Sunday, June 10, 2012

My First Ever Trail Run - The Ranch 10K

I have been a long time subscrber to Runner's World magazine.  A few months ago, they published a special edition devoted to trail runs.  I enjoyed reading the magazine and thought it would be fun to try a trail run at some point.  A few weeks later I needed some new running shoes.  While I was at the store getting my repacements I thought "what the heck" and asked about trail shoes.  I ended up walking out the door with two new pair of shoes that day.  My new trail shoes were the Brooks Cascadia.  I have to admit that I am normally a Saucony wearer, so walking out with Brooks was something new.  It helped that they are lime green.  :)

Now that I had the shoes, all I had to do was find a race.  I wasn't really looking since my big focus this year is Ironman Arizona, but then someone mentioned The Ranch 10k on June 10th.  Hmmm.  In looking at the training calendar, it would work.  My run scheduled for the day was for 1:15 and I knew it would take me longer to run a 10k on the trail than it does on the road.  So I signed up.

The Ranch was actually the third race in a 3 part trail series put on by Rogue Running, one of the local run stores in town.  The first one was called The Maze, the second one The Loop and this one The Ranch.  They were all at different locations.  When I picked up my packet on Saturday, I realized that maybe I should have started with the first one.  It appeared from reading the description of the race course that this one was the more difficult ones and had some technical aspects to it.  Oh joy. 

The shirt was nice.  A pretty color blue and a dri-fit that came in men's and women's cut.  I love races that offer women's cut shirts.  However, I did notice on the back of the shirt it said "get dirty".  Hmmm.  Was this a sign of things to come?

This mornng I got up super early.  The race site was in the hill country about 1.5 hours away.  When I got to the race site, this was the beautiful sunrise in the sky.

I headed down to the race start to pick up my chip and hit the port-a-potty.  I could tell right away that trail races (or at least this one) have a different atmosphere than road races.  The start line was nothing fancy.  Just a timing mat and a timing clock next to it.  Everyone seemed really relaxed.  A few people were warming up a little, but not like at a road race.  Many people were bringing chairs and coolers down - either to spectate or for the party after the run.

There was a 30k race on the same course that started at 7:00.  When it was time for that race to start, a lady simply counted down and said go.  She didn't even have a megaphone.  Most of the 30k folks took off, but some were late.  They didn't seem to care.  They got their chip, put there stuff where they wanted it, walked on the other side of the timing mat and began their race.  No big deal.

Thirty minutes later it was time for us to start.  I knew I wouldn't be super fast (I'm not even super fast on the road), but I didn't want to be at the very back either, so I seeded myself kind of in the back of the middle.  The same lady counted down and told us to go.  And we were off.

I have to admit that I'm not one for doing warmups really before any race and this one was no different.  However, once we started the race I kind of wish I had done some warming up.  The race started right off the bat with a climb.  That will get your heart rate going real fast.  It wasn't a short climb either.  That may have been a good thing, however, as it kind of separated people into appropriate pace groups.  After we got up and over that hill the race narrowed into what I think of when I hear trail race - a single file narrow trail through the woods. I only hoped that I was running an ok pace and not holding anyone up behind me.  I was very careful about watching the feet of the guy in front of me.  The trail was fairly smooth, but there were definitely rocks and branches to watch out for.  I made sure to let the people behind me know that if they wanted to go around me, I wouldn't be offended.

The trail stayed single file for a while but would occasionally open up onto some open faced rock.  These areas were a little tricky, but did allow for the faster runners to move ahead.  I was feeling fairly happy with the progress I was making.  So far, I was managing to "run" the whole way.

The interesting thing about the trail run for me was that I had no concept of how far I had gone.  When I do a road race or even a training run around the neighborhood, I'm fairly good at knowing when a mile has passed.  Not out here.  And I didn't even look at my garmin.  I was too busy watching the ground beneath my feet.

The first aid station was probably somewhere between mile 1.5 and 2.  I did glance at my garmin around this point and note that I had  been running over 20 minutes so far.  I knew my pace would be slower today so I didn't really care.  I just kept going.  Running when I could, walking when I needed to because of a steep uphill climb or because I was afraid I might roll an ankle.  I did not want to risk any kind of injury with a tri next weekend and IMAZ as the main goal this year.  I will admit that a couple of times my ankles did "roll", but I rolled with them and did not hurt anything. 

Somewhere in there was also an "unofficial" aid station.  It was just a cooler with a jug or two of water and a trash can to throw empty water bottles.  I had managed to drink my gatorade by the time I reached this point (which is unusual for me as I normally don't finish a full bottle on a 1.5 hour run), so I bent down to throw it in the trash.  As I was turning away to get back on the trail, my right leg hit the cactus next to the trash.  I looked down and could see a few of the cactus thorns sticking out of my leg.  It wasn't a big cactus and they were not real sharp, so it didn't hurt.  I pulled out what I could and continued on.  It wouldn't be a trail run without some kind of brush with nature, would it?

I did stop a couple of times to take pictures of the kind of path we were running on.  It doesn't really do the trail justice, but here are the pictures.

I made it to the next aid station, grabbed a gatorade and headed toward the finish.  The first part of the course had been mostly uphill, which is hard on the lungs.  The second part was a lot of downhill, which is hard on the legs.  There were a couple of places where the drops were about 3 feet.  It was also about this point in the race when I began to get lapped by some of the 30k folks on their second lap.  Obviously some of these folks do this kind of racing all the time, because they were flying.  I'm not sure how they go so fast and avoid injury.  When I would hear them behind me I would find a place to move to the side and get out of their way.

We also had a few spots of low water crossing that we went through.  None of the water was high and there were usually rocks you could "jump" on to get across.  The fast folks - they just ran through it like it wasn't even there.

As we got closer to the end you could hear the voices of the people at the finish, but you couldn't see it.  And of course, we kept weaving this way and that way. I thought I'd never get to the finish.  Toward the end, I actually thought I might have taken a wrong turn.  There wasn't anyone in sight in front of me and I saw someone running on the road instead of the path.  But then two of the 30k folks came past me and I knew I was ok.  I was very happy to know I was headed downhill and across the finish of my first trail run.

I crossed the finish and checked my watch.   Ouch.  My slowest 10k ever.  The garming also said I had run 6.87 miles.  Just a little more than a 10k.  But, I had no injuries and I had finished, so it was a success.  I had kind of hoped coming into the race that it would be small and I might have a chance to place, but that was not to be.  Especially since they only gave awards for open division (39 and under), Masters (40-49) and Grand Masters (50+).  When I checked at the aid station I was 18th of the masters women.  I don't know if that is official or not.

However, they did have burgers (and veggie burgers for me) and beer ready at the finish.  It was kind of weird eating a burger at 10am, but it tasted good.  While I was sitting there eating it the winner of the 30k came in.  They also started giving out the 10k awards.  The 10k winner time was in the 50 minute range.  That's what I do on the road.  Again, I'm assuming they run on trails alot.

I did really enjoy the trail run and will definitely do more in the future.  I think it would be fun to go and camp the night before and then hang out after and swim and relax before heading home.  My new shoes seemed to work, so that was good, and I made some notes for next time.  Number one is bring a cooler with an ice cold coke for the finish!!!

While I may not have gotten in as many training miles today as I would have had I just run at home, I definitely got the time on my feet and a good workout it.  And because of the trail and having to have quick feet and alter my stride to miss rocks, etc., I have a feeling I will feel some muscles tomorrow that I haven't felt in a while.

Happy trails!!