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Posts Tagged ‘trail racing’

It’s pretty much all runnable except…

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Words I had never heard describe a race course before I asked what the Paris Mountain 16K Trail Race was like: “It’s pretty much all runnable except the ten minutes it takes to ‘hike’ up the mountain.” I have to thank Brian G. who not only answered my question on facebook the night before the race but who also saved a few of us with excellent directions out on the course.

Typically my vacations involve a race so when a friend who attends Furman University in Greenville, SC invited me to visit her for the weekend, she not only found a great, inexpensive flight for me but a trail race. I booked the ticket and signed up for the race without even researching it. During my trip from Florida to South Carolina, I decided to find out more about this Paris Mountain trail race I was about to run. The distance was perfect since I was scheduled to run ten miles on Saturday anyway. I found the Greenville Track Club – Trail Runners group on facebook, posted my question, and received some very interesting answers.

Nervous about running up a mountain, I awoke race morning to SNOW! Yes, snow on November 1st.

What is that white stuff over Greenville!?! ;)

I was definitely having second thoughts about doing this race. I mean, I moved to Florida almost 20 years ago to escape this weather. We arrived at Paris Mountain at 7:00 a.m. in complete darkness after a short snow removal session so we could see out the car windows.

“What’s an ice scraper?” was her response when I asked if she had one. Riley is a Florida native. ;)

Dreading the cold, I picked up my bib number and started to warm up in the parking lot. I was wearing all the layers of running clothes that I brought with me. After jogging and doing my dynamic warm up, I felt warm enough to remove some layers so I raced in shorts, a long sleeve shirt, a light jacket, and gloves. I am so thankful that I packed my Brooks Adrenaline trail shoes! That extra tread definitely saved me on the slippery course.

Right before the start, the race director told us to take a map or follow the guy in front of us since all the course markings were washed away by the snow and rain. We were also offered a bottle of water to carry since they did not want to put volunteers out on the course in this cold weather to hand out water. I really did not know what to expect. The biggest hill I train on is the Ringling Bridge in Sarasota.

The course was beautiful. As we ascended Paris Mountain all I could think about was the beauty all around me. I wished I had a camera to try to capture it. Almost the entire trail was single track with lots of rocks, roots, twists, turns, and wet leaves. I just kept repeating to myself: “breathe, focus, and lift your feet.” Once we reached the part that was not runnable I tried to enjoy the scenery and take it all in but I had to focus even more on the terrain so I would not trip or fall behind. The higher we went up the mountain, the more snow we encountered. The wind was whipping the snow off the trees so it felt like it was snowing on us.

Once we began the descent, the race was really on. I moved from third female to first and ran down those hills and switchbacks with reckless abandon like I used to in my high school and college cross country days. I don’t remember thinking about speeding up; it was like instinct just took over. I earned my patch as the overall female winner of the race. I’d like to say that the mountain and those hills were no match for this Florida girl but even four days after the race I had to walk backwards down the stairs.

Huge thank you to Riley for being my #1 supporter (well, she did talk me into this race) & taking photos! :)


She thought it was just hilarious that I had to walk downstairs backwards.


Award Winners

Overall Results

Running Journal

This time it was no picnic!

Monday, August 4th, 2014

One of my all-time favorite races is the Picnic Island Adventure Run in Tampa, Florida. It is actually a series of three races that take place once a month on Friday nights in May, June, and July. Hot and humid do not begin to describe the weather at 6:45 p.m. on the small island in Tampa Bay under a cloudless summer sky. So once you’ve accepted the weather factor, you’re ready for the real challenge.

This adventure run is unique and definitely not one of those mud runs or extreme obstacle races where you sign away your life in a waiver. I don’t do dangerous races like that. Picnic Island is challenging, don’t get me wrong, but it is definitely more welcoming to all ages and abilities who are seeking adventure. The obstacles are minor; you crawl under a cargo net on your knees over sand, run through six big, inflated tubes, and then hurdle, jump, walk, or crawl over one hurdle. The rest of the run is on the beach, grassy areas with hills, a couple of very small sections over pavement, and quite a bit through mangroves. Oh the mangroves! You never know what to expect until you get there. This July 18th, high tide was coming in so the water through the mangroves was pretty deep, very warm, and muddy. Yes, a little bit of “ick” factor, especially if you go splashing through like I did and it hits you in the face.

I always sign up for the three race series but this year I was unable to race the May and June races due to my post Boston Marathon rest period and rehabbing an injury. I knew I was not in top shape, but was very excited to race Picnic Island as well as I could. From the gun, I was out of breath and knew I would be. I was just trying to hold on to my spot in the top five overall women as we approached the last section of “non-trails” before the toughest part of the course. I say “non-trails” because they are not trails; they are overgrown areas of vegetation that someone walked through when setting up the course and stomped down a single track area for us to squeeze through. I was almost through this section, which is my least favorite of the course, and I tripped. I had an out of body experience. I saw myself floating down towards the ground, almost as if in slow motion. As soon as my knees hit the rocks at the bottom of the slight downhill I popped up, probably cursed (can’t remember now), and quickly ran off.

I attacked the five or six steep hills that zigzag up and down from the beach because I was so shocked that I fell and a bit embarrassed. But I wasn’t feeling any pain yet so I finished strong and ended up placing third overall and won Masters. Once I hosed off my legs to assess the damage, then the pain kicked in. So this one was no picnic but even now, two weeks after the event, my knees are still scraped, bruised, and recovering but I cannot wait until next summer when I can run all three Picnic Island Adventure Runs!

Exiting the water and heading to the finish line!



My poor knees!

Space Coast Marathon: Mission Columbia

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

Second marathon in my mission to join Marathon Maniacs. With an 18 miler one week ago, a 30K trail race two weeks ago, and a marathon three weeks ago, I knew trying to race Space Coast Marathon all out would not be wise. On top of that, I was sick for the past couple of weeks and my goal marathon is about eight weeks away: Inaugural Celebration Marathon. To join Marathon Maniacs, the minimum to become a member is to complete three marathons within 90 days.

My plan for Space Coast was to run comfortably around 8:40-8:45 pace to start then speed up and run negative splits. It has been so long since I have run negative splits and been able to finish strong in a marathon, I needed to not only remind myself but almost relearn how to pace myself early, hold back despite feeling good, and stick to a race plan. I was tempted by the 3:40:00 pace group and the 3:45:00 pace group. I could join the group and just hold on letting them do the pace work. But as a bit of a loner I decided to run my own race. I started out comfortably, letting the 3:40:00 pace group go by me. My Boston Qualifying (BQ) time is 3:45:00 now that I moved up to the 40-44 age group. In my mind I thought it would be nice if I ran a BQ and was able to stick to my race plan. At times during the first half I could hear the 3:45:00 group talking behind me but luckily they stayed behind me.

The first half of the race was comfortable which ended up being 8:30-8:40 pace and with the few rolling hills I clocked a few miles around 8:16-8:29 thanks to those down hills! I focused on hydrating, taking Gu every 45:00 or so, running comfortably, and happily watching my Garmin click off a nicely paced first half. At the halfway point we pass by the start/finish area so there are bigger crowds. The cheering and excitement of this area was where I picked it up too soon when I ran this race in 2011. Throughout the race I kept smiling and reminding myself of what I was trying to accomplish – a strategically paced race with negative splits. Once I hit mile 16 and then 18 I reminded myself again to stick with the pace. I told myself that once I reached mile 20 at the turn around I could let loose. I liked the fact that this was an out and back course because I was able to count all the women who were ahead of me by the time I reached mile 20. Once I started on the way back, my goal was to pass as many of them as possible.

There was a fairly strong head wind on the way back (last 6 miles) so I just focused on my targets ahead and did not worry about pace. I was having fun! I was tired but still felt strong and despite looking at my Garmin less and less I knew I was running faster. I must have passed at least 10-15 female marathoners in the last six miles. It was not always easy to tell because there were half marathoners on the course and some other women who were just out for a trainng run too. I don’t know what all my splits were towards the end but mile 24 was 7:56 and mile 25 and 26 were 8:05. I definitely ran negative splits, finished strong, ran a BQ 3:40:39, finished 4th in my age group and 21st overall female. I did not win anything or run a PR (technically it is a masters PR but I won’t go into that right now). I was so happy walking around the post race party area with my husband because I successfully executed my race plan, finished strong, and ran negative splits. Victory can have so many meanings.

I would definitely say the Space Coast Marathon was a mission accomplished!

2013 Space Coast Marathon


X-Country 30K

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

I had to run this race again this year despite it being only one week after the Random Acts of Giving Marathon since I came so close to the course record last year!  When I justify to others why I have to run certain races, it’s really more to convince myself than anyone else.

The Overall Female record is 2:28:15 and the Masters Female record is 2:34:37.  Last year I was only 39 so not eligible for the Masters record just yet.  The X-Country 30K is a gorgeous trail run at Alafia River State Park in Lithia, Florida.  There is a section of the course that you run twice so when you exit the sandy section and trail near the restrooms, pavilions, and finish area the first time you take a right so you can go do the second loop, and then the second time you run straight to the finish.  Last year was a cool day, perfect for a long race like this.  It was my first time running the 30K and I was on course record pace when I exited the trail the second time only to have the volunteer send me to the right AGAIN.  I ran about a half mile in the wrong direction before I decided that this was ridiculous and wrong so I headed to the finish line as the overall female winner.  I ran over 19.5 miles and my average pace was faster than the Overall Female course record pace but because I had run longer than 18.6 miles (30K), my finish time was 2:33:20, slower than the record.  I was so frustrated by this experience at first but after filling out the finish card, getting a drink, and walking around a bit, I realized that the volunteer who sent me the wrong way made a mistake.  We are human and we make mistakes sometimes.  I should have known the course.  I still won the race and a very cool trophy but vowed to return in 2013 to go after that course record!

2013 rolls around and now I am 40 so I had a shot at both the overall and masters records.  I was very excited about this!  I knew the course so there would be no mistakes heading to the finish line.  A very hot day and being sick thwarted my course record attempts.  But I still enjoyed the beautiful cross country course and won the race.  The woman who was in the lead dropped out around 12 miles.  Not sure if the heat got to her or something else.  I felt bad for her but it reminded me of a quote from a newspaper article from my high school cross country days:  “Sometimes even good runners need a little luck.”  Source:  Original 1987 article by Gregory Kerstetter

As I exited the trail to head to the finish, a volunteer asked me as I whizzed by if I was 30K and heading to the finish.  All I could manage to blurt out was “FINISH!”  They weren’t going to make me run more than 30K this year!  Ha ha!

This is a tough race for volunteers since there’s a marathon, 30K, and half marathon all using the same trails.  I definitely do not expect volunteers to keep track of everyone, which race they are in, and which loop they are on.  I am just very glad I knew the course this year.  TampaRaces.com puts on some great races and definitely THE best trail races I have run.  Next year I am hoping for cooler temperatures for the X-Country 30K as I once again attempt an overall or masters record.


Ringling Bridge Run 26.2 Miler

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

Most people know this race as the Ringling Bridge Run 4 Miler which is the biggest local timed/scored race in our area.  It’s mind boggling year after year to see more and more people who want to race over the Ringling Bridge!  I mean, I love hills and bridges, but people think I’m weird.  ;)

It looks like there were 2,158 finishers in the 4 miler this year.  I have no idea how many participated in the one mile.  But it’s for a great cause and the money stays locally so it generates great community support.

I ran the Space Coast Marathon on November 27, 2011 then took a couple weeks of rest and recovery before deciding to sign up and train for the Five Points of Life Marathon on February 19, 2012.  That didn’t give me a lot of time to recover, start training again, get in all the long runs and workouts I wanted to, and fit in all the other races I had already signed up for in January and February.  So I created the best possible training schedule I could with all the weekend race commitments I had already made weeks and months earlier.

This brings us to the Ringling Bridge Run 4 Miler and the Saturday I’m supposed to do my longest long run of this hybrid marathon training schedule.  So I combine the two and am very happy with the result!

I ran approximately 8.5 miles before the race then raced 4 miles in 27:09 (6:47 pace) which is 12 seconds slower than my PR.  Wished I realized that during the race so I could have gone for a new PR!  After the race I had some Gu and water then set off for my 14 (approx.) mile “cool down” with water and Gu stops throughout.  I averaged 8:55 for the 26.2 miles and went over and back on the Ringling Bridge (biggest “hill” in this area) four times.

This was the second time I had done a 26.2 mile training run.  I decided this was important to do again for this February marathon because I recovered so quickly from the November marathon.  Oh and did I mention the rolling hills I would see in the February marathon?  Luckily I have this hilly 26.2 mile training run under my belt and have been doing weekly hill workouts since last fall.

Inaugural Disney Marathon Relay

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Team RunnerGirl has had some pretty good success at relay and team events in the past, so why not try the new Disney Marathon Relay?  I teamed up with my speedy friend Kali and we tackled this inaugural event together.

Team RunnerGirl

Team RunnerGirl

In this relay, we each ran half of the marathon and we started and finished with the marathoners.  I ran the first leg, starting at 5:30 a.m. in corral #1.  It was a great experience for me to be near the front of the marathon for my whole race.  I mean, I was running HALF marathon pace while most of the people around me were running marathon pace.  There were not that many relay runners around me (that I could tell).  I was in awe of everyone, especially the women who were up there with me.  I can only dream of running a marathon that fast.  They were simply awesome!

My half of the race was mostly dark but the sun started to come up as I was nearing the final miles of my 13.1.  I mainly ran through and near Epcot and Magic Kingdom, including through Cinderella’s castle (my favorite part!!!) before high fiving my relay partner outside Magic Kingdom.  The whole race was amazing and inspiring.  I felt elite running with these fast marathoners and it was not crowded up front at all.  Knowing that Kali was there waiting for me, inspired me to run fast and keep pushing the pace no matter how I felt.  I did not waste any time through the water stops, just cruised through quickly drinking out of the side of my flattened out cup.  Even when I took my packet of Gu, I saw the approaching water stop ahead, ate the Gu right before then washed it down as I reached the water stop.  I tried to be quick and efficient so as not to keep her waiting.

It would be my fastest half marathon since the Sarasota Half Marathon in March 2011.  Disney was only about six weeks after my last marathon so I wasn’t exactly in the speediest shape since I mainly focused on distance and volume before the marathon and then took a couple weeks off after the marathon.  Doing the relay was exciting, inspiring, and definitely helped me run faster than I thought I could at that point in my training and racing cycle.

Kali is one of the most energetic, happy, and upbeat people I know.  On race morning, there was no exception.  Now when I ran down the straightaway to the relay exchange zone, she took it to a whole other level!  I was laughing and smiling as I approached her even while trying to finish as strong and fast as I could.  She danced around, waving her arms, jumping around, just filled with the same excitement I felt, I’m sure.

Relay Exchange Zone

Racing a relay event is a game changer.  No matter how you feel, you are driven by the fact that you are running with someone and for someone else.  You need to reach that finish line (or relay exchange zone) as fast as you can, knowing you did your absolute best for your partner, your teammate.

We were the second overall female relay team in 3:13:08.  We averaged 7:22 per mile for 26.2 miles.  There were 270 female relay teams.

2nd Overall Female Relay Team Award

We had such an amazing time.  Now we’re teamed up for the Sarasota Half Marathon Relay in March!   :)

Forgetful bliss

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

I couldn’t agree more with Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic marathon gold medalist:  “You have to forget your last marathon before you try another.  Your mind can’t know what’s coming.”  I have not felt the inspiration to blog and to be honest, have not really felt it in my running since that last post about Boston either.

One thing that triggered my inspiration to write was delivered by the mail carrier this week:  2011 Boston Marathon Racers’ Record Book and certificate of completion with my official time and place.  Results on the web specifically state that they are unofficial until we receive this book and certificate in the mail.  The B.A.A. is clever.  They know that whether you had a good or bad race at Boston, the experience and the memories are the good things that we remember.  By mid July, enough time has passed since the race so we forget how much it may have hurt.  Now we have this record of wonderful memories, results, photos, and that certificate.

And to be honest, I have forgotten how painful my last 4 miles at Boston were.  I mean, I know they hurt, but it’s not a vivid memory where I can practically still feel that pain.  In May, I was still feeling it.  But now, I just think about how I can better prepare for the next one.  Yes, there will be a next one.  I guess that’s the thing about runners.  We just can’t stop trying to attain those P.R.s or reach whatever other goals we may set.

I have reviewed my training for Boston and have made notes about what to do differently when training for my next marathon in November.  The marathon is such a major life event.  Even if you are just running it for “fun” or running it with someone and helping to pace them, you still have hours, months, and many, many miles to devote to it.  Marathon training, adequate sleep, and proper nutrition are all demands that end up taking time away from family, friends, work, school, and social life.  When race day rolls around, I often think about all the time devoted to the training.  That coupled with the pain during the race make me swear off marathons!  Then enough time passes and I seem to be signing up for that next one.  When will I learn?  ;)

Boston a Bust

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

I cannot remember being more excited for a race than I was during the many weeks preceding the Boston Marathon.  I trained for it, thought about it, talked about it, read about it, and was genuinely excited for it!

I don’t know if all that pre-race excitement resulted in me feeling burnt out on race day or if it was the emotional, stressful trip that surrounded the race or maybe I’m just really done with marathons.  Or maybe it was some unfortunate combination…

It was a mistake to surround my Boston Marathon trip with helping my grandmother pack up her house before and after the race.  My grandparents lived in that house for about 50 years…well longer than I have been alive.  So you can imagine the memories, mementos, and heirlooms that accumulated during those 50 amazing years.  My grandfather passed away a couple of years ago so grandma decided she needed a change of scenery.  Can’t blame her there…so many memories in that house!

But being immersed in that emotionally charged house for a week before heading to Boston did take its toll.  Once we arrived in Boston I no longer felt the excitement.  My head was definitely not in race mode.  If you can believe it, I didn’t even look around the expo – picked up my number, bag, and shirt then headed out.

On race morning, I was lucky to get the last seat in our hotel’s free shuttle to the marathon buses at Boston Common.  It took at least five rotations of buses before I was on my way to Hopkinton.  Once I arrived at athlete’s village, I spent my time in the port-o-potty line then did a quick warm up, dropped my bag at the baggage bus, then started the walk to the starting line.  I initially thought I would jog but the crowd did not allow for that.  Once I arrived at the start and was able to get in my assigned corral, it was just minutes until the starting gun.

The race started on time and all I could think about was how crowded it was.  After a couple miles of weaving in and out of people, I was hoping it would thin out a little so I could settle into a pace.  But that didn’t happen.  I kept checking my Garmin as I weaved around people and felt pretty good, pretty confident about my pace.  I felt comfortable right around my goal pace.

When I reached about halfway, still very close to goal pace, still feeling quite good, I did step back (not literally) and kind of look around to take it all in.  I thought about my friend and fellow coach at MHS Dave who told me to have fun.  So I made sure to smile for at least one of the photographers.  The problem was, I felt bad because I know Boston is an amazing experience – just to be there, especially based on how difficult it is to get there now with registration filling up in 8 hours.  I knew others around me were having the time of their lives.  Why wasn’t I?

Regardless, I stayed on pace right until we reached Newton where I decided to attack the hills since I felt so good!  Combine that little error with running the first half maybe a little too fast considering it was a lot of downhill.  Once I reached mile 22 I was hurting.  Those last four miles were painful and all I could think about was stopping.  I was struggling to move my legs and my pace really slowed.  I just wanted it to be over!  But, I have to admit that once I made that left turn onto Boylston Street I did feel the excitement and was able to pick up the pace slightly all the way to the finish.

My goal, based on recent half marathons and other races, was 3:20 to 3:30.  I finished in 3:31.

After the finish line I made my way through the water, Gatorade, food, Mylar blankets, finisher medals, then found my baggage bus, and finally found Phil at the family meeting area, all I could say was “I don’t ever want to do this again.”  I spent the rest of the day in bed.  I honestly cannot remember my legs hurting as much as they did that entire afternoon and evening.  I have completed 14 marathons and some were painful, but none like this.  Maybe I have spent too many years away from the New England hills of my youth.  My best option for hill training in Florida was the Ringling Bridge.  It’s not like when you live in a hilly area and your quads get used to the ups and downs on a regular basis.

After two days in Boston it was back to grandma’s house for more packing then we headed home.  On the plane, I told Phil that I wanted to find a flat, fast marathon in Florida to see what I can really do.  How quickly we runners forget the pain of that last marathon and look to the next one.  ;)

So many people congratulated me and asked me how Boston was.  I felt bad and a little guilty that I did not share the excitement of the other 2011 Boston Marathoners I knew.  Now I know to never again combine an emotionally charged family event with a race!

While Boston 2011 did feel like a bust for me, I would like to try it again in a couple of years when I have a few more recent marathons under my belt and I can make the marathon trip all about the marathon and just stay in Boston.

The fine line

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Just under five weeks left until Boston.  Months ago I planned out an amazing training program for myself.  I clipped it to the front of my file folder that sits next to my computer so it would be a daily reminder.  A reminder that training runs are a priority and how everything else I hope or plan to do might influence that training and my goal.

I followed the schedule so well for the first four to five weeks, doing the long runs at the proper pace, doing the tempo runs, and doing the speed workouts on the weeks I did not race.  I was feeling very confident in my training plan and my ability to execute it.

Then the racing calendar really started to fill in.  I realize that I am in control of what races I sign up for but they did seem to creep up on me.  It’s hard to say “no” to the trail races (my true passion) and I also wanted to get some fast times on the roads so I knew where I stood.  Before I knew it I was racing almost every weekend from late January through mid March.  I was feeling pretty strong and almost invincible.

Then on February 13th during a 10 mile trail race my left foot slipped off a root and I twisted my mid and forefoot.  It happened around mile 7 or 8 and REALLY hurt but I guess I had enough adrenaline pulsing through my body that I was able to finish fairly strongly.  After the race I hopped in the car and during the hour drive home, my foot started hurting like I had tied my shoe way too tight.  So I untied the shoe and loosened up the laces yet it still hurt.  When I arrived home, I saw how swollen the foot was.  After a week of resting, icing, elevating, and no running, I tested it out on a ten mile training run on the trails near my house.

With that week off I was concerned about the Gasparilla 8K on February 27th and worried how the missed training was going to affect me at Boston.  I decided to wear my training shoes instead of racing shoes for the Gasparilla 8K and ended up second overall female with a new PR.  I guess that week off was a nice recovery for me!

The following week I was back on track with the Boston Marathon training plan which included a 20 miler, some hills, a 15K trail race, and a tempo run.  Also throw in there standing for hours and hours at track meets and track practice each day.  So my left knee and both lower legs in the tibial tendon/shin area started to hurt a bit.  Now I’m worried again that I’m not going to be able to finish all my training for Boston or even worse, end up injured on the starting line.

After three days of rest I debated whether to run the Sarasota Half Marathon on March 13th.  It was a tough decision but I ended up running.  I think that was why my mile splits for the first nine miles were so erratic.  I was not able to go into the race with a solid plan.  Once I hit mile nine, I put the hammer down, mostly out of frustration of the inconsistent first nine mile splits.  My last four miles were my fastest and most consistent in 6:59, 7:03, 6:54, and 6:51.

This week I am still in recovery mode from that race.  One easy three mile run, a spin class, strength training, a massage, and acupuncture.  Now I feel ready to jump back into the training plan on Friday with a 10 mile run at goal marathon pace.

I have not trained on this fine line in a very long time.  It is exciting and scary at the same time.  My goal now with less than five weeks to go is to stay healthy.  It’s a lot more difficult than it sounds.  I also want to be race ready on April 18th so I can really race at Boston.  Between now and then I have to get in those hard training runs, but I will have to do it carefully by getting enough sleep, eating right, taking a recovery day when I feel that ache or pain, and doing the necessary body maintenance of massage and acupuncture.  Training is definitely a balancing act and my goal is to do it without slipping off that fine line.

With a little luck and some common sense, I’ll be fine.  ;)

Up to the challenge

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Sunday’s Florida Challenge Trail Run 5K at Alafia River State Park in Lithia is the toughest 5K trail race I have ever done.  This year I was defending my overall female winner title.  This year seemed tougher than last.  Maybe it was the fatigue and soreness lingering from Saturday’s Warrior Dash or the fact that the course was reversed this year or maybe I forgot the course just enough from last year…

The race starts on a paved road and basically you have to sprint a little over a quarter mile to get out fast enough to get in the position you want because once you enter the woods, it is all single track.  It is nearly impossible to pass in the woods.  The course is run over the most difficult of the mountain bike trails at Alafia.  The trails are single track, narrow, winding, zipping up and down short steep hills, covered with rocks and roots, and oh yeah, don’t forget to duck under the low hanging trees!

The trails are so challenging that you really cannot look up to see where the competition is or to glance at your Garmin.  You literally have to keep looking down so you know where your next step will go.  You are not able to get any kind of rhythm going either.  I think that’s what makes it so exciting.  You can’t really tell your pace.  I did wear my Garmin to record my data but I did not look at it once.  My knees were beat up enough from the Warrior Dash that I did not want to risk trail diving.  I kept telling myself that as long as I was sucking wind then I was running hard enough.  If I let up and the breathing got easier, I knew to press on and pick up the pace.  Somewhere in the middle of the trail section, which makes up 90-95% of the race, I cruised down a short steep hill and tried to use that momentum to get up the very steep uphill covered with wet, light colored dirt.  This was the only part of the trail that I found slippery, but then again, it all went by so fast.  I ran the race in my Brooks Adrenaline ASR trail shoes.  I am so thankful that I did!  The extra traction in the forefoot is what saved me on that steep, slippery uphill.  If I did not have that extra traction, I know I definitely would have slipped; it was that close.

That’s another cool thing about trail racing.  It seems more primitive – back to our roots.  You race against the clock, yourself, and certainly your competition, but the main competitor is the trail itself.  How you navigate the uneven terrain, sharp twists and turns, rocks, roots, and the many short, steep up and down hills will determine your success or failure.

Sunday when we were deep into the trail I felt like I could have been in the middle of the woods anywhere.  It was just woods all around us as we twisted and turned following the single track trail.  I tried to keep pushing the pace based on effort and breathing alone.  I did finally catch up to a guy during the last third of the race, maybe in the last half mile or so, I really couldn’t be sure.  But it was single track so I was not able to pass.  That is the only frustrating part of single track racing – being held back by others.  But as soon as the trail changed from rocks and roots to the more sandy area, it widened slightly so I sprinted by him partly on the trail and the other part of me was crashing through the bushes on the right.

Once out of the woods I was [doing what felt like] sprinting for the finish even though I was not exactly sure how far away that finish line was.  I thought I was in second place ever since we entered the woods so I finished strong but not as strong as usual.  The TampaRaces.com races offer a very cool trophy to overall and masters and then the top 30-40 receive a nice finisher award like a campfire mug or hat.  So thinking I was second overall female, I just cruised into the finish chute and when the finish card was handed to me, the scorer said “first female.”  I was definitely surprised and very happy to hear those words, especially since back in the woods I had already settled for second place in my mind.  I was thinking “all or nothing” and I am okay with second since I can’t even see anyone ahead of me.

The course was run in the reverse direction on the trails from last year.  I don’t know if that made it more difficult or about the same but my time was about a minute slower this year from last year.  Maybe it was the fatigue and soreness in my legs from the Warrior Dash the day before.  Whatever the reason, I was just delighted to have repeated as the overall female winner.  That’s one of the cool things about trail races – time does not really matter.  It gives you a chance to just run.

A few years ago at our Florida Athletic Coaches Association summer cross country coaching clinic, we were fortunate to have the featured guest speaker Coach Dan Green of The Woodlands High in Texas.  I learned a lot from him but one thing he said about cross country racing has really stuck with me.  He was talking about how the terrain varies so trying to compare XC times on different courses was nothing like comparing track times since everyone runs on a 400 meter track.  But he basically said in cross country you just get out there and race – try to beat the guy next to you.  Don’t get fixated on splits or times, just race.  It was so simple, yet with all the technology we have now and the focus on pacing and splits, I think we forget to just race.  I challenge you to just race – against your competitors or that voice in your head that tells you the terrain is just too tough.  Once in a while, don’t look at the watch or Garmin, don’t figure out your splits, just run hard, just race, and be satisfied with the effort.  The Florida Challenge Trail Run or any trail race near you can give you the perfect opportunity to just race.

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