My Less-Than-Successful 25…30…35K (?!?!) Trail Race

Here’s a fun riddle for everyone.

Ian and Lydia train for a trail race. Lydia trains more often and at a faster pace than Ian. At the race, Lydia stays far in front of Ian and is never passed by him. Yet Ian finishes more than 45 minutes ahead of Lydia. What the heck happened?!

Welllll let me tell you.

Way back in November Ian and I had a fight. One of those mean fights where I accused him of never wanting to do anything different, challenging or all that fun. We stomped to opposite sides of the house and simmered off separately until we were ready to appreciate each other again. Problem solved. Or so I thought. The next day at work I got a confirmation email forwarded to me from Ian showing that he had signed us both up for the Haulin’ in the Holler 25K trail race.  His only comment was something akin to “who’s being spontaneous now, suckaaaa??” (My memory may be faulty there.)

Though I had toyed with running another marathon, nothing was official yet, and Ian signing us both up for something this long was entirely unexpected. I’ve always been the runner in our relationship. We started dating after I quit my college cross country team, and back when I still had the power of persuasion over him, I coaxed Ian to train for a half marathon with me. Though he enjoyed the experience, he’d made it clear to me that the 13.1 mile race was going to be the peak of his running career and that he had no interest in training for anything that long again.

Until now apparently.

So that was that. Due to short winter days and our isolated location, staying fit during the winter can be a struggle. Having the race looming before us proved a welcome incentive to hop on the treadmill and churn out some miles. For a good month and a half the two of us were doing phenomenal, hitting every weekly mileage goal like it was the special at Dairy Queen. Don’t judge our lifestyle.

Back when our shoes were new and our goals seemed obtainable.

And then the treadmill broke. Training went downhill pretty quickly after that. Before you call us wimps, just think about our situation for a sec. When it snows out here it can be days before we are able to get the car out. The turns along the mountain road mean that parts of it stays shaded at all times, creating black ice that can be lethal for the car and our legs. Even when we can drive the nearest public gym is almost an hour away.

I like running, but I’m not THAT dedicated.

Getting our camping gear ready to go.

My five runs a week sank to one long run over the weekends. Ian was lucky to do that. Groups came, life picked up its frenetic pace, and running ceased being a priority for us. Suddenly the late March race date was getting threateningly close to being on us. As was Ian’s temper. He hadn’t gotten a quality run done in weeks and wanted nothing more to do with the race. I kept gleefully reminding him that he had signed us up for this mess in the first place. I’m a veteran runner and was fairly confident in my abilities even with minimal training, but Ian is an A leads to B which leads to C kind of person. In this instance A was signing up for the race, B was completing his training program and C was competing. Since B had dropped out of the equation Ian couldn’t see any way that A was going to lead to C. And he blamed me for not letting him do the sensible thing of backing out.

When we make it off the mountain, we’re all about combining errands. Hence the back of the pickup filled with recyclables.

Needless to say, the drive to the race site the night before was a little tense. I was in complete pre-race mood, pumping myself up with a bursts of chatter while Ian grumpily drove us along with nary a word to me. Instead of running, he threatened to stay in the tent the whole time.

But as always happens, once we got to the race site the challenge no longer seemed as scary. We signed in with a bunch of other normal people (not super athletes) and pitched our tent to the side of the park. A dinner out was all it took for Ian’s spirits to perk up, and we fell asleep with minimal anxiety.

And then it was time for the race itself. I ran cross country for eight years while in school, but this was my first long distance trail race. The sinuous single track trail surprised me. As did the constant switchbacks and long stretches without aid stations. Must be why almost every other runner was wearing a fancy pack filled with water. But oh my gosh did I love it. The first mile was a bottleneck of passing people, but once I had some space to stretch out my stride I felt invincible. The miles melted away as I surprised myself with my ability to power up hills and blow past the other runners. When my energy started to waver I took my GU packet, and its instant effects propelled me farther. I’ve run a lot of races, and this level of runner’s euphoria is a rare occurrence. Trail racing might just become my newest passion.

Early morning pre-race photo! (I was definitely more awake than I look here)

I coasted into the mile ten aid station to the news that I was the first woman to pass through. FIRST WOMAN. That was beyond my most optimistic goals for the day. This was going to be my best race ever. By this point the runners had thinned out enough that the only person around me was a 20 something male. I tagged behind him for three miles before passing him on a hill and stayed in front of him for another mile. A few points of the course looked a little iffy to me, but every time I looked over my shoulder the guy was still following so I soldiered on. But I started to get really tired. And starved. More starved than I should have been for the last mile and a half of the race. My pace sputtered into a walk-run combo and I began to get annoyed. Where were all the other runners? I couldn’t have been THAT far ahead. And where the heck was the finish line?! The race was supposed to finish in a valley but the trail in front of me kept going up.

It took me longer than it should have to realize what was going on. Somehow I’d cut the course and was near the beginning, rerunning the first few miles. Continuing forward wasn’t an option unless I wanted to turn my race into a 50K, so I turned around and tried to backtrack to the place I had gone wrong. By this point my runner friend was long gone. He’d probably figured out our mistake before me but hadn’t had the energy to catch me and let me know.

Let me tell you, there is no greater running crash than expecting to win a race, finding out you’ve spent over twenty minutes going in the dead wrong direction, and then having to rerun it all. My crankiness quickly reached Ian levels from the day before.

This is really what the course was like. Frankly I’m surprised more people didn’t get lost with me!

Back tracking to my mistake proved impossible, and after running in circles for what felt like miles I gave up on the whole endeavor and bush whacked my way to the finish line. Against all odds, the guy that had gotten lost with me came out of the woods at the same time, and we ran through the finish line together. I had finished a fifteen mile race in 3 hours 30 minutes, a slower time than I’d run the Chicago marathon three years ago.

Needless to say, I didn’t get first place.

But on a hilarious note, Ian won for his age group! The guy I led astray would have won that honor, but my mistake allowed Ian to clinch the prize for himself.

Post race. Age group awards for some. Participation medals for others.

If you think I’m bitter about how the day turned out, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, I couldn’t have planned things better if I’d tried. Ian’s successful day really pumped up his love of racing and he’s already talking about competing again next year. Also, I’ll be running the Kentucky Derby marathon in a month and was stressed about getting a twenty miler in before then. Considering I inadvertently ran at least twenty two miles on steep trails for this race, I think I’ll be set for a pavement marathon.

At least there will be tons of spectators lining the course at that one. When it comes to staying on track, I’ll take any help I can get. 😮

Gotta love the boy scouts- they made some of the more unique race awards I’ve ever seen.


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