Oh, hey there. It’s been a few weeks. We’re already in April!
I haven’t been writing much because life has gotten rather busy, and I haven’t been working out as much on my normal schedule. I have however been walking a ton, hiking a ton, and trying to be outdoors as much as possible with my kids. That has been a nice change of pace with the spring weather peeking through.
This past weekend I ran a trail race! The last time I ran a “Hashathon” trail race, it wasn’t too far from my house, 6 miles, and with not much elevation comparatively. I believe I only had one child at the time, and I was much lighter and fitter. And even then, that race was difficult for me.
When I signed up for the Squatchapple, I really had no idea what elevation meant in these kinds of races. I run at the shore, along the beach mostly or inlet, and it’s flat. Even my neighborhood has hills, but at most it’s a 200 foot climb. After watching too many ultra documentaries and deciding it was finally time to start training for “me” again, I signed up.
What’s a little elevation like 1,200 feet up and down and up and down again? Switchbacks, steep climbs, downhills forever, and a bit of mud and billions of rocks and roots…
I learned quite a lot during this race, and had very low expectations for myself. As I drove to the mountain, up and around winding roads, I gasped. What the hell am I doing here? Maybe I should turn around.
The race was already going when I arrived for my 10:30am start time. The parking was easy peasy. The 50 miler, 33 miler, and 20 miler runners were already out on the course. It was kind of fun checking in while others were going through to other loops on the trails. It really felt like a “trail party” as they sell their races. I did wish though I had someone I knew there, and wasn’t alone. That would’ve made it more fun for sure.
I picked out a retro buff as my swag, though I told myself when I drove there – get the trucker hat – ugh. I didn’t listen and got excited by practicality. I will definitely use the buff for hiking and running. This means I have to do this again, so I can get the trucker hat…
The race was very well organized. I hung around a bit before they called us 11 mile runners in to get setup to start. And start on time they did! Within about 20 minutes of getting there, I was off and running (or power hiking up the first side of the mountain). The weather was cooler, but within minutes I took off my sweatshirt and carried that the whole time. Thankfully, while I didn’t love it being overcast at first, it really made this bearable.
The start of the course was a real show of what was to come. It was straight up the mountain, over tons of roots and rocks, and then off I was in the middle of nowhere. The runners ahead of me took off. I didn’t warm-up at all, and planned to just warm up with a jog/walk in the first mile. That turned out to be good, because I couldn’t run up those hills even if I wanted to. I was trying too hard not to break my neck and trip! You can’t shuffle on trails like you can on the roads.
After awhile, I was mostly alone on the trail. A few people were behind me, not many, and some others were out there just walking along the trails. Without the race markers, I would have totally been lost (though I could’ve used my WorkOutdoors app, but couldn’t figure out how to load the route when we started the race – now I know where I went wrong!).
Every time I looked up, it appeared we were just going up, up, up the mountain. I did not understand the elevation charts for the race course, if I had, I probably would’ve been too scared to even try it.
About 2 miles in, I found myself high above a highway. I thought, maybe I reached the top on this side?!
Nope! Quite a bit more climbing to go. Around mile 3, I started to feel the groove of power hiking uphill and jogging along the flatter or downhill sections. I attempted some photos of the trails where it was rocky, but after almost breaking my toes a few times and catching myself before I tripped into a hard fall, I gave up on that idea.
I think at this point I gasped an out loud “oh sh**” and just dug in my heels to keep moving forward. I had trekking poles in my car, but having never used them before, I didn’t want to make this my first attempt to carry anything extra.
Throughout the race I was passed every once in awhile by other runners. While at first I wasn’t sure I liked trail racing and felt somewhat defeated when passed, I had literally no idea where I was in the grand scheme of things like I do in road races. I’m slow, but the trails provided me a little ego protection, because those other runners were most likely doing double or triple my distance since earlier that morning. While I should’ve felt bad, because I was probably last, I kind of felt okay, because no one could see how far behind I was, right?
I also took my time when other runners were approaching. I usually stopped and stepped off the trail to give them room. That probably hurt my finish time, but I would rather be safe than knocked over or ruin someone else’s time who was really going for it that day.
I made it through the first loop of 4 miles and back down to the starting/finishing area. Then after a quick potty break, I trekked back up the other side of the mountain to start the 7 mile loop.
At this point in the race, I was about 6 miles completed and just chugging along. I ran when I could, with some impressive “fastest pace” times on the flats, and had to hop, skip, and jump in other spots around rocks, over ponds, and through mud.
I learned what switchbacks were at this point. These were pretty simple compared to what appeared later in the race. Actually, I wouldn’t mind these ones over and over than what came later. At this point, a few runners came up behind me, I stopped to give them space, and then ended up helping them up ahead when they didn’t know which route to follow. Our instructions were “orange out” when going around some of the loops in the 7 mile course side.
I listened to music the whole time. I took me over 8 miles to finally find a good playlist. I didn’t plan this out well at all. I just went with whatever, and ate some fruit strips throughout. I ran out of water and snacks by 8 miles, and I knew I couldn’t stomach my PB sandwich (never can stomach serious solids).
Miles 8 and 9 were all sorts of crazy. Super cool views, tight track trails, tons of rocks, and lots of up, down, and turning around.
I did my best not to get nervous when running along the edges of cliffs. Some of the switchbacks were along the lines of one wrong foot and I was going to take a slide down. Thankfully, I didn’t, and it probably wasn’t that bad, but as a slow heavier runner, anything could happen!
The sun finally came out and the clouds parted around mile 9 in the race. I was so happy to see the sun and have a reason to put on my sunglasses. Then it started to get hot and sweaty pretty quickly!
There was a random outlook house on the trails in the last few miles. I wanted to stop, go in and take a photo, ummm, maybe even a seat, but I knew if I stopped I wasn’t going to get back up any time soon. I may have just had to move in there and stay forever. Just keep moving…
In the very last mile, there was a huge tree right across the trail. I had to straddle it to get over it. I almost just sat there, but I knew I was almost to the finish. The downhill was going to be up ahead… soon… I hope.
As I approached the end, a few good songs came on my playlist. I shared them on IG and the first was “Hold on, we’re going home.” That felt super appropriate and needed. I was on my way to finally being finished!
The second song that came on right at the end was “When I Grow Up” with the lyrics “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it…” and I did get it. I did!
I finished! I seriously wanted to give up when we crossed back through at the 4 mile loop across to the 7 mile loop, but I had a little left to keep going then. I thought, well, I could always turn around, but I didn’t. I was proud of myself. Even though I wasn’t out there for a longer distance, or completing my first ultra like I still would like to, I did something hard. I finished what I started. And I was totally unprepared for what the experience was going to be!
My goals for this race were pretty simple:
- Show up. ✓
- Don’t give up. ✓
- Stay under a 20:00/mile pace. ✓
- Finish before the 2pm runner group went out. ✓
- Finish under 3:00 hours. X (just over, at 3:17 total)
I knew I would be walking/hiking/power hiking most of this event. I chose it because it said it was “hiker friendly” and it was. Sure, I would’ve loved to run and make some sort of serious strides, but alas, I showed up. I didn’t give up. My pace goal was to stay ahead of my road walking pace. I did pretty well considering how much terrain there was to slow down for. I was impressed I hit under 15:00 pace for two miles, and my max paces were pretty good, too!
Things I’d do differently:
- Warm-up or do some active stretching
- Wear longer shorts that won’t ride up
- Wear full compression socks, not socks + calf sleeves where dirt got in
- Pack more snacks, like energy balls or electrolytes
- Refill my water at the aid station in-between loops
- Skip the sweatshirt, to much to carry
- Eat more after the race
- Foam roll and stretch after
- Choose the trucker hat
Overall, I am glad I did it. I was super nervous. This was harder than any road half marathon I’ve ever done!
It’s been years since I’ve ran an in-person race. I’m slow, I’m out of shape, I’m overweight, and my body doesn’t treat me kindly when I push it’s limits. Aside from soreness in my legs and a bit in my knees overnight, everything felt good.
Well, except for my lower back. I woke up that morning with pain in my lower back that was probably from sleeping awkwardly. I ignored it, and didn’t stretch it for fear of making it worse. Luckily, only my hamstring hurt a bit during the race, but a few days later I’m still paying with lots of lower back pain.
I still consider that my body did well in response to what I put it through. Had I not slept stiff and bothered my back, I don’t think I’d be that much worse for the wear from this. My knees felt better after compression, and my muscles fared well with an Epsom salt soak. Now, just to work through this nagging back issue and I’ll be back out there, running, jogging, power hiking, cycling and walking soon.
I did miss the ease of the roads though. I’ve never in my life run up and down a mountain, but I can say, I’ll probably do it again. I need to grab that trucker hat next time, wink wink. I’d definitely recommend Sassquad Trail races, and while it was a bit further than I’ve ever gone for a race, the travel time passed quickly.