridge). One of the most memorable runs was a double loop of the Lusardi Loop in Rancho Santa Fe, which was over 19 miles and 2,500 feet of climbing. I felt like a badass after that run! I fell in love with trail running! An 18 mile coast run alone on an Friday was the biggest mental challenge of my training.
Speed Work & Strength Training During Trail Marathon Training
Megan and another running friend of ours met on Wednesday mornings to do speed work. While we didn’t have a goal time or a training race, I knew that the speed work would help become more fit. I continued to strength train and used the workout plan from our 3rd Run the World Strength + Virtual Race group. About a month before the race, I started the 30 Day Breakaway. 30 Day Breakaway is a program from Beachbody that combines running intervals (guided with audio) and strength training. This post details a week of combining my marathon training with 30 Day Breakaway. I really love this program. I would highly recommend it for people who are marathon training.
Trail Marathon Race Report
Trail Marathon Race Course – Escondido, CA
The trail marathon was so fun and unlike any other race I’ve ever run! In the days before the race, various friends and family members volunteered to support us during the race. The course we chose only had 1 bathroom and no water, so we knew it would be self supported. We parked chose to do a 6 mile out and back west from the parking lot near Lake Hodges carrying our handheld water bottles and then we stopped at the car to switch out for our hydration vests and do a 20.2 mile out and back over Raptor Ridge. There is a parking lot about 10 miles out.
For the first 6 miles, 2 men from our running group, Brian and Mark, ran with us. These miles flew by as we chatted with them – they are both much faster than us so we don’t often run with them! The views were beautiful and although my legs didn’t feel as fresh as they had in my taper runs, I felt good and optimistic.
Once we got back to our car and swapped out our hydration and used the bathroom, Megan’s sister joined us. Brian also kept going with us. Again, these miles flew by. On the climb up Raptor Ridge I took out my phone to take a photo and saw a text from my mom that told me that my 2 year old twins were talking about how they wanted to go running with mommy. It made me so happy!!
We reached the top of Raptor ridge (which is about a 400 ft climb I would estimate) with 11 miles behind us and I told Megan I couldn’t believe how fast it went! Overall I felt fresh! We weren’t pushing the pace at all, just taking it easy. I was taking photos and videos along the way and we were enjoying ourselves.
At this point Brian had left but Megan’s sister ran over the top of Raptor Ridge with us and then turned back (she ran a half marathon). Now we were alone! All of a sudden I started to feel my legs getting heavier and tighter. Megan and I continued to chat and the views were beautiful. I just focused on getting to the turnaround at mile 16! We also started to check out bushes for a place to go to the bathroom as we both had to go. Unfortunately there weren’t any opportunities but we knew at the turnaround there was a spot to go.
My good friend Rachel was really supportive and made the drive out to the turnaround to cheer for me. Knowing she would be there really cheered me up and it was great to see her there! She even made me a race sign and brought me water! Our training buddy Shelley was also at the parking lot at the 16 mile mark, as planned. As we approached the parking lot, Megan and I realized that it was farther than we thought – instead of 16 miles, our watches now showed we were at 16.25 miles. This just meant we’d ultimately cover more than 26.2 miles. But we both agreed we’d be stopping our watches at exactly 26.2!!
Can You Pause Your Garmin Watch During a Virtual Race?
During my first ever virtual half back in March, I didn’t think through whether or not we should pause our watches during bathroom breaks or not. Our race had been canceled suddenly due to the pandemic just days before and virtual races were brand new, uncharted territory! I believe that I turned my watch off of auto pause but I did manually stop it twice during that race – once at the turnaround for a photo and another time for a bathroom break.
However, once I thought it over more I realized that if it’s considered a race, obviously you should NOT pause your watch, no matter how far you’re running! If we were doing a true trail race, we would never pause our watches! We even discussed this going into the race. However, when we stopped to go to the bathroom in the woods at the turnaround spot, I did stop my watch – solely out of habit! Megan did the same at some point earlier in the race as well. But besides that time, I didn’t pause my watch for the gear swap, the bathroom break or any other times we stopped running.
The Final 10 Miles – The Pain Cave!
Originally I wasn’t sure I’d want Shelley there to run the final miles with us since I knew I’d be in the pain cave but in the end, I am SO glad she came! The first few miles flew by and it was great to have someone new to talk to. However, my legs started to cramp a bit and ache as we began to approach Raptor Ridge again. At around mile 18.5, I started to fall behind Megan and Shelley who were chatting. I walked up a small hill and they ran ahead. I kept going, but my mindset started to go more negative.
As they pulled further ahead of me and my legs ached and I thought of how far I had to go, including another trip over Raptor Ridge, negative thoughts poured into my mind. I remember thinking “I’m just not meant to be a marathoner.” At one point my eyes filled with tears. Why are marathons so hard for me!? I threw a little pity party.
And then I snapped out of it. I walked a bit and then started to run again. I even spoke out loud, “Get to your girls. You ARE strong! You CAN DO THIS!” I kept thinking about Mike and my 3 daughters are the finish line. I knew I had to get to them!! Plus, quitting was NOT an option (literally). I got out my AirPods and turned on my audio book, “26 Marathons” by Meb Keflezighi. I had been listening to this book for the last few weeks and loving it.
At this point, Brian (who if you remember started with us and then went back to drop Shelley off) had now caught up again and was running with Megan. Shelley came back to me and started to talk me out of my funk. My spirits started to lift and I told her I’d see her at the top of Raptor Ridge where I planned to stop and stretch. I put my headphones back in and focused on taking steps. I mostly walked, but made it to the top! I briefly stretched and then headed back down.
Going down Raptor Ridge was harder than expected. It made me truly understand why people say that downhill marathons are so tough. I didn’t feel like I could actually take advantage of the downhills because my legs were so tight and cramping. I felt like if I truly let myself go down the hills and run I would possibly collapse or fall! I felt unsteady so I went down slowly. We also passed a lot of mountain bikers and runners (as we did the entire race) and I remember at one point stopping and moving over for a mountain biker to pass and telling Shelley I didn’t plan to do that again!
Once we got off of Raptor Ridge, Megan and Brian were waiting at the bottom. We briefly checked in with each other and then started to run. Megan and Brian naturally pulled ahead and it was just me and Shelley. I started to feel better. We had 4 miles to go and I knew I could run 4 miles.
I told Shelley to tell me a story and she did. She told me a lot about her past relationships and more about who she is and I was very engrossed in her stories which helped! I was able to easily talk (we were running pretty slow) – it was just my legs that hurt. At no point during the race was I pushing aerobically too hard – it was more that my body just wasn’t happy with the distance and time on my feet. I had done an incredible job of fueling – I took 1 Gu exactly every 40 minutes of the run and I knew that that was helping! I was also drinking from my hydration vest regularly.
I made a goal not to walk til I got to 26.2 miles and kept focusing on seeing my family at the end. I’m proud to say that with the exception of one very short, steep hill, I didn’t walk!! It was a slow run but it was a RUN! It was starting to get pretty warm and was very sunny at this point but I just focused on continuing to run.
Just before the end, I heard a few kids shout. I didn’t know where it was coming from but wondered if it was my family! Soon after, Megan and Brian had stopped to wait for us so we could finish together. It was very nice of Megan to do that!!! I know this wasn’t an official race, but I could see how she’d want to be done as quickly as possible. Shortly after we grouped up again, we started down a path and I saw Mike, Siena, Scarlett and Rowan ahead, waiting on the side!
My watch read 26 miles exactly and I knew that I could run the last little bit with them. I handed Shelley my phone (earlier I told her I wanted her to video me at the end) and as we approached them I started to tear up with joy. I encouraged them to run with me and Siena held my hand, Rowan grabbed Siena’s hand and Scarlett started to run and we all ran until my watch hit 26.2 miles. I stopped and was SO HAPPY to be done and to have finished with my babies!!!
Once we stopped our watches, we still had about a 1/4 mile walk to the car and Scarlett and Rowan ran ahead with Shelley nearly the entire way! Future marathoners I think! Megan’s sister was there at the finish line with a sign, flowers and drinks for us! As soon as we reached the end I sat on a ledge and told Siena all about how mommy really worked hard and that every time I went out running in the morning that I was training for this day. I explained to her that big goals take time and patience and practice and that she can get better at anything if she keeps trying.
Lessons Learned From My Virtual Trail Marathon
My first trail marathon was such an incredible, humbling experience! Our official finish time was 4 hours 41 minutes and 41 seconds with 1,400 feet of elevation gain and loss! Our pace was 10:41 which is around the same pace we did almost all our long trail runs at. Since we were not “racing” this, it would make total sense that we’d run the same pace and I”m proud that I didn’t slow too significantly at the end and finished strong. This was my slowest marathon, but I’ve learned that you cannot compare your time on the trail to any road races! I’m proud of the finish and that we trained for such an incredible challenge during 2020!
Every marathon provides you with a new learning experience and a new perspective. Now that I’m finished having children, this trail marathon was the perfect way to get back into marathoning and to make progress toward my future running goals. I am so glad that I got to train with Megan and am so thankful for the support of the runners who came out, Rachel and my husband for carting 3 demanding small children out to a trail to wait for me to finish!
Post Marathon Plans: 30 Day Breakaway and 9 Week Control Freak
So what’s next!? Well, I just started another round of 30 Day Breakaway, this time I’ll be completing the program as is, with some extra mileage. I’m running the San Diego Holiday Virtual Half Marathon on December 19th with a few friends. And then in the new year I’ll be diving into the new Autumn Calabrese program, 9 Week Control Freak and going all in with this program while also running. I’m ready to decrease my mileage and increase my strength for a bit.
As for 2021 racing, I’m looking for a spring race – thinking a half marathon and then considering a fall marathon. But this all depends on what happens with Covid, so as of now, I have no real plans!