I am very glad Brennan and I showed up to run the 10 miler at the Febapple Frozen Fifty on the correct day after all! If we hadn’t, I would not have had the most fun race of my life this past weekend. Usually, I do not use the word “fun” in the same sentence as “race.” “Run,” yes. “Workout,” I’ll admit it, yes. But racing has always intimidated me to the point where it wasn’t fun, it was just, well, it was a race! A race is a race, fun doesn’t apply! This race totally changed that for me. The event was put on by the NJ Trail Series. The first thing I saw when I visited their website was the sentence:
“The goal of the NJ Trail Series is to make running FUN again.”
My first reaction was, if I always think running is fun, that means this race could be EXTRA fun! Who doesn’t like extra fun?! So, put two and two together and you will understand (maybe?) that I was not going into this thinking I was “racing.”
We were greeted by mist and fog in the morning, with the temperature expected to be about 37 degrees at the start. After literally dumping my running clothes drawer on the floor and debating wearing every different possible combination of clothing, I dressed in tights and a single long sleeved shirt. I then stuffed about three more outfits in my backpack (none of which I changed into post-race, I will explain why momentarily). We got there pretty early. The 10 mile start was at 10:00, so late compared to our long runs lately! We wanted to get in two miles beforehand, but still had plenty of time. I paid and got my bib (they took me off the waitlist – I procrastinate with registration so much!), and then we took some pictures in our new SWAG: really warm navy blue fleece vests! The little white square has the Febapple logo. This might be my new favorite wardrobe addition.
Fast-forward to the start. I saw some runners who I knew from the store. We chatted and wished each other luck, and with a “ready, go!” from one of the race directors, we set off. I have a habit of looking at everyone’s shoes – this is just what happens when you work in a running store. However, I was really noticing everyone’s shoes before and during this race. The trail conditions were bad. We had been warned. I was staying true to my trusty Ravennas, though. Sans Yaktraks. At the store we used to joke about what conditions really require those contraptions…no more! Let me tell you when Yaktraks are needed: during this race. All the trails were covered in ice, half slippery and half slushy. I’m not going to lie, I did feel a little more badass passing people on the really technical sections who were wearing hardcore trail shoes.
The first mile of the race was on the road, strangely. I was with Brennan then, who was wearing her Garmin. Our first mile was 7:31, faster than we had planned, but we knew we would have to slow down on the trails soon enough….
The first few miles on trails was all about finding a good place and getting used to the trails. It was my first time at South Mountain Reservation, so I didn’t know the trails as well as places like Washington Crossing…and what would happen to them under these conditions. At the first big climb after the second mile (which was 8:23), nearly everyone around me slowed to a walk. It was a pretty steep climb, but definitely runnable. My energy level had not diminished at all, so I ran up the thing just fine. I could understand saving my energy for a very long race, but given that it was only 10 miles…that hill was runnable to me. “Only 10 miles” – I’ll accept this mindset, especially for March 17th, thanks.
Most of the trails were single-track, which made passing difficult. Especially when there was an icy snowbank of sorts to your left and snowed-over shrubbery to your right. Patience was definitely key, and I think I learned a lot about how to judge my energy level and not pass anyone unless I felt I didn’t need to speed up to do it.
Whoa, whoa. Meghan, you said you weren’t racing! What is this crazy talk about passing people, and judging your energy level?
Ha.Well you see…around the fourth mile something switched in my mind, subconsciously. I was wearing a bib number. I was enjoying passing people. I was wondering how many women were ahead of me and if I could catch them at some point. Gosh darn it, I was racing. You caught me.
I was still really comfortable though. Because I was running on some pretty crazy trails (Wow, a ledge! With ice on the rim! Let’s walk for a few seconds so we don’t die shall we…) in some crazy conditions not conducive to fast times whatsoever…this was still a long run to me; I was not trying to hit a certain pace. The pace also varied so much, depending on what obstacle was placed in front of us. Sometimes, we walked. There was no way we could run without falling on our faces. Other times, we slid, holding on to tree trunks. And when there was a stretch of trail ahead that didn’t look slippery, we flew. At least, that was my strategy (ha – I made this up midway through!). In fact, I was able to run faster and stronger on the flats and the non-slippery hills because I had to slow down and be so careful on the icy downhills. Sometimes the difficult stretches would last a couple minutes, and my heart rate would go down considerably, almost as if I were doing an interval workout.
By the time I was around fifty minutes (there were no mile markers and I was now sans Garmin-clad running buddy), I was having the time of my life. My head was just full of positive thoughts – about the course, about how I felt like I was made for this, about what I would write in my blog post about the race (I think the post I wrote in my head was actually better than this, sorry), about how awesome the half marathon is going to be. And yeah, I thought about if I would eventually see another woman in front of me and pass her. I had no idea what place I was in.
There was an aid station around mile seven. It was there that I spotted a teal Brooks Utopia Hoodie. Translation: someone who was probably the woman currently in first! I was feeling fine but I wasn’t about to sprint after her…I made it my goal to try to catch her by the end of the race. She stopped for water and I did not. I felt no need to drink water at the time, or take any gels, both of which I discovered many runners did, even though it was only 10 miles (again with this new relative distance perspective – this is nice!).
The trail got very slick right after the aid station – about a straight mile of very slow running and trying to find the best places to put one foot in front of the other. I swear, this was a workout for my brain as well. At the end of that part, I passed the woman. And then took off. I didn’t want to be passed back! I decided that if I did, I would be fine with that. But really, why not see what I had left in the tank? It felt like a lot – I was still having so much fun! Shortly after, there was a cute little bridge (covered in ice, of course), and then a narrow stream crossing with a waterfall to the left! I felt like I was in a North Face ad…wearing Brooks and Nike, but that’s beside the point. A very steep climb followed, at the top of which was a guy walking and looking defeated. I think I said something to him, but I don’t remember what. After that was when I saw a lot of runners coming the opposite way, either on one of their laps of the 20 miler, 50K, or 50 miler, or possibly on a slow trek to finish the 10 miler. I said “great job” to nearly all of them, I was feeling so good. As my watch approached 1:20, I knew I should be expecting the finish relatively soon, but I had no idea exactly when. There were a lot of icy patches on the way in, or I would have picked up the pace even more just for fun! I tried to spot the familiar start and finish area, but the fog was so dense I wasn’t sure what was through the trees. Pretty soon I was there, and stopped as I crossed a line drawn with orange spray paint on the snow. I stopped my watch and it read: 1:30:00. Not too shabby! That sounded about right, taking into account the times had to walk on ice…and the times I felt like I was flying. I told a guy sitting in a truck next to the finish line that I had finished the 10 miles. Once I confirmed I had stayed on course (which was so well marked even in the snow and rain – big props to the NJ Trail Series!) and passed all the landmarks (bridges, aid stations), the guy said, “Then congrats, you’re the first woman finisher!” YAY. An added bonus: when I checked the results the next day, I saw that to my surprise, I was second overall! I had no idea. I guess I had passed everyone I saw on the course! Why I did not win the whole thing: a guy who ran nineteen minutes faster than me. Craziness – he must have been running six minute pace on the dry parts! I am just going to assume he was the guy I saw wearing Nike Victory XCs at the start.
The woman in the Brooks hoodie finished not long after, and we congratulated each other and talked about the course. I cheered Brennan in – she did really well too!
So, I didn’t end up spending $50 for just a long run after all – I won some sweet prizes in addition to the complimentary fleece vest: a Camelback and a “keepsake apple!”
My hands were so cold after the race that my gloves got stuck to my hands and Brennan had to pull them off for me…ouch. I am currently missing my left Brooks Adapt glove, the best glove invention ever. This tragedy happened at some point after my run on Thursday – you can imagine my dismay when I realized how perfect they would be for a run in these conditions (cold…misty…Brooks made this glove for the Febapple). 😦 I’m hoping it turns up…clearly they are better than the ones that almost had to be cut off of my skin Saturday.
Overall, this race was awesome because it was perfect for me. First, I did all my long runs in college up the mountain at Washington Crossing. I never ran it with tons of ice on the ground, but definitely in mud and rain. I do so much trail running, yet race on the roads! It’s kind of like how I did so much biking and swimming for years, yet only just started racing triathlons. There is something to be said for playing to your strengths. I’d like to alternatively word it: seeing your hard work pay off. I am also known to be, or at least, I hope to be this kind of person, rather relentless when it comes to training, and working at anything, generally. I think Jason Aldean puts it best:
The feeling of scrambling up those icy hills and pushing hard on the dry parts, just rolling on steadily over ten miles, was my kind of feeling.
Let’s just say I have some things to prove to myself on the roads in the meantime, but NJ Trail Series – I will most definitely be back! I recommend their races to anyone, except maybe if you’re that runner who sprains your ankles on potholes and uneven grass. Maybe do some 4-way Theraband exercises before registering.