After 16 half marathons, 2 full marathons, 1 10K, and countless 5K races, it was time to tackle the 15K...and not only that, but let's give trail running a go! Why not, right?
The spring season of 2017 has been slated to be my first season of ultra marathon training. There is definitely a power that comes from running friends. They talk you into the craziest things. My friend, Cassie, and I had talked about tackling an ultra marathon for summer of 2017, as it is the around the time of her 30th birthday and something she wanted to accomplish by then. For me, I said, "Hey, what's 5 more miles over a marathon? Sure! I'm in!" Along the way, we talked another friend, Jennifer, into running a 50K with us in May 2017. Enter: training season.
Somewhere around the holidays, I start to plan out my racing calendar for the following year. My husband and I have agreed that I can run 8 total "big" races (meaning more than 10K) per year. Since our family is young and training takes up every Saturday morning as it is, it is a fair agreement. So, let's fill up that calendar, right? Since I have several races planned that I have never run before, I am excited to blog about each of them here. First up, Fallen Timbers 15K.
I need to be clear: I had no idea what I was getting into with this race. I had never run a trail race, and am honestly fairly inexperienced in trail running all together. I had also never ran the 15K distance before. So, what does that mean? Automatic PR, of course! A couple of key factors caused me to give into peer pressure on this one: The cost when I signed up was $15. And it was only about 40 minutes from my house. Oh, AND the prize at the end was a mug. Coffee lovers unite!! Let's just say, it doesn't take a whole lot to make me happy. Friends, running, and the promise of good food and coffee at the end!
So, let's get on with race day, shall we?
My friends and I carpooled and arrived at about 8:00 a.m. for the 9:00 a.m. start. Parking was at a church across the street from the property in Wayne County, West Virginia. There were porta-potties at the starting area, so we opted for the restroom inside the local grocery store near where we parked. A shuttle took us to the starting area with no problems. The volunteers were friendly and there was a campfire set up to keep us warm as we waited. Registration/bib pick up was simple and no frills. We were encouraged to leave a drop bag in a large white van, which would meet us at the finish line. After an explanation of the route (basically it was a butterfly shape over a mountain), our eyes glazed over and we just nodded, "okay." Follow the orange markings. Got it.
The irony of this race was that a tree had fallen right over the main road shortly before the start. One of my friends was in that stopped traffic, trying to get to the race. We were told several people were still trying to make it in and they would allow them to have a late start and complete the course. For a race called "Fallen Timbers," it sure does live up to its name! As far as we were told, no one was seriously hurt in the accident, but one car did become a convertible in the process!
Everyone lined up on the dirt road and the verbal countdown and gunshot went off. A friend who ran this course before warned me not to use all my energy up front. She was right. Jennifer took off and I knew I wouldn't keep up. I was running in old running shoes because I never invested in trail shoes (newbie, remember?), and it was okay.
Mud was plentiful, as it had rained quite a bit for about two weeks prior, but the cold chill and 30-degree temps allowed the ground to harden just enough to help in some areas, though not all. It didn't take long to start an ascent up the mountain. The small crowd thinned even more with each step. Cassie and I ended up running together for just about the entire course, which made it super fun to experience it together with a friend. As we FINALLY got to the top of the first mountain, there was a friendly aid station waiting with cups of water and probably other things. All I wanted was a sip of water and to keep going. We hadn't even hit the first mile yet.
The next few miles were a series of ups and downs, but many areas were wide enough for at least two runners. We kept our eyes open for the little orange flags and markings and other runners up ahead. Winding down another side of the mountain, a few black cows were chilling out randomly. I had to stop and take a picture, and Cassie humored me. A younger kid passed us with ease, like he runs this property every day. The path wound around to a little open pond area and a tv van for the local news station. Cassie joked that I would get on the news because I was the only crazy runner out there in a skirt! After that little reprieve, it was back up the mountain we went.
We were about halfway up the next crest when a deer came out of nowhere and had caught himself on a wire fence. White tail fur showered down as he ran in the opposite direction. It was sad and funny and caught us by surprise all at once! One more giant mountain to climb and then descend before the unofficial halfway point. Going down that second mountain was tricky in some areas. The path was extremely narrow and a few places had rope, of which I took advantage so I wouldn't fall. We finally made it back down and through a lot more mud and could see the starting area again. There was another water station set up there with some food as well, but again, just water for me, please. Then, back up the mountain through another path. My watch said we were at 4.25 miles at this point. Funny how trail miles seem infinitely longer than road!
This next mountain was on the other end of the property. Twists, turns, and narrower paths kept it interesting, to say the least. The steepest part of the mountain came as we climbed up to the tower. There was a rope to help us literally CLIMB to the top. The view was pretty nice for cold and gray January, but we realized it was only Mile 5. We had a ways to go. Another aid station was around the corner with water and candy and some other things, and I looked at my watch and realized we had been running for over an hour at that point. So, I took my GU gel that I had on hand and water and it tasted like heaven! Then, off we went again!
Mile 6 is where it got confusing. There was an orange string right in front of the trail path, but with orange flags continuing past the barrier, and then, to the left we could see more little orange markings up a hill. There were a few other runners with us by then, so we all figured we would go up the hill a bit and see if the path would continue. It did, so we went.
And then we saw other runners....approaching US.
Yup, we had gone the wrong way. By then, we REALLY did not want to back-track, especially since we figured out that it was a loop in the course. So, Cassie and I and a few others, continued around the loop in the OPPOSITE direction of the course. Oh man, I wish I would have worn a Go-Pro to capture the faces of the people we ran into! As we approached other runners, you could see all emotions, but mostly confusion and fear that THEY were going the wrong way! I constantly assured them, "Don't mind us! We are wrong, YOU are right. Keep going!!"
When all was said and done, the loop in the course was about a mile long and we came back upon the orange line that caused the confusion, passed under it, and got back on the trail where the loop would have taken us, if we had followed it correctly the first time. No harm, no foul.
Mile 7 was winding around and narrow paths again. Mile 8 widened a bit, back to enough space that we could run side-by-side and talk. That certainly passed the time, since we were tired by then and knew there was only a mile or so to go. All along the muddy trail, I had been able to keep my feet pretty dry. I dodged most of the thick muddy areas and while I could feel the mud caked on my shoes, it wasn't water getting INTO my shoes...until a little past Mile 8. Cassie and I were talking and time was passing quickly and all of a sudden we were running through a giant mud pit! I couldn't help but laugh! There was no way around it and I couldn't stop running, so the mud caked up and water finally got into my shoes. It was just too funny that it took THAT long and we were ALMOST done and THAT'S when my feet got wet!
We kept talking and the trail widened into a grassy area and my watch said we were a bit over 9 miles now. The woods gave way to a paved driveway and we figured out that just over this last hill of the road was the finish line! We crossed the finish together and were greeted by Jennifer and the other runners.
Our finisher mugs are AWESOME and they had water available right away. After retrieving our gear checked bags out of a white van, we went down to the basement of the big house for freshly made crockpots of soup, homemade bread, desserts spread across a bar, and hot drinks and water. While the electricity was out because of the fallen tree hours before, I didn't even notice. The food was hot and there was a giant fireplace keeping us toasty. Everyone was just hanging out like it was a runner party! What a great atmosphere!!
Jennifer had won 3rd female overall, and so she was given a gift certificate to a local cupcake shop. She was sweet enough (see what I did there?) to share with our carload of friends! Thanks, Fallen Timbers!
It's funny how a trail race can make even the most "in-shape" person feel inadequate! I consider myself to be in pretty good physical shape right now, but since I admittedly haven't been running trails in a long time, it is certainly a challenge!
Everyone who was at the race was friendly and encouraging. We never heard even one person complain. When I signed up, it was $15 to register, and it was absolutely worth every penny! The race directors did a fabulous job of keeping everything organized, low-key, fun, and friendly. I would recommend this race to anyone. There was also a 5K race distance and a guided hike option. Just being out in nature is a blessing. Challenging the body to accomplish something new: priceless.
Wife. Mother. Runner. Coach. Adoption Advocate. I strive to share HOPE through my journey and help others reach their goals.