When people say that trail races can teach you many things, they aren’t kidding. I ran a terrific, challenging, and beautiful 50k race (my first) in Gnaw Bone, IN yesterday, and these are just a few things I learned:
1) Trail runners are AWESOME. People helping each other, encouraging one another. I love that as you pass someone, when you request “hey, do you mind if I pass?” the response is, “Of course! Good job.” I loved the joking and advice when climbing the mudslide of a hill on all fours, and the “have a good race!” as each of us made it to the top. I enjoyed the mutual curses too, as runners surveyed the next hill ahead. Last but not least, I LOVED hanging with friends – some old, some new – and sipping beers at the end. Yes, trail runners are AWESOME.
2) The mantra, “trust your training” during challenging parts of the race WORKS. I could only train by linking and running through small parks in my town, but I tried to find the most challenging trails. I followed, as best I could, the guidance I received from friends about heart rate training, and did not go out too fast, slowed when my hr got too high, and ran free when it was good. I wasn’t the fastest runner, but I did finish second in my age group. What gave me the strength was trusting what I had gone through before.
3) Gordy Ainsleigh is right. Via Trail Runner Nation’s podcast, I heard advice he gave to Don, one of the guys on the program. To paraphrase Gordy, what went through my head was, “Nature, take it when she gives it to you.” He meant it for the easy parts of the run, but I applied it to the tough parts too. It helped me accept where I was at the moment. Instead of cursing the condition, I embraced it. Except the stretch that went along the paved camp road. I definitely cursed that!
4) HILL WORK COUNTS. I found that my attention to hills, even though they were not as high or as challenging as the hills on the course, really payed off. I overtook a good number of people by power hiking up and flying down. Gosh, I loved those downhills! You want to talk joyous running, man — that wasn’t only joyous, it was righteous!
5) You never know what is going to happen, so be prepared for anything. As I was running the first third, I kept thinking, “either my training really paid off, or this race isn’t nearly as tough as they say.” I knew that couldn’t be true, and it wasn’t. Immediately after that, it poured buckets. The rain was so hard that it stung my eyes and brought dirt in under my hard contact lenses. I had to stop several times to clean them. What a huge delay, overall. After that, the mud was tougher than #^$(^! and disgusting. Ankle- to calf-deep clay and muck, slippery as all get out. It killed me at the last bit while running with a guy with whom I had been playing tag all day. He finally won because he had the balance to keep running during one stretch. I just couldn’t run and stay vertical at the same time, so I had to slow to a power hike. I tried my best to follow this veteran of trail ultras, but I just couldn’t. Instead, I embraced where I was and hung on to his compliment to me, which at one station was, “this woman is relentless!” Loved seeing him and congratulating him at the end. You go man. I’m proud of you. Fantastic job. : )
6) I always ran with my own Tailwind/Ginger Green Tea solution and ate little. I followed the same regimen during the race, nibbling a Bear Naked protein bar when I just felt I needed a pick-me-up, and sucking on OH SO DELICIOUS orange slices at the aid stations. I didn’t need anything else and I am glad I didn’t try anything else. I heard too many horror stories about DNFs (Did Not Finish) because someone ate the wrong food or gel at an aid station.
Okay, that’s it for now. My list could go on and on. I ran, I hiked, I kept moving. I picked up 9 or 10 pieces of trail trash along the way. I talked and encouraged and engaged in fun banter with new found comrades. I soaked in the beauty of running long stretches in solitude. Most importantly, I learned a lot about myself, kept on going, and finished perhaps not so fast, but certainly strong.
I can’t wait to do this again. Will there be any trail runners in Russia?