Monday, February 09, 2009

15K Mission Gorge Xterra Trail Race

Last Sunday, I woke up with a sore throat. Again? But I was so excited about the trail race that morning, I didn't care. I had signed up at the last minute, knowing it would be a kick-ass workout.

As I lined up on the start, I shivered nervously in the damp chill of the morning air, glancing around at the bootie-covered trail shoes (to keep out the dirt), hard, unshaven legs, and shirts boasting "Boston Marathon 2008" or "Badwater 2006". Badwater? Jeez. What had I gotten myself into?

We took off, and immediately had to pick our way through a rock-covered trail. Gulleys and trenches ran precipitously between my legs. It was so crowded for the first few miles that I had a hard time seeing the trail ahead of me and anticipating what was to come. It was hard to negotiate the rivets and ditches with so many other runners.

Luckily, we hit a hill about a mile in, and the crowd thinned. I refused to walk. Heart pounding, lungs gasping, cheeks flush, I charged my way to the top. I didn't care that I had 8 more miles to go. I was going to give this trail race 100%! I reached the crest and started flying on the downhill, dancing to and fro as I avoided ditches, boulders, loose gravel, and rocks. The hill became very steep very quickly, and I had to slow to avoid slipping. WTF? But I'm a downhill runner! Other more experienced trail runners flew past me, stepping lightly and quickly on their tiptoes. How could they pick their feet up that quickly? Watching them made me slightly dizzy.

Then, we were going up again. Again, I refused to walk. However, this time, I was reduced to a slow jog. I looked to the right of me and saw another runner walking at the same pace I was "running". Okay. I swallowed my pride and power-walked to the top. Apparently, on trail runs, it's okay to walk when you have to.

The downhill on the other side was so steep, I didn't kid myself. Today was not my day to break a leg or twist an ankle. I gingerly walked down, picking my way through the rocks and wondering how I was going to get down without falling. They didn't tell us we would need ropes for this thing!

A giant hill loomed ahead. No one was running. I gulped. It was so big and steep, we couldn't see the sky on the other side. The "hill" was engulfed in darkness, resembling a skyscraper. In addition, it was covered in loose gravel. Everyone was power walking up it. I followed suit. With each step, I jammed my toes into the dirt, trying to get a solid foothold. Occassionally, I slipped backwards, losing precious ground. 2 steps forward, 1 step back. I grabbed in vain for a root or tree limb to help pull me up but all I got were some piddly leaves, which did little for support. They didn't tell us we would need ropes for this!

Finally we reached the top. I gingerly proceeded down the other side. The trail evened out for a bit and the crowd had thinned. I actually settled into a relaxed rhythm for a few miles, dancing around a rock here and there, jumping over the trench in the center of the trail. The trail narrowed into a single track, and I eagerly rushed forward, sometimes running from side to side on the edge of the trail banks. I was beginning to thoroughly enjoy myself.

Then, the mountain appeared (Mt. Fortuna). The asent was so steep, that a gazillion steep wooden steps had been inserted into the trail to prevent erosion. Ah, the famous "Thousand Steps" I had been warned about. We joked as we climbed up--The Thousand Steps to God (I told that poor girl she might be near exhaustion because if she could see God at the top, she must be hallucinating), The Thousand Steps of Hell, Thousand Steps of Pain, etc. etc. We all walked up the steps. I tried to power walk. Many rested halfway up. Maybe rest isn't a good word. Doubled-over in pain and crippled by cramps is a more apt description. After leaping from step to step to step for what seemed like an eternity, I somehow reached the top.

I was over halfway done and heading back. My hamstrings and quads felt like I had been doing weights in the gym all day. I cautiously proceeded down each bunny hill. No more aggressive downhill running for me. I was worried that with each step, my muscles would fail me and my legs would simply buckle under me. I would be another fallen soldier on the warrior path. Another casualty who failed to return home. But not if I could help it.

I reached the first mountain of loose gravel that I had scrambled precariously up. Now I had to somehow go down? Without actually "going down". I started down gingerly. Every fifth step, the ground would give out from under me, and I would slide dangerously down before sitting down on my butt to prevent anything worse from happening. I watched more experienced trail runners tiptoe down with light quick steps. How could they actually run down this thing? Finally, I began to figure it out. I turned sideways, dug my feet into the ground, and tried to cause a mini-landslide that I could "skateboard" down on--like snowboarding (gravel-boarding?). I made pretty good progress that way. Whew! That was kind of FUN! Pretty soon, I was at the bottom, safe and sound and running again.

Only a few more miles left to go. I guess after gravel, rocks, mountains, and trenches, we had one more obstacle left to conquer: water. The trail wound over a creek of deep water. I slowed and picked my way over the rocks as best I could. Getting wet was unavoidable but getting soaked seemed to be a choice. The trail was a thin, narrow line that wound up and over boulders and rocks on the bank of the creek. I was forced to grab onto the boulders and rocks to balance and pull myself up and over. Bouldering? I had no idea I would be bouldering! The trail crossed the creek again. And again. And again. Is this a joke? We went over the creek about 6-7 times.

nearing the finish

The trail mellowed out, and I realized I only had a mile left to go. My legs were recovering, and I ran comfortably toward the finish line. Brent and Alec were there waiting. Alec ran across the finish with me. As I got my medal and water in the finisher chute, Alec asked, "What took you so long?" Everyone started cracking up.

Alec running with me across the finish line

I had a TON of fun and am totally addicted. What an incredible full-body workout. 9 miles felt like a 13, except I was waaaay more sore the next day. I could barely get down the stairs. My quads have NEVER been so sore!
all the fellow tri clubbers who showed up to race


Sara said...

wow great race- sounds like a tough one! I can't wait to do some trail races this Spring!

teacherwoman said...

Sounds like a great race! Great pictures too!

Grey Beard said...

I LOVE the pic where BOTH of your feet are clearly shown to be off the ground at the same time by their shadows. Suitable for framing.

Climbing steep hills/mountains like that is the range of motion bicycling mimics. It's not nearly as fatiguing because the bike bears a large % of your weight.
Train to climb hills in the saddle and kill two birds with one stone.

You and Alex make a great team!

Sherry said...

Oh what fun! Your pictures are great! I discovered in January that I LOVE trail running... of course, we don't have very many good trails down here in FL. I would love to run in your neck of the woods someday. Great job!

Diana said...

I'll have to look into these some day! Great report, love the blow by blow commentary!

Sara Cox Landolt said...

This was fascinating to read about. Looks beautiful too. I'm hoping to add some trail runs in the future. Thanks for sharing!

RunBubbaRun said...

Congrats on the trail race. YES, trail racing is addicting, very addicting for me.

Hope to read more post about them in the future.