Trail Race Virgin
My first official trail race . . . 7 to 8 miles (Hardwin Adventures race which apparently makes the race mileage a bit, fluid, shall we say?) didn’t seem like that big of a deal. I mean, I’d done training runs of that distance in Percy Warner a couple of times and felt fine so I really went into it more excited than nervous. Honestly, I didn’t really care how long it took me, I was really just looking forward to some uninterrupted time on the trail in the woods.
I showed up a bit early the morning of the race to pick up my number and get my bearings. I was running this race alone, but ran into some acquaintances at the start which was fun. As I dug a handful of rusty safety pins out of the zip-loc bag full of pins provided and crumpled up my race number (only newbies leave it clean and pristine, right?), I had flashbacks to road bike racing days and started to feel some of those old pre-race jitters. I told myself I was just here to “run” and not “race” and I just needed to simply enjoy being in the woods for a few hours without needing to feed or clean anyone else (Mom of 3, 7 and under, #reallife).
The participants lined up at the start and pledged their commitment to giving their all and running with humility and respect for the land and their fellow runner which of course made me choke back a sob because #waterworks ever since birthing aforementioned children. Then just like that, we were off! After a brief stint in an open field we started a climb. Not a bad climb, really, but the crowd made it feel like I was in a ride line at Disney. Now, if you don’t know me, you must know that I don’t really like to walk or hike when I trail run, I like to run everything – albeit very slowly at times – so this queue was frustrating to me at first. I felt like I could have run this climb if it hadn’t been so crowded but I just sort of settled in and hiked and coached myself by remembering that this would save me some energy for later.
The initial climb led us up to a brief ridgeline where the crowd thinned out. Before long we came to our first significant challenge . . . a descent and subsequent ascent that required sideways footing and the occasional bracing of self with a hand on the hillside. This part was crazy steep! If I’d tried to run down (which I didn’t see anyone do), I feel certain I’d have tumbled head-over-heels cartoon style to the bottom. The ascent on the flip side was nearly as daunting. It was not runnable for me (Boo. See previous note, regarding me not liking to walk/hike) but I went into the race knowing that, so I was truly okay with hiking and had fun passing a few people who had to stop to catch their breath. All this ascending and descending was further complicated by thick mud resulting from rain overnight that was covered by a heavy layer of fallen leaves. These things worked together to make it less of a trail race and more of an adventure race for me.
After the steep ascent and descent the rest of the course fell into a regular rhythm of jeep roads punctuated here and there by climbs and descents of varying degrees of difficulty. My least favorite section was another steep descent down a trail-less hillside coated in thick mud covered with inches of dead leaves to a creek at the bottom followed by a climb with roughly the same conditions just on the other side. Really, nearly the entire course was like this which made it not my favorite, to be honest. Once I came to the first aid station across the creek I knew I had only about 3 miles left and I felt sort of home-free because the race manual had described this section of the 12K to be where you could really start to pick up some speed to the finish. Maybe I read that wrong, but I did not find that to be true. There was still much climbing to be done and I feel like when I wasn’t on a gravel jeep road, I was on one of the plentiful trail-less sections of the course guided by little multi-colored flags sunk in the thick mud and leaf icing on the cake that was the Music City Trail Ultra.
It’s kind of funny . . . another thing about me is my covert competitiveness. I like to think I’m “only competing against myself” and just “trying to do my best” and while that’s true . . . . towards the end, I came across an acquaintance I’d chatted with at the beginning. Given her experience and my lack thereof, I didn’t figure I’d see her at all after the start but here she was. All of a sudden it turned into a race for me. I tried to block out thoughts of “I must pass her, she cannot beat me” and tell myself I didn’t care who crossed the line first but she was so close. I noticed she walked the hills so I became determined to jog them if at all possible. At some point, I came up on her and she seemed surprised to see me. Then I passed her and didn’t see her again until sever minutes after I’d crossed the line. So, maybe I am a bit competitive. Could be genetic.
Takeaways from my first race . . .
- This race was tough but my training had me really well prepared for the challenge of it. Thanks Coach McClain.
- This race was not my favorite, but it was accurately described by the organizer and I feel like he did a fantastic job with the event. The course was really well marked, swag was fun and the atmosphere was chock-full of comradery. Bonus points that it was really close to home!
- I literally crossed the line looking forward to my next race, whatever that will be. I’d really like one that has you on actual trails, though, not trail-less flag marked hillside. I will say – this is not the fault of the organizer and I don’t feel like the event was mis-represented in any way, shape or form. I just really enjoy gliding up and down packed trails. I’m cool with obstacles but this course was just too fraught with less than ideal topography and conditions for me to call it a favorite.
- This is one time I can say without hesitation that I gave everything I had. Oftentimes out of fear of failure I find myself sub-consciously holding back a bit. Not here, folks. When I crossed that line I did it with my last ounces of energy. That, my friends, is a pretty cool feeling.