Saturday, December 11, 2010

Race report: NJ Winter Trail Series: Race 1

I started off yesterday thinking "So this is the meaning of an epic fail." It must not have been that epic, though, because in spite of some very fail-worthy moments on my part, the Winter Trail Series 5K was amazing.

The weather was great, the trail conditions were perfect, everyone was courteous on the course, I felt great, and there was soup and hot chocolate waiting for us at the end (among other much-appreciated refreshments). If there are any pictures of me out on the course, I'm probably unnaturally smile-ly in them, because I was having a blast.

Who would have known that just 2 hours before, I was cursing my unbelievable stupidity and trying to find some sufficiently-angry music to listen to for the remainder of my drive. Actually, it wasn't that bad, but I was pretty annoyed at myself. Even though I had laid out all of my gear the night before, I forgot my wallet at home. I was alone and driving about an hour away with no driver's license, personal identification, or money of any kind. When I went home to get it, I set myself behind by about half an hour. Then I remembered that there would probably be twice as many people at this race as there had been at the one I ran last year, and all of the parking lots within half a mile of the start would be taken. Then, I realized that I really had to go to the bathroom. I started weighing options like "Will it be better to be late for packet pick-up or the beginning of the race?" to determine when to go to the bathroom, and my spirit was almost crushed.

The gods smiled down on me, though, because -- even after one of the roads I needed to use was closed and I had to take a detour -- I ended up not being the only one running late. There were so many people waiting to register/pick up their packets at the time registration was supposed to close that the organizer decided to push the start time back a little! (Cue "Hallelujah Chorus".) So I parked in Timbuktu, ran to pick up my packet, received my bib and a fleece blanket (which is an awesome give-away for a winter race), ran back to Timbuktu, drove to Antarctica where I knew that there was an unoccupied porta-potty, drove back to Timbuktu, and ran to the start, where I was actually able to get some stretching in before the race began.

The fleece blankets came in neat little bundles with the event logo printed on them.

I did not have any time goals or expectations for this race, so I started at the back of the pack and took it fairly easy while everyone was bumping and jostling for position. I knocked elbows with a girl in a red sweatshirt and NY Giants hat, and after running near her for a little, thought that I'd try and pace myself off of her for a while. Then my next fail moment came when I noticed that my shoes weren't laced tightly enough. They were securely double-knotted, but my heel lifted too much out of them, and they were uncomfortable. I don't know how I hadn't noticed that when I was running to and from my car. I didn't really want to stop and re-lace them, so I kept going as we followed a dirt road around a pond. On the other end of the pond, the course turned onto a single-track trail, and when I saw how bottled up it was from 300 runners trying to squeeze on one-at-a-time, I figured that I might as well stop to fix my shoes. By the time I finished and hopped onto the trail, I was almost dead last. Honestly. Out of 300 runners in the 5K and 10K combined, I was probably 296th. And so I started passing people.

The course was largely how I remember it, but my experience feels so different this year. Last January, when I ran this race for the first time, it felt like the hills would never end. I remember being exhausted and needing to walk to get through the first half of the race. This year I was focused on regaining lost ground and carefully balancing the amount of energy I used. I'd wait until my breathing was even and I felt that I had a lot of energy and that the footing was secure to pass as many people as I could. Then I'd tuck in for a little while until it was time to move up again. I usually tried to announce myself with an "on your left" before passing. I slowed down on the hills but kept jogging, which in itself let me pick off a lot of people, and I was rewarded when we finally reached the downhills. I was pretty winded at that point and used some time to coast and get my breath back before passing anyone. I ended up getting my breath back at a kind of flat section where I saw some spaces where I could pass, and I took off. I abandoned a rhythmic running cadence and hurdled over the rocks and roots as quickly as possible, landing wherever had the best footing. This was so much fun! The trails I've been running on my own are so rocky that I rarely have the opportunity to open up like that and get a lot of speed. I eventually caught up with someone and got stuck behind her as the trail moved very steeply downhill. I followed her for a while until the next opportunity to pass, and I took off again and was pretty much alone from that point until the end of the race.

If I've ever experienced runner's high, today was it. In the car on the way home, I was singing made-up lyrics along the lines of "I feel amazing" to the tune Josh Kelley's "Amazing" and was in a great mood for the rest of the day. I had such a good time running this race, both with how I felt physically and mentally, since moving up as far as I did was a big confidence booster.

So, thank you to the gracious gods above and to the planets for aligning in order to turn my bad day into such an amazingly great race. I'd also like to give a big thank you to the volunteer who was ladling hot water for the soup and hot chocolate. It didn't seem like a fun job, but we all appreciated it!

Time: 35:51
Place Overall: 72/128
Age Group: 9/21

Lexie approves of the new blanket and has already tried to make a puppy nest with it on the couch.

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