When I laid out my race and training schedule at the beginning of the year, the original idea was to race the Atlanta Hot Chocolate 15k on January the 26th. Earlier this week I looked at the monthly budget and the entrance fee for the race and decided that for 70 bucks I would skip it. That was just too much for a non-half marathon race. Besides the cost I also am uncertain about how much I will want chocolate after running nine miles. Additionally, on Monday my brother told me about a race he was doing this Saturday and wanted to know if I wanted to run it. Of course I did, but there was a catch… it’s a trail running race.
In my short stint as an athlete and runner, I have never considered trail running. I have backpacked before, but the idea of blazing down a trail did not seem appealing. But things change and I am open to trying new things. Without hesitation I put away the thoughts of a rolled ankle, injuries from falling down mountains, I took the plunge and registered for the race, only costed me 40 bucks for 7 miles of trail running and I got a nice long sleeve tech shirt and a pint glass out of the deal.
Only after I clicked pay did I hesitate. The race offered two distances. a 3 and a 7. I instinctively and out of road running casualness signed up for the 7. How would 7 miles of trail running equate to road running. My head swelled with all the things I did not know, should I use my road shoes or cave in and get a pair of trail runners? What would be the most challenging thing to tackle in the transition from road to dirt? The questions were endless.
Immediately I started to do some research and I went and acquired a discounted pair of La Sportiva C-Lite 2.0 trail running shoes. The shoes and research made me a bit more confident in race day performance possibilities, but what I really needed was a quick dry run. With that in mind this morning I found myself parked at a little used park off of the Chattahoochee river. Researching local trails, this was a rarely utilized mile or so loop trail that looked to have a good mix of trail running terrain. I figured I could get a quick mile of experience running the trail and then use that to make better race day decisions.
I put on the shoes and realized they hugged the foot and had little of the looseness my road shoes had, as well as some major traction support. As I stepped onto the leaf covered trail, I gingerly began to run. My initial running involved being careful where my foot fell resulting in my running prowess looking more like I was slowly dancing ballet than running. After a few minutes I realized I got these shoes because they had balance support and I let my feet fly. I found watching a few steps ahead and relying on my shoes to provide balance and stability on the uneven ground proved a much faster formula for success in running on trails. As I started to pick up pace a bit I plodded through a few mud puddles and relished in the new freedom of running through the woods.
The next major milestone was hills. with road running you can power up them at a pretty good pace. This hill though had a steepness that proved more challenging than most road hills. I ended up walking slowly at first, trying to catch my breath, but eventually adapted a process of using a thirty second run to walk ratio. Unlike road running I realized that I needed t speed walk and power my way up the incline instead of going too slow.
The last major challenge came when I started to go down hill. It was steep and sometimes the ledges were several feet off the ground. I began to bounce my way down to reduce the pressure on my knees and let myself fall forward in a deliberately controlled manner. Basically I found falling forward and bouncing with each step got me down safely and fairly quick.
Once I hit the bottom I began to run a normal pace again. The problem for me now involved the wild life around me. Unlike the road, things lived in the creek I was running next to and I became awed with a few beavers I saw working away on an isolated island. Later I saw an otter pop its head out of the water. For the net ten minutes I kept watching it watch me. When I moved on it paced with me in the water as I ran. There was so much going on I ran way slower than I needed to. Race day I am going to have to pace myself and put away the nature watching.
With my lessons learned my mile and some was up before I even realized it. On the road it takes allot of miles before they start drifting away. Out on the trail though, the mile was gone faster, at least it felt that way. As I wrapped up my trial run I realize that with trail running I had to rely more on my shoes and my eyes to guide me and less on just running and watching for cars. I think this will be slower than my road races in the end. I do know thought that I might be hooked on trail running. I am now looking for my next easy running day where I can throw in a trail run. Maybe I need to run some farteks in the woods? Not sure how to mix it into my running, but I can say I am hooked after trying my first foray. I am glad I got a chance to get out this morning and figure a few things out before the race. Always good to have some familiarity with the conditions before hand… Nothing new on race day of course. Til next time.