Even after being a runner for 25+ years, I experienced a first yesterday: my debut trail race. I ran, for a variety of reasons, the Wildwood Trail Trial 10K. I signed up for it last Thursday, spurred on by the thought of racing my running partner, Molly, who does the series of races the 10K is a part of. I also was motivated, in some far recess of my mind, by a suggestion Dimity made after my last marathon that maybe it was time for me to take on a new challenge, such as a trail race. Finally, I saw this 10K as a way to stick my toe into the trail running "pond" to see if I'm cut out to run an ultramarathon one day.
Okay, so those were the reasons I was pinning on a number for a race I hadn't specifically trained for--best I had going for me was the weekly sessions of hill repeats Molly and I had done this summer. Oh, and running the second half of the 6.2-mile course last week to see how killer the final half-mile climb was. (More on that later.) The format of the race allowed runners to start anytime during a 4-hour window. I was part of a posse of Molly, her 17-year-old daughter, Lane, and Molly's co-worker Ashley, and we'd decided to start around 9:30. After a fair bit of cajoling (which is a nice way of saying, "pressure that didn't allow for any other option"), Molly agreed to start seven minutes before I did. I reasoned this served as motivation for us both: Molly was spurred on by thoughts of me chasing her, and I would do well playing the greyhound to her rabbit.
Given a variety of factors, when I crossed the timing pads at the start, I was all by myself. The race fairly quickly turned uphill, but fresh legs and a dance tune by Robyn let me gobble it up, passing two walkers along the way. (I debated going sans music, but I decided at the last minute to wear a single earbud, knowing tunes would keep me going strong.) Filtered through a towering canopy of leaves and branches, sunlight dappled the packed dirt trail that twisted, turned, and undulated beneath my feet. Quickly I was reminded of a comment Dimity makes often, which is that trail running reminds her of a video game, as if she is controlling her feet with a manic joystick. Instead, I felt like I was on a kiddie roller coaster with quick twists and turns that kept me delightedly hurtling forward. I felt ebullient as I clipped along, covering the first mile in 9:18.
Pre-race, I hadn't given much thought to a time goal, tossing out 1:03 as a predicted finish time. But after that first mile, my new maybe-I-can-do-it goal became: finish in less than an hour. I've only raced a handful of 10Ks, with last one being my 47:37 PR in 2009. I let the sub-1:00 idea roll around in my brain as my feet continued to seemingly roll along the trail. I was running far faster than I usually trail run, but rather than obsess on the numbers on my Garmin, I decided I'd aim for, "comfortably hard," as a race pace.
I passed more walkers, and started to reign in some runners, always shouting out a cheery, "on your left" so as not to scare them. (The Wildwood trail is about 2-people wide in most spots.) I whizzed by the first aid station, at Mile 2, pleased to realize the race was one-third over. (After being so 26.2-centric for the past few years, a gal could get used to this shorter-race thing...) Only occasionally did I summon the imagine of chasing Molly to maintain my speed--mainly I kept running fast-ish (for me) because I felt giddy and free.
In my partial test-run last week, I decided I'd allow myself to walk fast up the more daunting hills the course threw at us, so after Mile 3, I power-walked up a somewhat long ascent. (I channeled my inner Ironmother, thinking about Dimity walking fast up the hills of Coeur d'Alene.) Before I knew it, there was the aid station at Mile 4, where I drank one cup of water--and threw another one in my face. This race was going to be over before I knew it!
When "Girl on Fire" came on, I played it twice. Despite all my talk to the contrary, that song still gets me, wait for it, fired up. On several long, switchback-y downhills, I tried to relax my arms and allow gravity to pull me along, but my letting-go skills still need honing. Instead, I took to letting out motivational, stress-relieving grunts on a few quick climbs and on flats to maintain my speed. By the final mile, I was joking to hikers that they had probably heard me coming for miles--no need for my continued, "on your left" calls.
I quit with the quips to focus on the final half-mile--pretty much all up. A quick glance at my Garmin told me I had about seven minutes to cover the ground to the finish line if I wanted to cross it in under an hour. On Thursday's practice run, the distance had seemed like two short-but-steep hills, then two longer, but more gradual, ascents. With more than five miles of racing behind me, the terrain had mysteriously shifted to two short, steep'ers followed by three more black-diamond slopes, then finally the two gradual climbs.
As planned, I shifted to speed-walking on the first two climbs, using the slightly slower pace to backtrack on my ipod to "Girl on Fire" again. (If ever I needed Alicia Keys to light a fire under my feet, now was the time.) After those two hills, I shifted back to running, but only for a few yards: The inclines I was staring down told me to walk again. Pumping my arms, I powered up the hills before switching back to running for a final push. One final zig in the trail, and I could see the finish clock peaking over the top of the climb.
Puffing like a steam engine and sweating like a boxer in the 12th round, I lunged onto the finish mat. When I looked the numbers on my Garmin, I was elated: 59:30! My official time was 59:34, and Molly's was 1:02:15. After quickly reuniting in the finish area, we didn't spend much time talking of finish times or paces, however: We were too busy uttering various versions of, "that was so fun!" and, "I can't wait to do another trail race!"
Have you ever run a trail race? Or are you considering one?