This was my first trail race, ever. I didn’t know what to expect exactly, all I knew was what I heard from other runners in the Tejas Trails group that I run with on a weekly basis. I was however familiar with the course, having run it two weeks before, but having run the course seemed to make very little difference once the sun set. It was helpful, mentally, though to know what to expect at pretty much any part of the course. This particular course was VERY rocky, though, and I took my fair share of falls and near falls throughout the run. My goal was to finish in 4 hours or less.
The first section of the course was the second easiest part of the course in my opinion, even though it was a fairly good climb. It was one of the least rocky sections of the course. The first .5 miles was flat and fast. I found myself going out too strong, as I noticed I was keeping pace with some fast runners. After the first .5 miles you begin go climb; I continued a pretty decent pace for a short while and then realized I needed to back off a bit as I was already starting to feel the effects of the near 100 degree heat.
By the time I reached mile two I was already starting to incorporate some walking into my rhythm, something I thought I wouldn’t do since the first aid station was only three miles out. It was also around this time I began to get passed by other runners that stayed back at the start. This was just another indicator I probably went out too strong.
After reaching the first aid station I refilled my bottle and hydration pack, and filled a bandana full of ice and was off fairly quickly (thanks to the Boy Scouts that manned this station). I also munched on half a Bearded Brothers bar on my way out of the aid station as I held the ice close to my core. Pretty soon after this I was feeling good again and kept a decent pace through mile five. I probably would have kept this up, but I took a digger shortly after seeing another girl fall (and yes, I stopped to help). I blame the guy in front of me though! I was attempting to pass, but he had headphones in and couldn’t hear me coming up behind him. As I backed off a bit I wasn’t paying attention and tripped on something – THAT, he did hear and turned around shocked to see I was there, but he did offer assistance. I declined and continued on after shaking off the dust, but my rhythm was broken.
Around mile six I had another distraction that caused me to twist or sprain my ankle on a rock. It wasn’t exactly a twist, more of a hard landing, and awkward placement of my body weight over my foot. It was right around the corner from a crew that was collecting cooling vests that were being demoed to runners. The twist/strain really set me back, and once again broke a good rhythm I was just getting back into from the previous fall.
After the ankle issue it took several miles to work out the strain (but still managed a decent pace somehow). I contemplated getting it checked out at the next aid station, but by the time I was there it wasn’t bugging me anymore (although, now it is slightly swollen). It took 2.5+ miles before it was feeling “better”. I did spend just a bit more time in the second aid station, and ate some bananas and chatted with the rangers handing out water as well as other runners. This resulted in one of my slowest splits, but surprisingly not as slow as some of the most heinous sections of the trail.
Miles nine and ten, though slower than the first couple miles were consistent, and didn’t include any walking. It was the best I felt on the entire course. Mile elven and twelve was a couple of the slowest miles on the course (but was expected), due to heinously rocky terrain that was un-runnable by night in my opinion. It was a section I walked during daylight hours just two weeks before. Nobody I was around at this point ran this section.
The best part of miles 9-13 was the open sky. Here, you are pretty much at the high point of the course and could see a vast amount of stars. I didn’t do too much gazing though as to keep my feet on the trail and avoid another spill. The last portion of mile 13 is a quick downhill trot into the Gorman Falls area, that then spits you into a steep 3/4 – 1 mile climb up to the Cedar Chopper loop. I spent most of the hill switching between a run and a walk, as to save energy for the gradual uphill portion of the Cedar Chopper loop. Once I topped out the ginormous hill, I knew the next aid station wasn’t far so I kept up a pretty good pace, and just a few hundred yards away from the station I took the worst digger of the night that had my front and back side covered with dirt. My calves also cramped up during the fall, which really freaked me out; because in the past when my calves cramped up I was pretty much done for.
The fall shook my confidence a bit and ruined my rhythm, but I wasn’t hurt to badly and my calves didn’t stay cramped. Another runner who had been behind me for the entire race ended up passing my after the aid station and beat my time by 10 minutes. The third aid station was also super busy, making it difficult to get out quickly. But, having just taken a pretty big spill I wasn’t in a huge hurry to get back on the trail. I also knew the last two or three miles would be flat and if I saved enough energy I could hit those last few miles hard.
I took it easy leaving the third station, as my confidence was shaken and I felt as if I was starting to have stomach problems. The ice I was using to cool my core also felt more upsetting than helpful, so I moved the ice rag to my neck, but rather than feeling refreshing, the ice stung the back of my neck, so I ditched the ice and just wrapped the bandana itself around my neck. I had a love hate relationship with that bandana throughout the race, I even dropped it a couple times and had to stop to pick it up.
Mentally I had trouble the last two (flat) miles, despite striving hard to conserve energy to hit them hard (on top of that, “conserving energy” resulted in my slowest split of the night). I kept telling myself, you can run two miles hard without walking – just do it. But every 1/6 mile or so I caught myself walking. I also kept wondering when I was going to break out into the home stretch… the final .8 miles of gravel road to the finish line.
Rather than leaving my GPS alone, I kept looking at it to see how close I was. I really should have just buckled down and RAN the entire thing. I did however, manage to run the last .8 miles without stopping, but did slow down a bit towards the end. I also ended with what might be the worst race photo ever. As I crossed the line I looked down to turn off my GPS, so in my finish line photo I’m looking down, rather than high and proud!
I ended up crossing the line at 4:25, just .25 minutes short of my 4-hour goal. It was a somewhat soft goal though, but something I knew I could achieve. I have found trail running to be a humbling experience. When I used to run half marathons I always met my time goal, and I always got faster, and I was MUCH faster on roads. In my road racing days I would always finish in the top 25%. This time, I was pretty much dead center of the pack. I feel as though my progress in trail running is much slower than what I was able to achieve on roads.
My wife was very encouraging about my finish though. She kindly reminded me that very few people will even consider doing what I did that night. So, I should still hold my head high and be proud. Another thing I came to realize this morning on my run is that life is changing, and I may never be as fast as I used to be, or in as good of shape. But, I think I’m ok with that. I’m about to have my first child, and once she is born life will take on an even different dynamic.
As I get older the things that are important to me are changing. Spending time with my wife, and soon, my daughter are more important to me now than how fast I can finish a race or how hard I can climb. I will always have that competitive nature in me, but perhaps I should be content with being a middle of the pack runner (most people will never even get off the couch). I may never improve (although I likely will), but in the grand scheme of life, time spent investing in my family is far more important than finishing front of the pack.