Warning: This might be long. I truly embraced every moment of this experience.
Back in December of last year one of my trail running friends said I should sign up for the North Face Endurance Challenge Series DC race. She was signed up for the 50 miler but told me there was a half marathon that would probably be perfect for me. After about two minutes of thinking about it and researching the race I went crazy and signed up for it. And I convinced my buddy to come out of “retirement” to race with me…..so I signed him up also.
I was already committed to doing the training program for the Cherry Blossom 10(ish) Miler so that was my focus. After receiving the training plans from my coaches I determined which one would best fit my goals for both races. I did all of my long runs on paved trails or streets. I did some of my shorter runs on trails. The winter was tough so I didn’t do as much trail running as I wanted but I knew I would be ok.
Thursday night we headed to pack pick up. It was located in The North Face store in the mall. Um, yeah, I went to the mall. I pretty much never do that. It felt ironic….going to the mall to do a trail race. Anyway, it was a breeze. We walked in and showed our IDs and received our bibs. Numbers were assigned on the spot which meant no digging through bibs to find the right number.
After getting our bibs we were given socks. And then moved to the shirt line. Not sure why they do it this way but the distance is not printed on your shirt unless you want it to be so they ask you what you want and then keep your shirt for printing and you pick it up after the race. Or you can have it printed at the race. We left our shirts to be picked up after the race. The process was extremely efficient.
Saturday was the 50 miler, 50k, marathon and marathon relay. I decided I wanted to watch some coaches and other people I know finish their races and check out what was going on since I had never done the race before. Throughout the morning I tracked my runners using the race tracking system. Based on the paces they were doing we decided to head over in the middle of the day. We ended up running into some =PR= Training folks. We chatted and waited for our racers. We cheered for everyone as they were coming in. It was so much fun! Our friends did well. We were so happy for them. I was glad to have checked out the finish line. The half marathon was point to point so it was nice to be able to see the finish line and know how the race would end. It was key to knowing where people could see you coming and where you had to run strong because others were watching.
While we were watching and cheering I was inspired by a man who came in from the 50 miler. He was yelling and so incredibly happy. He was saying, “I did it, I did it!” “I won, woooo!” (He won something I’m sure but he was not the first finisher.) I was so very happy for him and cheered louder. And then I looked at my buddy and said I’m doing that tomorrow.
Yesterday we got up early and headed over to the parking location. We found the shuttles that would take us to the start line. After the bus was full we were driven to Great Falls Park. There was a short walk on a trail to the race staging area. There was water, porta potties, packet pick up for those who did not do it ahead, a gear truck, etc. We met up with a couple of people from the =PR= Training group. I was going to run with one of the ladies.
We hung out for a bit before relinquishing our warm clothes. It was a pretty cool morning and it was nice to keep my sweatshirt for as long as I could. After a trip to take care of last minute business we headed to the starting corrals. It was pretty informal. Not too many people. The crew held up signs for each wave. I had been assigned to Wave 8 based on my estimated time but backed up to Wave 9 to run with someone….and that’s where I belonged anyway. I wasn’t too nervous….in fact I was pretty much relaxed. I had put no pressure on myself. I just wanted to finish and have fun.
The first waves went out and then there were two minutes between each of the waves. The two minutes seemed like a long time when we were just standing there. But finally it was our turn. We started and ran a quarter of a mile before hitting a huge hill. Big hills in trail racing mean walking. It’s best to save the energy. We all walked up the hill. The first few miles were like this. I was feeling pretty good and ended up going out on my own pretty quickly. That’s ok – I really wanted to run my own race anyway. I had just met the lady from the training group the day before. One of the coaches had told me her name and that I should run with her but neither of us was committed to it. She told me to go. I fought my way through the early hills trying to save energy for later.
We ran up near a road and crossed a park entrance. I was familiar with the trails there…not enough to have them memorized but enough to feel comfortable. We then headed back down to the river and the trail that is parallel to the river. It was pretty flat. Around the 4 mile mark was the first aid station. I wasn’t carrying water so I stopped and grabbed a cup of water. The volunteers were really nice and helpful with pointing out the water and there was plenty of it. The goal was to leave no trace so there were a few trash cans along the trail and one was clearly labeled as the last one so I made sure my cup made into that one and proceeded on.
I kept on running and walking when it was necessary. I tried to only walk hills. The trail was beautiful. There were bluebells galore and it was just absolutely amazing. I tried to look around as much as I safely could while still keeping an eye out for mud, streams, tree roots, and rocks. I almost fell a couple of times. I’m really not very graceful. I almost knocked someone over during my first big trip.
By the next water stop I was pretty thirsty again so I grabbed another cup of water. I had crossed plenty of streams but I didn’t think I should drink out of those. After I headed out of that aid station I knew the deadly hill was coming up. I thought it was mile 9 but it was actually sooner. I had run the other side of the hill a few weeks before. I’m glad I stopped that day and didn’t find out how bad the hill really was. It felt like it was straight up and went on for a long time. Then were was a downhill that I could barely run. It was steep and I was recovering from the uphill. Then we went up again. And then a long steep downhill. I ran as much as I could and galloped some because I had been told that was a good way to get down hills. The galloping seemed to work because I was passing people.
After that hill I was moving slowly. It took me a long time to recover but I headed into a straight flat section. Shortly after that I started to feel like my calves were cramping. I walked a bit to try and get it to stop and that seemed to work. It was a long time until the next aid station and of course I wished I was carrying water. (This seems to be a theme for me.) I ran as much as I could and bounced over downed trees and roots.
The course then headed towards a golf course and the trail was a little bit weird. It’s through fields with little ups and downs to get across cart paths. It then headed back into the trees and there is a bridge that is a cart path that you have to cross. After that we were getting closer to the final park and I was really ready to see the water station. I made my through a large muddy section and onto a gravel path and then made it to the water station. This was the only confusing part of the course. I was pretty sure I had to turn and run and out and back but my head was a bit cloudy and I wanted to confirm. The super nice volunteer pointed me in the right direction after I grabbed water. The course was narrow and then there were people going in both directions. It was also paved which actually didn’t feel that great after running on the soft trails. I ran along the side of the pavement where there was dirt. It felt better. I made my way to the turn around and then headed back. I stopped for water again but grabbed the wrong cup and got electrolytes….which I dumped and grabbed water. This was my fault for not listening and being confused. It was the same aid station and I thought that table had water before. Clearly I was wrong. There were only about two miles left. It was fight. I was tired but I was still happy and having fun.
We ran on a gravel trail until we got into the park and on a paved path. I knew where people could see me and I started to run stronger….I also knew I was almost finished. I ran the last pavement section and saw my buddy waiting…I knew he was faster and would be ahead of me the whole time. He was with one of the =PR= coaches and some other training group members. I was so happy to see them. I made the final turn and started yelling…”I did it! Woohoo! I did it!”
And then I sprinted to the finish. I was so happy. I raised my arms and smiled! And then I stopped my watch. I didn’t care about my time. I had fun. The race was amazing. It was hard but I enjoyed it. I received my medal and a bottle of water and made my way back out to wait for the lady I had started with. We cheered for other runners. We saw her coming and started cheering loudly.
I was so hungry so we went to get food right after she finished. My buddy and I grabbed our shirts and our checked bags and then got in line for food. We had to buy food but I knew this going in. We grabbed BBQ Pork sandwiches and chips and it tasted soooo good. We didn’t have long to eat and then it was time to head off to the shuttle back to our car.
I had the biggest runner’s high. I am so glad I decided to do this race and I’m so glad I didn’t pressure myself and I just focused on having fun. It was wonderful and I’m definitely looking forward to doing it again.