When I signed up for a spring marathon I was a little nervous about staying motivated, so I parlayed that into even more race-registering to help me get long runs in on the weekends. The Little River Trail Run, my first trail race, was the first of these pre-marathon races. My humble goals were just to get in a challenging long run and explore new trails around here.
At every single race, my entire life, I am the person still waiting in the bathroom line when the gun goes off. Usually the race is chip timed, so it doesn't matter too much, but I realized at 8:59 that this was a trail race and there were no timing mats. I assume that's normal for trail races? I didn't even really have to go to the bathroom -- it's just kind of a habit. So I sprinted over to the finish line as fast as I could, only to get 95% there and see the group charging at me. I stopped, waited until about three-fourths of the group had passed, then jumped in.
A little flustered, I settled into a safer pace as we headed into the woods. We arranged ourselves in single file, and I planted my eyes on the ground, where they stayed for the next 1 hour, 48 minutes.
"This is just like hiking, but faster," I thought. After a few miles, I decided that wasn't really right: Hiking is about enjoying nature, sitting on a rock and eating a granola bar, and poking at a mushroom to try to figure out what kind it is. Trail racing is more about avoiding breaking my ankles and about indulging in to that very primeval activity of chasing and tracking. I entered a kind of trance where all I did was look at the feet of the person in front of me, and look out for sneaky rocks and roots. The trail had a layer of something on it most of the time: either leaves, or pine needles, and the few times I stumbled or twisted an ankle were thanks to hidden roots or rocks. When I saw other people fall, I called out to make sure they were okay, but a part of me felt a Darwinist pleasure that I was still upright!
Where is James
James and I parted ways in the bathroom line. He is very prompt and it pains him to be late for anything, so he went to line up at the start without me. I thought he was probably in the pack I let pass before jumping in, or, if he was at the back, he would surely pass me at some point. I looked around for him early on, but our plan was to separate and run our own races, so I wasn't worried. Afterward, he told me that when the pack passed the bathroom line, he actually stopped and waited, assuming I was inside. When the person came out and he saw she wasn't me, he picked up running again, but found himself DFL. (I felt guilty!) During one of the switchbacks I heard him call out my name. He was at least 5 minutes behind me, but started making up time like crazy until he finally passed me in mile 7, eventually finishing a full 2 minutes ahead of me -- kind of humbling for me, because he just started running a few months ago.
We were told to bring handhelds but I didn't, so when I got water at the first aid station and took a while to drink it, I put the empty paper cup in my pocket. When I got to the next aid station and whipped out my own paper cup, the volunteers whooped and laughed and praised me so much that I wanted to do it again. At the third aid station, my paper-cup-in-the-pocket move caused one volunteer to shout as I was leaving, "Wait! What's your number?" "186!" I yelled back. "I'm going to give you the Recycling Award!" I laughed, but thought to myself, "The Recycling Award! I can't believe I won!"
Two miles later, I found myself still basking proudly in the "award" I had "won." (I can't help it.... I'm a Millennial, I have a closet full of unironic "participation awards.")
The man in the khaki shorts
I did a fair amount of passing, but I was also passed a lot, especially in the beginning. Toward the end, after running with mostly women for the majority of the race, I found myself between two dudes: One behind me, right on my heels, and another wearing a pair of khaki shorts a pretty good distance ahead of me. I wondered whether they were regular khaki shots, or the performance ones people buy at REI to wear camping, and I made it my goal for the last two miles to get close enough to find out. I started gaining on him very gradually. I could see they had cargo pockets. "Regular shorts!" I thought triumphantly. "This man is wearing regular old khaki shorts!" I passed him on an uphill, feeling completely ridiculous in my Nike tights and longsleeve, and my Marmot jacket. I couldn't savor passing him. I knew -- we both knew -- that he was the real winner.
The finish came up quicker than I expected. I heard cheering, then it was just quick swooping loop before I was there. The finish line was spray painted on the grass and I "sprinted" to it, though my Garmin shows that sprint pace was around 8:30. I remembered to stop my watch (1:48:50) and was appalled that my time worked out to about 11 minute miles. I put in what felt like half marathon effort out there. I felt a wash of respect for all the trail runners. My legs felt pretty tired and though I was proud of my race, I know it wasn't exactly spectacular. In any case, we enjoyed hot chocolate and a buffet of delicious, but near-frozen breakfast items before seeking warmth back at the car.
I understand now why trail runners do the same race year after year: it seems like, at trail races more than road races, the PRs just don't mean that much unless they're done on the exact same course. (Am I right?) And while I don't feel moved to give up road racing any time soon, I'm really excited to have run in Little River Regional Park and plan to be back on my own for more marathon training.
I was really impressed with the organization and general quality of this race: the t-shirts are beautiful SportScience, made-in-America long sleeves, the route was well-marked, and there were plenty of volunteers and food. On the way home, we found ourselves saying, "When we run this again next year..."