I've been a runner for most of my life. I've competed in everything from 400m to a 50k ultramarathon. But this past weekend was my very first trail race.
If I could summarize the experience in just one word it would be, "humbling". I had entirely too much confidence going into the event and it kicked my a$$.
So, if you're thinking about signing up for a trail race or you are an experienced trail racer and want a good laugh - keep reading. This is the story of my first trail racing experience.
What Is a Trail Race?
Trail running or trail racing is exactly what it sounds like - you're running on a trail surface rather than a traditional road. Trails can be gravel, dirt, grass, or any combination of natural and made-made surfaces.
Trail runs can be any distance. Some of the most hardcore trail runners compete in distances up to 100 miles! Trail running does not necessarily have to be straight up a mountain but it often features major elevation and rugged terrain.
Why Is Trail Racing So Hard?
I can't speak for everyone but the general consensus among the 9 million trail runners in the United States is that trail racing is hard. The combination of elevation and terrain was like nothing I've experienced.
When you're used to running without stopping it's hard to adjust to the walking/running combination that's often necessary to complete a trail race. Your muscles and joints may not be prepared for uneven surfaces or steep incline and decline.
What I Learned
Here are the key takeaways from Gunstock's Peak to Peak 10k Trailfest Challenge:
I should have trained to run trails
My muscles were the limiting factor, not my breath/cardio
The mental battle is as hard as the physical one
I'm not good at efficiently running downhill
Don't check your watch - you don't want to know
I should do more ankle stabilizing exercises
The camaraderie among trail runners is AWESOME
The course was about 1.25 miles straight up a mountain. There was a lot of hiking during this part. The next 1.5 miles was a single-track trail up and down the ridgeline culminating in another climb to the mountain summit.
But then, the hard work started. It was about 3 miles of single-track descent over rocks, leaves, roots, and across a creek. Each and every step held the possibility of a sprained ankle.
I struggled with the climbs but kept pace with most of the runners around me. However, when it came to the downhill, there were a dozen runners that passed me. The unpredictable footing and my fragile ankles were no match for this trail.
I finished the 10k race in about 1 hour and 16 minutes - only about 30 minutes longer than it would have taken me to run a 10k on flat ground - hah!
But as I reflect on the race I realize that it's been a while since challenged myself like this. I knew from the course map it would be hard but that didn't at all prepare me for the reality.
And even though my ankles still hurt and my quads won't let me walk down the stairs normally yet - I'm happy I did it. It's important to take on new challenges and to be uncomfortable (physically or otherwise). It is in this discomfort that we discover our potential to grow.
Try Something New
So if there is a challenge you've been shying away from or that just came on your radar - consider it. The discomfort is temporary and a small price to pay for the personal satisfaction that comes from doing hard things.
It might be a little while before I sign up for another trail race but it definitely wasn't my last. if you're looking to get into trail racing, check out this article from runner's world.
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