This past weekend I learned the true reason I like trail running. I tell people it’s because of the softer surface and the scenery but during the Greenland 25K on Saturday I learned that my true love for trails lies along mountainsides on steep, technical climbs…NOT on smooth, rolling climbs that are completely runnable. The amount of internal whining I did during this race is rather embarrassing…
On Saturday morning I made the drive down to Larkspur [aka, almost Colorado Springs] to take on the Greenland 25K as part of the Runners Roost team. I had high hopes for a strong training race that would give me a good feel for where I stood with the random marathon training I’ve been doing. I had no time goals but I really wanted to feel strong and run the whole race without truly hating myself while exerting the same level of effort throughout the race, regardless of my pace.
Looking back it wasn’t exactly a fun race for brain but I hit all my goals – I ran at a very steady exertion [although I knew my pace dropped on my second loop] and while I didn’t exactly feel “strong” I did feel fully capable throughout the race. I also got quite the reality check of exactly what it is like to run for 15 miles straight…turns out I really like hiking up the technical climbs I usually plan my trail runs around!
The first few miles were uneventful. I started out further back then I should have and spent some time weaving and bobbing along the trail as I settled into the pace. By the second mile we had all spread out and running was easy as we climbed a “barely there” hill that would eventually drop us down to the 3.5 mile aid station. I was happy for the slight descent into the AS but I noticed right a way I had to put some real effort into picking up the pace on the downhill…apparently my body wasn’t on board with the concept of “just let gravity pull you”. This is when I knew it was going to be a long day.
I refilled my water bottle, grabbed a handful of salty pretzel twists and headed back out onto the trail…for a long climb up completely runnable trail. As I watched the runners ahead of my switchback up a rolling hill I added one more goal to my day – run every step of the race! At this point, barely 4 miles into the race, I was feeling pretty good on the uphill and focused on keeping my effort level consistent.
After the long climb we spent a few miles loping up and down smaller rolling hills before we dropped into the 8 mile aid station, which had a short out/back that took runners out for their 2nd-4th loops. This was one of the quietest out/back stretches I have ever run! No one was talking – the runners weren’t chatting with those around them, the spectators were really spread out waiting for their runners and even the aid station was calm. It was weird, surreal almost.
The aid station had very little to offer – just gels/chews and water/HEED so I was back out on the trail in just a few seconds…back to the shade-less trail for another 8 miles in the bright morning sunshine. At the beginning of my second loop I fell into step with another runner and we chatted a bit until the uphill climbs had us using all our energy to breathe.
As I started down into the aid station out on the loop I dug out a double espresso shot gel I had tucked in my pack. For the last few miles I’d been oddly aware of this gel burning a hole in my pocket – it was the one shot I had at putting a little life into my legs but I hate gels with a fiery passion. I wrapped my mind around the possibility of projectile vomiting on the side of the trail, ripped off the top of the gel and took the entire thing over the next half mile…without even feeling the urge to vomit. I TOOK A WHOLE GEL! This is a huge deal, for the past few years I’ve always mixed them with water in a handheld just to get them down but this time I managed to swallow the gel [albeit, in three “bites”] with a water chaser. There just might be hope for me as a runner after all…
After that gel I sucked down all my water. At the next aid station I let the volunteers fill my bottles as I inhaled some more salty [but oh, so dry!] pretzels…where were the potato chips?! As I left the aid station I pulled the visor of my hat down and just stared at the ground ahead of me as I ran uphill. The trail was busier now as the 25K’ers started lapping the back-to-mid pack 50K’ers and while the trail was still oddly silent I had other people to distract me from the stupid runnable hill. As I neared the top of the biggest climb I’m fairly certain hiking would have been faster and more efficient but no…I was running all these stupid hills because I’m stubborn like that!
I was secretly hoping my legs would throw a party on the final descent and just let loose but they were not having it. Nothing hurt, nothing was heavy or lazy, nothing was tired…they just weren’t moving as fast as I knew they could have been! It was frustrating, knowing my body was capable of more but not being able to make it happen! I’d glance at my watch, mutter some profanities and try to kick it in a bit without letting my heart rate/breathing go crazy but it wasn’t working! The gel did help as my pace vs effort was better now than it was a mile ago but I knew it could have been better…maybe I should have had two gels?
Even in the final stretch to the finish line on relatively flat ground my legs were not the springy, happy getaway sticks I knew they were capable of being after far more miles on the trail. Ultimately, I was disappointed in my legs’ ability to perform. I’m not sure what their problem was but I’m assuming it had to do with nutrition, heat and electrolytes. Oh, and the fact they had not been training for such long, runnable stretches – they’ve spend more time on technical terrain or very flat ground.
I crossed the finish line with an official time of 2:39:54 which put me at a 10:18 minute/mile pace. Considering the hills it’s not a bad time but I know my body is capable of better, even without course-specific training! However, I learned a lot running this race and I’m glad I made the trip south to get a bit of a reality check in regards to my training. Plus, it was a beautiful day!
After snagging a bottle of water at the finish line I headed back out to the aid station in hopes of catching Jeremy before he headed out for his fourth loop [he was running the 50K]. Throughout the race the possibility of him lapping me was a huge motivator to keep moving – the 50K’ers got a 30 minute head start and the front runners passed me as I hit the turnaround for my second loop. I knew he was back there somewhere and I did NOT want him to lap me, especially not in the final mile or so of my race! Turns out I was only about 10 minutes away from getting passed as he was in the aid station getting food as I arrived with his pack of snacks.
I spent the next two hours or so helping out at the aid station, cheering on runners, chatting with the Roost team and refueling with some finish line pizza. It really was a beautiful day! I’m so glad I wasn’t out on the course for a third or fourth lap because the sun was relentless but it was a great day to be chilling in the grass, taking in the world around you!
It might not have been a perfect race day for me but I learned a thing or two about my body, ate an entire gel without hating myself and finished my first 25K. I topped off my weekend by pacing a friend as she took on her first half marathon at the Colorado Marathon/Half in Fort Collins. Race season is definitely in full swing here in Colorado!