About three months ago, on the eve of the Shamrock Half Marathon, I sat at the table of our rented beach house recording future training run distances on a calendar. I should have been sleeping, but I instead needed to know what was going to come next. I’ve set the far-off goal of completing the Richmond Marathon in November, but I needed a few shorter races in the meantime to keep me focused and motivated. First up….XTERRA Richmond 21K Trail Run. Today was the day!
My training leading up to the race went well. I ran Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday most weeks, alternating between a hilly three mile loop in our neighborhood before school and the treadmill at the Y in the afternoons. The highlight of each week was my long run on Saturday mornings. As the weather warmed up and dried out, I tried to do as many of these runs on the trail as possible. I twice logged miles on the Buttermilk Trail in Richmond. My last two long runs were on Liberty Mountain (11 miles) and on the trails parallel to the Blackwater Creek Trail (12 miles)…two of my favorite spots in Lynchburg. With school getting out this past week, I was also able to catch up on lost hours of sleep. I was feeling ready!
Our family headed to Richmond Friday after lunch, and we stopped at REI before making our way to Grandma’s house. We downed a great pre-race meal from Joe’s Inn and then took the kids for a quick swim before bedtime. Grandma and the little people decided to sleep in the tent in the backyard, so I got to sleep fairly quickly. I slept completely unencumbered by any pesky snugglers. It was beautiful.
We had decided that Jay would take me to the start, and the rest of the family would wait at the Reedy Creek Tunnel aid station. From there they would be able to see me three times during the race. Jay was kind enough to drop me off near the start so that I could pick up my packet while he went to park the car.
Bag checked. Porta-Potty visited. Bib pinned. Husband hugged. Before picture taken. Let’s do this!
The first mile and a half were ridiculously hot. We started in the Brown’s Island/Tredegar area and ran past this cool spot, over a bridge, and across the Flood Wall. I blew through the first aid station way too fast. I grabbed only one cup of water and ended up pouring most of it on me. I promised myself that at all other aid stations I was going to slow down and actually drink something. I know that I should have expected the heat when signing up for a race in Richmond in June, but I’m not going to lie…it caught me off guard. Even at 8am, the sun felt pretty brutal, but I kept trucking knowing that we would get to the trail soon. I was so relieved when we finally dipped down into the shade.
I don’t remember much of the next section except for the steps that RVA-ers call the “Mayan Ruins.” The runners in front of me had come to a slow crawl up these steep steps. For half a second I was a bit annoyed. Then I realized that I couldn’t have moved any faster than we were already going, and I quickly got over myself. Two girls behind me decided they were taking the road less traveled and went up the steps that were around to the right. I think they realized it wasn’t any faster, however, when they ended up right back behind me at the top.
The main thing that kept me going was knowing that my family was waiting for me at the Forest Hills Park aid station. I could hear them cheering before I could see them. Both kids wanted to give me a hug, and I gladly obliged. I dumped a couple more cups of water on myself, downed a few, grabbed a gel, and kept going. There were several switchbacks right above their watching spot, so I got to see (and hear) them a few more times. By this first loop of the park, there were a handful of us that were all doing about the same pace together. One guy behind me told me that it was his fourth time doing this race, and warned me to save my energy for the second loop. Turns out I felt much better the second time around. I think it had to do with the fact that I had at least a little bit of an idea how far I had left to go. There were no mile markers, so the first time around I just kept wondering how close I was to seeing my family again.
I remember a few other things from the park loop. At one point we crossed a creek. Both times over it I dipped down and splashed water on myself to try to cool off. It helped for about 30 seconds. 🙂 Right before the aid station there was a really skinny cement bridge to cross. I remember being a tad bit nervous that I would run right off the thing, but I was too embarrassed to slow down and walk. The second time around there was an old man standing at the end with a big bouquet of sunflowers. Somebody behind me joked, “Oh, how nice! You brought me flowers!” He didn’t seem to get it…just confused why several sweaty people were running straight at him.
During this section I also remember contemplating some of the differences between road races and trail races. This is only my second trail race, and there’s this whole new added element of passing people that you don’t really have to worry about on a wide road. Several times I heard people right behind me that I thought wanted to pass, but it turns out they seemed to be fine with following my slow, slogging pace. Other times I got right up behind somebody else and then had to really convince myself that I had enough juice to pass them and then stay in front. More than once those people passed me again at the aid stations while I was busy dumping cups of cold water on my head. I also got lapped in the park loop by three or four of the guys who went on to win the race. Impressive.
After I passed my family for the third time, I headed into the Reedy Creek Tunnel where the race volunteer promised me air conditioning. I admit I was so out of it at that point that I believed her for a half a second. Ha. The water crossing that I had heard about turned out to just be maybe three inches of running water. No biggie. My favorite part of the whole race, however, was the bouldering we had to do to cross the river. I’m sure my tired self
bounding crawling over the huge rocks was quite a site, but the race volunteers were quite encouraging at this point. One guy said something like, “Just power yourself over to that big rock, climb this ladder, and then you’re in the shade!” I joked to him, “I don’t think I’ll be powering anywhere at this point,” as I basically slid down the rock on my butt and then leaned forward to catch the next one with my hands. I’m certain he was lying, but he said, “Looked pretty powerful to me,” as I climbed the ladder. I’ll take it.
By the time I was winding my way through Belle Isle, I was alone. No more leap frogging with runners around me. At this point I was really thankful for the hundreds of signs put up by the trail organizers because I never worried that I was going to get lost. As I came out of the wooded trails, I was relieved to see the suspended bridge because I knew we were almost done, but the section right before it was especially hot. It was at this point that I realized that my goal of 12 minute miles was out of the picture. I just kept trying to remind myself to finish and finish well.
On the road between the suspended bridge and the finish, I started leap frogging again with another tired runner. He would walk, and I would jog slowly past him. Then he got up enough speed to pass me, and I didn’t have it in me to power past him. As we approached the finish line, cheered on by three especially great volunteers, I had passed him. But at the very last stretch, he tried to pass me one final time. I sprinted with everything I had left (which wasn’t much), and it appeared we crossed at exactly the same moment. Turns out the official race results say I beat him by exactly one second. Woot! It’s the little victories, huh? My final time was 2:36:13 which was a pace of 12:29 per mile.
I found Jay, drank a few more cups of water, and we sat in the shade a while to cool down. We then went for a kid-free post race meal at Millie’s, a restaurant I read about in another runner’s blog. I got the Huevos Rancheros, and it was absolutely amazing. Go there!
Jay asked me when I was done if I’d run this race again. Definitely, yes. Here’s my quick list of grows and glows to sum it up:
Mile markers. Maybe this is taboo in a trail race, but I really like knowing how far I have left to go.
Finish line. The race course took a sharp turn at the very end, which meant you couldn’t see the finish to gauge how far you had left to go. I’m always leery of starting to sprint too soon, and this time I waited too long.
Heat. Maybe the race organizers could work on that for next year? JK. More like, maybe I need to do a few mid-day training runs so I’m not such a wimp.
Course. The race is called an “urban adventure,” and they aren’t joking. I liked how varied the trail was, and the runners really got a few beautiful views of the city.
People. The volunteers were helpful, and so were the runners.
Signage. I never really had to worry about getting lost.
Family. It was SO good to have them waiting for me at Reedy Creek. I’m not sure what else would have kept me going!
I finished! Though I didn’t make my goal of 12 min pace, I am choosing to be excited that I completed this tough course, with a smile, injury free.
Now on to training for the next race! Up next: Percival’s Island 5 Miler.