I went a little crazy and decided to run two half marathons on back-to-back weekends.
One of them, Albuquerque’s Chips ‘n Salsa Half, I agreed to because a friend asked if I’d like to pace her. I said “Sure! Why not?” The second one, the Dirty Half, involved this thought process: I’m ready to give trail racing another try [my first experience wasn’t pleasant]. But wait, it’s the weekend before Chips ‘n Salsa. But I don’t plan on 100%-racing either one. But I haven’t really trained for a half marathon other than that 10-miler I did two weeks ago. But I have the stamina to at least finish. But…eh, I’m going to stop over-thinking and just do both.
That’s how Sunday morning found me at the starting line of the Dirty Half Marathon. I didn’t plan on racing; I just wanted to enjoy it and re-introduce myself to trail races.
Famous last words.
With the clang of a bell, we started. We climbed uphill immediately, which I managed decently, but I faltered on the corresponding downhill – I have yet to become fully comfortable flinging myself pell-mell down a trail peppered with the three R’s (rocks, roots, and ruts). Having people fly by me was a little frustrating, but the throng gradually thinned, and by the fourth mile I was running at a comfortable pace, with ample room. I started to enjoy myself.
Before I knew it, I was approaching the turnaround point. I counted the women running towards me – the women who were ahead of me. Only three! Relax, I told myself, you’re just out here to enjoy yourself, remember? Right. But…
The competitor in me smelled blood.
I passed the 3rd-place woman soon after the turnaround. Stay relaxed, I told myself. You’ve still got plenty of miles to run. I did my best to stay relaxed. I don’t know if the trail itself, with its hills and those three R’s, forced me to check my pace, but I felt like I had more energy than I would have in a road race. I could actually say thank you to the volunteers on the course, instead of just grunting!
I spotted the 2nd-place woman around the 8th or 9th mile. She was walking up a hill, and I scooted past her. Ok, 2nd place is awesome! I said to myself.
I kept trotting. At the next aid station, a volunteer said, “You’re 30 seconds behind the first woman. Go get her.” I left the aid station wondering how that first woman was feeling. Maybe she was a little tired. Maybe she was feeling confident and had decided to relax. Maybe the heat was getting to her.
Maybe I could catch her.
I spotted her with about three miles to go. And continued to spot her for a half mile or so; as I ran down a hill, there she was ascending the other side. I didn’t feel like I was accelerating much, but who knows: I caught her!
From there, my strategy was simple: Just move myself up the uphills, however slowly I ran, and on the downhills? Let the long legs God gave me do their thing, and try not to break any bones.
Lesson learned: You just never know.
And thank you to the organizers of the Dirty Half Marathon for rekindling my faith in trail races.