Cat’s out of the bag: I’ve officially taken up trail running. I did my first-ever trail race on Saturday night, the Aravaipa Running Javelina Jangover 7k.
It was awesome.
I started incorporating some running into my daily walk routine back in the spring, once Artemis hit about 6 months old. Upping the intensity by upping the pace helped get rid of some of her excess energy, while still keeping the time I was spending to a reasonable level. We started off very slow, keeping in mind she was still young, and only ran on dirt or grass surfaces. And when I say slow, I mean slow. Like, 1/4 mile of a 3-mile session would have been spent jogging, the rest walking.
In June, we did our first actual training walk/run on trails…Artemis took to it and behaved much better than she does on normal walks, and I found it much easier and more enjoyable to run the desert trails versus slogging out the miles on the flat canal paths around the house.
We’ve spent the summer doing our daily walks of 3-4 miles, and a couple times a week, we add some running to that. I’m not a good consistent runner — I can go, at most, about 3/4 of a mile before I need a walk break — but I do lots of short runs interspersed with walk sections, and go up and down “hills” at the water retention basin of the local park. Not ideal…but when your closest real trails are 30 minutes away…you make do with what you have. I’ve also been trying to do an actual trail hike once a week as well.
And that’s about as scientific as I get. I don’t wear a GPS, I don’t track speed, distance, or time, I don’t keep logs or records. Worst Runner Ever, I know. But I started this just for fun. I’ve never been a great runner — too slow, can’t sustain it, not built for it, have broken myself in the past when I’ve tried — but despite all of that, there’s a part of me that actually enjoys it. I like the runner’s high, but it also fulfills some of my control-freak needs: when everything else is going wrong, this is one of the few things I can directly control (as much as anything can be controlled) in that I’m not relying on another person, or a sound horse, or anything other than access to some decent running area and a body that doesn’t fail me.
And it turns out I’m actually semi-competent at trail running. I finally figured out, after Saturday night, that I’m trying to set too fast a pace on the flat stuff, and I can’t sustain it. (Mostly because it’s flat and boring and I just want to be done.) But trail running was something else. The variance of terrain kept my speed to a slow jog, and I was able to maintain it for all but a 1/2-mile uphill climb section of the race. This is unheard of for me.
The days leading up to the race had been calling for rain…and race management said, “bring jackets.” Hmmm. My first trail run, possibly in the rain…and did I mention it was a night run? I have The Best Ideas Ever. The one thing I had going for me was it was at McDowell Mountain Park, and the trail was one I have ridden on many times, so I knew it well.
|start/finish line at the Pemberton staging area|
Driving up to the park, I was chased by storm clouds, and I watched lightning striking in the distance. Upon arriving at the staging area, a quick Facebook update was made, just so everyone could be informed of my Best Idea Ever:
|“This may be a Very Bad Idea. Definitely getting
wet tonight. Lightning already striking in the
distance and part of the course is on a ridgeline.
Race strategy: try to run near someone who is
taller than me so they get struck by lightning first.”
The 7 k started at 8:30, with the longer distances of 75k, 50k, and 25k starting earlier. I had gotten there about 6:30, knowing that parking was going to be interesting and wanting to get my race packet before the skies opened up.
Got my number bib and participant shirt (just like endurance, I do this for the t-shirt), then hung out around the starting area for a bit, getting a feel for things. I also succumbed to a Good Deal on a really nice new headlamp (Black Diamond Spot) that is much brighter than my old one. Old one is great for riding in that it has one switch and two modes, red or white, and is about as idiot-proof as a headlamp can possibly be. This one is much fancier, with six different light options…but I will keep the old one as the riding headlamp and the new one as the running headlamp.
And then it started raining. I retreated back to the suburban to shelter for a bit and recharge my phone (wanted to actually GPS what I was doing for once), visited the facilities one last time, and by the time I headed over to the start area 15 minutes before the start time, it had stopped raining.
I have a strong competitive streak that tends to surface in these sort of situations, such as an en masse race start…but I also knew that would be the fastest way to wear myself out. So I stuck to the last third of the pack and headed out at a reasonable jog pace. A lot of the trail is single track or wide single track, especially the first mile, so it was fairly easy for people to spread out and pass when needed.
My main goals were to finish without embarrassing myself (I figured maybe an hour and half realistically…maybe an hour if the stars aligned and I discovered my Inner Runner), try not to wipe out on the rocks/downhill, and to avoid breaking myself.
As I mentioned earlier, the varied terrain made it easy for me to keep the pace reasonable, and I just chugged along at a little jog. I knew where the trail went, but being dark, I didn’t have a sense of the surrounding and scenery that I usually use to figure out exactly where I’m at. So it was a shock when I hit the one uphill climb of the race, at just over a mile in. I couldn’t believe I had jogged the whole section non-stop, and wasn’t doing my usual “gasping-for-breath” routine.
I power-walked up the half-mile climb…very rocky singletrack that just sort of climbs and climbs. And I passed several people on the way up. I may not be a fast runner, but I have an excellent powerwalk, and I hadn’t burned myself up in the first mile. At the top of the climb was the bench that Mimi always spooks at…the trail levels off and smooths out (a bit), so I picked up a jog again. It goes along the top of a ridgeline, fairly level (a few sections maybe 30-40 feet long that were inclines that I power-walked), then drops down on this awesomely fun, zippy downhill section.
I motored the downhill — was super pleased with how controlled the descent was, but I still kept running. Even though it was dark, and rocky, and this was the part I was most likely to wipe out, I wasn’t thinking about that — I was having fun!!!
Then the trail hit the flat, and the turn back to the finish. I had a brief thought of, “Oh, I remember how far this intersection actually is…” and kind of wanted to walk…but then the competitiveness did me a favor. I had been pacing a couple of people along the ridge and down, and I didn’t want the one in front to get away from me, or the one behind to pass me. I accessed — I still felt good, physically, was still breathing evenly, and nothing was sore. So, mental wall it was. Alright, then…keep running it is.
And I kept going. I passed a couple more people on the flat (and got passed by a couple others, but…*shrug*), even bumped up my pace a tiny bit in the last half mile or so…and then I was done, with an official finish time of 57:38.
57:38. My secret, not-going-to-tell-anyone, wildest goal was an hour.
In reality, I know this is still So Slow. But in my own little world, which up until now has been populated with the overwhelming belief that I Am Not A Runner, this is a Major Victory. I proved to myself that I could do it…and more importantly, it was fun!!! It wasn’t getting out there and slogging out the miles for the sake of Proving Who Knows What to Who Knows Who, but it was finding an activity that I enjoy, that makes me feel good, that boosts my self-confidence, and has the bonus points of being something that, if done right, will continue to improve my health, fitness, and well-being (physically and mentally…running is almost as good of mental therapy for me as riding, and in some ways better when it’s horses causing mental angst).
|finisher award (mason jar, Hammer recovery
drink, and bottle opener)
A quick breakdown analysis of what worked and what didn’t…