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Old Mountain 5K Trail Race Recap

Posted Dec 20 2011 6:38pm

[Edited to add: I forgot to mention that I ran this race without my Garmin or any sort of watch. Garmins tend to be inaccurate on trails anyway. It was weird to run an entire race without any feedback along the way (I'm used to at least having a regular stop watch or some sort of time keepers at the mile markers) but it was also strangely freeing. Definitely something I'm going to do more often.]

On Sunday, I ran my last race of 2011. It wasn’t my fastest race of the year, and it certainly wasn’t my furthest. But I did learn a few very important lessons:

1.) A race that is marketed as a trail race with “technical portions” is probably not going to be like the cross country courses I ran on in high school and college.

2.) All it takes is a personal email from the Race Director to erase any frustration about a race mix up and make me excited about doing the next one in the series.

And most importantly,

3.) 23 degrees is not too cold to run in shorts…as long as you have a pair of soccer socks to cover your calves. (Did you hear that, Dad? I’m still staying strong with  No Tights December !)

Oh, and a beautiful pair of “precious” gloves to keep your hands warm.

precious gloves

But, I should probably back up a little bit.

A few weeks ago while researching winter races, I came across the South County 4th Season Race Series and discovered that their inaugural race, a trail 5K, was being held the weekend before Christmas. After telling EC how trail races can be fun and make you feel like you’re just playing in the woods, he agreed to run the thing with me.

So on the coldest morning of the year so far, EC and I made the trek down to South Kingstown for our first non-relay race together – the Old Mountain 5K Trail race . At that point, I can’t say either of us were all that thrilled to be racing in frigid temperatures. But since neither of us wanted to be the wimp who bailed on the other, we sucked it up and tried to pump each other up.

It was only after we had gotten to the field and started doing a warm up that I realized that neither of us really had any idea what we were getting ourselves into. Before the race, I figured I knew all about trail racing. I had run cross country, after all, so clearly I knew what it was like to race on trails, grass, and rocky hills.

A few seconds of warming up on the race course was all it took to make me realize that this was no cross country-style trail. This was a small, narrow path through the woods with streams to cross, rocks to climb, and tiny bridges to run over. This was the type of trail we used to practice slow, easy runs on – not race. As we scrabbled over countless roots and tried to find the narrow track through the woods, a poor shocked EC remarked, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to run any faster than this!”

trail rocks.jpgThis was not the actual trail we raced on, but I swear some parts looked like this!

( Source )

We finished our jog and starting making the final preparations with one last stop at the porta-potties. Unfortunately, not everyone was quite as prepared as the two of us were. The registration/check in line was longer than ever. In order to give all the runners in line a chance to get their numbers, the race was going to be delayed a half an hour.

A race delay on a normal day is frustrating. Having one on a day when it’s nearly impossible to keep warm is pretty much torture. Finally, after what felt like forever, EC and I joined the clump of people on the field for the start. There was no marked starting line, and until the Race Director came out and explained the beginning of the course to us, I couldn’t even tell what direction we were going in. I tried to work my way around the mass of bodies to get near the front but was not successful. And then, with a simple, “On your mark, get set, go!” from the RD we were off! I said goodbye to EC and surged out.

The course started on a wide open stretch of grass but then almost immediately converged into a very narrow section that ran around the edge of a baseball field. It was impossible to get any sort of position on the steeply sloped bank. As soon as it flattened out, I knew I only had a short window to get around people before the woods. So I weaved and bobbed as much as I could, passing the one woman that I could see in front of me.

Once we got into the woods, everyone just kind of settled in. We were running in a single file line and the only thing I had to do was follow the feet in front of me. I couldn’t help but think how fun this little run in the woods was….until it hit me that the leisurly pace I was keeping wasn’t exactly a 5K race pace. Since there wasn’t really anything I could do about it at the moment, I just followed closely behind the runner in front and waited for my time to strike.

That first mile was definitely the hardest. After running over a series of small wooden bridges and a section with rocks piled everywhere, we hit a huge, seemingly never ending hill. I tried not to look up at the stream of runners ascending ahead of me and just laughed as my legs stopped moving with any sort of speed. It was all I could do not to climb up that thing on all fours.

trail bridge.jpgAgain, not the real course – but we also ran over a lot of little bridges like this

( Source )

After that part, the course became more of a blur. There were little orange flags lining the route, signs with arrows on them pointing out the turns, and mile markers at every mile. But since I wasn’t wearing a watch, I had absolutely no idea how fast I was going when I hit that first mile marker. I figured that between the bottle-necked start and the steep hills, it was probably pretty slow. I tried to focus on picking up the pace and slowly reeling in the runners ahead of me.

But the trail didn’t get much easier from that point on. At one point in the course, it all but disappeared, leaving nothing but the little orange flags and line of runners ahead to guide me through the underbrush. I crossed so many little streams that I stopped counting after the second one. And we ran across and down surfaces covered with large, slick rocks where all I could think about was putting my feet down carefully enough so that I wouldn’t fall.

During this long section of the course, a ton of thoughts were going through my head:

I can’t feel my legs!

Good thing I can’t feel my legs – it means I can’t feel the scratches I’m getting from all this brush.

This is amazing!!

Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Don’t fall.

Ugh. I forgot how long the second mile of a 5K feels. Where is that sign!?

This course must be marked wrong. I know I must’ve run at least 4 miles by this point!

Oh, two miles. Phew. Okay, you’re going to make it. Just hold on.

This is amazing!!

I’m so tired. Am I really this out of shape?

The course opened up and crossed over some grassy fields and a short section of bike path. You’d think that at this point I would be happy to have flat ground under me, but I hated it. Flat ground meant I actually had to pick up the pace. And my lead-filled legs and burning lungs did not want to move even the slightest bit faster.

I had no idea how I was doing or how fast I was running. I figured I wasn’t going to be setting any new records today, but I did know that there was a chance I was one of the first women. I tried to keep pushing myself along, but I admit – it is a little hard to stay motivated to move fast when I know I’m not going to be running even close to PR pace.

Just as I was struggling to find ways to keep myself pushing, a volunteer who was directing runners saw me and shouted, “Go!! First woman!!!!” That was all the motivation I needed. I can’t say that I suddenly shifted gears into an impressively fast pace, but I did try my best not to slip back.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, I could hear the cheers of the finish. We were still back in the woods though, winding along a narrow path and climbing down rocks. I couldn’t see anything (or even sprint for that matter), but I let that sweet sound of the crowd pull me in.

I crossed the finish line in a blistering 23:31, so excited to be done. EC finished a few minutes later with a huge smile on his face. He kept telling me how awesome that was. And how he bet he had more fun than I did, since he was just running along at a steady pace instead of trying to kill himself on that tough course.

Oh EC, don’t you know by now that I think trying to run fast is fun!?


I excitedly told him that I thought I was the first woman, so we hung around for a little bit for the awards. But when the overall winners were announced, instead of hearing my name, the RD called out someone else. She seemed shocked, and hesitated for a minute but then had no problem going up to accept her prize. I was confused, but we were running a trail race, after all. And she was standing in a group with some of the faster guys who had run that day. So I just figured that she had gotten ahead of me right from the start and I never saw her in the woods.

I got called up for winning my age group and happily accepted a new pair of Saucony arm warmers – in lime green, of course. Since we had a Christmas party to get to, we left as soon as my name was called. I tried to put the whole thing out of my mind (I had still won a prize, after all!) but secretly I couldn’t wait until the results went up so that I could go back and check.

saucony xc arm warmer green

The next morning I woke up to a very exciting email:


Thank you for running the Old Mountain 5k Trail Race. It came to my attention while processing the results that there was a mix up with bib numbers and the women’s overall winner was announced in error…it was in fact, YOU! Congratulations and my apologies on the mistake. Please accept a free entry into the next race for the error.
Preliminary results are posted at:
Race pictures and more information on future races will soon be posted to the series website:
Thanks again and nice running,
Mike Galoob

It’s funny how much a simple email can change your entire perspective on a race. I had won!! My first time with an actual race win!

When could I sign up for the next one!?

Overall, I had a great time at my first real trail race. It was tough, but I loved that it was basically one big obstacle course from start to finish. I definitely think these races need to be a part of my regular rotation. And I think EC might be hooked right along with me.

Final stats:

Time: 23:31 (7:35/mile) - in comparison, the winning male crossed in 19:17. So that means everyone was slowed down a bit, right?

Place (overall): 23/146

Place (females): 1!

And just in case you’re looking for even more reasons to ditch the Garmin , there was an interesting (and timely for this blog!) article published in the NY Times yesterday about just how unreliable our beloved GPS watches can be . I especially loved reading the Great GPS Test that the article linked to. Where does your watch stack up?

I think it’s important to realize that GPS watches aren’t always 100% accurate but these articles DO make me think – with any of the Garmin tests, I’m just wondering – how is the “accurate” distance actually determined? The NY Times article references Google Maps, but I’m curious as to how we can trust that that is more accurate than the distance calculated by a GPS watch? I’m no expert, but I wouldn’t think that it is…

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