Reflections on a 25k Trail Run from an out of Shape Novice.
Updated: Jan 19
A 25K Trail Run doesn’t seem that far on paper. I had done a few Spartan races, so all it took was just a small amount of peer pressure to commit to it. I knew that I needed to train for it to really be successful, but unfortunately I did not commit to the training as much as I should have – something I strongly regretted after a few hours on the course.
The Race Itself
The First Stretch – This Is Nice!
I woke up on race day relaxed and ready to go. Thankfully we had time to stretch our legs and even head into town to grab a coffee and a little food. The nerves started to kick in as we got closer to the race, but I still felt pretty good about it and was excited to get started.
The weather was perfect and the terrain for the race was beautiful. I knew I wasn’t going to be setting any speed records.
The goals for the day:
1) Don’t get injured; 2) Finish the race; 3) Enjoy the experience.
The first stretch of the race was really great. Rolling hills through some back country roads and trails. I decided early on that I would strategically power walk through some of the uphill sections to reserve as much energy as possible for the flat and downhill sections. The strategy worked great for me over the first stretch and I came to the first aid station at 8k feeling really good. I wasn’t even in last place (yet).
Even better, as I quickly drank some water to hydrate, I knew the run was going to take me down a long hill. I suppose I knew that for every hill I went down, I would have to come back up. But that was for later. Right now I was going to enjoy this nice run down the hill.
The Second Stretch – What Goes Down….
At the base of the hill is where the race turned from something mostly pleasant into something that was a challenge. Also where I began to really regret the lazy training I had done. The next stretch was all uphill for quite awhile. I have probably blocked out part of it, but it had to be miles of varying degrees of incline. I had to abandon my “walk the uphill” strategy, otherwise I would never get to the top.
This was all on a back road, and the twists and turns of the road limited visibility enough that around every future corner, I was just hoping it was going to flatten out. There must be an end to the incline at some point, right? I was pretty sure it was impossible for a road to go uphill forever, but I was starting to question that belief.
During this climb I encountered my first runners coming back. This was encouraging. And it helped my belief that there was in fact an end to this, and I would eventually be able to come back. Exciting! And yet the climb continued for quite awhile. Physically I was holding up alright at this point. There was obvious pain and soreness, and I was pretty gassed already, but overall things were holding together well, so it was just a matter of continuing on.
The Third Stretch – Bear Country
I was very excited to reach the turnoff from the road into the back country. I was exhausted but so very happy to be off that hill. A change of scenery was welcome and needed! I found this part of the race to be possibly the most challenging. Instead of trudging along a road, this was on some actual trails going through some rougher terrain. Lots of credit to the team marking the trail – I was sure I was going to lose it, but I did manage to follow along without any issues. In the moment though, I was less and less convinced that was the case. An internal discussion started going on in my head about whether or not I had doubled back and was going in circles. I didn’t think I had, but it sure felt like I had been back on
these trails for quite awhile, so I must have.
This was the first point in the race where I was totally alone. There were parts where I was close to other runners, but the bulk of the back country time was in isolation. I think that helped contribute to the paranoia; if I had another person around we could confirm with each other that we were still on track. I distinctly remember having a though back there: “We are going to go in circles back here until we die.” It seems at least one part of my brain was being pretty dramatic by that point.
Another mental challenge in the back country was all of the bear sightings. In the end, they all actually turned out to be tree stumps. But to an exhausted brain that is already starting to get paranoid and freak out, every stump out of the corner of your eye is a bear.
The Home Stretch
Coming out of the woods I was so grateful to encounter the second aid station. I knew it was at 18k, and the mental boost of knowing that I was getting “this close” to finishing the race was amazing. After taking a moment to hydrate and get some fuel, I set off for the last part. I knew that most of it would be downhill – after all, I had come up that hill already, so now I would get to enjoy going down it.
To this day I am unsure what magic happened, but that same hill that was consistently uphill before, now had sections that I had to go uphill again! I sure didn’t remember any downhill stretches from before. I now understand the “back in my day, we went uphill both ways” expression much better.
I was struggling at this point. Physically I was in a lot of pain. Even the flat and downhill sections were hard to run, and I was walking a decent amount. “Just finish the race” was the mantra repeating in my head. Honestly during this stretch my head went to some dark places about what a horrible idea this was, what a horrible experience it was. On reflection after the race, it is this stretch I was most proud of. It was this point where I was challenging myself beyond what I ever had before. My comfort zone was left well behind me.
There were a few particularly difficult spots on the finish. Remember the big hill I was able to go down after the first aid station? I knew that was looming as the finish to the race. I did some walking on that uphill, but as I got closer to the top I thought about how I wanted to finish the race strong, and I ran up the final stretch of the hill. I knew I was giving up the last that I had in me but the finish was right there.
And so it was, at the top of that hill, where I discovered the finish was not right at the top of the hill as I expected. There was still a little bit more, up the road and looping back through. It wasn’t much in the grand scheme of the whole race, but it was a killer. The paranoid, cranky part of my brain from earlier made sure to let the rest of my brain know how it felt about it.
“Besides” it said, “the finish is right here anyway, you can see it from here, just take a shortcut and be done with it.” I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t the temptation. I was DONE at that point. And I could have cut through the woods and nobody would have known. Except me. I would have known and after doing the first 24k of this race, I was not going to short myself at the end. It was slow – so very slow – but I finished the race out in it’s entirety.
That race was hard; much harder than I had expected going in. After I had time to recover and reflect, I realized that I had probably pushed myself further physically that day than I ever had in my life. How cool was that? And I made it out the other side just fine. Better than fine, really. Enough to commit to doing the 50k version of the race the following year. (Which I AM doing – and have I learned my lesson about training enough for it? Not yet!)
Beyond the race itself, when I think back to the trip and experience, I will remember the people. It was an eclectic, fun, supportive and overall amazing group of people that I had the privilege to meet. Folks traveling from all over to do the run. And everyone was kind, and excited and having a good time. Everyone challenged themselves in some way or another that day, and perhaps the shared experience for all of us helped form some bonds? I am not sure, but I do know that I look forward to challenging myself even more on the next one.