“Maybe you’ve just got to own it.”
That’s what I said to myself before the start of the Dirty Girl Trail Race on Saturday. Everyone running this all-women’s race had moved from the parking lot at the Tin Mountain Conservation Center down onto the road for the start.
The start line was clearly painted on the side of the road and marked by flags and everyone grouped 10 or so yards behind the line.
“Well,” I thought. “I could slink back or I could toe the line.” So I moved forward.
My goals going into the race were to:
- Focus on my effort in moment.
- Pace the first lap well so I could go hard on second (In my mind I thought this would mean running the first lap conservatively and giving a harder effort on the second to negative split the laps.)
- Have fun.
With the “go” signal we were off down the road, up through the parking lot and across the field.
Once we hit the woods I realized I had to make a decision: was I going to take the lead or fall in behind someone else and stick to my “run-the-first-lap-conservatively” plan?
Video Credit: DragonFlyAerialsLLC
I decided to take the lead and own it–which honestly feels a little weird to me. Most of the time I’m giving chase to the lead woman (Usually, Leslie O’Dell- who instead of running was busy race-directing!).
The first mile was fast: 8:23. I never saw my splits until after the race was over (who has time to look at a watch when you’re busy trying not to smack into a tree?? Which I did. I smacked my hip into a tree. Ouch.). I kept pushing the pace and started to create a little gap on the girls behind me as we started into mile 2.
The course was two laps on a 3.25 mile figure-8 loop. Leslie did a great job marking the course and later I found out she raked the entire course! Which is a good thing because it was technical and had so many right-angle turns that if she hadn’t cleared the trail I wouldn’t have known where to go or where to step.
There was plenty of quick ups and downs in the second mile and a few spots to open up the stride. By the time I hit the middle of the figure-8 I couldn’t hear or see anyone behind me. A volunteer gave me directions and told me I was looking good and I headed up the hill into mile 3, the whole time listening for his cheers for the woman behind me. Based on what I heard I thought I had maybe a minute on the second place woman and so I pushed ahead up the hardest part of the course: a technical climb up that just didn’t stop.
There was some scrambling involved as well as I had to navigate down a huge boulder and then keep on climbing. At the top of the hill the trail opened up into an old logging road, which was a nice break and a chance to look back down through the woods to see if there was anyone closing in. I couldn’t see anyone.
I tried to push the pace down the road back towards the start and the second loop, the whole time thinking “Gah! I have to do that again!!”
Going into the second loop I felt tired, I knew I’d pushed hard on that first loop to create a gap between myself and the women behind me. I wasn’t following my race plan at all, but I felt like pushing the pace and creating that gap was a smart move. I thought that creating that gap would probably work to my advantage; I didn’t have to run the second loop faster, but if I could maintain a strong effort I though I could hold off anyone who might try closing in.
I came off the old logging road and back into the woods, winding down the trail back to the bog where the first loop entered the woods.
I could feel that my pace was slower as I started the second loop (I ran mile 4 in 9:50 compared to 8:23 in the first lap), but when my energy dipped I told myself to stay in the moment and focus my energy and effort into the next step. I arrived at the first road crossing for the second time, cross back into the woods and started down the trail. The volunteers at the road cheered and encouraged me. A little ways down the trail I heard the volunteers cheer again and thought for sure that whoever was behind me was closing in and FAST. I picked up the pace, pushing the downhills as hard as I could.
Back at the intersection of the figure-8 I started climbing again, knowing that if I could give one last push up the hill I’d have a chance to recover on the logging road on the backside.
As I climbed I came up on some of runners finishing up their first loop, as I passed everyone was so supportive and kind–the fantastic atmosphere was definitely a highlight of the race. Their cheers were exactly what I needed to get up the hill.
I got to the logging road, glanced behind me and didn’t see or hear anyone. I’d made the climb a minute slower than the first lap (10:36 for the first and 11:35 for the second). On the logging road I did my best to open up my stride and push the pace, then it was back into the woods, back around to the bog and a lefthand turn took me out of the woods and back through the field to the finish. I managed to run that sixth mile a couple second faster than I had in my first lap (10:31 in the first lap, 10:29 in the second).
As I came into the field I knew I had the win. For most of the race I was sure that second was a minute or two behind me, but I crossed the line four minutes ahead of the next finisher. The idea that I was the one being “chased” definitely pushed me hard.
I didn’t exactly follow my race plan, but I think running the race in the moment actually served me pretty well. Sometimes you have to ditch the race plan and go with what the day gives you. Sometimes you just have to own it.
I walked away with one of the best prize packs EVER from the race: Hoka shoes, Garrison City Beerworks Beer, a bottle of wine, a couple gift certificates to a jewelry store and to a hair salon and a whole lot more. Leslie did a great job putting together a fantastic race and our family enjoyed hanging out after, in fact we were one of the last to leave.
We followed up our race with a big Mother’s Day Lunch at Flatbread Pizza in North Conway, how can you go wrong with post-race pizza!?
Have you ever ditched your race plan and had it work out well for you?
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