Well y’all … I did something a little bit crazy this weekend. I ran my first trail race! I survived and I absolutely loved it (like really, really loved it).
I realize you might be asking yourself, “Is that really any different than all the other running that she normally does?” I am here to tell you that it is most definitely different from “road” running (especially when there is flash flooding all across the coast the night before the race).
Since I am admitting to my craziness, I need to go ahead and tell y’all what else I did. I signed up for my first ultra-marathon! It’s a 50K (31 miles) in August … wait for it … in Tahoe! You might remember that last year I ran 30 miles (broken up into two runs) for my 30th birthday. This year I am continuing the tradition with a 31 mile trail race for my 31st birthday. The race advertises itself as an “adventurous romp through some of planet earths most scenic and challenging trails […] with 360 degree panorama views of Lake Tahoe.” To say that I am excited about it would be a huge understatement!
Since I am running a 31 mile trail race in a few months, it seemed logical that I should practice running on trails. Enter –> Blackwater 10 Mile Trail Run Challenge just outside of Pensacola, FL in Blackwater State Park. I had heard about this race before, but I had never run it and I figured a 10 mile race would be a good way to ease into trail running. You know, start “small” with a 10 miler? It made sense in my head, but now that I am typing it out it doesn’t seem all that logical.
I have run on trails before, but I had never raced on trails. I would say less than 0.01% of my running has been done on trails. We just don’t really have a lot of trails to run on in this area. I plan to jump on any opportunity that I can get over the next few months. My friend Ashley is running Tahoe with me and I also convinced her to run the 10 mile race this weekend.
We got up early Saturday morning, made a quick stop at Starbucks (because … coffee) and made the drive over to Pensacola. We pulled into the park to find that the road was completely flooded. I don’t know if you’ll really be able to tell, but the water was pretty deep. At this point, we were starting to doubt ourselves a little bit. What in the world were we getting ourselves into?!
The atmosphere was refreshingly relaxed. I have heard that the “trail racing scene” was very low key and those rumors were definitely confirmed this weekend. The race director was going over some last minute course changes with us and he said, “Now at this point, the trail and the creek basically become one.” He also told us it wasn’t a matter of if the trail was going to be wet, it was whether or not any portion of it would be dry. Well okay then. Basically we went into the race with no real expectations, other than to not break ourselves.
The course is a point-to-point race that consists of single track, technical footing with some short stints on fire roads. Due to the flooding this year, we actually ran a few of the miles on the road, road, which was really nice for me. I was able to pick the pace up on the road and make up some time.
The trail the first three miles weren’t too bad. The trail was more sandy than muddy. We saw several deer and I was just enjoying being out and soaking up all the nature that I could. I ran the first three miles in 7:39, 7:21, 7:31.
We took our detour around mile 4 and ran a few miles on the road. I sped up and ran those miles in 6:59, 6:45, 6:49. I ended up passing a lot of people on the road, which I didn’t really want to do because I ended up in no man’s land. I was pretty sure that I was going to be running slower on the trail than the folks I passed though, so I wanted to go ahead and make up some distance on them.
Of course this is about the time that we turned onto the really muddy, wet portion of the trail. See pic above. For a mile or so I couldn’t see anyone in front of me. I tried my best to follow the course (it’s harder to do than it sounds) and stay upright. I came around a corner at mile 7 or 8 and all of a sudden found myself almost knee deep in water. The tree with the trail marker on it was smack dab in the middle of (what seemed like) a big pond. Hmm. I had no clue which way to go and either way was going to involve wading through water that was over waist deep. I made the executive decision to stop and wait on the next runner to come before I kept going. I really didn’t want to be lost in the middle of the woods.
I am so glad that I waited because we definitely went to the left and I was leaning towards going to the right. We had to wade through the “pond” and then cross the creek on a railroad tie (which was very slick). The water didn’t get much over my shorts and it actually worked out quite nicely because I was really muddy before that and the water cleaned me off. Gotta look on the bright side, right?!
The last few miles were all on super muddy trails. My pace slowed way down! The last four miles were 8:47, 9:00, 9:01, 7:30. I felt like I was doing “high knees” the whole time. It was tricky because there were lots of roots, limbs and trees to cross, but sometimes you couldn’t really see them because they were underwater. It was pure craziness and pure bliss at the same time! I was on an extreme runner’s high by the end of the race.
I crossed the finish line in 1:17:52 (just under 8 minute pace). I was 7th overall and 1st female. Less than two minutes later, Ashley came in. She was 2nd female! We got separated at the start and the majority of the race was single track, so I wasn’t really sure where she was. We were both really pleased with how it went and we had a blast!
Now I want to run all. the. trails. and I am even more excited about Tahoe!
Nature. Love it or hate it? I’m definitely in the love it camp.