Wow! I can't believe it's been over a year since I posted a blog. I will have to put a catch-up blog out soon, but in the meantime, here is a race report from my first (and recent) trail run.
I have been running for about 7 years now, and all of my races have been on the road. A few weeks ago, however, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to do a couple of trail races with her. I couldn’t do both, so I chose the Citrus Trail in Inverness, Florida. Inverness is a small town about 30 minutes north of Tampa, surrounded by many lakes, springs, rivers, and preserves, and is known for diving with manatees in the winter months. It is a small Florida town, with huge 100+ year old oaks dripping with Spanish moss. There is still enough 1920s architecture to let you know it has been here a while, although shopping centers with the typical commercial stores and restaurants are starting to pop up. Judging by the number of doctor’s offices I think there are a good number of retirees in this community.
This particular race offered distances for pretty much any runner – 4 miles, 10 miles, marathon, and a 50K (31 miles). Since I hadn’t really run much since my back to back marathon/half marathon in early December, I opted for the 10 miler, as did my friend (she is training for a 100 mile ultra in August). I was really excited about this race, and even more pleased that it was really, really small – just over 100 competitors in total.
After driving about 3.5 hours from the West Palm Beach area, we arrived in Inverness, checked into our hotel, and then went to race check in. Check in was at race start, which was in a primitive campground in the Citrus Wildlife Management area. I was liking this already, as I am a HUGE lover of being outdoors and in the woods. I have run on dirt paths in the past, but I had no idea what to expect on this trail. We asked the race director about the conditions, and were told that it was mainly single track, nothing technical, but to be careful in places where the pine needles were thick, because that could get slippery. I was happy to hear that because I only have road shoes and didn’t want to spend the money on trail shoes for just one race. We got our bibs, then walked the first part of the trail just to a feel for what we were in for. It seemed pretty easy, and it was starting to get dark, so we left.
Our next stop was to scope out a place for dinner. As we were driving into town, we agreed to bypass the commercial restaurants and asked the woman at the hotel check in for some recommendations. We were given the name of a couple of Italian restaurants. One was mainly pizza, so we skipped that one and checked out the other one. It looked good, so we went back to the hotel, cleaned up, and went back to the restaurant. The place was packed (a good sign), but the service was a bit slow. We ate and then went back to the hotel to get ready for the next morning.
Since this was a trail race, you really can’t start in the dark. They also started the different distances off at different times. The 50K and marathoners went off at 7:30 and the 10 mile and 4 mile racers started at 8:15. Since we were about 10 minutes from the race start, we didn’t have to rush and even had enough time to get the free hotel breakfast. I get ready pretty quickly, so I started taking things down to the car. On my way back in I stopped in the breakfast area to check out what looked agreeable for pre-race, and to grab a cup of coffee. There was an older couple (maybe late 40s to mid-50s) eating breakfast who were obviously dressed for a run and I recognized them from check in the day before. I stopped to chat. The woman told me that she loved trail running and felt that she was born to do this. The gentleman was a bit more sedate but I could tell he was getting pumped up, too. I found out they were doing the 50K. I wished them luck then went upstairs, grabbed the rest of our stuff, had a quick breakfast and left for the race.
The nice thing about racing in central to northern Florida in the winter is that the mornings are crisp – this morning was in the low 50s, which to me is pretty freakin’ cold. My friend is really small with zero body fat, so she was freezing too. We sat in the car until about 15 minutes before race start then got out to warm up. Between the 10 mile and 4 mile race there were maybe 50 people. The race director counted down from 5 and then yelled GO, which was a nice change from the various canons, air horns, and rocket blast offs that I have become accustomed to.
I had read that I should expect to finish a 10 mile trail race about as fast as my fastest half marathon time, which was around 2:10. So 2:10 was my goal. I started off at an easy pace, and as I loped along, my left calf was starting to tighten, which has been my latest issue. There was a short, but slightly steep hill and it really complained when I started going up it, so I had to walk. I decided that I should probably walk the hills in order to ensure that I don’t pull something mid run and that I also have some gas in the tank for later. That turned out to be a good approach because there were a LOT of hills on this trail – in fact it was almost constant up and down, although most of them were long and not very steep. Still, it takes it out of you. On the long not so steep hills, I ran as I felt comfortable, but walked the steeper ones.
Within the first mile I got ahead of a number of people, but most of the other folks were way ahead of me. I could occasionally see an orange shirt through the trees, but I was mostly alone. It was wonderful. The only downside to trail running is you really can’t look around too much and you can’t space out (which I tend to do when running alone), because you need to be aware of where you are putting your feet and what is coming up to trip you. That was fine. It was quiet, and other than my breathing I could only hear birds calling to each other.
The course was basically a big loop, but at about 3 miles, there was a .5 mile out and back, so I was able to see everyone who was ahead of me as they returned from the leg. I saw the woman from the hotel and she had a big smile on her face as she recognized me and said hello. The other person I noticed was the woman in the orange shirt, and it seemed I had gained on her (it turns out she missed the turn and had to go back so lost some time). I paused briefly at the turn around for the out and back to take a picture then got back to racing.
Once I came out of the out and back I could see that Orange Shirt was not as far ahead as before, and I thought I could catch her. She seemed to be slowing and walking more; she was definitely walking the hills as was I. Finally at Mile 5 I caught and passed her! I think she was in my age group, whoo hoo! As I passed her I could see a guy in a white shirt ahead, and I told her, “I’m going to get that guy.” He, too, was walking the hills, so it seemed as I would catch up to him as he was walking up a hill, he would start running at the top as I was walking up and I would lose him. Finally around Mile 7.5 I caught him up a hill – he had stopped to fiddle with his I-whatever and headphones. I guess music was more important than racing. Good for me!!!
Next, with about 2 miles left to go, I saw a man in a black shirt up ahead who was walking. I caught up to him and it was the gentleman from the hotel breakfast area who was doing the 50K. I needed to walk a bit so we chatted. I told him I saw his girlfriend earlier (she was about 10 minutes ahead of him), and that she had a smile on her face and a fire in her eye. He laughed and said how much she loves trail racing. He then said she was 58 and he was 73! Wow! They both looked so much younger!! I walked with him longer than I wanted, and while I enjoyed our chat, it threw me out of mental racing zone. I took off, but the last mile was bit tough and I had to really push it the last .5 mile.
As I was coming in I looked at my Garmin, which was 1:57: and change; final time 1:57:21. I was second in my age group, but they only gave medals to the first finishers in each age group, which is in 10 year increments. All in all, I was really happy with my time, since I came in 12 minutes faster than goal time.
I would highly recommend this race for a first-timer. I loved how small it is, how nice the course is, and how well it is run and organized. We were told over and over to be self-sufficient as there were only 2 aid stations. The course was superbly marked, although some of the 4 milers missed a turn and wound up doing 8 miles! For my race the stations were at mile 2.5 and 7. I ran with pack. I had 70 ounces of water in the bladder, 2 GUs, and one 8 oz bottle of Accelerade. That was perfect and I think I only used one GU, drank about 6-7 oz of the Accelerade, and probably 20 oz of water. It was cool throughout the race, and in the woods for 90% of the course, so I didn’t sweat a lot.
After the race we wanted to eat, and found a super cool restaurant called The Hen House. They serve breakfast until late, but you can also get pot roast at 6:00 a.m. Again, this is a small business, and I am all for patronizing local businesses over chain stores when possible. I saw a number of senior citizens standing outside the place, and I told my friend that if there are seniors there, you can bet the food is decent and it’s not expensive. I asked one of the women how was the food, and she said fabulous and it’s cheap! She was right and I rest my case.
If anyone is thinking about doing a trail race, I would suggest researching the race beforehand to know what you’re getting into. You may need trail shoes and gaiters to keep the dirt and rocks out of your shoes. Florida doesn’t really have difficult terrain, although I think I am going to eat those words in mid-April when I plan to do another one – the 15 mile distance at J.W. Corbett. It’s only 3miles from my house (almost NOTHING is 3 miles from my house), but I understand that you run through swamp water followed by sugar sand.
After this, you can bet that I will be adding 1 or 2 trail races to my annual racing repertoire.