This past Sunday, I ran my first race of 2017. I hadn’t specifically trained for this race, I just integrated it into my training for the Hyner 25k – my real focus of 2017. Here is my race recap of a greatly organized, fun, and challenging trail race I recommend to all my trail running friends!
The alarm clock woke me up at 5:30 AM on Sunday morning. The instant the alarm started beeping, I became mentally unprepared. It was the morning of Daylight Savings so I had lost an hour of sleep despite going to bed relatively early the night before. I was lying in bed, underneath a warm blanket, with my face smashed into a pillow wondering why anyone in the entire world would want to schedule a race for the morning of daylight savings. I also wondered why anyone in the entire world would want to sign up for a race on the morning of daylight savings. What was I thinking back in December when I had signed up for this?!?! Nevertheless, I grumpily forced myself out of bed.
The morning’s temperature was a brisk 19 degrees when I woke up. By 8 AM, at race start, it was predicted to be a much “warmer” 23 degrees. This is also probably a factor that played in to the fact that I was completely mentally checked out of the race. My brain was telling me to stay inside, to stay warm, and to go back to bed. I was not in a mood to race on that morning. I wanted sleep and warmth.
But instead, thanks to Josh, I got myself ready. I had my normal toast with peanut butter and banana for breakfast. I put on my insulated tights, a high pair of Smart Wool socks, two Under Armour long sleeves, my Sneakers and Spokes long sleeve jersey, my lobster gloves, two ear warmers, and of course, my Altra Lone Peaks. That would be my race apparel. I layered up with my Sneakers & Spokes sweatshirt and my ski jacket as well, which I would shed right before the start of the race.
We headed out the door by 6:35 AM. We made it to the race start by a little after 7 AM. I picked up my race number and swag bag. We discussed with the brave volunteers (kudos to you all for willingly standing out there in 20 degree weather!) that Josh needed to transfer his bib to my dad due to an unforeseen injury. They luckily made that process quite easy! I was planning on doing a 2 mile warm-up but the freezing temperatures kept me warmly inside Josh’s Jeep instead during the minutes leading up to the race start. I managed to get in 0.80 miles of a warm-up with my dad wearing my ski jacket. I was just too cold to shed layers.
Most of the racers remained in their warm cars leading up to the race start. I only saw a few racers attempting to get in a warm-up. By 7:55 a lot of the racers began to meander towards the unofficial starting line. We simply lined up at the top of the hill. I inched toward the front of the crowd so I didn’t have to spend my energy trying to navigate through people. We started the race a little after 8 AM since racers were still slowly meandering towards the start. I just wanted to get running so that I could get warmer. Josh and my mom stood to the side bundled up in their jackets. I was grateful for them coming out to stand in the cold to watch us run down the hill and into the woods. Trail races typically aren’t very spectator friendly. The race director yelled “ready, set, go” while standing on top of a brick wall. And before I really had time to process that the race was actually starting, we were all pounding down the hill and running towards the woods.
After the downhill, we made a left into a double-track trail. I remember seeing one woman in front of me. I hoped to keep her in my sights the whole time. The first mile was mostly downhill and flat so we all started out very fast. I eventually caught up to the woman on one of the smaller, more gradual uphills. I knew I had an advantage on these hills and I knew the hills that were coming up in the race. Josh and I had done many nights of hill repeats on these hills. I knew what to expect in the next 7 miles of the race. I passed the woman and I became the lead woman in the race. I wondered how much longer it would be until another woman came up behind me.
We crossed the Brandywine Creek and started up a climb that Josh and I call “the unknown trail”. I’ve done this hill many of times and it’s a tough one. I had promised Josh that I would not walk or powerhike any of the hills during the race. Not only was I racing for myself, I was also racing for him. I tried my best to “speedily” get up the hill but my “speedy” on hills can sometimes be slower than a powerhike. But nevertheless, I kept my running form the entire way up the hill. A woman came up behind me (that didn’t take long) and asked to pass me on the left. I willingly allowed her to. We began our descent down “the unknown trail”. Next, we would be ascending Rocky Run.
After about another half mile, we crossed a stream which lead us directly into the uphill of Rocky Run. They had kindly strung a rope across the stream to make crossing easier, but I had stupid-ly crossed on the wrong side of the rope which then required me to step over the rope when I got to the other side of the stream. Stupid me. We then immediately began our ascent of Rocky Run. I had run up this hill many of times before too so I knew exactly what kind of pain my legs and lungs would be feeling. A lot of racers around me broke their running form and started power hiking but I tried my best to keep powering up the hill. When I finally got to the top, I took one big deep breath. The trail would flatten out a little bit until we descended the other side of Rocky Run.
This is where Josh and my mom randomly appeared in the woods! They were hiking towards me in attempt to see my ascend Rocky Run but I had beat them to it (I guess I was just running too fast for them to make it there in time!). They cheered me on and Josh told me that Rocky Run was “just a little hill”. Little was an understatement at that point.
Shortly after seeing them, we started the descent of Rocky Run. I’ve been told by Josh that I am a strong downhill runner. In that moment of time, I felt invincible going down that hill. I passed a gentlemen that was being much more cautious than I was. I was weaving from left to right on the trail in hopes of finding the best (and smoothest) line down the trail. I was leaping from point to point. I felt like I was flying! I wasted no time going down Rocky Run and running that hill so many times in the past gave me a huge confidence boost during the race.
We crossed Brandywine Creek again and ran on singletrack for about another mile before being led to a fielded area. On the singletrack, I tried my best to hold a faster-than-normal trail pace for me. There were muddy spots on the trail and I tried my best to avoid getting my feet wet – my toes would’ve froze! – but I also didn’t slow down in the muddy parts; after all, I was in a race.
When we turned out of the singletrack and into the woods, we were instantly greeted by the sights of a very large hill. I commented aloud, “oh my goodness”. The man behind me commented back but I don’t remember what he said exactly. We ascended the hill. The course leveled off, went downhill, then uphill again. The last mile of the race became a gradual uphill that went on, and on, and on. I had no idea where the finish line was or how much further I had to go – I refused to look at my watch the entire race. I tried my best to just keep moving forward. My body hurt and I felt exhausted. We ascended one last final hill and were gifted a downhill to the finish. I was so relieved! I crossed the finish line as fast as I could and as strong as I could. The clock read 1:06. This, I was content with.
When I finished, I was handed a medal but I was too cold and too sore to process it all. I tried my best to walk past the pavilion so that I could find Josh and my parents. Josh was holding my ski jacket (best boyfriend ever!) which I instantly put on. My body hurt so bad. They told me that they thought I might have finished as the 2nd female finisher – I agreed with them since I only remembered seeing the one woman pass me near the top of “the unknown trail”. This made me happy!
After a brief talk with my parents and Josh, I told them I needed to go get on dry clothes so I wouldn’t freeze in my own sweat (sorry for the gross image of that happening). I slowly walked towards Josh’s Jeep while clinging to his arm, hoping to steal some of his body heat. I got in the Jeep and exchanged my race shirts for dry shirts and a sweatshirt.
We walked back the finish area hoping they might have the awards ceremony soon. The race director eventually announced that due to the frigid temperatures their computer systems had basically froze so they weren’t able to host the awards ceremony without seeing the official results. I was bummed that I wouldn’t get to be announced as the 2nd place female finisher, but I also was content because I wanted to go get a hot shower and just lie in bed. The race director announced that awards would be mailed instead.
When we got back to Josh’s I took a hot shower. I had no appetite, my body ached, and I was still cold. I turned down scrambled eggs that Josh had cooked as a 2nd breakfast. I just wanted to take a nap. So by 11 AM, I was laying in bed wrapped in a blanket. I didn’t move a single muscle. I eventually fell asleep for about 2 hours. Josh continued with his day and did things around the house but I was so ache-y that I just needed to stay still.
Eventually I forced myself to eat a piece of toast and real food later on. Due to losing an hour of sleep, being freezing cold for 2-3 hours in the morning and racing a challenging course, my body felt broken.
It took me some time to recover that day, but I looked back on it and was very happy with my race. It was a great course – about 100 feet of gain per mile which is pretty challenging for a trail race in Delaware – with some great ascents and descents. It’s exciting to see my name in the top 3 female finishers. This is the first time I’ve ever seen that. My average pace (8:53/mile) was the fastest I’ve ever averaged at a run through the trails of Brandywine. All of these factors combined have boosted my confidence a little bit for Hyner in a little over a month. I know I’m not the fastest trail runner, but I know my strengths and weaknesses on the trail. I feel strong, I feel more confident, and I feel like I’m getting more and more prepared for all the trail races ahead of me.
Huge shoutout to the race director of such a great race and all the volunteers who stood out in the freezing temps on a Sunday morning. Shoutout to my dad for placing 15th overall and 2nd in his age group. Shoutout to my mom for supporting me and my dad always in our races – no matter the temperature. And lastly, shoutout to Josh: for pushing me to do hill repeats to make me a stronger runner, for supporting me always despite my complaints, fears, and doubts, and for bringing my jacket to the finish of the race knowing that I would be shivering uncontrollably without it – thanks for being my best friend!
Onward and upward to Hyner!