This course is a beast! It’s not just some cinder rail trail, it’s a technical trail with some of the craziest climbs and descents I’ve ever experienced. Just to give you an idea, the woman’s course record is held by my friend Megan, who once qualified for the Olympic Trails marathon. Megan’s time (the course record) is a 1:16. For a 15K, that’s an 8:09 pace. It’s located at Trexler Game Preserve, which I’ve posted about before because I sometimes go there to run, but it’s not for pace. It’s for hills and agility. Here’s the elevation profile:
Not only is the elevation crazy, it also features extreme running conditions. There’s mud, loose shale, rocks, tree stumps, creek crossings (nearly waist deep for me this year since we’ve had a ton of rain!), and uneven surfaces. It’s an awesome run, but it’s one of the most challenging races due to the conditions.
I got up kind of late that morning – 5:30 – and didn’t leave my house until about 6:30. It’s only about a 20 minute drive for me, and they had race day packet pickup from 6:30-7:15. I was at the game preserve and parked by 6:50, chatted with some friends, got my bib and was in the line for the bathrooms by 7:20. I jogged back to my car to grab my GU (so thankful I did that) and then to the starting line for a quick warm up. I saw one of my friends towards the front, and the race isn’t chip timed so I headed up front to hang with him. I don’t know that I really belonged in the front of a trail race since I’m not a trail runner, but I’ve run the course before and know where I’m going, so I figured I had that going for me.
The race started promptly at 7:30. I went into this with no expectations, just a hope to get close to my best time on the course. I knew the reality of what I was getting into. I ran 25 miles in the two days before, and I’m mostly a road rat. I was not going into this to “win” – I’m not a trail runner and this was not my arena, so I can’t expect that. My only goals were to run as much as I could (some of the climbs are so steep that you physically can’t run up them), not get hurt, and have fun. I ran the race in 2012 and came in around 1:27, and again in 2013 in 1:29. I went out really hard in 2013 with an expectation to run a PR, and it was a pretty hot/humid day.
I saw the woman who won the race at the start, and she took off. Normally, I would start chasing her, but I told myself to let her go. I had 9 miles to catch her IF it was in the cards for the day, but my focus was not to race anyone but myself. We hit the trail head and immediately started to climb. I was in 2nd place at this point, but I knew it probably wouldn’t last. The trail is pretty narrow and other than the first climb, it actually levels out a bit here so once we got to the top of the first climb, I passed a bunch of guys to get some open trail and let it fly a little. My first mile was my fastest but it was also the one with the least amount of elevation change. My biggest surprise: I felt awesome. No idea why, since I beat my legs up over the two days prior, but hey. Roll with it.
Around mile two, there was a short descent. We were pretty deep into the woods at this point so it was well shaded, and it had rained a bunch in the previous days. The ground was super muddy, and I came around a turn and ate shit – like totally wiped out. That’s when I got passed by what ended up being the 3rd place female. I was fine, stood back up and kept on going – just covered in mud. Before mile 3, another girl came trucking along and passed me – she ended up being the 2nd place female. It was only about a third of the way through the race and these chicks looked like serious trail runners – I had no business chasing them and I told myself to just run my own race. Enjoy the trail, run comfortably, and let the race come to you.
My shoe came untied a little before mile 4, and I considered just letting it go. I’ve run races like that before. I was afraid that I would hit another muddy area or get to the creek and totally lose it, so I made myself stop and tie it – I hate doing that! I took my GU around mile 4 and though I was already having fun, that’s when the terrain goes from hard to extreme in terms of the obstacles you are avoiding. I was having an absolute blast – I was running with a pack of guys, and we kept passing each other in different sections of the course and cheering each other on. I was still in 4th place, and feeling extremely strong.
Although it’s a pretty steady climb the whole way, the really steep sections are at the end. There’s a series of hills with serious elevation changes over a pretty short span of time. And remember – what goes up must come down. Although climbing hills is tough, I think descending on an unsteady surface is much harder and it was where I lost my 4th place position. I actually got through the biggest climb – the one they actually call the beast – and was still in 4th, but the descent was what killed me. I wore trail shoes, I just suck at descending. I need to practice this. The 4th place female passed me on the descent and was hopping down the trail like an effing mountain goat. She also looked like a pretty serious trail runner – damn, where did these chicks come from? I guess I wouldn’t know them since I’m mainly a road rat.
I knew there was one more climb coming up before the final out and back on the course. It ends downhill, so I thought I would try to keep #4 in my sights until the turnaround and then try to catch her. At that point, we hit the creek crossing. Here’s what it looks like from one of my training runs – when the water was low and we were in a drought:
That was back in May – since then, we’ve had TONS of rain and the water was almost up to my waist! It was pretty tough getting across it but it felt so good. I was splashing water all over my head because it was HOT. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that just yet – the race fell on the hottest day we’ve had so far: mid 90s, 90% humidity, and a heat advisory. It was cooler at the start, but things had really heated up by this point.
As we emerged from the creek, I could see 4th place on the final steep climb. She was pretty close. She began to walk (it’s really steep) and I began to walk, but I told myself that when she started to run again, that I was going to start running again. So I did. I emerged from the woods into the field that you end by doing a little out and back on – it’s the worst part of the course, but necessary to make it that 15K distance. It’s an uphill as you come out of the woods and the grass is so high, making it difficult to run. So I plodded along, and she didn’t gain on me. She saw me at the turnaround and took off, and I did too but I never caught her. I think I could have, but I looked at my watch for the first time during the whole race (I’m usually one to watch my Garmin like a hawk but I made myself not look that day) and saw…1:23??? I was well over 9 miles at this point and heading to the finish – I could hit 1:24 – a three minute course PR for me!
That was enough for me. I ran steady, and when I hit the final stretch, I took off. You come out of the field and get to finish on the road – and my legs felt GREAT, especially when I hit the road. I could see 4th place crossing the finish, and I crossed very shortly after in 1:24:12!!! What?!! 1:24 wasn’t even in my vocabulary that morning. I was looking at my old times and though it would be cool to be around the 1:27 I did the first time I raced this course. My 1:24 was good enough for 5th place and 2nd in my age group – the woman who finished ahead of me was the same age as me. Crap! I was actually more bummed that I didn’t sprint just a little bit harder to bring it in under 1:24, but I’m not complaining!
This was the first race that I’ve run by effort in a long, long, time. When I say I didn’t look at my watch during the run, I really didn’t look at my watch during the run. It was crazy. It was like I forgot about it – and anyone who knows me would tell you that I’m a total clock watcher. I was caught up in enjoying the trail, the people, and the challenge of running something so technical.
The post race food spread is pretty decent, but the only thing I wanted was the watermelon – it’s all I’ve been eating this summer and it was SO refreshing. It was super hot! My feet got wet in the first mile when I hit the mud, and I realized very early on that I paired the wrong socks with my trail shoes. I cooled down by jogging to my car to get my sandals…the backs of my feet were bleeding from blisters:
But the worst was on my pinky toe (don’t mind my dirty sandals and nasty looking feet!!!):
Ouch! Pretty sure I will be donning band-aids when I wear sneakers for a little while until the battle wounds heal. The awards were awesome – hand painted tiles! The old race director was a volunteer this year and had passed the race onto someone else, so this was a new addition to the event:
Overall, it was a well-organized event that I would highly recommend to anyone! The trail is TOUGH for anyone who hasn’t done serious trail running before, but not impossible – you just have to adjust your expectations. Same goes for seasoned runners. I ran a 15K in 1:06 a few weeks ago, and here I was absolutely thrilled to be crossing the finish line in 1:24. But you can’t compare – the 15K from a few weeks ago was on a trail, it was nowhere near as technical or as steep as this one. It would be like comparing apples to oranges. Many of my friends walked away with age group awards, also:
Have you ever run on technical trails before? Ever raced on one? Want to come run Quadzilla with me next summer?!