Lesson 1: A road half marathon six days before a trail half marathon ensures you’ll be running on tired legs, REALLY tired legs.
Lesson 2: A cheaper tech shirt that fits a little big at the start of a difficult and humid run will continue to stretch and grow and force you to question the fact that you’re an experienced runner who supposedly knows how to select a race day outfit.
Lesson 3: Relying on aid stations may be the lighter, no-carry option, but also leaves you hungry and in desperate need of fuel, especially during Lesson 1’s situation.
Lesson 4: Always check you’ve locked the porta-potty door. Always.
Lesson 5: You’ll still love the run despite learning these lessons the hard way. Perspective is seeing a guy throw up his breakfast at mile 3, another being held up by four people at mile 8 (and spotting the ambulance shortly thereafter), and another guy tumble and roll a couple times before proceeding on around mile 10.
Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis is home to the annual Surly Trail Loppet half marathon, 13.1K, and 5K. I’ve had my eye on this trail race for a few years, so despite “preparing” with the Discover Whitewater Series half marathon the week before (eh, timing) I dug out my muddiest Lone Peaks for 13.1 miles of sloppy fun.
My race goal was to enjoy a couple hours of trail running at an easy pace. The wave start helped with pacing (I opted for the 2nd of 4 waves)–less temptation to take off fast. The runner traffic jam that grew as we made our way down a narrow, tall-grass/muddy hill within the first few minutes helped keep my as-of-late-desire to take off too quickly in check as well.
The Loppet Foundation describes the course as a “…challenging course with big hills, narrow trails, rocks and logs.” Accurate. Also, mud–a given after a day or two of heavy rain. There was some concrete–a little bike path here, a little random concrete structure there to hop over, a little sidewalk–but primarily awesome single track dirt and roots, patches of cross-country-esque open fields, and even a boardwalk over Wirth Lake.
I struggled. First of all that silly shirt I chose was driving me crazy. To the point I considered taking a couple extra minutes (I was already moving slowly) to slip it off and reattach the race bib to my shorts. Secondly, I was craving calories. I know better than to wait on gels at a typical half marathon, because by the time they’re offered, you’re already in a deficit. Plus, there were no gels… Thank goodness for cut-up bananas at mile 8 though! The best two pieces of banana I ever had. All washed down with the best cup of Gatorade I’ve ever had. Finally, my legs were exhausted from the previous weekend’s race. I got passed. A lot. I hiked it up the hills and cautiously made my way over fallen trees.
Despite working through lessons 1-5 in one race, I accomplished two of two goals–just enjoy it and take it easy.