Right off the bat, about a 1/4 mile, a dude misses the path around the closed (and locked) gate and slams into a 3 foot steel post landing on his side in the road right in front of me. He was okay though and continued on. Warning received. I better take this a bit more seriously.The first mile was mostly on packed dirt and downhill through a winding dirt forest path. This fed my overconfidence. First mile: 6:20. This is way faster than I wanted to be going.
Second mile, it all caught up. Guess what? After you go downhill for a bit, there is payback on an uphill path. That goes up, up, up, up...never severely so but constantly and seemingly without end. Now I realize how I did the 6:20 first mile. The first mile hill must have went straight down and I didn't even realize it.
After mile 2, I'm already begging for a water station. It was about 70 degrees at the start but, trapped in the trees and brush, it feels like 80 or 85 now with the foliage creating a sort of devilish blanket.
I decided to get much smarter about my pace and settled in at a goal of 7:20 miles. At mile 2.5, there is a brief 6 foot river crossing - just big enough to require a couple ankle deep foot steps in the muddy river. Okay, so 7.5 miles left now in soaked socks and shoes. Another new experience.
By the half mark, I'm already contemplating a walking break. I never would consider this at this point in a typical road race. The rolling hills are non-stop. Of course, you don't feel the down hills but you sure as hell feel the up hills. And it seems like it is all up hill!!
I carried on until mile 6 when a large drop (I considered sliding down on my rear but took one look at the tangled roots and rocks protruding down the hill and gave that idea up) knocked the wind out of me. I gave myself a 30 second walk break.
Miles 6-8 I spent a lot of time questioning why I didn't start with the 5 mile run. Also, I'm considering the 50k trail run next year. At this point, thoughts were passing through my head like "you would never make 31 miles of this" and "are you freakin' crazy?".
By the time I hit mile 9, I caught sight of a man who had flown by me around the half way mark while I was despairing about my lack of trail running conditioning. He was within sights again. With 1/3 mile to go, I zoomed past him and found extra life to sprint into the finish (maybe because that part was flat and on a concrete surface?? back in my element??). That felt great.
Post race with the kids
I remember saying to my wife afterwards "I think this was harder than the marathons." In hindsight, I don't think it was. It was tough. It was more of a challenge than I expected. The constant up/down, twisting, turning, and need for total concentration just made it different than road marathon running. There is constant strain on the legs as you go through patches of loose dirt, take last second leaps over knotty roots coming up from the trail like little mountain ranges, while watching for low hanging branches. I think I nearly twisted my ankle about a dozen times but managed to catch myself before it went to far to cause injury. Plus, you can't zone out and just run. Concentration is required to stay on the course. For about 4 miles I was running by myself, I couldn't see anyone ahead of me and only heard the occasional crunch of branches behind me to indicate the presence of someone else. They mark the course with ribbons tied to trees but, if you zone out, you might wander off one of the crossing trails. I did, briefly, but looked back and saw a ribbon and had to run back to the course. I wonder how many people got lost??
Wife, daughter, and bad rocker poses.
In the end, I finished 1st in my age group and 24th overall of 203. My time was 1:13:08 with a pace of 7:19. I would not be happy with this for a road race but I'll sure take it for my first trail run. I got a nice little The Legend beer pilsener award based on the result. I enjoyed some Heineken from it later that evening. It always taste better when guzzled from a Major Award (to bad it doesn't light up and go in the front window - anyone get that reference??).