My first and probably last trail race
I'm three weeks out from my first "A" race of the year, 6 Days In The Dome, a 6-day ultrarunning race. When we arrived to Florida from Canada in late April, I was pumped to see that there are a ton of races running here, ultras as well as little 5ks, 10ks, even triathlons. There is a 5k almost every day within an hour's drive! This is very different from Canada where I have to hunt down carefully the little training races when I need them, even in non-COVID times. And currently all races are cancelled and have been for the last year and some.
So I spotted a little local trail race, a 50k called Sweat Swat 'n Swear, that is 3 weeks out from my big race. My thinking was that it would be a perfect training run! I imagined a relaxed pace, like my trail long runs with friends, hanging out with people and at aid stations, just making a long run a bit more fun by doing it at a race. I think that was a very good plan!
I miss my trail running friends! I ran trails with Lisa this past winter.
It is just that my coach had a different idea! Ops! He thought if I'm running a race, I might as well put some effort into it! But that put a little stress on the experience that just started out as pure fun. (I'm sure for my training, it was the best this way, coach knows his stuff!)
I'm not a trail runner. I train on trails sometimes, mostly when the volume is high, because it is much easier on the body than roads. But I will never seriously race trail like the Western States or Leadville, I simply don't think I would enjoy them. I'm quite clumsy, so I'm very worried about twisting an ankle or falling, and fun is still the biggest motivator for me in all my running and triathlon. So if I don't think it would be fun, I don't want to do it.
Back to the race. Coach said "best effort" which completely changed the feel of it. It was also basically best training effort, because I wasn't going to go through all the race prep trouble that I normally do before my real races, like not eating solids the day before the race. That backfired - oh, well, I will do it for next week's training race, I don't want to spend so much time in port-a-potties and in the bushes even on a training race!
The race started at 6am and I must say that the organizers, A1 Ultra Events did a great job. I think the course was well marked, even though a lot of us got lost, multiple times, even the best and most experienced runners in the race. But they admitted that what happened was that they were chatting and not paying attention to the course markers and that's how they got off course.
When I was paying attention - after I realized what I was doing and how this is done - I was mostly fine. The problems start when you get in the zone and totally zone out and then when you are back into reality you have no idea if you missed a marker along the way.
I started out with two very experienced-looking and fast ladies and a guy in a 4-pack, behind the guys' lead pack. First I was leading our pack for a tiny bit but of course I quickly missed a turn and then Katie took over, who at least knew what she was doing! She was also really fast and very impressive to watch, about 20 years younger than me, she was gliding along the single trail at an amazing speed, following all the markers that I surely would have missed. I believe she is training for Leadville.
It didn't take me long to realize that the pace of the pack was too fast for me. However, it also dawned on me around the same time, that if I get dropped, there is no way I'm going to find the course! So I hang on for my dear life until the first aid station at around 6km / 4mi, but they all just flew through the station, not even stopping! I figured this was my perfect excuse to drop off, so I did.
I like trail running for easy training days
I filled my water bottle and got going totally alone, hoping for the best. That pace of the first bit took a toll on me and I needed about 10k / 6 mi to recover and feel better. I was also very confused about how this trail racing thing is done, but eventually I figured out that you just constantly have to scan everywhere for the little orange ribbons that mark the course. You can't let up because then you will miss a turn! The course was not straight forward at all, with lots of twists and turns, maybe there are easier ones out there, but this one you just had to pay attention every second! It was marked well but you had to have your guards up!
Also, once you realize, oh, I haven't seen a marker in a while, am I lost? There is no way to know... you just keep running and hope to eventually see a marker... and then at what point do you call it and trace your steps back to find the course? Or keep hoping a marker shows up and you are on the right path? Once you find the course, or like I did, you realize, there is a parallel trail and that's where the markers are, how do you know if you are running in the correct direction even if the markers are there? You might start running backwards, no way to know!
At one point people started coming the opposite direction. That was so confusing! "Wait a minute, how are you coming this way?" , "Because I'm doing the 25k!", "Ah, ok, that makes sense!" - it still made me very nervous to see people keep coming the opposite direction!
Even the leading guys got lost. They looked like very experienced trail runners and so did Katie, she got lost too! But again, admittedly she was chatting and not paying attention. I don't really know, but I heard that the other girl that was with Katie and also seemed like an experienced trail runner, got so lost that she ended up turning back - that's how I got 2nd place!
Round and round the track is my happy place. You can't get lost! Chasing Erin is always fun.
The leading guys got lost twice, but a ton of other runners got lost too. I think I missed markers twice but then both times I found my way back relatively quickly. At one point, that was still when I was trying to pull myself together after letting the ladies' lead pack go, the two leading guys were coming up from behind me. WTH? I told them "I lost the lead pack so I have no idea what I'm doing". They said "We were the lead pack". Then they surged ahead and got in the lead again. But then when those 25k runners were coming up the opposite direction, which made me very nervous, I was just starting to get used to it. I still asked every now and then "You are in the 25k, right?". I was just about to ask a guy when these two leading the 50k came from the opposite direction! Again, WTH?
They said they were now confused and had no idea which way the course was. (See, when you find the markers, no way to know which direction the course goes!) I told them that I think I'm going in the right direction this time! This happened around 35k / 22mi. So they surged ahead again and still beat me by 40-50 minutes!
I was feeling quite good between 20k-30k (12mi-18mi) but then I took a caffeinated gel and that gave me GI issues again. Grrrrr! More time in the bushes... Then 30k-40k (18mi-24mi) felt good again, I was paying attention to the markers, kind of getting a hang of how this is done, running alone with my music, a lot in deep sand. The course was flat which I liked. I passed some guys who were starting to fall apart.
I got in a good groove and I found my sustainable effort at 5:35-5:45 pace (9-9:25 min/mi) on the flat parts, slower in deep sand and uphill. Those 20km (12mi) were quite enjoyable actually.
My most likely only trail race medal ever
Then towards the end I started to get worried - I didn't seem to be as close to the start as I expected I would need to be. So I was constantly worried if I'm going the right way or if I'm just adding distance and making this into a much longer run. But I figured even that is good for my training, so I'm ok. At this point there were people walking and coming in the opposite direction, being on loop 1 when I was on loop 2, and the courses crossed each other a bunch of times, and I constantly kept questioning myself. About 2-3 miles from the end I passed a guy who was walking and I think he was in the 50k. Then less than a mile from the end another 2 were walking and I think they were also in the 50k. Then I saw a guy in front of me who was going really slowly and I knew he was also in the 50k so I started sprinting to catch him but the finish line was too close. I was closing in on him quite fast! I finished 5 seconds behind him!
Katie beat me by 4 mins, I was actually quite surprised it was only 4 mins, I expected at least half an hour but I guess she might have had her own troubles, plus she got lost and it is possible that since she had the win in the bank she eased up.
I finished 5th overall, 2nd female, 1st master female in 4:58:35 and I'm ok with that.
After the race I told my coach that next time I come up with the idea of doing a trail race, he has to say NO and he has to remind me that it is a bad idea for me!
Now, onto the track next weekend, 12h training race, that's so much more my element, I will definitely be happy there!