Race Recap: Horseshoe Trail Run: Houston, TX

I won my first race of 2017 last weekend, a 5k trail race, coming in first for females and 6th overall. I went in with a goal of placing top three in my age group, but that was before I knew what the field looked like. At the starting line, I looked around and realized that as one of the only women toe-ing the starting line, I would probably place in the top three, but didn’t set my heart on first.

After I moved to Houston, I started researching trail race opportunities, and landed on the Trail Racing over Texas (TROT) website. They hold a number of races throughout the year, including many ultras, and participation in them gains runners points towards the “TROT cup”. I was intrigued by that point system, anticipating that it was a good motivator to both keep me accountable to race often with TROT, and to work hard to place when I did, as points are graded both by distance and by the difference as a fraction of your time over the winning time. The points are also graded for race distance, so the formula they use is


your time/winners time * race factor + additional (volunteer, etc…) points = total


I won my race, but the factor for a 5k is .62, so I gathered a whopping .62 points. The factors for racing progress up to 20, for a 100 miler, so you can see the futility in maybe trying to win the overall points game with low mileage races, but I still feel like it’s a good accountability scheme to keep me racing consistently.

The night before the race I was worried. At this point I wasn’t concerned so much with what my performance would be as I was with the overall safety of conditions of the course. It had been raining all week, and the race director had sent out an email Thursday describing the course conditions, using the word “snot” more than once to describe the terrain, but also letting us know that the race was on no matter what. So as a final deluge assaulted southeast Texas Friday night, I mulled over the probability of falling during the race, fearful of doing something to my ankle again. I put together my race kit, and told myself if things were terrible I would just walk.

Driving south of Houston to the race in the morning, at Jack Brooks Park in Hitchcock, the fog was thick, and marquees along the highway read “Severe Weather Alert” and “Turn Around, Don’t Drown”. I wondered if the weather had left things really bad down towards the coast, and I wondered if I was being stupid by going out at all. It had stopped raining, but reports the night before had also mentioned the possibility of tornados. On I drove. After the race, I would find that the marquees read the same thing for travelers headed north, so it was more so a warning against driving than heading to any particular place.

When I got to the course, a 50k had already been going for a while, and a 25k was just starting. A 10k would head out next, followed finally by the 5k I was running. So the course would be really churned up, as the ultra runners were doing multiple loops of a course that coincided with the 5k loop. Oh, well. I visited the merchandise table, and was pretty impressed with what I found. TROT isn’t stingy with their logo, putting it on all sorts of flattering and wearable pieces, and there was another clothing line presented, “No Fine Print”, which they had a really cool logo/design theme, promoting the freedom associated with integrating recreational life with the great outdoors. My favorite shirt from that line features a cross-section of a tree trunk spliced with a constellation graphic- pretty cool, you can see it here.

As I loitered near the starting line to see the 10k off, I lucked into a chat with someone who had run the course the day before. He let me know about a few things that became really helpful right from the start of my race-

  • Just run straight through the puddles. Nothing under there had made him trip.
  • There were some steep inclines, and the best chance of getting up them was to build up speed on the approach and shoot up.
  • The slickest parts of the race were around the turns, and not to run across the wood bridges and ramps that appeared on the course (the park is used frequently by mountain bikers and there are some ramps along with frequent small hills).


For my warm-up, I knew I wouldn’t be running all that fast, so I jogged a mile on the side of the road, to wake my ankles up to squishy, uneven terrain. I did a couple stride-outs as well. As I was walking back up to the starting area, a young kid asked me if I had run the race before. I told him that I hadn’t, but relayed the information that I had just gotten about the puddles and inclines to him and his father. I asked him about his experience, and he said it was his first trail race, but that he had done triathlons before, which was impressive because he couldn’t have been older than eleven or twelve.

As I lined up at the starting line, I took note that most of the women my age were hanging towards the back, and that not many of the racers were wearing trail shoes. The more competitive and experienced athletes at this race were in the longer distances, which I was fine with. I just wanted to challenge myself this time out, but now knew I had a good chance to place top three and decided to go out strong. I had a trail race a few years ago in which I got trapped into a conga line when the course narrowed to single track, and I didn’t want that to happen again. Luckily when I got on the course I realized that opportunities for stepping off the path to move around runners in the woods is not the same as in the mountains, where you have drop offs and cliff walls keeping you in place.

The gun went off, and 4-5 women raced out and were ahead of me the first half mile, which was mostly open road. I checked my watch and I was running a 7:15, which was fine for my racing normal conditions, and I knew the course would slow me down substantially once I was on it and give me a chance to recover. The other competitors in front of me were still close, so I just kept up with them until I felt comfortable passing.

When we got to the first big puddle of standing water, about 10 meters long, a kid in front of me tried to go around it, and I yelled to him that he could just run straight through without worries, as I had been directed, and he followed suit after I passed him. The puddles weren’t all that bad. They were pretty long though, and the last one I ran through was over 100 meters. What was borderline obnoxious was the thick slick mud that made up the windy path. It was mentally taxing to try and judge how fast you could take a turn without having your feet slide out to the sides, and I began to see people falling. I had trouble with my first bike ramp I came across, because like an idiot I tried to go over it instead of just running next to it. I quickly scrambled off when I realized there was no need to add obstacles to the route, and continued on. The path continued to switch between thick, squishy mud and standing water, with only sparse patches of solid-ish ground. The most exciting part of the race for me was when I crested a small hill, to find another in front, with people struggling to climb up it. As I still had not descended, I took a moment to decide how to proceed, then flew down the first slippery hill as fast as safely possible, and used the momentum to fly up the next hill and past the other runners, who were grasping on to trees and such to pull themselves up. It was exhilarating.

When my watch beeped for mile two, I cursed that I still had a mile left of “this sh*t” but then thought of the fact that the last half mile was out of the woods and less treacherous. I was still running just ahead of or just behind a teenage girl, as we kept switching places. I still thought there was yet another woman in front of us. We emerged from the woods together, on a straight, almost solid path that ran along a canal. Arriving there gave me fresh motivation, and I charged off, leaving her further and further behind. I was wondering if even though I hadn’t been able to run too fast during the race, if I still hadn’t been working hard enough because I felt pretty good. Within that last half mile, though, I realized I didn’t want to take another step and felt ok about my effort. I crossed the finish line and was handed a couple medals, and they told me I was the first female to cross the finish line. I was surprised, and felt good, as this had not happened in my adult racing career.

I checked my time- 40 minutes 20 seconds, over 18 minutes slower than my PR in a road 5k. That’s more than 12 minutes per mile, almost twice my ideal 5k pace. So I don’t really know how to factor that into my overall racing profile, but I took some personal notes on my mental attitude and physical effort, which were what I set out to guage anyways.

Here’s what I found:


  • Appropriate warm up
  • Didn’t give in to fatigue (slow down or walk)
  • Good kick (but this was pretty easy considering how slow I had to run most of the course)



  • Got a little whiney in my head about the conditions
  • Was too timid at first to pass people
  • Gear inappropriate- I brought my handheld water bottle out, and it would have been helpful to have both hands available in places I had to pull myself up using trees/roots.


All in all, it was great to win, and it gave me motivation to attack my speed training before the next race I run, which will be a road 5k. I already did an interval workout this week, alternating 5k pace x 1 min + recovery jog x 1 min. It looks like I’m still hanging on to that 7:15 pace, which I’d like to bring down. My fastest 5k is a 22:54, so breaking 22 this year is likely within reach. The next race isn’t until Feb 10th, so I have opportunity to improve.

Return to Racing

Watching the runners in the Chevron Houston Marathon last weekend was the final treasure in a cache of inspiration I’ve been filling to motivate my running game for 2017. I didn’t race at all in 2016, not counting the Ragnar I did. I don’t know if I just didn’t feel like I had anything to prove, which is a good thing, or that maybe that I wasn’t going to run well anyways because I wasn’t training the way I used to, which would be bad, but I lost interest in keeping track of my running performance. By the end of the year, though, I missed having benchmarks to learn from and work towards, some and I decided to race at least once a month this year. Since then I’ve had a good amount of conditions and circumstances that are breathing life into my running goals and workouts, so I think I’m on the right track.


The last run I went on wasn’t planned to be anything special, but it felt kind of amazing and I had to stop myself from tacking on more mileage. I had been nursing a knee injury, and with it gone, so I wanted to see where I was at with my endurance. I was happily surprised with the outcome. The workout was pretty simple- five minute warmup jog, straight into 10 x 1 min hard run with 2 mins recovery jog. I didn’t target any particular pace for the hard run before I started, but I figured if I could hit between 8:15 and 8:30 I’d be satisfied, as long as I didn’t walk during the recovery phase.


Boy, was I off. Way off. My fast intervals started out in the mid to low 8 minute pace, but quickly dropped to sub 7’s, while I was maintaining the ability to jog for recovery. The thing was, I felt great. Not dying, not just ok, but great. I was working hard, I mean, I felt it, but everything that was supposed to be kicking in physically and mentally to keep me running fast was there. It was awesome, and I wasn’t expecting this quality of run when I really haven’t been putting in consistent mileage in the previous weeks. After I finished the interval run and a cool down, I had run a total of 4.5 miles and with energy to spare. That was the night before the Houston marathon, and the confidence boost from the workout woke up my competitive streak as I watched the race, reinvigorating my spirit for being in the field.


A few changes to my lifestyle and strength training have put me in a good place to start competing again as well. For one thing, I’m getting stronger. At the end of October I cut a bunch of crap out of my diet, using the Whole30 eating plan as a guideline to start. I quickly lost weight- thirteen pounds in six weeks. Yes, this is a big achievement, particularly on my frame, but I was concerned, if not disappointed, with what that weight loss looked like on me. I was fooling myself about what lay underneath the layer of excess fat I had shed- I did not look as muscular as I thought I would. I’d been working out the entire time, but it was obvious to me that I had been slacking on it, or as I am learning now, was maybe just not doing the right kinds of workouts for the results I wanted- while generally underestimating my own strength and abilities.


Around the same time I find myself perusing Instagram and checking out my friend’s rockin’ bod, which she attributed partly to lifting to heavier weight (Check out ThisFitBlond). I thought to myself- I should probably be doing that now, too. I had been actively avoiding heavier stuff because I didn’t want to get big. I’m that girl, or at least I was. I’d been focusing on HIIT workouts that utilized bodyweight for the most part. I like those workouts, they’re fun to me and I give them credit as cross training for running. I was getting bored with them though, and realized my training had hit a plateau. The most telling evidence of this to me was the realization that though I used to loath bear crawls, they now didn’t seem that difficult.


Additionally, I was motivated to come at strength with more tenacity because I was signed up to start schooling to become a certified personal trainer with the National Personal Training Institute (NPTI) at the beginning of the year. The classes include a gym session and I didn’t want to be too far below the curve. So, I started lifting heavier weights. The result: 5 more pounds of weight loss and a wee little showing of my abdominal muscles in a place they hadn’t been before. Now I’m in the third week with NPTI, killing it with the weights even more. (For anyone curious about NPTI, I can say at this point the course is thorough, I feel that I’m learning a lot and gaining valuable experience).


A benefit of having NPTI structure my strength training 4 days a week is that it leaves my brain free to focus and figure out the running component. That one little run last weekend left me feeling exhilarated for speed again, and has me itching to find a track to use. As I write this, Houston is underwater and expecting more rain, so I might have to use a treadmill till the weather clears up. The thing is, I’m not dreading that dull machine as much as usual because the goals I’m forming make the boredom worth it.


My first race of 2017 is this weekend, The Horseshoe Trail Run in Hitchcock, Texas, just south of Houston. I found it on the website for Trail Racing Over Texas, or TROT, an organization that puts on a number of trail races each year. As it is a trail race my time won’t be a super accurate measure of my overall performance, especially as I expect the course to be a muddy mess after this weather. I’m going to be more curious to see how my mental game flows. The last few races I ran before breaking my ankle in 2015 were pretty stellar in that area. I was able to override pain signals and push through discomfort, past my preconceived pace limits for a 10k and half marathon, and I hope I can recall that skill. In any case, I’m happy to be getting back into the pack, and looking forward to working towards the front of it!

Running away from Nihilism

I spent considerable brain power last year trying to find “THE MEANING OF LIFE”. Lofty, I know. I found no universal answer to share here, but I found an answer for myself, and thus emerged from a quarter life crisis which had stagnated my whole being in apathy for quite some time. At the end of the summer I read Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. An insightful friend recommended I look into it after listening to me describe some of the things about life that left me feeling uninvolved with it, to put it mildly. A more descriptive account is that I was terrified that nothing meant anything, and it didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do, because the world would be the same regardless. I was accepting of being insignificant, but that acceptance became a larger belief that probably nothing else mattered either. Life would simply progress until it burned itself out, for me and for the rest of us.


As for the book, Frankl was a psychotherapist, and his book covers two main subjects- his experience as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, and the mode of therapy he subsequently developed upon his release, that sought to help patients find meaning in their lives. One poignant thing he points out about living in the camp is that it was evident when a fellow gave up trying to survive, and that the people who did make it typically had something to live for, to keep them interested in their own survival. That spoke to me- I wasn’t feeling meaning myself, purpose is another word that works, and I wasn’t super thrilled about spending more time living with the feeling I described above. So I realized that I had this problem, too, that I had lost a sense of purpose in my life and maybe finding one would pull me out of my angst and despondency.


I thought for a while that my ego was the problem, because maybe I was craving attention or recognition, some outward indication about the significance of my existence as I was not finding validation internally. However, my behaviors did not signal attention-seeking behavior. In the same span of time that I was pondering and self searching while trying to come up with a new life plan, I was deleting my Facebook account, posting less and less on Instagram, and letting the blog go. When I did post I’d leave off the slew of hashtags that used to accompany every picture. I didn’t care about the quantity of likes I received. I was beyond caring if people “liked” my life, because I certainly didn’t. The only approval I was looking for was self-approval. For my life, it is at least a boon to discover that I have finally shed the restriction of peer approval when it comes to my choosing my actions and behavior. I’m not looking to go full-tilt sociopath and turn away from all social signaling, but I can live a little more authentically because in most cases, my opinion is the one that is going to drive me.


So, looking for clues to what gives me a feeling of purpose, I examined some aspects of my life, including my hobbies and interests, my career past and present (right now I’m studying to be a personal trainer), how I spend my free time, and how I participate in relationships- family, friends, and romantic. I decided to put a particular focus on my running life, because it is such a big part of who I am and what I do, and of all the parts of my life, that held the most information over the longest period of time. When you land on the handle “shestherun” for social media, you might find yourself asking what else you are.


Even before reading Frankl’s book I had a sense that running made my life feel more substantial. I felt it before I ran, as in a general push from the universe to do it, while I was running, like I was exactly where I should be, and after the fact, as I looked to see where I had made progress and where I needed work. I didn’t know if running actually made me feel purposeful, but the fact that I kept at it and would come back to it after many set backs seemed significant. It showed I did have perseverance, even in the face of hardship or difficulty. What I found was just acknowledging that characteristic of perseverance, could energize me into creating a life more meaningful as a whole.


I think by now most of us recognize, either thorough experience or through some saccharine quote that makes its way onto our Facebook feeds, that the process of working towards a goal is rewarding in itself. I’ve experienced this in my running life, and not always because of some obvious accomplishments, as in finishing a marathon or placing in a race. Sometimes just showing up for a workout when I know I was on the verge of bailing makes me feel like a pretty super human being. The opportunity and ability to experience progress is what makes running so fulfilling to me, and I can absolutely apply that concept to other areas of my life to create more meaning.


What I took from realizing this is that there if I want to progress, I have to do the progressing. I think since running came so easily to me, I didn’t concern myself with much else. As I plateaued in athletic ability, and didn’t add some variety to the mix, either in the form of new challenges or new activities altogether, I became bored. Boredom turned into apathy, and apathy turned into depression. I DO NOT want to go back there. I also don’t want to pursue goals just because they make someone else’s life more exciting. I haven’t found that to be very fruitful. For example, I used to think I’d like to be a good cook, and now I realize that I am perfectly happy making simple meals for myself, and leaving the gourmet cooking to someone more passionate about it. I do want to write, not just this blog, but literature as well, but by the end of the 2016 I couldn’t bring myself to sit and do it for five minutes because of that “pointless” feeling. But the pointless feeling disappears when the goal becomes to challenge myself. If I say the goal is to get published, and I’m not even sitting down to make an outline, then progress in that scenario would be to sit and write for a period of time daily. I don’t know if anyone can identify with this, but I now believe what I thought was apathy was actually fear, that since other things weren’t coming to me as easily as running was, I wasn’t supposed to be doing them. If I tried, and failed, then I’d really be in a lurch because that fear would be founded, I would be as one-dimensional as I previously believed.


Running had such a central position in my life, which did serve a purpose and still does. When everything else seemed to be going awry, if it was going anywhere, here was this one thing, that no matter how difficult or arduous, that always revealed a reason why I had picked up my feet in the first place. Nothing else made sense, but running gave me the opportunity to experience progress, even when it was just in circles around the track. So now the challenge to myself in 2017 is to keep that idea of progress in mind, to find new ways to add layers to my life, because the meaning I was looking for seems to be just to create a better version of myself.