My first ever trail run. It was pretty fantastical. It wasn’t particularly fast but I would call it a success.
I was feeling a little tired in the morning after yesterdays miles, but physically my body felt ok. I got up and stretched a little before heading to Regina’s house. Regina was kindly taking me out on the course for the 5.22 mile trail run I am doing in September. Having never run on trails, I figured (as did she) that it would be a good idea to practice/try running to see how I did. My biggest concern was the description that the race was a good fit for new trail runners. I have heard that description before and usually have found myself in a bit of pickle mid race. The plan was to run the 5 mile course loop and then do another five either on the course or on the area surrounding the park.
We arrived at Greenbrier State Park only to find the line for entrance into the park to be exceptionally long….almost a half mile of sitting long. After a few minutes of waiting followed be a minute of discussion we changed our plan. We parked at the Appalachian Trail head opening, there is a lot on the highway, and we decided to walk into the park.
There is a pedestrian overpass on 70 West that I have always seen-this morning I was able to walk across it. And like little kids we took turns getting the truckers to honk their horns as they went by. We giggled as we crossed the bridge and onto the trail.
Our course took us a mile along the Bartman Hill Trail. It was a pretty technical course, not that I have anything to compare it to honestly. Once we arrived at the park, we found it filled with families laughing, setting up their day camps and enjoying the lake beach. Regina pulled out the map of the course and off we went.
We decided to start at the finish and then when we finished the opposite loop we would turn around and traverse the loop in the proper direction, as if we were racing. The first portion was pretty steep. I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to actually do the race. There were so many new things-what to look out for like trail blazes, keep looking forward but also looking down so you don’t trip. Don’t go too fast but don’t go so slow that it’s painful. It was a learning experience the entire day.
We spent the day on the Camp Loop Trail (orange) and then the vast majority of the run on the red trail, known as the Big Red Trail. Appropriately named I suppose.
I walked for the first loop-it was a fast pace but I walked in order to get a feel of the trail. To get comfortable with the concept of a trail run. It is different. I found myself using different muscles including my brain. I had to think and process more than I do when I run on the road. There are more obstacles to think about-especially since some of the rocks are seemingly inanimate but move the moment you step on them or near them. I had to listen to my surroundings for wildlife. Regina kept me entertained. We talked about everything and nothing. In that time I became comfortable in the woods.
When we got to the race start we turned around and went back again. I ran. It wasn’t incredibly fast running but I ran and it felt fantastic. There was something exhilarating about combining all the facets of running-physical and mental-into the experience. i was still careful, I hadn’t thrown caution completely to the wind but I was more relaxed at the concept of running.
My comfort level was such that I had my other first trail running experience-falling down. It was a horrible fall by any stretch of the imagination. Nothing was broken, honestly not even my pride. I had a little road rash on my right leg, which honestly stung more than anything. I was lucky that my first fall was so comfortable, for lack of a better word. It was on a section that was mostly soft earth with just a few stones. It was a slight decline so I slid more than fell. It happened so quickly that I didn’t really have time to react, except for me to mentally sing “Throw your hands up in the air like you just don’t care” if only to avoid breaking anything. I laughed-I laughed because as weird as it sounds it was fun. I felt like I had joined some small, selective club.
Marathon runners are a growing segment of the population. When I started running marathons 7 years ago, it was as common place as it is today. It is fantastic that the sport has become all encompassing. Races have lotteries because the demand to enter is so large when merely a few years ago there were races that were only half filled. I would say that trail runners are the black sheep of the running community, they are the bad-ass hippies that have long hair and beards and wear this hipster running gear. (Those previous two statements are completely subjective statements that lack any sort of empirical data to back it up. It’s a conclusion I have drawn from observations and my social media followings, I understand that my conclusion can be myopic).
I didn’t run as much after the fall, but I did try and push myself a bit. I was a little more mindful of my footing. I made sure to stay hydrated and I ate a little bit. A Healthy Warrior Coconut Chia Bar and my ever favorite “marathon cookies” (store brand vanilla Oreo style cookies). I have found this training season that I do better with actual food in small portions. Cookies and swedish fish are always go to. I am finding that the chia bars give me calories but don’t wreck my stomach. Regina reminded me it was also good for hydration as well. I try to put something small in my stomach between miles six and eight. Usually just a cookie is good. I did the Chia Bar today because I could tell that my body was working harder than usual for those miles.
I was having such an amazing time that I was floored to realize we had been running in the words for three hours. It seemed as if no time had passed at all. My watch vibrated with each mile completed, but it never felt as long as the time indicated.
In the end, we did 12.8 miles in 3:54:17 at an average of 18:14 mile pace. It took longer than I anticipated to complete course, but not incredibly so. Jesi will now have a better sense of how long the race could take me so that she’s not at the finish village worrying that I’m taking longer than she thinks I should. I was amazed because there was a time when I started running seven years ago that 18:14 was a fairly consistent pace on long road runs-now the time is what I use to describe my trail runs. I really have come a long way.
I think the the race organizers were correct in their description that this is the ideal race for a first time trail runner. Not that I have done the race yet, but the course was the right balance of technical, hilly with a creek crossing. There are spots to open up and run a little bit but there’s also places that mental fortitude and thought must be taken to traverse properly. I am looking forward to the race-I think it will be a fun break from the training norm and maybe boost my confidence in the last weeks leading up to the race.
I didn’t expect to do so many miles yesterday, but the addition of the mile trek in and out back to the car added some unplanned mileage to the day. My body was feeling the fatigue when I arrived home. I attempted to take a nap but my brain kept replaying the day. Not only the day but that I did a long run yesterday and today-I have never done that before. In two days I ran nearly 20 miles. I am truly beginning to feel like a distance runner-not just someone who plays one on social media. I no longer feel like an accidental marathoner.
I have seen a few Nick Symmonds YouTube vlogs about “Sunday Church Of The Long Run”, and today was certainly that. I felt at peace and centered in nature. I enjoyed how my body and mind and spirit felt when we came out of the woods. I felt ready to tackle the week ahead-me and my scrapped up leg.