I just got home and I am grinning from ear to ear. Today was my first mountain trail race the 1/2 marathon at Bear Mountain, part of the North FAce Challenge Series. There is a five star ranking series on this race, elevation change 4 out of 5, technical terrain 5 out of 5, overall difficulty 5 out of 5 and scenery 5 out of 5. How hard is it to run a trail race as compared to a road race? I looked up the results from2008 the first over all male, Oliver Obagi ran it in 2:15, a 10:22 pace, the first overall female professional ultra distance runner Nikki Kimball ran it in 2:25 an 11:07 pace. In the 40-49 year old women the first place women, Judy Stobbe ran it in 3:15. The first place non-prof women was 2:52. This was going to be a hard race!
I do not have trail running shoes and the trail is all rock and rivers. At the last minute I decided to wear my hiking shoes. Heck I have no experience doing thing, I am not sure what to expect besides mud and rocks, and if it took Nikki Kimball 2:25, when her last road marathon was 3:08, I am going to be out there for a while. We were told that there would be 3 aid stations so we needed to carry provisions. OK I am ready.
All night I watched the thunder and lightning but by 9:00am race start it was just raining. A total 308 people, 234 men and 74 women, lined up, I was standing with my friends Rachel, Claudia and Les. The horn went off and we ran, no walked, ran, walked. Hey, what is going on? It was a crowded and the first mile as it went up hill people were already walking! To get around them and find some space that mile was a big chuckle taking just under 12:00 minutes to complete. Wow if they are walking already it is going to be a long day. In no time though I found some space, I lost my teammates, one ahead two behind, and I was just out for a trail run. I came across the first aid station and on to my first 1000 foot climb. Piece of cake, this really feels good. The pace got much quicker and I fell in with a group of dudes. From running cross country I know I can always kick their ass on the uphill, but they can kick mine on the down hill and that is how it went most of the race. But at one time it just got a out of hand. There was an 800 foot direct downhill of rocks, suddenly the dudes were flying down the hill and falling, taking out each other like it was a bowling alley, sliding down the wet mud, hitting the rocks. It was a too much. I decided I need to run away from them which I did. I moved forward and fell into a group of older duded that I ran with most of the race. Now when I say older, most are still under 35. It seems that trail racing is a young guys sport, there were only 14 women in my age group. At New York road race there are often 300+. We had some big steep climbs, at certain points there was a string of men about 8 deep all walking. The trail was extremely narrow so I just fell in behind them and walked, took the time to eat a gel and drink my water, the pace was down to 14:00. But the time we got to the top, they were ready to rest so I motored on. One of them emerged about one mile later and passed me.
I was smiling whole race. It did not matter if it was up hill, down hill, running though shin deep water, over a mile of sharp rocks. Okay the rocks did really hurt, in this particular spot there was 4 miles to go, I had a major blister under my left bunion and the rocks were killing it. But I got off the rocks, and onto a beautiful wide path and running all alone in that last three miles, I managed to clock some 7:30’s. I took it easy, I never felt stressed, never tired, never frustrated. It was beautiful the whole way. Early on I got my fall out of the wall, tripping on a rock or my feet on a downhill. I rolled up like a little pill bug, did a complete left to right should hip roll and came right back onto my feet. One women that I did see early on, immediately asked if I needed help, the dudes just kept going. I am glad I ended up beating them all, HA! It was around mile 4.5 that I fell because my shoes were already soaked and they got very loose. I stopped after that to tighten them up. This is probably one of the downsides of running in hiking shoes, but they protected my feet, that and my crew style wool socks. With my skinny legs and short black socks I looked like a little old man but the knees down.
I am checking out my GPS, I had 5646 of ascent and 5730 decent. The course was changed from last year and made easier, I mean faster. My friend a 5X iron man, runs every intense race and tri across the country and many in European races said this was by far the hardest course she had ever run. It did take me a long time, 2:39, but I am totally happy. Out of 308 runners I was very middle of the pack, 172. Of the women I was 30 out of 74 and of the 14 40-49 year old’s a solid 7th.Judy Stobbe who won my age group last year with a 3:15 ran a 2:29 this year and came in 5th. She may be more experienced this year, but most likely this was a reflection of the course change. The majority of the women, 32 of them were 21-29. Of the 234 men, 95 were 30-39. There were only 2 men over 60 and no women. At 44 years of age I am an old timer in this crowd. Was it slow, sure, but I had a great time. I was not racing, I was experiencing. I was learning how to trail run, what it is like, and let me tell you. I may never go back to the road again. This was a blast. I love being covered with mud and dirt and smelling like some god awful swamp creature. I am wearing my scraped leg and bruised write like a badge of honor. I had plenty of energy to run hard the last couple of miles, and picked off 5 guys in my last mile. It took me an hour longer than it would have taken me on the road, but it was so much more fun you can’t imagine. I honestly was not ready to leave the woods, I would have ran it again. Speaking of that, next year I am doing to 50K. That is in preparation for the Trans Rockies, a 6 days, 113 mile multi-stage race through the Colorado Rockies. I got an email just last week from a women asking me to be her partner – you bet I could easily get used to this.