Greetings from the road you all. Linda and I are out on another photography trip in hopes of filling up are coffers for future blog material. Hoping for the best, but so far it has been brutally hot which is likely why the bird opportunities are fairly slim at the moment. As we head to our next location, thought I’d finally get around to recounting my new adventure in running. In a few posts leading up to now, I allude to something new and likely difficult coming up. Well, that time has come and evident by the fact I can still post about it – survived.
I’ve been running on the road for 16 years straight now. I remember the day distinctly when I had to admit to myself that the injuries were occurring faster than I could recover in my martial arts activities. Having done that for so many years, it was tough to give that physical activity up, then Linda came to the rescue. She told me about the Bix Race up in Davenport Iowa. Sounded like a challenge so I bought some running shoes and ran all the way down my driveway and back (a bit longer than you might think, but still extremely short). From that tired and winded effort, I added distance religiously until I could make it through the 7 miles in the hills. In a little less than a month, I’ll but doing it again for the 16th year in a row, but now that distance seems short having complete a marathon and more half marathons than I can count.
Hit the jump to learn about the new challenge I’ve recently conquered.
Problem is I was starting to get bored – the actual races were still fun, but the training was becoming a burden more than enjoyment. Clocking in a 1,100+ miles a year can begin to wear on you a bit. Then a coworker/friend mentioned they were going to run a trail run. Interesting. That conversation led to another conversation which led to a lot more conversations and then ultimately to a new pair of trail running shoes. Decided “what the hell” and went full out and signed up for their new half marathon option. Linda will attest, I tend to go big when I decide to do something new. Besides, I run hills today, already have that distance trained up for the Illini Marathon earlier in the year (link here) and if I never wanted to do it again, I’d be able to proudly display the accomplishment on my truck’s tailgate. Learned pretty quickly I had a LOT to learn about this new sport.
First of all, you probably do need a new pair of shoes. At first figured one of my 10 plus pairs that I have broke in for the road would do fine for this event, maybe get a bit more dusty than usual. Wrong – first off, the footing is loose requiring more tread bite to navigate up/down the hills and also learned that water isn’t considered a hazard. Nope, you either find a means to rock skip or give the feet a mid-run bath. The Blue Chevy Trail Classic I had signed up for had 3 or 4 small streams that I made it through without getting wet, but there was one that getting soaked was unavoidable – and that was on the first loop of the two loop course. Now that I had the shoes, next step was training runs. Opted to start with a short 6 mile trail run at Jubilee College State Park. It was a little damp having rained the day before, but for the most part fairly solid. Honestly, that 6 miles had to be the most fun I’ve ever had on a run – each step was a new adventure and each met with a giant smile on my face. 6 miles were up before I even noticed it… other than the tremendous amount of sweat that had soaked my clothes. This is going to be easier than I thought said I before my second training run a few days later. That next 7 miles run brought any confidence I had to the ground…literally. In a matter of 1.5 minutes in the first mile I had a) rammed a stick directly into my toes, b) twisted my ankle followed by c) where I caught a root and went face down into the weeds. Wow, I had not hit terra firma that hard and that fast since learning how to snowboard.
Although my pride took a hit, there was still a huge smile on my face. Clearly trail running requires more focus on the path than road running does. It also requires a whole lot more ankle strength, core strength and dexterity as you navigate your away around obstacles. After reading up on tips and tricks on trail running off the web, I eventually got better and luckily (knock on wood) have not gone down since. I still catch my toes on roots from time to time, but now skilled enough to catch myself and carry on. Also found myself rebuilding the confidence and increasing the speed. That still left plenty of things to learn during the actual race.
A bit of luck was on my side race day. When I woke the temps were only in the high sixties. Improvement, for sure, over the training temps. Later in the race learned the forest still traps in humidity. The body temp felt okay (at least at the start) but my clothes were soaked with sweat. Even before that, it became apparent that trail racing is a unique culture unto itself. I am used to lining up with fellow racers that are either stressing about how they are going to do or so intent in getting in the zone they rarely say a word to you. Contrast that with the start of this race (see picture above). Everyone was just standing around, chatting about this and that and more relaxed than sipping drinks under an umbrella on the beach. No worries here other than my own personal anxiety being my first trail race. Being a novice, elected to start at the very back to make sure I didn’t do anything out of line and to take my appropriate place as a newbie. The starter gave some last minute requests to try and stay away from new saplings at the start and a note that there was an unannounced detour on the second loop of the half marathon. I had seen that on their website so no surprise there. Then the guy encourages us to go have fun and we were off – no guns, no fanfare, no fret… just enjoy.
My coworker had mentioned it during our talks, but it was very clear in the first mile why you do not worry about your time when trail running. The trails can go single file at times which means you are at the mercy of the slowest person ahead of you. It is there I set a record for the slowest mile EVER – over 13 minutes. Guess what – didn’t even care and having way to much fun to do nothing more than mentally note it and carry on. Taking some opportunities in the trail, I was able to pass several people and eventually make my way behind my coworker – not sure why I am not using her name – it is Stacey. She was doing the 10K that day and her husband was taking on the half like me. Opted to stay with her for the first loop to get a feel for the trail and make sure I didn’t do anything stupid. A great decision as she got me around the first loop and even taught me a few things like skipping down rocky terrain. We also talked most of that loop which added to the non-stressful atmosphere. Did manage to catch a few roots behind her, but successfully caught my footing albeit with a loud noise from my feet and an equally jolting grunt making her laugh. We made it to the end of the first loop, she wished me luck and I headed out to catch her husband.
Now more familiar with the path, the feet were pumping faster, anticipated obstacles better and definitely started to feel the humidity picking up. Not too far into the second loop, the unannounced detour was encountered – a lady in a chair pointed to a path 90 degrees to the first loop. “Enjoy the downhill”. Awe, how nice, they took it easy on us for the second loop. Or so I thought – WRONG. That alternate loop may have gone downhill at the start, but what it really did was put you at the base of the biggest hill in the park. Holy Crap! Thankfully the legs were used to hills from the road work and even the Jubilee Trail runs – although none this bad, the legs didn’t let me down. This solidified that NO ONE was going to catch me from behind. A stream crossings later, Stacey’s husband was definitely feeling the strain of the race. Came up alongside and mentioned how grateful I was Stacey had gotten me through the first half. “When you see her again, let her know you saw me still vertical”. Confirmed his request, wished him luck and pulled away. Now the focus was on getting through the rest of the race without killing myself. Now two thirds through the race, it was solo going for the most part, coming upon a few people that had spent everything they had to that point and pulling up to recoup. Eventually made it to the final fire-road section of the race that led to the finish. By then my body was drained as well, but committed to make it through without stopping. Stacey ended up being on the side of the trail and gave me encouragement to keep going – I did relay her husband’s message which made her laugh.
Not sure what set this expectation, but figured something more elaborate of a finish. If you look a few shots up, there is a shot of me taken simply to capture the finish line (look over my right shoulder). A dude was sitting in the bed of a pickup truck that called out my time, congratulated me and … that was it. It was then that another new realization for trail racing came to be – no finisher medals. That was a bit of a shock for this medal whore. That thought lasted a few seconds – more important was getting some fluids and finding a place to relax. Every once in awhile a runner would make their way in including Jeff (Stacey’s husband) who had dug deep and come out successfully. At some point the race coordinators started calling out the age group placements. Guess what!?!
You probably noticed from the standings shots above, but your’s truly took second in is age group. SWEET! … although with a bit of remorse since Jeff took 3rd in my age group. Thanks to Stacey telling me about this race, I cost him a second place. I noted this to him, but he had zero concern. Was glad to see Stacey take second in her age group as well. Needless to say, after all the training, the fretting and the race itself – this guy is now officially hooked on trail racing. So much I’m coming back from vacation a day early so I can run an EVEN HILLIER half marathon trail run. This one is noted for how brutal it can be on the body – wish me luck. Regardless whether I end up passed out in the weeds on the side of the trail, you can bet I’ll still have a huge smile on my face.
Thought I would give some quick advice/tips to others who might want to try this sport.
- Don’t worry about your time – it will be slower than your road races. The last person in for this half was in the 4-4.5 hr range.
- A trail mile is more physically demanding than a road mile – don’t assume you can simply go the same distance with little effect. Those first few runs left every muscle in my body aching for the next two days and I thought I was in good shape
- Go ahead and get new shoes for the trail. Traction is critical in this sport and can’t imaging trying to grip on slippery rocks with standard running shoes. Oh, and trail shoes seem to dry a whole lot faster than road shoes.
- Keep focused on the path. Take your eye off it and you might find yourself in superman position … in the air and on the ground
- Lift those knees even when you get tired
- Anticipate your next step. Think ahead of how you are going to place your foot to get around that ditch, downed log or yes, even that pregnant Raccoon that thinks the trails are her personal walking spaces (yes, that happened to me on a training run).
- Consider taking water with you during the race – the average water station was 3 to 4 miles apart on this race which is a bit far for my body. Ended up taking a flask with me to use in-between those stops.
- and lastly…Don’t worry about your time! (can’t say that enough)
All I have for your today folks. Hope you enjoyed reading about my new love. I still have a host of road races planned, but definitely making time for more trail races… maybe a trail marathon, but do not tell Linda!