As I stated in a previous post, every race is a new adventure. Yesterday proved this to be true as I lined up with 164 other people who know how to enjoy life and attempted a new challenge, Hells Hills 25K (15.8 miles), what I now consider a ‘not so easy’ trail as I had been lead to believe. I kept thinking that as I ran. “This is not an easy trail!” There were other racers doing 10K, 50K and 50 mile distances on the same course. Huge applause to those who did more than one loop of this and special awe to those who ran FAST. I wish I could just sit in a tree, or maybe a chair, in the woods and watch those speed-demons fly up and down those rocky hills! Yes, there were a few easier stretches, thank you!, but even those were mostly uphill, of course. The trails of Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville , Texas are made for mountain bikers. I have no idea how they can ride on some of that stuff. You literally have spots on the trail that squeeze between two pine trees. Then there are multiple times where you run/slide/scoot/fall down a steep ravine and scramble up the other side. Most of my limited trail running is on dirt trails without rocks. This race had rocks and gravel mixed in with pine needles. It seemed odd and my feet started really hurting. I didn’t wear shoes with rock plates. Live and learn!
The mechanics of the race
So let’s move to the interesting parts of the race experience! I went to the race with a friend. Due to a rough week, she hadn’t been able to run at all. She wanted to take it easy and just enjoy the race at her pace. I was feeling more competitive, but I made a couple of attempts to stay with her. I finally admitted to myself that I wanted to run faster than she did that day and so I took off alone. The trail is a single track , meaning single file running. I had let a group of runners pass me while waiting for my friend to catch up. My new goal became to catch up to and pass those runners. I started running as hard as I could at a pace that would not leave me gasping for air and also still be able to keep my footing on the rocks and ups and downs. This means I was running much slower than I do on the road, but fast enough to feel challenging. I kept it up until the second aid station, meanwhile passing a few people. At the aid station, several people stopped to refill water bottles and I was able to run past them since I had a water belt. After that , the course got more flat and less rocks, not easy but easier. There was only one guy in sight ahead of me and no one behind me. I felt a little spooked in the forest ‘alone’. So I determined to keep that guy in my sights. He had a Houston Marathon shirt on so I referred to him in my thoughts as Marathon man. “Where are you Marathon man?!” He was running fast and I had to really push. I kept losing sight of him in the dense trees. I was having a total blast chasing him! This was my favorite part of the race. Finally after at least 10-15 minutes I actually caught up to him, but not for long, he was too fast and slipped away. By then we had caught up to some other runners, a few here and there. I was able to pass a few more and also got passed by some fast guys, probably guys on their second loop for the 50K. I talked to a few people along the way as it got harder and more painful to run . There was pink shirt girl, older Mexican guy, friendly high-fiving guy who kept reappearing , and Crossfit guy who was talked into running the race even though he doesn’t run. The last section was the most difficult by far with more rocks, steep climbs and switchbacks and seemingly constant up and downs. Finally it was obvious by my watch we were getting close to the end and I tried not to slow down even though it hurt . I was pretty ecstatic when we came out onto some smoother downhill trail and headed to the finish line that was still out of sight but not too far away. Forgot to mention that I nearly fell down a ravine when I stumbled and headed off the trail. My legs were getting so weak that I had a hard time stopping myself. That was a close one but a funny memory now. The finish line was very anti-climactic being a small trail race. A few people along the final stretch yelled and clapped, and a couple of people congratulated me and I was given a medal at the finish line. Final time 3:07. Yes, three hours to run a little less than 16 miles. I can do that on the road much faster. Trails are tough! I told pink shirt girl and older Mexican guy congrats when I saw them come in. Gulped down some flat ginger ale and coke and sprite. Grabbed a couple bites of fruit, but knew better than to eat a lot at that point. I usually need a little time to relax before eating and drinking. Then I walked around and waited for my friend to come in. She wasn’t far behind and she had a good race without me. We were both cold and hungry and ready to go home and shower and eat real food so we left shortly after checking official results. I got 16th in my age group. I now have a PR to beat!
The emotional and spiritual side of the race
This is the part of running that keeps me coming back. The physical side is challenging and exciting, but it’s exhausting and without these other benefits, I might not be willing to suffer so much. When you run for any amount of time over 15 minutes, you have to either listen to music or be able to entertain yourself in other ways. I didn’t take my music this race since I planned to be with my friend chatting. So as I took off without her I thought to myself, I have no music. The need for constant vigilance on the trail will keep you pretty busy or you will fall on your face. But there is still time to think. Yesterday I spent time praying for people I know who are going through hard times. I also thanked God for His constant love and care and blessings. I truly have a life that many people just don’t understand. It probably looks like a hard life to many and I often hear things like, ” You inspire me!”. They don’t realize that I am so blessed by my life. I love my six children. I love my daughter and don’t really think much about her condition, Miller-Dieker Syndrome. I love my hard working husband. Love my friends! And so on…. I also thought about the scene around me. What a beautiful place! As I said, pine trees, rocks, empty river beds, fallen trees, and at one point, we came out of the forest to the bluebonnet covered field in the photo below. As I emerged from the woods, I remembered that the race director had posted a teaser on facebook about a beautiful view. Wow, stunned silence. It was glorious and smelled so good. Many runners actually stopped and took photos during the race, it was that awesome. Then later I came to the edge of a high spot on the trail and was treated to a panoramic vista of green hills. Texas is a beautiful place in the Spring before the drought comes! I also had thoughts such as , I will pass you! And , please move so I can pass you. Thank you, great job! That was the polite thing that every runner said as they passed on the single track. Great job! Other times I talked to myself about not slowing down and doing my best. Do your best! became my mantra during those last hard two miles. What the f@ck ?! was a frequent and sometimes verbalized thought as I came to yet another deep ravine. After all was said and done and I arrived back at mi casa, my thoughts were on food/bacon, rest, rehydrating and reliving the race in my mind. Today I am reading about it on Facebook and see how others are also reliving the experience and giving thanks for the help of friends at the race. I love Facebook for that reason. It’s a great tool.
Now I look forward to the next race in three weeks. Until then my knee has a little time to recover. God bless you and happy running!!
The photos below were taken from another time I ran this race after I wrote this.