After my failed marathon buildup at New Year's, I decided that I was going to switch gears a bit and focus on trail running through the spring and summer. It's incredibly easy to find great races in and around Austin at this time and, bonus, it doesn't hurt that Rogue puts on a fabulous Trail Series.
My racing season has been laid out like this:
March 26th - The Maze 30k (Rogue Trail Series)
April 30th - The Tangle 30k (RTS)
May - Grand Canyon and Zion National Park (woo! Bucket list item!) RAGNAR ?
May 28th - The Ranch 30k (RTS) ... also conveniently located the day before my birthday!
June 3rd - Grand Teton Half (tentative...still haven't signed up)
June 18th - Banff Marathon
July-August - TBD (Send me some trail races!)
September 16th - Sky Island 50k
So, as you can see, I'm going to be pretty busy leading into the early fall. I love trail racing because I feel like it hones into things that I'm good at - staying the course, staying strong (both physically and mentally) and powering through.
I went into the first Rogue Series race knowing a few things - I hadn't been hitting high mileage Saturdays (I hadn't ran over 16 for several months) and that I was also physically drained. I was four workouts deep into the Crossfit Games Open, and while I'd like to think I was crushing it on a (scaled) regional level, it left my body feeling constantly like someone had run me over with a truck. Then backed it up and rolled back over my limp body. And then, drove forward once more for good measure. I was pushing outside my comfort level and growing stronger, and with that I was increasingly happy, but it was also continually fatiguing on my body.
So, knowing that the race itself was going to be a suffer-fest, I pushed and, while I slowed down my strength and Crossfit workouts, I kept up my mileage and, with the race, clocked in one of my highest mileage weeks since the marathon training cycle. (Woo!)
I had talked with my coach leading up to the race with a general strategy. I wanted to race, but I knew that it would be silly for me to go out and try to run hard against much more seasoned ladies. So, instead, it was a more conservative plan. "Don't be stupid. Don't die." Boom. Can do, sir!
I'd looked up my prior Maze time (in 2014) and, while I'd like to think that I'm in much better physical shape now than then, it's always very hard to judge trail times against each other (even on the same course). But, that had given me a tentative idea of the pacing that I wanted to hit, and give myself a goal time to reach for (probably my mistake #1, but I digress.). My plan was to hit a conservative first split (1:06) and then work to bring down the splits on loop 2 (1:04), and loop 3 to push it (1:02?).
Cue race day. It was warm and muggy (but cloudy!), EXACTLY the way that I like it. To be honest, it did start to get hot as the day went on, but I would say the weather was one of my favorite things about the day. The sun stayed peacefully behind the clouds until loop 3, and I was able to meander through the trees.
I'd set up my hydration/fueling strategy a little differently this time (probably mistake #2, but you know, I'm on a roll at this point). I knew that I would spend too much time at the aid stations if I didn't pack a cooler, so I set up a cooler with pre-made and packed bottles, gels, and an in-case-of-emergency-only Red Bull. My plan was pretty simple - drink a bottle a loop, take a gel before I got a new bottle, and don't stop. Oh, and don't drink the Red Bull unless it was getting real. Like, "I'm erring towards dying" real.
Loop 1 went well. I stayed calm and relaxed and let everyone pass me. It was cool, I was feeling out the trail (Spoiler alert: never fell!) and just zoned out and let the miles click by. I was acutely aware that for the first three miles my calves were insanely sore and tight, and I tried to stay calm and not panic. There was a lot of time left, a lot of ground to cover, and now was NOT THE TIME TO PANIC. Easier said than done, yes, I know. Split Loop 1 - 1:06. Boom goes the dynamite.
Loop 2. Eat gel. Swap bottle. Cruise on in. Feeling good, but I wasn't feeling spry. Knew this was going to happen, keep calm, keep calm, keep calm. The sun was peaking out ever so slightly, so I pondered the sunglasses I left at the cooler. I'm a freakin' genius! The mountain bikers were coming out at this point, and they were friendly, but I had to be more diligent about listening for them as they whipped through the trails. We joked, we laughed. LOOP TWO IS FUN. But oh, right, I'm supposed to be running faster. I wonder where everyone is? Why haven't I seen anyone? Mile 11 - delusion sets in. Just kidding, even split again - 1:06.
So, coming into Loop 3, I was keenly aware that my body did not appreciate the second gel. Systems check. I wasn't dehydrated. I wasn't hot. I just didn't feel great. My calves didn't hurt anymore, which was a serious bonus. But, my feet were on fire. New shoes (mistake #3?) or lack of trail time, I'm not sure, but, BOY did they ache. Took one loving glance at the Red Bull and figured it was not *quite* time for emergency and everyone should stay calm. Stay fucking calm. I was hoping a bottle full of Tailwind (if I was dehydrated) would help calm down my stomach and get me through the final lap. After all, I only had one more (god-forsaken) loop to go and ... well, how bad could it get?
Loop 3 really wasn't that bad. I had written "SUFFER" on my arm in big huge letters as my mantra for the day and, looking down at my arm, I couldn't help but think..."Um, well yeah." It was lonely on the third loop. I was surprised at how few people I saw out on the course and I noticed that no one else had really fallen off pace. (Was it just me?!?! AHHHHH STAY CALM!) I spent the final loop just making mental checkpoints in my head. At the aid station, I was halfway done. When you see the big hill, that's the final mile. Hit the pavement and gun it! The last loop was also filled with the most amount of mountain bikers that I had experienced thus far. I was taking turns leap frogging a group of four guys who would fly by and then stop up ahead. At one point, one of the guys shouted "Girl! How far you running today!?" Too damn far, that's for sure.
I clocked the last Loop in 1:13, about 6 minutes off the last two and finished in 3:27. I'm happy to say that I finished. Also, I didn't die. Points in the win category for both, for sure. It was a solid achievement, considering the state that my body was in, and considering the lack of trail time that I've put in thus far. I ended up 10th overall female, in one of the most competitive fields of ladies I've seen in a long time.
I walked away from the race not entirely happy with myself because I truly wanted to pull out a better time, hit better splits, be awesome, PR. But, I realize looking back on it, that the feat itself was pretty great for where I'm at currently and I'm setting myself up for a nice entry into the Series. I know what my weaknesses are and I know that they are entirely fixable. I made a few mistakes but nothing that can't be improved upon. I've already got my eye on the next race and I'm ready to get after it.
Work hard. Be Awesome. Suffer Less.