On Sunday, we didn’t have a morning run scheduled – just the race at 9 AM – so breakfast was early (7:30) and then we had free time just to pack, relax, and get ready. Because I had been so tired for the last few days, I planned to sleep in until 8:30 or so, and then just grab something light for breakfast, because I’m not used to eating much before running. Unfortunately, my stupid body clock roused me at 6:45. I took my time getting ready, and then headed to the lodge after all to hang out with people eating breakfast. Luckily, breakfast wasn’t too exciting so I wasn’t tempted to have too much! I did try a berry-banana-tofu smoothie, but mainly just had some cornbread that I figured would give me carbs/calories similar to my race morning standard of oatmeal.
It started raining, and we joked that the camp director, Josh, had probably made a pact with God to have it rain just so we would have experience of running on wet rocks and leaves! The hour until race time flew by, and I had just enough to pack up my bunk and fill out the camp evaluation. In summary: “THIS WAS AMAZING PLEASE DO IT AGAIN BECAUSE I WANT TO COME BACK!” The good news is, they are going to have it again next summer! It will be either the second to last weekend in July or the first weekend in August, so mark your calendars and keep checking here for details – they say that 2009 registration will begin in the fall, and with how successful 2008 was, I’m sure it will fill up!
My mom was coming to watch the race, and I had spoken with her at 7:15 to confirm that she was on her way. However, she was cutting it close as usual, and showed up with just 10 minutes to go before the race start! We said quick hellos, and she took pictures as we all lined up (I need to get those from her still – can you believe I didn’t take any of my own pictures the whole weekend?). Josh gave out the pre-race instructions, which Kelly, Jes, Melissa, and I promptly ignored as we instead snapped more photos of us lined up. Kelly and Jes are part of a group called the “Albany Yoga Mamas,” and two of the other yoga mamas had come up for the race. What I was surprised/excited to find out was that one of them, Liz, is actually a reader of my blog! She had seen that I was going to be running the race and said she had been looking forward to meeting me. HOW COOL IS THAT! Hi, Liz 🙂
With little fanfare (okay, maybe not little fanfare, but we were chatting away and ignoring the fanfare so I don’t know if there was any), we started the race. The first part was on the 0.9 mile cabin loop that I had run on both Friday and Saturday, so I was excited to know the course and know what I was in for. I found myself near the front of the pack, which I was pleased about. I knew the cabin loop was easy terrain, so my strategy was to go pretty fast on that part to make up for when I’d be slow going up Dippikill Mountain later. By the time I came out of the cabin loop, I was definitely near the front of the women’s race – but that would change.
My mom was still at the start, so I got to pass her as I exited the cabin loop. Unfortunately, since I had listened to the instructions and there wasn’t anyone immediately in front of me, I promptly started going the wrong way, heading toward the trail we had done some other training runs along. The volunteers didn’t seem to know what to do at first, and the runner behind me started following me, but after a few seconds we figured out that we were going the wrong direction and got ourselves back on course. The next section was along the dirt road we had run our first night at camp, but in the other direction. Again, easy terrain, and it was even downhill! Unfortunately, downhill didn’t really soothe me, as I knew we eventually had to get to the summit of Dippikill Mountain (elevation: 1,562 feet), and the further downhill we went, the further uphill we’d have to climb.
About 1/4 mile later, we headed into the woods and uphill – this was where the trail race really began. There was a water station a short way into the woods, and the garbage bag wasn’t too far from where the water was being given out, so I slowed to a walk so I could drink and not have to carry my cup with me forever (I had learned not to just throw it away whenever I wanted like I can typically do in a road race). I then tried to start running again, but it was a pretty steep uphill section so it was kind of hard to do so, and I eventually decided I’d be better off saving my energy and walking, in hopes of being able to run later. I got to the top of that hill, and the course flattened out (but was still tough b/c of the trail elements), so I picked up the pace. I had allowed two women to pass me, and I tried to catch up, but was unable to do so.
Instead, I found more people coming up on me. I was surprised to discover I knew one of them: Lindsay was in my graduating class in high school, and was actually one of the stars of our cross country team! I couldn’t believe that I was ahead of her, and made my goal for the race (I didn’t even HAVE a goal before, since my trail running abilities were still large untested because I hadn’t really timed/tracked the weekend runs) to finish still ahead of her. Unfortunately, right after I had that thought, she passed me. My new goal: to stay on her heels for the whole race, and sprint past her in the final stretch. Maybe it’s mean to do that, but hey, we’re in the same age group, and all’s fair in love and war and age group awards, right?
The next section was tough. It was all slightly uphill, but it was a bit technical and single-track (I feel so professional being able to classify my run with those words!). At one point, we had to climb up this big boulder that was about four feet high. It wasn’t intense climbing or anything (though I later tried to convince the boy that it was just like his mountain climbing trip this weekend); it was more like scrambling up the side of the (wet) rock. It still took me three tries to get up it though, which I was surprised about since I’m pretty agile and used to be quite good at indoor rock climbing (in high school, I was the first female in several years to make it to the top of the hardest rock climbing wall we had in gym class). I wondered how others might do, but didn’t really have the energy to care 🙂
The next tricky obstacle was a huge flat rock with a lot of tall grass all over it. We didn’t need to climb this one – just run across the top – but the grass made it really tough to see your footing. I misstepped into a hole, and limped along for a few steps, terrified that I had hurt myself and would need to find someone to rescue me. Within a minute or so, it felt better though, and I picked the pace back up to a run.
Now, one thing I didn’t mention through all this is my Garmin. I think in my trail camp recap I talked about how the Garmin cut out. Well, I wore it again during the race, and it cut out a lot. I had originally set it to “auto pause” when I was stopped, which will be a great feature when I’m in New York and paused at crosswalks, where the signal is strong and the course is flat. However, some combination of the weak signal and steep uphills made Garmin think I was stopped constantly, and it kept auto pausing. At the end of the (5 mile) race, it showed me as only having run 4.55 miles, just because of all the times it was paused. It was kind of frustrating while I was running to think that my pace was so slow it thought I was stopped!
Nevertheless, I kept going with a combination of running and walking. We finally came off the single-track trail and onto a grassy dirt road going only slightly uphill. Lindsay started picking up her pace, and I tried to stay within 10 feet of her. It is such great motivation to trail someone like that – made it much harder to quit! We got to another water stop and were told we were about a mile from the finish. Unfortunately, this water stop was the same water stop we had on the 2.6 mile run I did on Friday morning, and I knew that the final mile was mostly uphill. I kind of wished I didn’t know the trail to know what was ahead!
We kept slogging on, watching for the pink ribbons that marked the trail we were supposed to follow. Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard to look where you’re going in trail running, because you really need to be looking at the ground for your footing. Forget enjoying the beauty of nature or the view at the top of a summit – if you have extra vision, you use that to watch for branches to avoid stick-in-the-eye. Basically, you need to have like eight eyes in order to do everything you’re supposed to.
Unfortunately, we did not have eight eyes each, which is why when we saw a pink ribbon and then a wide trail off to the left, we assumed it was the trail. About 50 feet later, we found ourselves circling an old outhouse with no apparent trail leading from it. We came to a halt, yelling to the other racers following us “we lost the trail!” After ascertaining that there was no trail from the outhouse, we retraced our steps, and found that there was in fact another path from the pink ribbon – a much narrower, well-hidden path that we had missed. On the bright side, my amazing navigation skills enabled me to find this path first, and though I yelled to Lindsay that I had found it and where to go, I still had a lead over her. Score!
Unfortunately, again, the lead didn’t last long. My combination of run/walking was slower than her strategy of just… running. And this time, I let her get out of sight too! Disappointed, I forced myself to run. At the very top of the hill, Tim (the awesome raw veganist and also, I found out later, the winner of the race) was there to cheer us on and videotape us. Exiting back onto the main road for the last 1/4 mile, I saw Lindsay only about 10 seconds ahead of me, and I immediately poured the speed on. Soon, I was right next to her, and she had the grace to say “nice job Laura!”
As we came into the home stretch, we found stuffed frogs all over the road, and onlookers yelling “pick up a frog!” I vaguely remembered hearing during Josh’s original speech that we had to pick up a frog to finish, so as we ran by, I reached down to swoop one up. I was concerned that in doing so, I was going to faceplant into the dirt, but I managed to stay upright, and even sprinted past Lindsay to finish one second ahead of her at 65:23!
I couldn’t believe it had taken me that long to run just 5 miles – that’s slower than I run marathons! Trail running is so much harder than road running, and I had no idea. It’s something I’d definitely like to challenge myself with occasionally, but I don’t think I’m going to become an all-out trail runner, and I can’t even imagine running a trail marathon. It looks like if I decide to do an ultra, I’ll need to be extra picky to find one that’s not on trails.
I stayed at the finish to cheer other people on, and then my mom and I packed up the car, enjoyed the post-race barbecue for a while (where I was presented with a great framed photo of myself running on the trail!), and hit the road. A perfect end to a perfect weekend at running camp!
Distance: 5 miles
Overall place: 30/52
Age group place: 2/5