It’s been a week or so since I ran my first trail race…and I still haven’t cleaned my shoes. They’re pretty filthy, but it almost seems like a badge of honor to keep them that way.
As mentioned in a previous post, I just started trail running this summer and decided to sign up for my first race, the Paine to Pain Trail Half Marathon in New Rochelle, NY. Let me first say that this was a fantastic choice for a first race. Not only was it well-organized, but it had the feel and excitement of a traditional road race.
When it came to racing on trails, I wasn’t sure how different it would actually be (other than the terrain, of course). How do you approach a technical course? What do others wear? Do they carry water? I found information and advice online, but you never really know what to expect until you actually get there.
Jen and I woke up early on Sunday and made the drive to Westchester; it was actually pretty easy, given that the route was traffic-free—even on the George Washington Bridge. After parking at New Rochelle High School and making the walk to Thomas Paine Cottage, where packet pickup was located, I had about 40 minutes before my wave would go off. At this time, it started raining—heavy at times—so we sat under a tree with our umbrella as we waited for the race to begin.
Because of its connection to the revolutionary Thomas Paine (the PAINE in “Paine to Pain”), the race has a colonial theme: volunteers in dress, a colonial band of drummers at the start, and even a musket to signal the start of each wave.
I was in the third wave, and just six minutes after the first group crossed the line, my race began. The first mile was primarily on a residential road, a gradual incline that I took very slowly. We then entered our first trail, the Leatherstocking Trail, one of many local trails featured in this race. Almost immediately it got challenging, with a variety of roots, rocks, and inclines to contend with.
I had trained on a variety of trails, in a bunch of different parks, over the summer, so seeing this technical terrain wasn’t unusual…or even frightening. But it was VERY fatiguing. It also didn’t help that I was still feeling the effects of my cold/sickness from the previous week, so I’m sure I was tiring sooner than I would have otherwise. Regardless, it was a tough go within the first few miles, so I was focused primarily on watching my step and maintaining a fairly easy pace.
In the early miles, I probably ran a little faster than I should have. On these single-track trails, with someone usually right in front and behind you, I felt compelled to keep the pace of those other runners so as not to cause congestion. That’s something I’ll have to get used to in other trail races.
I was also focused on NOT GETTING TRAMPLED. Unlike road races, sometimes there’s just not a lot of room to run. And with plenty of other runners in the vicinity, I almost always heard footsteps behind me and was always cognizant of who was nearby. It was kind of nerve-racking. A lot of times, I found myself moving to the right so others could pass. I got passed SO MUCH! (To ensure that the trails didn’t get too crowded, each of the five waves featured both fast and slow runners, so others were bound to catch up to me.)
It was raining most of the time, but because we were surrounded by trees, I really didn’t feel it all that much. But it WAS very humid, which made my throat dryer and my clothes wetter. I’m so glad I chose to wear my hydration belt—I was guzzling water starting in the second mile!
I was definitely tired after the first quarter of the race, but not so much that I didn’t think I wouldn’t finish. I knew I just had to take it easy, walk when necessary, and power on.
Again, the organization here was top-notch. At every point where we came out of the trail and had to cross a road, there were always volunteers guiding and cheering us on, while police held up cars and directed them when to go.
A spectator spot was stationed at around the halfway point, and Jen was there cheering me on when I passed. I told her that the race was hard but I was feeling ok.
She then said the trail up ahead looked terrifying—I guess she won’t be doing a trail race anytime soon!
The second half of the race was actually much easier than the first, primarily because we were running on groomed trails with limited obstructions. (Also, I think runners had spread out a little more; at times, there was a lot of space in front and behind me.) This definitely helped my tired body, even though there were MANY times when I still had to take a break and walk for a bit.
I didn’t have a time goal for this race, but I saw that I was approaching 2:30, so I stepped it up in the last mile or so to try to stay within this mark. Before I knew it, I exited the trail for the last time and started approaching the high school football field.
The finish line was positioned on the track, and after making a half-loop on the smooth track surface, I saw Jen and crossed the line in 2:26—my first trail race complete!
The festivities beyond the finish line were really nice, with tables set up with plenty of food and drink. Texas Roadhouse was there with sliders and iced tea. There were also GIANT sub sandwiches, pasta salad, bagels, and fruit.
Everyone sat on the football field, and Jen and I enjoyed chatting and relaxing in what was now much nicer weather.
This race was great because it didn’t have that intimidation factor that I imagine you’d find at other trail races. I’d definitely recommend it to other first-timers who want a chance to get off the road…and dirty up their shoes a little bit!
Thanks for reading,
Have you/would you ever run a trail race?
What’s the biggest adjustment you have to make running on trails versus the road?