Yesterday, I did the 25K out at Hell’s Hills. It’s a trail race out in Smithville at a mountain bike park called Rocky Hills Ranch. This same race was my first ever trail race back in ’05. I ran a 3:10 that day. Since then, I’ve not done another 25K, though I have done many, many races that have multiples of 25K. However, I am on the come-back trail and this race was to be a supported long run in my rebuild for distance.
Yesterday started out with some nerves and so I was glad to have company; I’d hitched a ride with my friend Cris. Even better–once we got there, we ran into a whole bevy of girlfriends and we all promptly set up our chairs together. I had really, really, REALLY been missing this part of the whole trail race experience. Because of the time involved and the multitude of distances usually offered, trail events are much more sociable than road racing. People set up impromptu aid stations, which turn into little sociable seating areas for recovery post-race. And it just so happened that many of my friends for a variety of reasons were doing one of the “baby” distances, the 25K, just like me. All was right with my world.
When the gun went off at 7AM, I immediately felt like I was working too hard. It’s a single track, twisty trail, and it bottlenecked quickly. I hate being stuck with a bunch of people. You either get pushed to run too fast to keep up with the group or you wind up going too slow, waiting for an opportunity to pass. I’m one who likes to be running pretty much alone in the woods. My friend Marcia was up ahead, and she checked her faster pace to hang back with me. The group eventually spread out, and the two of us had the trail mostly to ourselves. My legs felt heavy and I was moving into the “beat-up” zone, where that little voice starts in on just what it is that I’m not doing well. Marcia and I began to talk, and within minutes the run had turned from a crappy race performance into lovely trail time with a buddy. Marcia saved my day. While I never felt completely bad, I did feel slow and I had to work to focus on the fact that this was my long run, not a race, so there was no need to beat myself up about pace. It was in fact my longest distance to date, on either road or trail, and my ankle began to protest in the last few miles (especially when we hit The Grind and The Wall, two steep, short climbs that merely pointed out that my strength in that side is still lacking). By the time we came into the finish, I was ready to be done. Time: 3:57. Ouch.
Had it not been for the awesome camaraderie out there, I’d have been upset with the results. But I got so much loving support from everyone I saw that there was no way I could pout or complain. I got an arm around the shoulders from Joe with a “good to have you back out here,” not to mention great laughs and conversation from my buddies. One of the best moments was coming into an aid station full of friends I hadn’t seen in awhile. For the first time in about a year and a half, I felt a part of things. And I got what I consider to be the ultimate compliment; my friend Stephanie Huie asked me to pace her at Cactus Rose in her first 100-miler this October.
I have a lot of conditioning to do. My plan is to do the marathon distance at Box o’ Rox in a month. Again, the race will be my longest run, so I merely need to get to 21 miles before May 5. There’s no taper, just a need to appropriate space long runs and recovery. I have to remind myself that the time won’t be pretty or anywhere near what I’ve done at a trail marathon before–I am simply working endurance at this point, with the idea that, as I continue to condition and build, the speed will eventually come back (especially as more injury weight comes off). To even begin to put speed into play here would be too much, too fast. I think my short runs on the road will have to suffice as speed work for the time being.
I have my big race at the end of June, a 2-day run around the Isle of Wight with the Seckers, my wonderful super ultra running buddies who regularly tackle countries and continents. The first day is 37 miles, while the second day is 31. Wouldn’t have been a worry at all for pre-injury Leah. However, I have to keep in mind that it was just the end of November that I ran 5 miles without having to take walk breaks, December before I could do back-to-back runs, January before I finished the 10-mile loop comfortably, and February before I covered 13.1. I’ve worked up to 4:00 on my feet since November without set-backs, so I just have to continue to be careful. Better to be undertrained than to hurt myself. The beauty of the race is that many people will be walking, which means I can absolutely run and walk if I have to, so I’ve been working up my walking as well. I feel pretty optimistic about getting ready for this. In any event, it will be a lovely time with friends in a beautiful setting hanging out all day on trails.