Dirt Inspires Trail Half Marathon

Oh, trails! Trails.  What can I say about my first true trail race?  I can say that for me, trails will probably remain for hiking.  Maybe I will run another trail race someday, but  I definitely didn't catch the bug today.

When I say this was a "true trail race", I mean it involved 2400+ feet elevation gain, four creek crossings (wet shoes suck!), miles of skinny single track trails where I almost fell down a cliff to my death, and a required BYOW--bring your own water.  I missed that memo.  Which played a big part in making this trail half significantly harder for me and my body that it needed to be.

The steep climbs were actually nowhere near as terrifying as the steep descents

I showed up to run the Dirt Inspires women's half marathon in Nisene Marks State Park.  It is a beautiful park just next to Santa Cruz, with miles and miles of hiking.  Or running if you're crazy.

We went hiking in Nisene Marks State Park the day prior, which I knew wouldn't lead to fresh legs, but wasn't concerned

Poison Oak everywhere.  Poison.  Poison.  Poison

This tree was called the Advocate Tree, because Vagina Tree was too obvious

I showed up and my game face was not on because A) I was frankly afraid of the 2400+ ft climb and B) I had to wait around for an hour.  The race was delayed due to some parking issue, and I had shown up 30 minutes early to register.  By the time the race started, the caffeine had worn off and I was ready to go back to bed.

The Gentleman asked me for an action shot, so I lifted my leg.  

For shoes, I went with my Mizuno Wave Riders 15, a pair I occasionally wear, won them in a race last November, no strong feelings for them.  I thought my "meh" attitude towards them was good (knowing they would get a good beating), and hoped the tougher design of the shoe bottom would be able to handle the slippery dirt and twigs and general death traps that were awaiting me.

They worked fine enough, except I partially blame them on my quads seizing up at mile 3 due to squeezing my legs to brake on the downhills and sharp switchbacks.  Without the traction of a trail shoe to keep me from tumbling down the hills doing somersaults (I was...running too fast), I was tensing up my legs.  Quads frozen, I stopped and gave them a good stretch by a tree.  Some guy out for a run was like "get your shit together and run" and I was like "wah wah wah, I suck at trails!" but went on.  By slowing down significantly, my quads seemed to slowly release themselves.  Felt okay by mile 6.  They will be sore tomorrow.

So that happened. Other highlights include:

1) taking many-a-wrong turn.  I didn't realize til halfway through that there were bright pink ribbons tied to plants to direct us where to turn.  Just give me a break ok, I usually zone out when I'm running;

2) failing at walking on rocks while crossing streams.  Other girls made it seem so easy, and I swear a couple volunteers were heckling me -- "just run through the water already, you're getting your feet wet anyway" -- to which I responded, "I don't want to fall and get all of me wet," which was perfectly valid and very like to happen.  My balance skills are not impressive;

3) Cramping up like never before out of thirst.  I learned before the race started that there would be "water refill stations" but no cups, no bottles.  We were supposed to run with our own water.  Everywhere I looked, everyone had either a hand-held or those little pods of water that you wear like a fanny-pack.  I don't own either of these.

I considered running with a regular bottle of water, but decided it was too big, had a terrible grip, and would probably make me do something crazy like extra somersaults down the hill since I'm not used to the counter-balance of holding anything while running.

So while waiting around for the race to start I saw trail runner champion Caitlin Smith, who in her resume has qualified for the Olympic marathon trials (with a 2:41 marathon), won the Nike Women's marathon, and won the Northface Endurance Challenge, and basically wins every. single. trail run, from 13.1 miles to 62 miles, that she enters.  And sets all sorts of course records.

Caitlin didn't have a handheld.  Before the race started, I said, "I noticed you aren't carrying water.  What's your plan?"  And she said, "I don't need any water."  So I thought, I'll survive.  Caitlin Smith doesn't need any water, I don't need any water.

Caitlin Smith in the front in the bikini.  Whatever you call it.  I'm behind her in the blank tank.

I did survive, so I guess I didn't need any.  But, Caitlin Smith is a little bit more of a major elite badass than I am and has a camel stomach that hoards water for hibernation or trail running.

The problems arose when I stuffed some food (gatorade chews, dried cherries) down at mile 10. The food mixed with NO water led to these crazy stabbing cramps under both sides of my ribs.  Miles 10-13 were misery.  Yuck.

In case you're wondering, I did consider cupping my hands under the fill station kegs (whatever they're called) but my hands were very dirty (climbing up roots and rocks) and I suspected they may have had poison oak on them, so I chose not to.

4) My Garmin didn't work half the time.  I figured that would happen in the hills, so it goes without saying I paid no mind to pace or what mile I was at.

Not sure of the results, I do know Caitlin Smith won, a source (the Gentleman) said she finished in 1:35, and I counted five women ahead of me to put me in 6th place overall.

I was in second place until my quads seized during the third mile, at which point I had to tell a very encouraging woman behind me on a single track trail ("You're still good, keep going, I'll be right behind you, we'll push it together!") that my legs were broken and she should really pass me.  The quad issue put me in fourth place for the middle chunk of the run, and once the thirsty cramps started near mile 10 I slowed down into 6th place.   Someone was adamant that I finished in 4th place, but unless women dropped out, that doesn't seem right.  I saw 1:55:xx on the clock when I ran in.  My Garmin was way stupid and said 1:44 for 12.3 miles.

The first and last mile was on a paved road

I had been wearing arm warmers, and I rolled them down and treated them like a sweat band.  (And a snot band).  I wore the compression socks because I am afraid of poison oak.

Put a fork in me

From what my watch did capture, my splits were in the 7:00 minute zone for the first three miles, then between 9:00 and 11:00 minutes for the middle 7 miles, and then back to the 7:00 and low 8:00 pace range for the last miles.  Average pace of 8:33 for the 12 miles that my Garmin caught.  I think the official pace for a 1:55 half-marathon is closer to 8:50.
5) I seriously almost killed myself 50 times.  I had NO BRAKES and was flying down some booby-trapped steep trails (boobied by tree roots and the like).  Thrilling indeed, but I think if there is a next time for me and trail running, I need some great traction shoes and probably need to go slower downhill.

6) This one is the most important thing.  This is the GOOD part.

Even though I started this post by saying how my lesson learned is that I love trails, but love them for hiking and not for running, know this: there were moments, out there in the middle of fern gully, with nothing in earshot but the sound of my feet and breath and some birds having a party, where the narrow trail gifted me a stretch of path that was as close to flat and root-free as a trail will ever be, and I felt like I was riding a horse.  I was just gliding through the wilderness.  It was beautiful everywhere I looked and the shaded woods whipped by like a dream and I felt in that moment like I really was born to run.

Then my pulse spiked as I almost tumbled down a cliff, and I tottered down some rocks and roots and went on my clunky way.

Trails, guys: yay or nay?  Hiking or running?