Better late than never

I had nearly given up on the idea of ever writing this post. But in the airport bar prior to our flight home from Colorado, I accidentally crossed the oh-so-delicate line between alcohol-induced, sleep-like-a-baby bliss and oh-my-god-will-i-ever-sleep-again agony. This led to me reading all the running magazines I had in my backpack, which then led to barely-coherent scribbles in my notebook of things I still wanted to write about the Wapack Trail Race three weeks ago. So, here it is.

Let me start by quickly reminding you of my race goals:

      1. Finish (but not last!)
      2. Beat Tim (don’t worry, his only goal is to beat me so it’s cool).
      3. Don’t get lost.
      4. Don’t pants my poop!
      5. Don’t break/sprain/fracture anything.

Few people knew that I also had a secret sixth goal, echoed almost perfectly by Marc Parent in his Runner’s World article about his first half marathon:

“Whenever anyone asked if I had a goal finish time, I said no. This was my first half and I only wanted to complete it. That was a lie, of course. Everyone, no matter what he or she says, has a goal time, even if it’s vague. At the very least, he has a time he doesn’t want to finish in…” [Read the full article here.]

I really wanted a 6-hour finish. At the very least, I didn’t want it to take me any longer than six and a half hours. Obviously I would have loved to finish even faster, but after talking with friends who had run the race last year, analyzing their results and deciding where I thought I fit in amongst them in terms of ability, and keeping in mind that I didn’t actually want to push too hard and risk injury three days before our Colorado adventure, six hours seemed perfectly reasonable.

I was close.
So close!

As it turns out, I’m actually a pretty decent judge of what I can do. (Who knew?) Sadly, the part of me that thought I might have a chance of beating Tim was not as good at judging what he can do; he finished 30 minutes ahead of me. (Congratulations, jerk hunny bunny.)

But enough about me. I’m sure you’re all dying to know what the race itself was like! Having run my fair share of races over the last couple of years, I’m tempted to say that this one was my favorite. It at least makes it to the top 3. Despite the less-than-stellar weather and trail conditions–it rained for a day or two before the race, then off and on during the race–the course managed to still be really fun. On a nice day, the views from the summits must be incredible…in fact, in the days since the race, I’ve often found myself thinking that perhaps nicer conditions would have just slowed me down more, as I would have wanted to stop and savor the beauty around me on each peak (and take pictures, something I’m now sad I didn’t do).

This race is also incredibly small (fewer than 100 people between the three distances), which I think I’ve decided I liked. I don’t usually love running by myself, and part of the reason I enjoy races so much is that being surrounded by so many people makes me faster. But in a race like this, I feel like that may just be dangerous; in a road race, it’s easy to tune out a bit and let the energy from the crowd move you, but on a trail you can’t really put yourself on autopilot. I can’t, anyway. If I stopped paying attention for even a second, I would trip and end up ass- or face-planting. So the fact that I did end up running alone for much of this race was actually a good thing, and I found myself surprisingly content with it.

My only complaint about the race has exactly nothing to do with the race and is really just a complaint about myself: I suck at running downhill. I keep telling myself (and anyone who asks how the race went) that I was so slow on the descents because the trail was so wet and scary and because I was being extra cautious not to hurt myself before vacation. There’s definitely truth to that, but the real problem is that I just get scared running downhill anyway and it always slows me down. Even if trail conditions are perfect. I’m not sure what I expected from a race that runs up and down nine peaks, but I guess part of me was hoping that these particular downhills would be easy. That part of me was sorely disappointed.

Ignore how disgustingly sweaty I am. The important thing here is my "wahhh, this is too slippery and scary" face
Please just ignore how disgustingly sweaty I am. The important thing here is my “wahhh, this is too slippery and scary” face. Also, I swear it was more downhill-y here than it looks like in the picture.
This was the part where I said to myself, "I just want to be done, and the sooner I man up and run these descents, the sooner that will happen"
This was the part where I said to myself, “Well, I just want to be done, and the sooner I man up and run these descents, the sooner that will happen.” Cue Klilan arms. (Still ignore my sweaty head, please.)

To make matters worse, somewhere between miles 10 and 15, I kicked a rock really hard, and was sure that I messed up my foot. Shortly after that, my right IT band decided to have sympathy pains. Both were bearably painful on the uphills and flats, but excruciating on the downhills–as if I didn’t already hate them enough. (Don’t worry, I had my foot X-rayed when I got back from Colorado and nothing was broken. Phew!) Hm, it appears as though we’re back to talking about me instead of the race. Sorry about that. The point is that other than hating running down nine mountains, there was nothing about this race I didn’t like and I’m looking forward to running it at least one more time to see how much my time improves when the weather is nicer and I don’t have a trip looming in the immediate future.

I *say* I want to run again to see how much better I can do, but the fat kid in me really just wants another finisher's "medal"
I say I’ll run the race again to see how much better I can do, but the fat kid in me really just wants another “medal”

I’ll wrap this up before the post gets any longer: this race was awesome. The size of the field lends itself nicely to a sort of “intimate competitiveness” and draws in some really impressive runners. The trail is a ton of fun, and would be absolutely gorgeous on a nice day. The aid stations are just where you want/need them to be (a special thank you to the last one for having Tylenol and Ginger Ale, which were exactly what I needed to get me through the last four miles), and are manned by really sweet volunteers. And instead of an actual medal that would have just gone in my closet to hide with the others, I got a delicious maple candy moose at the end. I certainly can’t complain about that.

As for my goals?

  • Finish, not last–check.
  • Beat Tim–not check (oh well).
  • Don’t get lost–mostly check (there were a few wrong turns, but I realized each of them pretty quickly and didn’t lose too much time).
  • Don’t poop–check!
  • Don’t get hurt–check(ish…I may have been told by a doctor to not run for a few weeks, but I didn’t break anything!).

I’m going to go ahead and call that four out of five. And if Tim wasn’t so fast at running downhill, I–and probably a few other runners–could have maybe beat him. I guess I know what I’ll be working on this summer.

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