Sunday, December 18, 2011

Trail Runner? - Thunderbird Moonlight Trail 6K

Saturday night I ran my first trail race. Yes, my first time running a trail race, at night. You were required to wear a headlight and I got a moderately priced one at WallyWorld. I headed out to St. Francisville kind of early because I was sure I'd get lost. I had not been there since I was in middle school.

The forecast showed that it was 56 degrees, but at 5 p.m., it felt much colder. I had on another hooded jacket until 10 minutes before the start. I spent most of the time chatting with other runners and stretching. By 6 p.m., it was in the high 40s and I was nervous. I had just started running again at Comite River Park, a wonderful set of trails near my home. My first run was the previous Monday and it was slow going. I actually stopped a couple of times to check the map I carried with me. I was scared I'd get lost but the routes are well marked.

That fear hit me a few times during the race. It was a bit weird when I was by myself. You couldn't see anything except the ground illuminated by your headlamp and of course, my breath. Orange flags blocked off other routes and during stretches with no flags, I got a bit nervous until I saw another.

The trail is at the back of a parish sports complex. The first quarter mile of the race was in an open field. The grass was a bit uneven. You made one big u-turn, headed around the baseball fields and into the forest. I was in the middle of the pack. At the turn around, it was cool to see about 20 headlamps bouncing your way. As we headed toward the woods, the space between the group in front of me was growing. That made me nervous, because as I said, I worried about getting lost, but I knew it would be a bad idea to push myself so early in the race. It was only 3.7 miles, but the farthest I had ran on a trail was 2.85. As with the only other trail I had ran, you quickly were on sharp, rolling hills, some extremely steep and muddy, some filled with roots.

For most of the race, I was able to stay just out of arm's length of a few people. Once people actually hit the trail, which can be a bit like an obstacle course, they slowed down a bit. By the time I even thought to check my GPS tracker, I was at 1.9 miles. My legs were burning, the nails on my left hand were filled with mud from stopping a fall. My right hand was numb with cold and dirt-stained from using small trees to pull myself up ridges. But I was halfway through and got bit of a rush. I soon caught up to a group of three. One guy let me pass and I stuck with them through a few more obstacle-like areas. I actually felt like I had caught my breath a little bit and the path was flattening out. I had to push it. I checked my phone again and I was at three miles. The push was just barely that. My legs were heavy, but I knew it was almost over.

I came out of the woods at a gravel road and saw a single headlamp off in the distance. This was the initial turn off where volunteers directed us onto the trail. The light began bouncing and I realized the volunteer was headed towards me. He let me know to take a left with the road and I'd see the finish line. At that point, I pushed as hard as I could. My legs were heavy, the cold air was burning my lungs, but I was at the end and there was no slowing down. I finished in 44:27.3.

I didn't expect to do that well. I don't know if I'll be doing another night trail race soon, but I'm definitely sticking with the trails. I have one right near my house and my half marathon training includes three mile runs that I'll do on trails twice a week. It will help me get stronger and can only help with my road races. I think I'm addicted.