#5 – Embrace the Mud

No better way to embrace this resolution than by running the 2012 Willis River Trail Run!

I first heard about this race from a friend in the fall, shortly after finishing the Maymont X-Country Festival’s 8 miler.  That was my first trail run in several years, and while I ran hard and finished well, I was amazed at how much harder it was to run trails.  I went out fast, and for the first 3 miles was in first place.  But, while 7:30/mi would have been a conservative pace for the road, it was way too aggressive for the trail.  My whole body hurt, and I started to bonk big-time around mile 7.  I ended 5th among women, and realized that if I could actually build some core strength and train off-road, I might score a podium spot in 2012.

Since that race in September, I’ve only been on the trails a few times…while I never hesitate to go for a run on the road, a solo trail run is beyond my comfort zone.  Despite my lack of training and string of recent injuries, I decided to go out and run the 35K race on Saturday. I was running with my friend and her husband, both of whom have signed up to run Holiday Lake 50K++ in February.

It was a CHILLY 28 degrees at the start.  I wore long pants and a double layer of long-sleeves on top.  I decided to forgo my new trail shoes (not enough training miles in them yet) and put on an old pair of my tried-and-true Adidas Supernova Glide’s.  I was a bit worried by their lack of traction, but knew my feet would stay happy in them.  As it turned out, they held the ground just fine.

The course was an out-and-back, with aid stations about every five miles.  35K should = about 22 miles, so we were expecting the turn around mile 11.  We started at a conservative pace for the first 10 minutes, and when my hip felt OK, I decided to go on when my friends picked up the pace.  Of course, it was a wilderness trail, so the pace was a blazing 10:30/mile.  It takes a lot for a road girl like me to get used to the “slowness” of trail running, but having my HRM show me how hard I was working, I quickly made peace with it.

We hit the first aid station about an hour after starting, not before hitting what would truly be the most maddeningly difficult obstacle:  MUD.  Early week rain showers and balmy temps had turned much of the trail into a swamp.  The race director had a few detours in place, but none of the runners escaped with clean shoes!

We left the station, and ran to the second section…looking out for the blessed turn-around.  It seemed like forever, but we finally saw the first two guys run by – they were smoking!  The first woman passed us maybe 1/2 mile before the turn-around, and by the time we pulled out of the aid station, we knew we were the 4th and 5th females on the course.  Mercifully, we also knew the top 3 were essentially out of reach, so there was no need to push the pace and try for the podium.

I felt tired leaving the first aid station, but caught a second wind during that second section.  I knew it would be a long road back, but I just needed to keep pace with my group and endure.  I stayed on top of hydration, and ate three gels over the course (along with one chocolate chip cookie!).

We made it back to the aid station, topped off our water and set out on the last section – about 5.5 miles.  I started to get really tired, and we walked a lot of the hills.  Even so, we maintained our placement and crossed the finish line in 3:29.

All told, the race took me as long as my marathon, and the effort felt similar.  Mentally, it was much more enjoyable, as the uneven terrain and obstacles kept me on my toes!  It was a huge confidence boost to get 3 1/2 hours on my feet, and I hope this signals a return to form.  I start PT today.  This, along with my cross-training will strengthen my legs and get them ready for the 32+ miles Holiday Lake will throw at me.

One step at a time…

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