This past weekend, I stepped back into my old trail stomping grounds and toed the line at Spectrum Trail Racing's Wonderland Half Marathon. I have been gradually increasing my mileage over the last couple months after I finally decided I wanted to lace up my running shoes and get after it again.
As with most of my current racing right now, I didn't have a plan going into the race, other than just enjoy my time on the trail and let the chips fall as they may. Texas weather has been ridiculously uncertain recently and, after a week or so of gorgeous running weather, Saturday morning turned up hot, humid, and all-around Texas. Luckily for us, the day started (and stayed!) cloudy for the duration. There was a horror moment in my brain, as the sun slipped out behind a cloud, (probably around mile 8) that I had some PTSD flashbacks from THIS shitshow back in May. (Read that: Trust me! You'll at least enjoy the pictures!) But all in all, the day was warm, but manageable.
Muleshoe Bend makes for a great course. In fact, if you've never run a trail race before, I would highly recommend this as the first course you should do! Not highly technical, flat, dirt-filled rolling single-track through the trees, and about as runner friendly as possible. It's a great course for fast running or for a first-time trail runner to break in their ankles.
I say that, primarily because it felt like I was a beginner all over again. I never start ANY race at the front, regardless of how good I'm feeling about my chances. I'd much rather hang back just a bit to make sure that I don't make the stupid mistake of going out too hard. In this case, I found myself 200 feet out of the gate in third place. Paul, of course, had told me that he had full intention of winning, so he took off and he was gone.
I found myself precariously behind Martha, who I knew has become an ultra-running trail badass, so I immediately started questioning my life's decisions as we rounded the first mile. It was at a relatively easy 8:35 pace, but I knew as soon as we hit the technical trail I would slow down.
About two miles in, we hit the single track and immediately four women swung around me and disappeared into the trees. I tried to keep pressing the pace, but my ankles immediately started burning. I've been running long enough to know that this was brought on by the fact that my delicate wittle feet had become unaccustomed to the rough terrain of trail running. I also knew that for as much as it sucked right now, that the pain would subside as I kept going and eventually would stop. But, in the meantime, I slowed myself down a bit to keep my legs under control.
I found myself running much of the race alone, and consequently, had plenty of time to think about what I was doing out here (well, besides running, duh!) and where I wanted to see this running go. I was finally feeling healthy and fit-ish again and the majority of the hot and steamy Austin summer weather was in the rearview. I knew that this was going to open up my running schedule again, because I could run in between training sessions. Hooray for the upcoming days that I wouldn't melt my shoes to the pavement in the early afternoons!
I've always prided myself on my mental toughness when it comes to racing. When I'm focused, you better watch out. If I have a goal, you know that I'm going to fight for it, even if that day just isn't my day. But today, out on the trails alone, my head wasn't really in it. I didn't have a goal; this race wasn't a bigger part of my running picture. I had signed up because I wanted to get back out on the trails and have fun! But that led me to be wildly unfocused on Saturday.
By mile 4, my ankles were feeling pretty good but my mind was wandering. I still hadn't seen anyone on the course and it was slow going. At about the 10k mark, I saw a yellow wrapped stump in the middle of the trail and I thought momentarily about how awesome it was that they had wrapped the stump so that no one would trip over it. As I tripped over it. And I hit it hard, too, and went sliding down the trail with a very loud and audible expletive. (Oops! But if a runner falls and curses in the woods and no one hears it, did a runner curse loudly in the woods?)
It was enough to shake me up and get me back into the here-and-now. I decided it was time to check back into the race and finish it strong. I eventually caught up to two of the women that had passed me initially - it wasn't just a hot day for me. As I was nearing the end of the race, I was able to pick it up a bit because I had been conservative enough that I was feeling pretty good.
I finished in 2:28, as 6th female and in the top-20 overall, not too bad considering I hadn't been on the trails in a while. Paul crushed it (of course!) and finished first overall! Congrats!
I'd also come to the realization that I was going to focus on a spring race. After today, I knew that I desperately needed something to put some energy towards in the coming race season. So, you'll hear it here first - I'm going to get back to my original mid-distance roots. I'm going to toe the line at 3M Half Marathon in January. No time goals right now, but I just want to show up, run hard, and put down a solid, hard effort. It's been a long time since I put that kind of goal on myself and I'm excited! So here's to working towards a shiny new PR!
That doesn't mean that I'm abandoning the trails any time soon. I still plan to incorporate some trail running into my weekly mileage, as well as continuing my strength training with my beloved Dane's Body Shop community.
I'm also making the promise to keep you all in the loop! With all of life's odds and ends, blogging has fallen to the wayside sometimes. But, I think it helps for others to see what I've been up and how I've been training, AND it keeps me motivated and honest! There's going to be good days and bad days, but that's what makes a training cycle so great!
I'm excited for the challenge!