This race started with an aid station and ended with a heavy medal.
A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to volunteer at Brazen Racing‘s Western Pacific race (full and half marathons, 10k, and 5k on the trail.) Brazen Racing is nearer and dearer to my heart than I had thought: they hosted first-ever trail race (Dirty 5k 2011) as well as my first trail 10k (Nitro Turkey 2012 – and more to come!) Why wouldn’t I want to be on the other side of the “Water!” “Sports drink?” “Where’s gu?” equation? From understanding what is left (or isn’t) in a runner’s head at mile __ in a race to how I prefer to have a cup handed to me when I run by, it seemed only natural to have fellow runners aiding one another.
(As it turns out, this was an especially good thing: I happened to have some nuun in my bag when a bonking grape-flavor-hater stumbled into our station and of course I happily shared. It was quite hot out there!)
As we distributed snacks into paper cups, cut up bananas and accidentally huffed grape electrolyte powder mixing up tubs, I got to chatting with my new friendly and welcoming Brazen Racing family members. A full day’s volunteering wasn’t actually volunteering; we could request to be ‘paid’ by having the race entry to the Brazen event of our choice waived. Stellar, no? Some of you may have noticed that up until recently I had “Nitro Trail 10k, sign up pending” listed as race 6. However, at aid station three in the 90 plus degree heat, all that changed: Mickey convinced me that I had run a half before, it didn’t matter that it was my only half; I should forgo the 10k and just go for the half.
Before I could balk, the next day I emailed the race director. BOOM: second half registration done. Let the countdown and panicking commence: after the Tinker Bell Half at Disneyland in January, I essentially took a month and a half off from running and come late April I was running pretty short distances (about 2-3 miles and one 5 miler) and all on pretty flat road. The longest trail race to date I had done was one 10k. While I do regularly hike at the entrance to Wildcat Canyon where the race started, it’s usually a hike involving indulging our two dogs off leash with my husband, not 13.1 miles for time. Part of the course was unassisted and I had never run with a hydration pack. The term “shitting a brick” comes to mind.
Clearly, I thought I was totally fucked. At times like this, eloquence and grace are secondary to primal instinct. Mother Nature told me to suck it up, buttercup, you signed up for this. Let’s find that magical place you always tell others is outside the comfort zone.
With less than two weeks till the event, I hunkered down: kept up my training, thought more about my fueling and more than anything else, I mentally prepared. Researching the elevation and the like helped me really wrap my head around what I was about to endeavor, or if you’re a a masochist, how bad is bad. I took some reassurance from reading that the hills were not even recommended to run up, but instead hiked up and then straights and downhills run. The addition of a hiker division also appeased my ego. It wasn’t so much that I thought I’d DNF the race, bonk or barf: it was that I didn’t want to put up anything but my best showing. I sucked it up. I did it anyways.
“Helium Hydration Pack” (decoded: Camelbak Spark10) borrowed from Customer Service at work with the promise of a thorough review upon return, I began to prepare. I filled the pockets with ClifShot, stashed some BodyGlide and a tick stick (among other things) in other compartments and tried to remember to breathe. Compression sleeves, check. Beloved, still new-ish PureGrit2 runners, check. New Brooks raceday singlet and Headsweats Team Sparkle visor, check. My Garmin charged and RoadID secured, if nothing else, I certainly looked ready.
After getting my bib and checking my bag there was no time left for a pre-race photo. I chit chatted briefly with some friendly folks at the start and could feel sweat in my palms. This was really happening; before I knew it I was crossing the timing line and starting my Garmin: race 6 of 103, half marathon #2 was underway.
Immediately, we pushed through a single-file funnel and were dumped out onto my familiar, well-worn path. Despite the excitement, I knew better: we were five minutes or less into the race, and I was walking. If this was the start, I knew we were probably in for it.
In short, I was right.
Over 13.1 miles, like my first half, I had revelations. I laughed. I may have teared up once, and, yet again, I had to bail out and make a little pit stop (but I made it past mile three this time!) Encouragement was given and received on the out and back course, lost 10kers shepherded back to their paths. A kind gent whose pace was close to mine played tag with me and even asked how my calves were as he held a cattle gate for me, mentioning that he had seen me stretching earlier. For a bit I even had a half-a-mile-or-so-maybe long companion made pushing up a hill before the last 5k. We laughed deliriously as the sun beat down, we sipped from our packs and trudged on. “My glutes quit about a mile back,” she told me. I countered that I didn’t think I was using my calves, hamstrings, possibly quads or glutes since I couldn’t quite feel them, so how I was even moving was a wonder to me.
Before I forget, as promised for Carrie and the rest of the gals in CS: prior to the race I had never, ever run with a full pack, only a hydration belt that is really a fancy water bottle holster. If you saw me running through the building at work and around the parking lot prior to the race, it’s because I was adjusting all the straps. After that, I made zero adjustments, just filled the bladder, secured it, put my supplements in the side pockets and just went for it at the half marathon. I had no problems with chafing, shifting or leakage and definitely found it a great first-time hydration pack experience. It was easy to use and being able to take more frequent sips without any mess definitely helped me hydrate on the hot, dry course. Hope that helps you all!
Yet we pushed on. I caught and passed the nice gent and we wished one another well. As I rounded a corner (over the river and through the woods, essentially) and realized I was back at the top of my old familiar fork in the paths, my heart sang: thus far, I had accomplished my goals of not bonking or barfing and was most definitely going to finish before the sweep. A quick check of my Garmin told me I was definitely close to clinching my secret personal goal: sub 3 hours.
Okay, so I do my best to practice good run etiquette… but if you’re the gal in the blue in this picture, I am sorry I was so rude. We were getting so close to that single-track path and our paces were awkward for passing. It wasn’t my intention to walk on your heels on the single track path and then blow past you in the last 100 yards; I am simply a jerk who tries to kick it out in the last half a mile and stride out at the last 100 of every finish because it makes me feel like I really left whatever I had left out there. And remember how I was trying to get my secret personal goal accomplished?
And this time, I was determined to try to have a more fun finish picture, so double jerkface on me. Double sorry, girl in blue.
I FREAKING DID IT. And, bonus! I ran into the couple I had chit chatted with at the start and the gal won her age group. I encouraged her to apply to be a model at work. (Yes I mean it, if you’re out there reading!)
I was ecstatic. I didn’t see my official time at the finish but knew it had to be sub 3. But more importantly, I had done it: 2,240 plus feet of elevation over 13.1 miles only 48 minutes slower than my road half. It felt good to be done, but more importantly I was thankful that I had pushed myself and just went for it.
Post endorphin high and lolling about in the sun, there was of course the aftermath: exhaustion, nut butter and trail ‘anklets’ (dirt anklets, that is.)
With the Wildcat Trail Half under my belt and two more races coming (a 5 mile trail race and a 5k fun run,) my confidence is up. My closet is full of gear, my pantry full of BCAAs, Clif everything and nuun. The training calendar has been penned: Dumbo Double Dare, I am coming for you!
While I happen to be an employee of Title Nine, my hydration pack review is my own personal opinion; Camelbak is a vendor Title Nine works with who has in no way been involved in this review.