I decided to sign up for the Crazy Desert Trail Race because it was part of the Trail Racing Over Texas (TROT) series, I had already achieved a first place in their Horseshoe Trail Race, and I found the event really well organized and supported. I figured I should keep the momentum going, and see what I could do in another of their trail races. My one hesitation was that it is about a 7 hour drive from my home in Houston to San Angelo, Texas, where the race was being held at San Angelo State Park. I knew I wouldn’t be ready for a half-marathon, not an enjoyable one anyways, so I selected the 10k distance to make the long drive worth it. The other distances available were 100k, 50k, half-marathon, and 5k. I really like that TROT usually makes a variety of distances available.
My training for the race was not extreme. I did a couple of trail runs in the weeks leading up to the race, but I mostly just did easy runs. My overall focus right now is to build up my running base while escaping from the muck of chronic tendon & knee pain brought on by muscle imbalances. So, I run and foam roll, and I get sports massages, readying myself for some more intense speed work in the spring. The week leading up to the race I only ran twice, once on Monday, and I felt some nagging tendonitis trying to rear up. So on the recommendation of the trainer teaching my personal training course with NPTI, I took the rest of the week off until Friday, when I jogged a two slow miles to shake off some pre-race jitters.
Although I went over the race course that was sent out, even saving the route to my Garmin profile, I failed to note that the actual length of the course was 5.7 miles, not 6.2. This was not a big deal, but I’ll get to that later. The elevation climb looked mild, and I’ve been doing a grip of core work so I felt prepared to run the whole thing. If you aren’t used to running hills, the strain of keeping your torso relaxed and upright can be surprising, so make sure to do work that stresses the endurance capabilities of your core muscles.
Warm up: ½ a mile and some stride-outs. I decided to conserve energy instead of doing an overly thorough warm-up (and as you can see, I consumed it as part o the process, too)
Gun & First Mile: 8:25
I lined up in front and went out strong. There were maybe 6 people ahead of me after the first mile, and only one woman. As I watched her take off, I debated trying to keep up with her. She was moving fast, and I kept my eye on her but let her go, swearing to myself that she was the only female runner I would be behind. I fell into a line of runners, with about three guys ahead of me. I made my way past one, then another, until I was behind just one guy.
Mile Two: 8:32
This mile was a game-changer, and made the whole race more thrilling for me. I was still closely following the one man ahead of me. I wasn’t paying attention, and clearly neither was he, because we ran off course, missing a turn off. We realized our mistake about a 100 meters from the right path, which doesn’t sound like a lot, except to get to where we were, we had been navigating a dry creek bed and ducking under not one, but two barbed wire fences. Something didn’t feel right, yet we probably had taken five other runners with us. We heard commotion from where we came, looked to see people turning back and realized our mistake. When I saw the right path I felt furious. If I hadn’t been following so closely I probably would have seen it, but my eyes were on the runner in front of me, not the course. So 200 wasted meters later, with about ten new runners in front of me, I got back on course.
Mile Three: 9:05
I caught up to and passed the women that were in front of me, and most of the men. There were still two ahead of me, and one was not keen on letting me pass. At a place where a photographer was stationed, I had the opportunity to pass him, as there was more space, and I charged around. I’m eagerly awaiting the results of that photo! Right after I passed the guy, we reached a significant incline. There was another guy ahead of me, and he was walking. I decided to run it. The guy behind me was still on my heels, and though running up the hill didn’t give me a significant advantage as far as putting distance between us, I thought maybe it might tire him out and give me more space later. I’m very confident and efficient on hills, and after we reached the top he did wind off dropping back significantly while I pressed on.
Mile Four: 8:55
I kept up my pace. I was almost shocked at how good I felt. My calves were burning, and my breath was labored, but as I scanned my body I only felt like running faster. With two miles left to go (remember I didn’t know at this point the course was half a mile short of a 10k), I was running a sub-8, unprecedented on trails for me. I felt like the only thing I was racing was my own capacity for pain. The guy who had been walking on the incline in mile three had taken off, and I let him go. I was doing the most I could. Another runner approached me, and was on my heels the rest of the race, but he never made it around me. These last miles were my favorite part of the course, there was more technical running, and having someone on my heels was keeping me focused on the task at hand.
Mile Five: 9:22
Go-time. Believing I had a mile and a half left- the 1.2 plus the extra distance I had run when we went off course, I decided it was time to shake out everything I had left. This wound up being my slowest mile, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. There was some more technical footwork required, and including multiple cattle-guards, which I swung off fences and stepped over rather than jumped over- trying to avoid rolling an ankle.
Mile 5.8: 7:23 (8:23 pace)
At 5.7 miles I saw the U-haul that TROT had parked in the lot, and realized then that either my watch was off or the course was short. It was bittersweet, as I realized I had more gas in the tank, but as I crossed the line, and realized I had averaged an 8:48 pace for a trail race that I really hadn’t trained to I was pretty proud. I hadn’t lost my placement after the detour after all, coming in 2nd for women.
My take-away experiences from this race are significant. I really pushed the entire time. I didn’t get discouraged from the set-back of going the wrong way, I used it as an opportunity to challenge myself more. I ran with tenacity and used my head. Philosophically, I thought about how I broke my ankle in a race two years ago, and I’d gladly trade losing my place and some time in a race over that experience ten times over, that I had driven half a day to get here, and a set-back is only a loss if you don’t use the opportunity to better yourself.