Sunday, December 29, 2013

Turkey Trot 4-mile Trail Run

After warming up before this race in Carolina Beach State Park in North Carolina, I hopped onto a picnic table to stretch, and I felt the weirdest clash between being pumped up and very peaceful and relaxed.  Sunlight was filtering through tall pines on a clear, chilly morning by the inter-coastal waterway. I leaned into the stretches and felt very good and very ready for a run through the woods.

I ran this race 5 years before, when it had 100 fewer participants and when I won my first age group award. I expected to be faster now, but I didn't know by how much, and part of me just wanted to run it again for the experience of a trail that is so different than those I run on in the northeast.

I was excited and pumped up for this race, and I felt great during the warm up. I hopped onto a picnic table to stretch, and when the race started, I felt well prepared.

After the gun went off, I started with a pack very close to the front and was swept up in the speed. I went a couple of steps and accidentally stepped on the heel of someone in front of me, which could have been a major fail, but it only caused one or two faltering steps before I got back into my rhythm and continued at a fast pace down the road before turning onto the trail.

I knew that I was going faster than I should have. I was too fast in my warm up, too. But at a quarter mile, my phone read out that my pace was over 12 minutes per mile. Was I already slowing and didn't even notice it? I kept pace with the people around me and felt the distance pass by with each step.

When we turned onto the trail, there was a little bit of a bottleneck. I noticed that the race directors tried to mark the roots on the ground with orange ribbon, which was unexpected, but nice. I noticed that I slowed down a lot, though. I haven't been trail running lately, and I didn't have the nimbleness that you need.

The surface of the trail was sand and pine needles. The roots thinned out, and some sections were completely sand, dry, lumpy, and uneven from the feet of every runner before me. I remembered the sand from when I ran this race before, but I had pushed a lot of it from my memory. My phone kept reporting a pace of over 10 minutes per mile. How could that be? The last time, I averaged 9:28 per mile. Surely I was in better shape now!

I kept thinking about what was making me so much slower this time. I was breathing heavily, and I felt bad because it must have been annoying to the people around me. As my phone ticked off the miles and read off my slow pace, I felt discouraged. What did I accomplish in the 5 years of running since I had run this race before? How could I be so much slower?

When my phone read off 3.5 miles, I heard cheering and music playing at the finish line. I remembered that from last time - I thought I was at the end because of the cheering, but the course snaked its way much longer than I thought. Except this time, it wasn't really that long. All of a sudden I saw the people ahead of me step onto a bridge - the bridge that drops you off at the finish line. Then I could see the finish. I pushed as hard as I could and crossed the finish line in 34:34 - 3 minutes and 15 seconds faster than my first time and good for second in my age group.

My phone, it seems, was off by quite a lot, and I am disappointed that I let that discourage me like it did. I should have enjoyed the race for what it was and not for how fast I could run it. The park was so pretty and unlike the scenery I am used to. I wish I had remembered to take some pictures!

I'll take this as a lesson to enjoy running for the experience and not to be so concerned with the clock. It's always good to set goals and to try and make improvements, but in a sport that has such a strong mental component, truly having a good time and enjoying the experience can be more important.

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