Today, I took part in the annual trail race at Chewacla State Park in Auburn, AL sponsored by the awesome Big Dog Running Company. While I have been out to Chewacla before on more "social" hikes and walks, this was my first trail race ever!
There was a 10K option, but this being my first timed event on the trails, I thought I might want to let the big dogs run that one, and get my trail legs underneath me with the shorter distance this time around. So I signed up for the 5'er.
Ironman Andy Meehan posted some thoughts about trail running a few years ago that I found before the race and thought were pretty solid. He says:
In addition to being a great outdoors experience, trail running can provide some real benefits to any runner — triathlete or otherwise:
- First, running on trails is fun. You don’t always know what’s around the next corner. Sometimes, you don’t even know where you are. And that’s exactly the idea.
- Second, for those of us constantly concerned about pace and distance, trail running can put the fun back into our running if for no other reason that the twists and turns and often tree-canopy covered nature of the trail doesn’t usually allow for accurate GPS readings — so don’t even bother with it.
- Third, trail running helps you focus. When you’re running on one of your familiar road loops, it’s easy to get lost in daydreams about all the other things going on in your life. When you run through the woods on a trail, not only do you have to stay in the moment to see where you’re going and where your feet are landing, but the outside world just seems to fall away.
- Fourth, trail running makes you stronger. Not only does trail running force you to constantly vary your pace, but it also strengthens all the stabilizing muscles around your knees, ankles, and feet because you’re constantly landing on uneven ground. Of course, if you’re not paying attention, this could result in a sprained ankle, but that’s all the more reason why you need to do more of it (see the point above about focus).
So, considering his points (especially the part about strengthening the stabilizing muscles in some very specific areas where I need it), in combination with my thought that running under a canopy of green on softer ground seemed like a more pleasant option than pounding some more blacktop during an Alabama summer, I thought I was ready to hit the trail!
What's the first rule of racing? While we all might approach this question differently (you might be thinking somewhere in the realm of fuel, hydration, rest, or apparel), I bet we can agree on one important rule: be at the starting line when the gun goes off, right?
I wasn't for my very first trail race. AMATEUR, BUSH LEAGUE MOVE. And I don't even have a good excuse, like sleeping in and/or arriving late!
IN MY DEFENSE (yep, such a lawyer), last night was a laaate one for me, as I did a round trip drive to Huntsville yesterday afternoon to see the latest member of the HSV Bestie crew born on June 5 to KT and Scott (their first!). Totally worth it to check in on KT, to see how small and beautiful their baby girl was on her 3rd day of life "on the outside," and to be able to tell her one day that I had the privilege of holding her while she was still in the hospital. <3 <3 <3
Race morning, after a quick breakfast of a Picky Bar and coffee, I threw on my Picky Club t-shirt, Oiselle graphite Distance Shorts and Hidden Comfort socks. Adizeroes were on the shoe rotation today.
Temps were comfortable and humidity felt really low for this time of the year. I thought I'd get to Chewacla with time to see the 10Kers coming in from their race, and get my hips, calves, Achilles and these stupid high arches nice and warmed up before I tried my hand (feet?) at the shorter trail.
Gun time was 8:45 for the 5K. So around 8 AM, I made it into Chewacla and parked near the main pavilion where I saw everyone congregating and even some folks out in the lake working on their open water swimming. Immediately, I saw lots of locals I knew and starting chatting them up, including my massage therapist Rebecca and her hubs John (both runners themselves) of Auburn Corrective Massage Therapy, Brooke (we see each other everywhere: Yogafly, Running for Brews and she's also the Community Relations Coordinator for Auburn's Earth Fare location, so she's always supporting the local races and healthy living around the area) and of course, the lovely Linda from Big Dog. Also, I saw Jessica from Big Dog cooking up some pancakes on the griddle and had to go over and confirm with her that she'd still be cooking them up later. Oh yeah, she confirmed she would.
I should have taken note of the fact that Jessica gave up her spot at the griddle and left Linda in charge (Jess was doing on-trail support for the 5K), but instead, I kept on steadily chatting Linda's ear off when I looked down at the clock on my phone and said "Hey, what time is the 5K actually getting started?" Linda looked at me with a funny expression and said -- "The horn just went off! It's in the other parking lot area."
So I took off like a woman possessed.
Let me point out this was NOT any fault of the awesome race organizers; I was on the grounds in more than enough time to figure out where the start line was. Lesson learned -- figure out where you need to be, then chat!!
Got some funny looks and chuckles from spectators as I bounded down the hill and sprinted toward where I should have been minutes earlier. I caught up with the very last runners as they made the entry into the trailhead. So basically, I started out a LOT faster and got my heart rate a LOT higher than I ever intended to in the first minute, for really no timing benefit at all. Ugh. Felt so stupid.
Once I got onto the trails, I was able to pass some folks at various intervals where it was safe to do so, but there were a lot of pretty narrow single-track portions where we were all pretty much forced to stay put in our single file line.
Some blurry phone pics on the run:
Random snaps for sure while on the move; I definitely had to keep my eyes open to focus on the up and down motion of the trail, and also keep watch for obstacles like rocks, fallen trees and exposed roots.
Andrea and Alvin were out in the middle of trail doing a water stop. Nice to see their smiling faces and Alvin had a wildflower for me waiting on the table. :) This would have been a super cute pic on the run had I moved my headphone wires (didn't get a chance to put them in during my crazy start, so they stayed wrapped in my hand with my phone the whole time).
One of my favorite things about this race was seeing "Miley," a Shih Tzu/Maltese mix run this trail like a little boss. Pretty fitting for the Trail Dogs race! Trust me, if you saw Miley out and about in every day life, you wouldn't think she was half the athlete that she is. And you would be wrong. She handled some pretty crazy jumps over the flags marking the trail as well as various rocks and stumps, and never slowed down the whole time she and her human runner friend were in front of me.
Yep, that trail dog was pretty cool. ;)
I ended up coming in 4th in my age group of 13 ladies (30-39), with an average pace of 11:42. Definitely slower than my 5K road times so far this season, but considering my crazy start, snapping some shots and getting adjusted to the trail, I wasn't complaining.
Post race was great fun.
The Big Dog folks had a loudspeaker set up with some party tunes. Right when I was coming off the course, an impromptu Cupid Shuffle started up amongst the runners. Running AND dancing?
Brooke served up some yummy watermelon, bananas and cookies from Earth Fare after she ran the 10K! Go girl!
So, learned a good racing lesson and had a great time on the trail. I picked up a map and will be coming back out this summer to take some time off from the pavement and beat the heat.
And, I got the pancake I had my eye on too! Totally worth it.