The morning of my first trail half-marathon!
The day started auspiciously enough. My sister and I awakened at our campsite at an hour that qualified as “sort of civilized.” We donned our running gear, took care of bathroom needs, dismantled our tents, and drove down the road just a short distance to the Valles Caldera Preserve, site of the day’s events. We arrived in the parking field, a.k.a. the Dust Cauldron, with a very comfortable amount of time before our race. That’s just the way I like it – snag a good parking spot, do porta-potty reconnaissance, maybe eat a snack, catch up on seriously entertaining runner-watching, etc.
Before the half-marathon started, I did a quick assessment of the land. I didn’t know a whole lot about the course other than it was tough and “scenic” [translate: really tough]. Our surroundings seemed innocent enough, though: lots of tall trees, lots of dirt and soft surfaces. The temperature tiptoed upwards, but not enough to present a real concern before the race, and there was thankfully not one hint of drifting wildfire smoke in the air. Trail racing wasn’t so bad!
I maintained that optimism, proudly, for at least the first half-mile of the race.
I wish I could say realization of the truth gradually dawned on me, but that might imply that there was something, anything, gradual on that course, and I would prefer not to lie. The realization was this: trail racing is HARD.
The hills weren’t so terrible. Until they became more aptly described as walls. When you’re slogging up a hill in a race, creeping along but still running, darn it, and you lift your eyes for a weary moment hoping to see the top of the hill but instead see every person around you walking, well, that raises a red flag or two. In my case I don’t think the red flag got raised so much as sort of feebly flailed about and then dropped, but it still made an impression. When my wise sister instructed me to walk to conserve energy, I listened. And by “listened,” I mean “I taught the cute woodland creatures in the vicinity some very interesting and colorful human vocabulary.”
The pretty part about hills in road races lies in the opportunity to fly down them once you reach the top, no matter how hard the climb.
In trail racing…that’s just not true.
I realize quite fully that the phrase “trail racing” implies less-than-perfect terrain. Rocks, tree roots, and vehicle ruts are simply part of the deal, and none of them want to be nice to you. I understand this.
What I didn’t realize was that I’d be running over nothing but said lovely, natural, wretched little inanimate demons of the forest. As I staggered/teetered/yelped over the trails, I honestly didn’t know which would more likely happen: Would I break both ankles? Would I start a catastrophic landslide? Would I break down completely and beg tearfully for a beer instead of a *&$% measly water at the next aid station?
Thankfully, none of those things happened. Both my sis and I finished the course – she a healthy distance ahead of me; I think she figured I had fallen prey to crazed rabid chipmunks and logically decided to save herself. Gentle manners prohibit me from revealing my finishing time, but let’s just say… I set a personal record!
So, what did I learn from the experience? 1) It’s good to have a smart person to run with, especially a family member you can trust to ensure you did indeed finish and aren’t lying somewhere on the course, mangled by chipmunks. 2) Despite my whining, the Valles Caldera really is lovely. And 3) I have had my fill of “scenic” trail races for a long, long time.
Until of course I get invited to do another one.
P.S. It may have been a pain to run through, but the Valles Caldera Preserve is an unarguable gem of New Mexico and is currently getting hit pretty hard by the Las Conchas wildfire… keep your fingers crossed for it. Thanks