Race Recap: Xterra 21K Trail Run

I didn’t mean to run this race.  There were a lot of reasons not to do it.  I’ve been ramping up my mileage over the last month, and I really needed to get 18 under my belt to set up one last long run before vacation.  After my recent AT debacle, the last thing I needed was to make a foolish mistake, and I worried that the implicit pressure of a “race” would cause me to trip up (literally and figuratively!).  With speed work on Tuesday and a 4-mile race on Thursday, perhaps this would be too much work for one week.

On Monday, I went to the website.  Online registration was still open.  I sat and debated and rationalized.  My smarter self prevailed (for once) and I decided not to run.

On Wednesday, I went to the website.  Online registration was closed.  “That makes it easy” I said to myself, and I decided not to run.

On Friday, with a million things to do and not nearly enough time, I sped down to Canal Street – walked into the Crown Plaza, and plunked down my $50.  Idiot.

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Saturday dawned bright and hot.  The girls gone for the weekend, all I had to do was feed the dogs, throw my bag in the car, and head down to Browns Island.  I arrived, on schedule, just before seven.  My plan was to run 5 miles before the start, thus satisfying my 18-mile requirement for the day.  I also hoped these extra miles would take the edge off my competitiveness, and help me treat this more as a training run.

I loped up the hill to Franklin, then headed east for a lap around the VA State Capitol.  My goodness, but do we have a beautiful city in the morning!  Down to Shockoe Slip past Bottom’s Up, East along Tobacco Row, and back along the bike path to the flood wall.  Easy, Easy running down the canal, and back for a lap around Brown’s Island, I finished up just as the briefing started at 7:45.

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The route took us east, where we crossed the river and turned west to run along the flood wall on the South bank of the James.  Crushed gravel, pavement and no shade went the first two miles (though I got a laugh at the first aid station, when the runner in front of me grabbed a cup of “water” and tossed it over his head, only to find out it was Gatorade).  But then we came upon Riverside Towers and jumped on the Buttermilk Trail.  My feet had found their happy place, and I bounded along to Reedy Creek and Forest Hill Park.

The course makes two loops through Forest Hill Park, and I am glad I knew this going into the race.  The three mile loop is hilly and hot.  Right around the 4 mile mark (9 miles of running), my energy started to ebb a bit.  I had stashed some PowerBar gummies, and over the next 5 miles they gave me the boost I needed.  There weren’t many girls around, but I was able to pass those I came upon. I finished my first water bottle (filled with Nuun), and refilled at one of the water tables.

About halfway through the first lap, I fell in behind a guy from NoVA.  He commented on how tough the trails were, and it turns out this was his first time running off road.  He was a strong, fit guy, and it killed him to hear that our pace was around 9:30/mi.  I tried to assure him that this was respectable (I thought) for the trails (For comparison, when I’m training on the road, I might run a 7:30 pace.  The same perceived effort on the trails will be around a 10-10:30 pace).

I stayed with RoadGuy for the next lap as well, and as we were nearing the end, I stood aside to let another man pass.  He was jumping back in after stopping to take off his soaked socks.  For the second time, I got the comment that the trails were incredibly difficult.  We started talking…he was from Kentucky and had come up so his boys could compete in the triathlon Sunday.  Our pace had slowed by this point, and I was enjoying the conversation, so I didn’t mind when the girl who had been shadowing me finally passed us.  I let her go, confident in my strategy to enjoy the day, and not make myself fight for higher placement.

We rock-hopped across the James, and up and over Belle Isle.  Got to meet a guy training for Grindstone who had run the entire course before the race (don’t I feel like a pansy for my measly 5-miler).   We chatted about JFK and Catoctin – he’d run both and was happy to give me advice.  I was reminded again why I love ultra-runners.  My ClifShot had kicked in, and I was feeling like I could have run all day.  I passed one last woman on the footbridge, trotted up Tredegar Street and sprinted through the finish line.

My time for the day was about 1 hour and 53 minutes.  Not a PR by any means, but enough for 9th female overall (3rd in my age group).

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It turns out the Xterra was a huge step forward for me, with lessons that I will apply to the coming months of training:

1)  It was totally the right call to add on miles before the race.  It kept me on schedule, training wise, and dealt with the psychological issues that creep up during a race.  I went to the starting line without the self-imposed pressure to perform.

2) That being said, that I could take it easy and still crack the top-10 was highly motivating.  My hip & Achilles felt great and I could totally tell that the strength-training is working.

3) I fueled and hydrated correctly.  Nuun to start, water & gatorade to finish.  PowerBar gummies at mile 9, 11, & 13.  ClifShot at mile 16.  When I felt tired, I ate or had some Gatorade and I never felt like I was nearing empty.

4) I could have gone farther.  Especially if I had dialed in my pace during the 21K.  Knowing that, I feel OK upping my long-run mileage over the coming weeks, and I feel good about my plan to run Catoctin July 28.

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