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V-Day (Half) Marathon Race Report Lessons from a Snowy Trail Run

Posted Feb 13 2011 8:42pm

Valentine's Day Marathon Logo (from Facebook Page)

I was supposed to run 26.2 on trails today for Valentine’s Day Marathon . This was supposed to be my final exam to see if I was ready to run a 50K which is now a month away.  Although I personally did not have high expectations for this race, I thought I had at least a decent chance of finishing.  I had suffered through a 20 mile run last weekend.  I ran 16 miles with a friend at 10:10 pace on Thursday to practice slowing down.  And despite a nasty cold that’s been lingering for 2 weeks, I fueled well, slept well, got up early, got all my fuel and gear ready (including a new pair of trail shoes – Saucony Xodus 2.0) and got up to Van Cortlandt in plenty of time.  I was ready to RUN.

Unfortunately, the course was more than a bit unkind today.  Instead of trails and thinly packed snow, me and about 200 other runners were greeted with slippery ice, long sections of unpaved snow and steep climbs with untraversed tracks that made just hiking an adventure.  Much of the course were covered in soft snow so deep that running wasn’t even an option.  My ankle was turning every which way and my calves were burning with every step from mile 1.5 on.  I was hating life by mile 3!  Luckily, I rebounded, gave myself in to the conditions and tempered my expectations for the kind of run I would be having today.

I finished up the first loop (6.53 miles) and went for one more.  I’m not even sure why or what I was expecting but although my pace quickened a tad, I was still walking every other mile and questioning my sanity by mile 10.  At mile 12, I was passed by the Valentine’s Day lady running with her angel wings who paced me the rest of the way.  In the end, I was physically exhausted and it was all i could do to make it back to where it all started.

My finishing time for 13.1 miles was 2:22:13, easily my worst in a half marathon.  But despite the treacherous conditions and a less-than-pleasant experience negotiating tough snowy trails, I learned a lot about myself, my equipment, and trail running today.  It made me realize that sometimes the toughest lessons are those we never intend to learn.

In no specific order, here’s what I learned from my trail half marathon today:

  1. I run roads like a roadrunner but run trails like a fish out of water.
  2. Never go to war without your weapons.  Don’t run trails without trail shoes.
  3. Make up your mind to go or stop before you approach the aid station.
  4. Be clear on what and when to eat before you start.  Once you start, stick to the plan.
  5. If you can get the running out of your head while running, the rest will become easier.
  6. When running on insecure footing, take smaller strides, quicken your turnover, and above all else relax.
  7. Trail running is a form of cross training.
  8. Your emotions on a long trail run will waver as much as the topography.  Acknowledge them, break through and keep going.
  9. Trail conditions are relative.  You will love and hate the same patch of dirt and snow depending on what precedes and what is to come.
  10. Pace is meaningless in a trail run.  What’s most important is keeping the body moving, the spirit enthused and the mind focused on the finish line.
  11. I really need a hydration pack.  Handhelds aren’t safe when you need your hands for balancing and negotiating terrain.
  12. Running fast makes me happy.  Running long and slow, not so much.
  13. Finishing half a race is not as good as finishing the whole thing but it’s still way better than not running at all.
Congrats to all those who also made it out to tackle the snow with me today!  Although a bit tiring, it sure was fun. I’ll be back for the next installation, as long as the snow melts and there are actual trails for me to run!

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