Sunday May 1st, I ran my first race with EX2 Adventures. It was the final race in their Spring Backyard Burn Series. The race was at a local park. I did quite a bit of my North Face training in that park. Even though I’ve trained there, some of the trails on the race course were new to me.
The race had a 5 or 10 mile option. I decided to go with the 10 miler as I mentioned previously. I wanted to use my training and go with the longer option. My friend ran the 5 mile race and since the 10 mile was just two loops of the 5 I was able to run half of the race with her.
I woke up to rain…..plenty of rain and knew I was in for another wet day on the trails. Since I survived an ultra in the mud I figured I could handle less in some mud. The race director had run the trails on the Monday before and said they were in good shape. They checked them again when they marked them and sent an email on Saturday to say that the race was on unless there were thunderstorms and that the trails were wet but not too soft.
I arrived at the race site around 7:40 and headed to packet pickup. It was super organized and since not many people were there yet it took only a minute to get my bib and shirt. My friend arrived shortly after and picked up hers. We hung out in my car for a while before deciding to brave the rain and get ready for the 9 am start. There was a large pavilion at the packet pickup so we ended up there and talked to some other racers. Many others had done the rest of the races in the series. They all said EX2 racers were great. (Spoiler Alert – They were right!)
About 10 minutes before the start we were directed to the start line. The race was not chip timed. Since there were not many people there I really did not care. I doubt I lost much at the start line and it’s trail racing….who cares about 5 or 10 seconds? We lined up where we thought we belonged….middle but towards the back. The race director made some announcements about how the course was marked and then sent us on our way.
They were super smart when they arranged the course. There is a fire road (gravel) with a significant uphill that was right after the start. Starting in this location allowed runners to shake out into the proper spots. We walked the hill. We always walk this hill. It’s not worth running. The faster people bounded up the hill and we never saw them again.
My friend is currently running intervals so we did 4 min run/2 min walk. We settled into these intervals right after the first big hill. We then headed across a field and into the more fun single track trails. Some people were scared about the wet trails and walking down hills that I thought we easily could have been running. (On the second lap I easily ran them.)
Because trails often dictate walking at particular points we walked extra when required. Every once in a while we ran through a walk break if we had walked significantly during the running portion of our intervals.
When we hit a stream crossing we were stuck behind a line of runners trying to avoid getting wet. Given the puddles we had already seen on the course we decided to run right through. Neither of us is scared of wet shoes.
We proceeded on, changing off who was in the lead. My friend asked me to lead one of the most technical sections. It was fine though – I’ve run that section in training and knew what I was in for. We then made it to the lake. Instead of tightly following the lake we took some big uphills to go up and around the lake. We had to walk some significant portions. After that we were running closer to the lake when I spotted my buddy. I wasn’t expecting to see him out along the course but it wasn’t far from the start so he was able to easily walk over.
We finished the section around the lake and then headed off on some trails that were new to me. They were pretty fun single track trails. We wound our way through the woods. I knew my time with my friend was quickly coming to an end. She pushed hard at the end to get to the finish. I said goodbye because I knew she was headed home to get out of her wet clothes. Near the finish line was the worst section of mud. It was almost impossible to run. I used that spot for some refueling, cheered as my friend ran to the finish, and then headed down the hill back for my second loop.
As I headed up the fire road again I talked to another racer. I knew there were still 5 mile racers behind me but I wasn’t sure if we were the last two 10 mile racers. He said that he didn’t think so because they typically have someone following the last racer. I didn’t care too much about being last….but I guess I cared a little bit. I took a nice long break on the hill and then starting pushing again. I ended up passing the guy I had been talking to. We had caught up to another racer and I passed her too.
I was following behind another woman. Not close – but I made a point to keep my eye on her. I was convinced if I worked hard enough I could catch her. She kept her distance in front of me but I tried to keep watching. I didn’t hold back in the streams and I worked as hard as I could on the uphill sections but she was always just out of reach.
As I was coming down a hill in a more technical section I was bouncing side to side looking for the easiest portion of the trail to run on ….and then next thing I knew I was on the ground. I had fallen hard. I bounced up and tried to assess the damage. I had landed on both knees and hands. I brushed off as much as I could but my hands were covered in small gravel and mud. I was trying to assess if I was cut but couldn’t really see my hands. I could tell my knee was swelling and decided to press forward as quickly as I could before it got worse.
I found a large puddle and “washed” my hands in it. I still was covered in mud and gravel and decided to run to the next aid station to deal with it. When I got there I asked the volunteer to pour water on my hands so that I could see if I was bleeding. He generously poured the two cups he was holding on to my hands. I could finally see that I was not bleeding much. I continued running as I felt my knee swelling.
I never gave up on my hope to pass the woman in front of me. I still thought I could catch her. Finally at the hills near the lake I caught up to her and talked to her. I didn’t tell her that I was trying to beat her. We talked for a bit until she decided to run a section that I wanted to walk. Darn it! She was ahead of me again. At the aid station near the lake she stopped and I passed her. I was determined to keep her behind me after that.
My buddy had moved and was further around the lake. I yelled to him that I might not race again in a week and he immediately asked what was wrong. I explained that I had fallen. He asked if I needed anything …and I said “yes, to finish the race!”
I weaved my way through the single track again and kept just ahead of that woman. There was a man in front of me but I just could not catch him.
In the last few sections the sky really opened up and the rain came down in buckets. Somehow it seemed fitting. I only race in crappy weather I guess. The mud at the end was so slippery. I was sliding back and forth just trying to get to the last section which was on grass. I turned toward the finish line and ran as fast I could. I beat the woman and I knew I had passed 3 people in the second lap so I definitely wasn’t last. Turns out there were only a few others behind the people I had passed but who cares, someone has to be last. I figure in a race like this the slower people tend to also run the shorter distance. I’m willing to run longer even if it is slow.
I made my way down to the pavilion with the food and the awards. The food – wow! It was amazing. There was so much food….even for those of us at the back of the pack. I was really impressed with the selection and the amount. I couldn’t even think of taking one of everything….that would have been enough food for a week. I grabbed a slice of pizza and a cup of m&ms and a few other items.
As for the results….well working hard to pass that woman made a difference. I ended up beating 5 people (not including DNFs) and I ended up 20th in my age group…..which got me 1 point. And since I’m honest there were only 21 people. That woman was one. If I hadn’t beat her I would have been last in my age group and received no points. The point didn’t mean anything at all since I didn’t do the series. But I was still proud of working hard to run my best.
Also, I was NOT lapped by any 10 mile racers…..that was amazing to me. I kept waiting for them to pass me but it didn’t happen. I was able to run 5 miles faster than the winner ran the 10! I felt pretty good about this. I ran a significantly faster pace than North Face (more than 2 minutes/mile faster) which made me really happy.
Overall, despite the rain, mud, and falling, I had a blast. The race was low key but very well organized. The course markings were amazing. I easily get lost and get nervous on long stretches. There were plenty of markings and caution tape marked intersecting trails that we were not supposed to take. Even my buddy commented on the section around the lake. He asked how many arrows were really needed. I told him that runners like lots of confidence markers. There was no way I was getting lost on the course.
The other racers were supportive throughout the course and 2 of the 3 people I passed found me at the end to congratulate me on the the finish. The aid station volunteers and course marshals were really nice and supportive too. I didn’t take anything from the aid stations because I was carrying water but they offered it each time. There were 3 aid stations on the 5 mile loop which I passed twice and additional one near the start/finish which I passed while heading to the second loop. This is pretty amazing for a trail race. Typically they are spread out a lot more. One volunteer did tell me I was “almost there” as I was close to finishing the first lap. I’ll forgive her though because I think it was an honest mistake and she probably only noticed my friend’s bib. After I told her I had another lap I heard her say “…one 5 mile racer and one 10 mile racer.” I’m guessing she really didn’t mean to say that to me.
I didn’t stick around for the awards because I was so wet and just wanted to get home and change but I know they raffle off random items and everyone has a chance to win.
So after having so much fun I’ve decided that I want to attempt the Fall Backyard Burn Series. There are 4 races and I would like to aim to run the 10 mile race at all of them. I’m trying to figure out if I can make this work with my fall travel schedule. I had so much fun. The 10 mile distance felt very manageable and I think it would be a good fall goal for me. Maybe I’ll even find a way to earn a point or two in the series (if not many people show up.)