Sunday, the playboy and I officially entered the trail running world. We crossed the start line (and the finish line!) of the Valley Crest Half Marathon.
Last Friday, I announced it (WHAT?! You didn't watch my video yet? Come on, just click this link: Next round!). My next goal is the Santa Barbara Marathon, at the beginning of November. It took the first place in my head since the end of Ojai half marathon. And from this time until the start of my marathon training, I had no intention to do nothing. I carried on running. I moved down my "speed scale": less intense, slower. It was the ideal time to try new things.
I went into this race way more relax than usual. I am not saying I didn't train for it. I made a training plan. But, my goal was not to push myself and my limits. I thought about this race like a long run, on trails, with a group of people.
Saturday and Sunday morning, I wasn't stressed. I had apprehension about the elevation. But I wasn't scared to screw up my race or to be disappointed if I didn't reach the top of my potential. It was way easier as I didn't have any expectation. Just one thing: finish under 2 hours.
We arrived at the race meeting point just before 7am and picked up our bibs. The incline to reach the start and the hills surrounding us confirmed that it really wasn't a road race. The runners already there were a very eclectic and different bunch of people compared to what we are used to. From true trailers with sharp and strong legs, to 80s style runners with short shorts, without forgetting the "runner of L.A." misses dressed for a beauty pageant, people watching was a nice way to wait for start time.
I noticed on the elevation map, and I had confirmation reading race recaps, that it started with a steep incline. We confirmed that waiting around at the starting line. It was hard to warm up with not much of flat ground. We did some strides but not so many. It was a mistake. ALWAYS warm up before a race to have ready-to-go legs!
8am, go time. I had claimed: "I don't care. If the starting climb is too steep, I'll walk." The playboy had agreed on that. Start time, we launched ourselves into this first climb, the playboy in front and myself behind. I don't know what he had for breakfast but he started like a rocket. I had to forget about my walker ambition. I couldn't let him go alone! My thighs were on fire. I couldn't breathe. I had a hard time trying to keep up with him.
On top of that, my new running apparel came into play: my hydration belt. On a trail race, water stops are further apart than on a road race. The playboy bought an hydration vest. I bought a belt (I thought about my marathon training too). I tried it on on a run with only one bottle and with other shorts. Beginner mistake... After only a few strides, I felt my bottles bouncing around in my back and the belt slipping from my hips to my waist. I moved it back into place once, twice... 50 times. I seriously considered throwing everything in the ravine next to us (yes, patience is not my strong).
After reaching the top of the climb, I tried calming my breath while moving my belt again and again. I had to speed up to keep up with the playboy who was definitely feeling good. I managed to get his attention. I thought about putting one bottle in his backpack. He suggested me to move the bottles in the front. I also moved my shorts to be able to place the belt on my skin instead of on the slippery shorts fabric. Finally, it worked. Now, I could run.
The race course was as follows:
- sharp climb to reach the main trail
- right turn and downhill until mile 3
- u-turn to reach the end of the first climb, at mile 6.5
- straight ahead, steep downhill then progressive climb before a small downhill portion to the turn around point, at mile 10
- slight uphill, downhill and steep climb
- right turn to go back to our starting point and finish line of the race
With this course map, we knew what was ahead of us and we could see the other runners, multiple times.
After solving my belt issue, I sped up and left the playboy behind. Everything we were running downhill would have to be climbed back. I had to gather speed! I passed a few runners on this downhill portion. At mile 3, u-turn, and back up. It was a long climb but not too steep. I decided it was best to push here if I wanted to walk later on the course. And, like that, I passed many runners. I waved to the playboy when I saw him on the other side.
On this 3-mile uphill portion, runners spread out. Finally on the top, I was alone: no one in sight in front or behind me. I sped up on the downhill which followed. I thought: "Oh boy, it will be hard to go up this thing at the end...". I saw the race photographer from far. And I managed to score a nice race picture for once. Being relax helps.
On the trail, there were hikers and mountain bikers. Except from them, I couldn't see anyone else. For a few seconds I hoped I didn't miss a turn. But there were very few chances to get lost. After the steep downhill, serious stuff started again. Up, up and up. I had mentally authorized myself, before the race, to walk if necessary (I really didn't want to push myself too hard). But, I didn't feel the need and I kept this possibility in mind for the last climb. I managed to catch up with other runners who were walking. I saw the first man coming the other way. He was flying. Impressive! And he was nice enough to shout me a word of encouragement. It gave me the illusion the turn around point was close. It wasn't true. The first man was far on top of the others (he came in 1:17:40, 5 minutes before the second one).
This part wasn't easy, but I knew it, and, with no pressure, I was relaxed. I didn't look at my watch. I didn't bother about my speed. I was running, surrounded by nature, and it felt good. The men behind the first runner finally arrived. It's nice, actually, to be able to see the runners on the opposite direction. I noticed runners support each other a lot, here, in the USA. And it seemed to me it was even more true on this race. I did it too and tried to find a little something to say to other runners in front of me or behind me.
After the turn around, it mostly was downhill. It was good to get some speed and let the legs go. I saw the playboy one more time. He looked good. I caught up and passed few runners.
Finally, I saw the last climb in the distance. It was scary to me. But, I had to climb it, so here I went. I caught up with two men. One of them was walking and started running again when he heard me coming from behind. When I passed him I tried to encourage him: "Keep going, we are almost there! Hopefully...". He laughed. I got to the top without walking. I turned on the steep downhill to the finish line. I had to slow down in order not to fall. I crossed the finish line, happy.
1:44:47 on my watch, for a nice race on a challenging course (at least, for me, used to road races). It's a nice change. I am happy with my race. I did a good race without pushing me to the limits. I enjoyed it all the way (well, except at the start with my belt issues).
I placed 39 out of 288 runners, 5th female and 1st of my age group. Cherry on the cake, I got a small trophy and arm sleeves (which are purple and not pink... just for information).
Mister the playboy finished in 2 hours. The last climb was difficult for him. But he also enjoyed this first trail race.
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