Are you ready? It’s time for the story of my very first trail race.
Those of you who know me well may be surprised that I would opt for a trail race.
I mean, I love nature. Outside. Where it belongs.
I don’t like sweating, or getting dirty, or being without a cell signal, or lack of indoor plumbing. I don’t like snakes and I don’t like chupacabras.
It’s amazing that I run at all.
But everyone raves about how trail runs and races are so different and wonderful (Stacey, I’m looking at you), and so I, always one to try new things, decided to go for it.
Funny story about this race. I had sent a link to the FL*ROC 13.1 at Princess Place & 5K to Mr PugRunner as a suggestion for a Christmas gift. When I opened the card with the registration confirmation, I noticed that instead of the 5K, he had signed me up for the half! Gulp!
We had a good laugh over it – he said he realized after he submitted the registration that there even was a 5K, and I emailed the race director, who very graciously permitted me to drop down. Had it been a road race, I would have taken my chances, but I really didn’t know what to expect or how to really prepare for 13.1 miles on trails, and thought the wiser course of action would be to start small.
Mr PugRunner and little man planned to come out and cheer, but as race day approached, Mr PugRunner was down with a sinus issue and I was worried about them being out there for I don’t know how long. The race location was about 45 minutes away with morning of packet pickup, and I felt bad asking them to get up so early on a Saturday. We compromised by agreeing that when the race was over, we would meet for breakfast.
Since check-in started at 6:00, with the 5K scheduled for 8:00, I figured I could plan to get there by 6:20. The drive was an adventure in itself: once I got off the interstate, the GPS directed me along some pretty dark and poorly marked roads before I turned into Princess Place Preserve. Which was comprised of very narrow dirt roads. And one questionable wooden bridge. The speed limit was about 15MPH for most of it, to which I adhered, despite the car behind me, who was clearly more familiar with the area (Sorry, buddy). After what felt like forever, I saw signs for the parking area and had to come to a dead stop for an armadillo crossing the road.
I had brought an older pair of shoes, as well as a newer pair. An email received a day or two prior had indicated that this wasn’t a very technical trail, and would be mostly comprised of packed dirt and some pavement. I figured if that was the case, I could wear “good shoes.” However, the grass to get to the check-in tent was sodden, and so I laced into the older pair for the time being.
I got my bib and a really soft t-shirt, and then I waited in the car for a bit. It was pretty chilly out, and still dark.
Between the 5K and the half, there were less than 200 participants, and it created a very different vibe than the larger road races I normally run. There were different faces, different varieties of shoes (in fact, one man ran completely barefoot!) and different equipment. I didn’t feel particularly out of my depth, but it was all very new, too.
After the half went out, I walked around to stretch, and used the bathroom. The announcer started to gather us up around 7:50, and chatted for a bit.
He advised that there were some pretty big stretches of mud on the trail (yay for not wearing the new shoes!) and that while the course was well-marked, to be sure to always turn opposite of the covered bridges. If we ended up on a bridge, we were off route. I translated that to “may God have mercy on your souls” and vowed to pay extra attention to bridges.
The race began without much fanfare. Since it was gun timed, I started closer to the front, but there was plenty of room to spread out so I didn’t worry too much about holding anyone up.
I had forgotten to bring the ear buds for my iPod so I was music-less for this race. Which wasn’t a bad thing. I spent the 3.1 miles trying to take it all in. The trail was beautiful, sometimes bending along the river, and sometimes disappearing into a canopy of trees.
We ran on grass and dirt, over some roots and coquina shells. There were some pretty significant patches of mud, and even some horse droppings (I sent out a silent prayer that barefoot guy had missed all those). I knew that my pace would be slower than on the road, but I felt good, even with the mix of different surfaces and uneven ground. I’m sure I would have felt better with newer shoes.
Along the 5K route were two manned water stops. There were also great course markings, and even a couple of volunteers stationed along the way to point out the right direction. Best of all, I kept away from the bridges. Clearly, I was already a pro.
The race ended along the waterfront. I passed the finish line and collected a pint glass and a huge deer head medal.
I guess this is the only way I’ll ever have a deer head in my house.
My goal for the race was under 40:00. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to navigate the terrain, and that time felt reasonable. I was thrilled to come in under 35:00. It was a pretty nice confidence boost.
The after party was nice: plenty of beer and beans and rice with a great view and music. I had a long drive home so I couldn’t stay too long, but it was so nice to relax with a cold one, gazing out over the water. There were even some dolphins, which was awesome.
This was a great event. It was well organized, with wonderful volunteers. Aid stations were plentiful, and all the athletes were so nice. The vibe was much more low key than at the road races I usually run, but it was a nice atmosphere.
In fact, the only only only only flaw with this race was that there were no finish line photographers. I know that sounds vain, but I would have loved (and bought) a snap with the view of the water and the trees.
I will definitely be back for more!
Do you prefer road racing or trail racing?
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen out on the trails?