I’ve been running a lot of trails lately. Near our house are several miles of wooded trails that run through the flood zone of a creek. I’ve always been a little afraid to wonder out into the woods alone to run them but this past summer I stumbled upon a group who runs them regularly and now I am getting my fill of saunters through the woods. I love the trails. I love being outside, I love jumping over logs and roots and the endless switchbacks. The trails are great for running, maybe not so good for ankle sprains, but if you’re careful the uneven footing of the trails and the necessary hopping and skipping do wonders for building your foot, calf and ankle muscles as well as offering multiple opportunities to practice stability and balance.
Trail runners are a different breed. Not only are we all just a little more crazy than road runners, there’s something about the snakes, bugs and constant threat of falling that makes the running friendship a little stronger, a little more intimate. When you run on the road, you come home sweaty. When you run the trails you come home, sweaty, dirty and possibly bloody. It’s much more fun. Though I have only known them for a few months, my trail friends have quickly become my family.
Thanks to their encouragement, I ran my first trail race on Saturday! With just 7 weeks notice I decided that Brazos Bend 100 – the full marathon distance – would be my trail debut. I didn’t do much training specific to this race. Since I was focused on training for Shiner, I didn’t do traditional mileage building. I threw in an 18 and 20 mile run (18 on the road and 20 on the trails) and that was about it.
I didn’t have a plan for the race. I figured I’d see what pace felt comfortable and go with it. Just a couple of miles in I settled at around an 8:05. It was cold outside (low 40s and breezy), my heart rate was low, it felt sustainable. The trails were flat and fast. Obviously trails aren’t going to be as fast as a road but they were mostly crushed gravel access roads and well worn paths with few roots and almost no elevation change.
Mile 1 – 8:23
Mile 2 – 7:55
Mile 3 – 8:04
Mile 4 – 8:06
At mile 4, I ate my first Gu which I immediately regretted. It felt like someone had taken a chainsaw to my stomach.
Mile 5 – 8:03
Mile 6 – 8:04
Mile 7 – 8:02
Mile 8 – 8:03
Hoping the issues with the first Gu had passed, I took my second Gu and could barely keep it down. It took a mile to eat the whole thing and once it was gone I decided I wasn’t eating any more. Ever.
Mile 9 – 8:07
Mile 10 – 7:57
Mile 11 – 7:45
Mile 12 – 8:04
Mile 13 – 8:28
Mile 14 – 8:08
Mile 15 – 8:09
Mile 16 – 8:16
Mile 17 – 8:34
The lack of quality training runs and the trails caught up to me. At Mile 18, I could feel the stabilizing muscles in my hips start to get weak – I had to slow down because I was worried I’d catch my foot on one of the large rocks in the trail and my hips wouldn’t have the strength to keep me from falling over.
It was also around this time that I accidentally ran into a family friend. At the mile 17 aid station a tall Scandinavian man who looked incredibly familiar started running beside me. As we ran he began asking me very specific questions, almost like he knew me. I was a little confused, how could this mystery Scandinavian know me so well? After a half mile of listening to his thick accent, I realized knew him! It was Andreas, my sister-in-law’s, brother’s, wife’s, twin sister’s, husband! Did you follow that? I have only met him a handful of times thus me not immediately recognizing him. I knew he was a marathoner but I had no idea he was running BB100. It’s a small world!
He was facing similar discomfort due to an IT band problem and we ran on and off together for the remainder of the race.
Mile 18 – 8:28
Mile 19 – 8:50
Mile 20 – 9:58
Around the magical mile 20, the lack of adequate fuel and my poor tired hips collided. The one-two punch slowed my pace to what felt like a crawl. My glute minimus and medius were burning like they’d been set on fire and I had no energy at all. I had a moment where I was seriously considering burning all my running shoes and finding a different hobby.
From that point forward, I decided to begin a walk/run strategy – run until the lap beep went off on my Garmin then walk until I felt I could run again. The walking interval started at 2 minutes and went up to 4 minutes and the run intervals were at about a 9:30 pace. Though I could have run straight through I’m not sure it would have been much faster and the run/walk strategy helped in the motivation department significantly.
Mile 21 – 11:13
Mile 22 – 8:45
Andreas and I stopped at the aid station at mile 22 and I saw a friend who was volunteering. She picked me back up emotionally, told me I looked strong and that it was almost over. I ate 1/4 of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, sucked it up and we went back out onto the course. Andreas pushed me to run to the next aid station without walking and though he left me he told me he would meet me there.
Mile 23 – 11:10
Mile 24 – 11:23
At the last aid station I drank a shot of Coke and it was like nectar from God. The most wonderfully delicious thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. Ever. And another 1/4 PB&J.
Mile 25 – 11:04
Andreas informed me his IT band tightness was going away and I told him to leave me. I didn’t want to hold him back.
Mile 26 – 11:03
This is where a marathon should stop. This one kept going. Recent rains flooded the trails in the back of the park and race organizers had to change the course at the last minute so this particular race was almost 28 miles (27.79 according to my Garmin). I was joking to friends about this change in the days before the race but those last two miles were no joke. They were the tipping point from the race being pleasantly uncomfortable to downright painful.
Mile 27 – 12:04
Mile 28 – 9:02
Official time was 4:10.04 – which if it had been an actual marathon of the 26.2 variety would have been a 3:49. It’s a good time considering the conditions, and the lack of training. It was also my personal distance record, the furthest I’ve ever run. I am happy with that.
After the race was over, I looked for Andreas but I lost him in the crowd. I walked out to the car, changed clothes, ate some tacos and drank my first Coke in almost two years. It was easily the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted! Clearly, I needed the sugar. I then sat for an hour and 45 minutes waiting for the rest of my group to cross the finish line.
This was my fifth marathon but the first I’ve done alone. Jason took the kids camping for the weekend instead of coming to the race and since I was the first to finish from our group there was no one was waiting for me at the finish line. There were not no post race hugs, no congratulations. No one to ask me how I felt or to help me over to the car. No one I could complain to about how badly my legs ached. It was a little depressing, I’m not gonna lie. It was a lonely time during which I had plenty of time to think about the race.
Though I am still thrilled with my time (I was wanting a sub-4 hour, 26.2) I am disappointed in how I let myself fall apart the last 7 miles.
I haven’t trained with Gu since March. After The Woodlands Marathon I decided I was going to work on my fat adaption and aerobic development which meant I didn’t need the sugar in Gu. All my runs (including that 18 and 20 miler) have been at an aerobic pace and slow twitch fibers don’t need sugar to operate, they need fat. The shorter, tempo runs I did leading up to Shiner fell solidly into the anaerobic sugar burning category but they were all so short that I didn’t need fuel. Since I was fat adapting I didn’t need all the complex carbs in my diet so I cut almost all of them out. The results have been great. I’ve lost the last little bit of extra fat I was carrying around and the extra protein coupled with strength training has made me stronger than ever. My stomach however was no longer used to the carb bomb in a Gu. It revolted with a vengeance.
In addition, I wasn’t prepared for the trail. Although, I’ve been doing almost all my weekend long runs on trails for almost six months, all of that running has been at a slower pace. Our trails are technical. Rooty, hilly, winding, dirt paths. You can’t run any faster than an 11 minute mile on them or you’ll end up tripping on a treeroot and diving headfirst into a prickly bush.
Thanks to all those long trail runs, my stabilizing muscles were prepared for the total body workout that trail running provides and training for Shiner made my body more than ready to sustain race pace.
Unfortunately, this being my first trail race, I didn’t think about what would happen to my body if those stabilizing muscles had to do the work of the trails and support the extra force that comes with speed. Rookie mistake. I was ready for race pace on the road OR a slow trail run. I wasn’t ready for race pace on the trails.
Every race you learn and adapt. So now I know. I will begin to experiment with UCAN, which I’ve wanted to do anyway, and I need to put some extra time into working more on my hips (something I already knew but have been actively avoiding because it hurts!) and hopefully next time I will be more prepared.
Somehow, amid all this I still managed to win my age group. I have no idea how that happened. I had given up hope of placing when I started run walking at the end of the race so needless to say I was a little surprised when the race results were finally posted.
Overall place: 14; Overall Female: 4; Age Group (F 30-39): 1
Marathons are hard, they never get any easier. No matter how many I run, how good of shape I’m in or how well prepared I may be, I am always going to push myself. I am always going to give the course everything my body has. For me, marathons are meant to be raced, not just finished. For that reason, they will always be hard. They will always push me to my limits of pain tolerance and endurance.
In 2017, I will run my first real ultra. I don’t know when or where or what distance but I do know one thing…between now an then I need to learn to slow down!