Xterra Trail Race Series recap

Xterra Trail Race Series recap

A few weeks ago I completed the Xterra Atlantic trail race series.  The series was four races, culminating with a half-marathon.  I’m slightly behind on blogging; however, after looking back I did recap the first two races of the series.  For brevity’s sake, I’ll just post finishing results for the first two races and recap the final two races of the trail series below.

Brandywine 12k:  1:05, 2nd overall female, 16th overall of 110

Lums Pond 12k:  57:28, 3rd overall female, 25th overall of 98

Wetlands 10k at Camp Edge: 

As the series progressed, I became less and less motivated to race.  I had no desire to race a 10k.  All I wanted to do was run an ultra.  I was craving the mountains, not the swamplands.  Yet, there I was on a humid Sunday morning pretending to be happy I was about to race.

It had rained for 4-5 days straight leading up to the race.  The local mountain bike team that my dad coaches practices and races at this venue – Camp Edge.  I’ve done numerous trail building days on these trails. I had even raced on these trails for the Sasquatch 5k.  I knew the trails didn’t drain well.  With 4-5 days of rain behind us, I knew that the course was going to be sloppy.  This also added to my lack of motivation.

I was happy that Jess was racing too.  I warned her about the mud and we both joked that we had signed up for a trail race, not a mud run.

“Sloppy” didn’t even do the trail conditions justice.  It was a disaster.  I went out hard for two reasons:  because I knew these trails inside and out, forwards & backwards AND because I knew the mud would get progressively worse as more racers ran through it.

Two women passed me around the two mile mark.  By mile three, I had mentally checked myself out of the race.  The trails were crap, I was sliding everywhere, and I did NOT feel like doing a second loop.

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This was one of the least muddy sections of the course

We ran through the finish line and turned right to head back out across the field and into the woods.  Here we go again.  Loop 2.  I gave up on running fast through the mud.  The mud was worse the second time around because now we were running through mud that 100 other people had already ran through.  I was frustrated.  I was agitated.  I was not having fun.

All I truly remember about loop 2 was focusing on not sliding in the mud and carelessly splashing through the puddles.  It was hot so the puddles were a nice relief.

When we exited the woods, my dad, Josh, and Steve were taking pictures.  My dad told me to pick it up and my response was an irritated “I don’t feel like it”.  I crossed the line as the 3rd overall female and 21st overall of 68, in 56:05.

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I was happy that Jess raced hard and finished 3rd in her age group.  I was super proud of her for finishing her first ever trail 10k and I hoped that she would attend the next trail race of the series with me!  I was also excited because we were all going to a wine festival after the race and I just love wine!

Disclaimer:  I won’t be doing this race again.  I didn’t enjoy the course conditions, I despise races that are two loops, and I just didn’t like the race atmosphere.

Big Elk Half-Marathon: 

I was hoping that I would be in tip-top shape going into the last race of the series; however, my running motivation had dwindled over the course of four months and my cycling motivation had peaked.  Due to work schedules, weekend events, and vacation, the training plan I had created for myself was merely a piece of paper hanging on my bulletin board.

My longest run leading up to Big Elk was 8 miles.  Despite failing at following the plan, vacation provided me with an opportunity to spend miles and miles on my feet, climbing up mountains.  I knew that the hills wouldn’t be a problem.  Instead, my endurance might end up being the problem.

On the morning of race day, we arrived to the starting area with 25 minutes until start time.  25 minutes to spare is considered rushing to me so I frantically ran from the parking lot to the bathroom and from the bathroom to the packet pick-up area.  I ran back to the parking lot, pinned my bib on crookedly, threw on my Ultimate Direction pack and ran back to the starting line.

The first mile was slightly downhill and I hoped that the crowd would eventually thin out.  I found myself leading a pack of 5-6 runners on some single track and I wished that they would just go around me instead of following so closely on my heels.  I was familiar with the trails so I knew what sections to be cautious through and what sections to speed up.

We ran past the first water stop and I yelled at a woman trying to pass me that she had missed the turn.  It pays to pay attention, people!  At the top of the next hill, Josh appeared!  I laughed that he was just standing in the middle of the woods.

Finally half of the group of people went around me.  A few still remained on my heels and I tried to shake them by speeding up.  They stuck close.

I was running faster than my comfort zone trail pace and by mile 6ish, my left knee started bugging me.  I couldn’t catch my breath and I just wanted to enjoy my time in the woods.  I pulled to the side and let a few runners go around me.  Finally, I could run in peace!

I spent most of miles 6-10 by myself.  I was content this way.  I listened to nature rather than the rapid breathing of myself and those that were once around me.  I finally relaxed into the race.  I was finally enjoying myself.  I even took breaks to walk up some hills.  All of this is my trail bliss.

The course went through a field with grass up to my hip.  I was frustrated because I knew this wasn’t truly a trail.  They just stuck flags in a grassy field to make things “interesting”.  The only thoughts going through my head were “ticks, ticks, ticks everywhere!”

When we got back on an actual trail, a few people came up behind me. I let them pass and I just kept at my steady happy-go-lucky pace.  Our course eventually met up with the 5k/10k course and there were a lot of runners on the trail now.

I passed a few people who were trudging through their shorter race and I knew we were getting closer to the end.  We ran through some streams that felt super refreshing.  By this point the top of my left foot was also bothering me so the cold water felt great on my sore foot.

The course exited the woods and brought us toward the finishing area.  I ran confidently towards the finish line and Josh yelled at me to smile.  I smiled.

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smiling

I crossed the line and looped back to find Josh, Jess, & Steve.  We talked about Jess’s 10k that she CRUSHED!  She beat her previous 10k trail time by 14 minutes.  We waited patiently for results, I changed out of my race attire, and then we waited for the awards ceremony.

I finished in 2:08:55 as the 4th overall female and 1st in my age-group.  The results posted online are incorrect (once again).  I knew my time would be around the two hour mark so I was more than content with a 2:08.  I had completed the trail series, Jess had crushed her 10k, and then we all celebrated with brunch on Main Street, Newark.

Conclusion:

I won the trail series for my age-group, therefore, winning a free entry to Xterra Nationals in Ogden.  I will not be attending Nationals because the plane ticket is far too expensive and by September I will be in full grad school mode.

Completing the series was more of a mental challenge for me rather than a physical challenge.  I found myself highly unmotivated for most of the races.  I enjoyed the Brandywine 12k the most due to the ruggedness of the trails.  Big Elk was my second favorite because I got to spend 2+ hours in the woods.  Lums Pond 12k was semi-decent because I’ve never been to that trail system before; however, it’s too flat for me and doesn’t benefit my strengths.  Wetlands 10k was my absolute least favorite race of the entire series.  The mud was annoying and I hate courses that are two loops.

Next year, I probably won’t run any of the races again.  It was something different for me to try this year in the interim of training for another ultra; however, my heart is set on ultras in the mountains.

It’s been real, Xterra, but now it’s time for you to crown another Xterra Champion.

 

Race Recap: XTERRA Brandywine Creek Trail 12k

Race Recap: XTERRA Brandywine Creek Trail 12k

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.

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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!

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