Race Report: Wildwood Trail Trial 10K in Portland

women before trail running race
Badass Mother Runner brawl: Molly (left) and I pretending to duke it out before the start of the race.

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.

women runners with packet of GU
Molly and I pointing out what we'd really be chasing in the Pacific Northwest woods: Salty the Sasquatch (on the packet of Salted Caramel GU I sucked down moments before starting the race)

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.

Classic Wildwood Trail (photo from my practice run last week)
Classic Wildwood Trail (photo from my practice run last week), complete with ubiquitous ferns and evergreen trees.

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? 

women after trail running race
This isn't a daguerreotype dug out of the archives: It's a photo of us gals shot post-race through the fogged-up lens of my iPhone, which I had stashed in pocket of my Saucony capris.


21 responses to “Race Report: Wildwood Trail Trial 10K in Portland

  1. I live in the mtns. of Colorado and most of our races are trail runs. I love them, even though they are challenging, some are so steep, like up the mtn. at the base of a ski area. And I’m a slow runner, even on a flat course. BTW,SBS, I notice that you often wear capris while running. Have you ever written a blog post about this? I’m curious why you prefer capris.

  2. I am organizing my first 5k for this Saturday– AND it is a trail run!! It is a fundraiser for a small summer camp where I spent my youth, so, if you are in the Asheville, NC, area this weekend–join us! I will be running the course (slowly) twice: I am on spider web duty pre-race and will have a ‘private’ race with te committee later in the day!

  3. Congrats, Sarah! It sounds like you’ve caught the trail bug. I hope there are lots more trail runs and races (including an ultra!) in your future. Emily, in response to your questions, I almost exclusively run trails and feel MUCH more safe than I do on roads or on city bike trails. People make me much more nervous than animals (though I will admit to seeing a mountain lion, bear, and rattlesnake within the last week–an anomaly, I assure you!) and for the most part, I never see the sketchy types of folks on trails that I see elsewhere. Talking a whistle is actually a good idea; that noise can carry, for sure. A cell phone is a good idea, too, though I often run in areas where I can’t get a signal. Usually I just text my husband to let him know my general route and time frame and then text him again when I’m back safely. Running roads exclusively to train for a trail race isn’t the best idea. Trail running takes a lot more core strength and practicing watching the trail and choosing your “micro route,” as I call it, takes practice if you don’t want to bust. Roots and rocks seem to spring up out of nowhere, especially when you’re tired or have a weak core, so actually getting out on the trails is a must, in my opinion. If you’re still nervous, find a friend to go along with you. I must say, though, the peace of mind that being out alone in the mountains/woods brings you is amazing.

  4. I love love love trail running! The Evergreen Trail Running series in the Seattle area has been on my calendar this summer. Trails offer a much more interesting experience on a run than the pavement. Plus, I really like seeing the evidence of mud splatter up my calf afterward. Its just burly.

  5. I train on trails here in the Ozarks. I’m excited to see how these hills will translate to flat pavement for my marathon in November! I see a lot of animals, deer mostly, but did have to make way for a skunk once! Most everything will hear, see or smell you before you even notice them. Just know what animals are in your area. Take a buddy or whistle or even pepper spray!

  6. I would love to do a trail race and even though there is a great trail system here I am nervous about the training I’d need to do alone on it. I’m not worried about animals but maybe I should be!! It just seems that on the trail you are out there in the middle of nowhere and it freaks me a bit to think what/who could be lurking in the woods.
    I don’t think it would be a good idea to just do a trail race with only street running for training or is it OK?
    Safety tips while on the trail? Bring a whistle? And pray there is someone else out there that would hear it? ha ha

  7. I just started to incorporate trails into my running. I really am loving the change of pace and the new challenge. I’ve been fascinated with ultras for awhile now. So I know I need to hit the trails! I’m hoping to run my first 50K in November!

  8. I am signed up for the 12K short distance of the “Rut” (the long is 50K) in Big Sky in 2 weeks- it is high (starts at 7,500 ft) and it has a lot of elevation gain- @2,100 feet- so I am hoping to feel as good as you look by the end, and will definitely be speed walking/hiking up some of the ascents. My goal is to enjoy the trails and finish strong (and not wipe out on the technical parts).

  9. I ran the Wildwood Half Marathon in July and wore pretty much the exact matching outfit as Molly, plus an Ultimate Direction hydration pack. I love the trails!! After I get this months marathon behind me I am going to focus more on trails!

  10. Congrats again, Sarah! and give my best to Molly on her performance. Now you’ve got me considering doing a trail race. My concern is always falling since I tend to do that at least once every trail run. Perhaps it’s time to embrace my inner klutz and just go with it!

  11. I love trail running (one of my top 3 favorite lifetime runs was on a Blueridge Parkway trail) and ran my first 10k and 25k trail races in the past year or so, winning my AG in the former and taking 3rd in the latter. It is way tougher than the roads and hard to know how fast to go, but super fun! I don’t know why I don’t run and race more trails.

  12. I’m looking for new challenges and trail running is on my bucket list. My plan is to do a trail half before I turn 50 next year. Sounds like a great race and congratulations on coming in under an hour!!

  13. Yes! First one was last year and would love to do it again this year -it was November, chilly and drizzly, but super fun. There are some great trail races in MN, including an ultra (hint, hint). Glad you had such a fun time!

  14. Fun! Runnin the Wildwood trail is on my Portland bucket list 🙂

    The only trail race I’ve run is the Silver Falls Half in 2009. It was hard, and – quoting a friend – I earned a personal worst, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

  15. NJ has a great trail series throughout the year. I’ve run the winter series. It’s awesome even though it’s cold and sometimes wet snow but the exhilaration I feel when I’m done can’t be beat. It’s a very casual race. No official time clock but there’s someone with a timer doing the countdown for the 5K, 10K and 13.1. When you finish someone is there at the line reading your bib number to another person logging in your time on a spreadsheet. You are treated afterwards with homemade cookies or whatever someone brings. I even got a beer once! It’s so nice not to have racing-pressure. It’s all in fun but you can make it a personal challenge too. I’m excited for this year’s series beginning in December.

  16. Awesome!!!! I find it much easier to get lost in the run on the trails! I run trails often (being so close to the mountain to sea on the blue ridge parkway) but my first trail race was the Cradle to the Grave 30K this last May. I am itching to do it next year but thinking 3 months postpartum I’ll be cheering on the family! It is an amazing race (although it was quite muddy and wet this year it still rocked!).

  17. Way to go, Sarah and Molly! Trail running is my favorite by far. I was able to run two trail races this past year, as well as a trail relay with four of my MRF’s – a blast! There is something about running through the woods that calms and focuses me more than a road ever will.

    I hope you find time to squeeze in a few more of those super-fast trail miles!

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