Takeaways from my first trail race since the good ol’ high school x-country days of yore:
1) My horrible sense of direction is even worse in the woods! Who would have guessed? —> TRY TO ALWAYS HAVE SOMEONE IN YOUR SIGHTS. The first two runners were too far ahead for me to glimpse, and the other runners were too far behind, so I ended up running alone which of course led to me taking a wrong turn, which then led to, oh, an extra 2.5km tacked on to the 18k distance for me. Because why do 18 with everyone else when you can do 20.5 AND run/crawl/scrabble up the hill of death four times instead of just three?
2) Ankle support is crucial. I think I need actual trail running shoes. Ouch.
3) Garmins and GPS watches = pointless. They can’t link up to those mysterious satellites in the sky that somehow track our runs (and track our lives??? Creeeepy.) from the dense canopy of the Carolinian forest, so your distance and pace are going to be all out of whack. Plus, pace does NOT matter when you’re trail running. Go by effort, not by a number. If you feel like you’re dying, that’s good. You’re running hard enough.
4) Bug spray = obvs. Also, I’m now paranoid about ticks and Lyme disease thanks to a Runner’s World article and a story we ran in the paper this week, so check your legs and arms afterwards for those nasty little buggers.
5) Stay in the moment. You’re kinda forced to actually, because the only thing that matters when you’re running around in the woods is paying attention to that next step. I love running because you can let your mind wander and think about all kinds of things, but trail running is definitely not the place or time to do so, or else you will trip and fall and keep rolling until you possibly/likely break your leg. Running is both the hardest and easiest thing in the world – it’s just putting one foot in front of the other (and rinse and repeat, etc) but trail running really reminds you of that.
6) Clear your schedule of anything requiring movement for the next three to four days after the race. Because you are going to be SORE. I’ve never hurt that much from running except after my two marathons, and this was half the distance. I was just able to master stairs today (four days later). I’ve been biking anywhere I absolutely needed to go (like, oh, work, say) and my little commute consists of 1km downhill, so I technically just (gingerly) swung my leg over my bike and let gravity do its thing. Trail running uses every single muscle, and not just in your legs. My core and arms got a serious workout – and in that vein, TGFST (thank goodness for strength training). I definitely think my little strength routine a couple times a week and my core work helped me on Sunday.
7) Keep smiling and keep a sense of humour. As alluded to in my first point, I ended up taking a slightly more scenic, extended route than everyone else, and initially I was pretty upset with myself (even more so because no one else KNEW I had gotten lost – not sure actually if broadcasting my stupidity would have been a good idea – so I had to pretend like my second place finish was cool, when I was really crying on the inside like the weird sore loser/winner I am because if I hadn’t gotten lost I would have won for females and placed third overall, and whew, longest tangent EVER) but basically, what I mean to say is: running is FUN. Let’s keep it that way.
When I run, I feel so happy (ok, maybe not all the time, but when the stars align and mercury is in retrograde – whatever that means – and I do my warm-up consisting of exactly 28 side twists and four calf raises and the Gu served on course is strawberry-banana…when all those things are in order THEN I feel happy)* and pouting about a few things going off-course (literally) is lame and takes some of the joy out of the whole experience. I had a few of those moments running on Sunday where I just couldn’t keep the huge smile off my face, because I felt so strong and powerful and confident and just blissed out. My right quad and groin felt great, and besides looking down at the ground all the time in fear of a rogue root (actually quite a few people wiped out on the course, it was terrifying!), I felt unstoppable. And isn’t that why we run?
(besides the free glass of Burning Kiln wine at this particular post-race party?)
*massive, massive over-exaggeration, and said (in my mind) very tongue-in-cheek. I prefer PB flavoured Gu, anyway.