I’ve been fascinated yet hesitant of trail races ever since I heard about them while living in Florida. My only experience of running off terrain was in the UNF woods with a running group friend. My first jaunt on uneven ground was exhausting and shaky. It’s a whole different ball field when you’re dealing with obstacles like rocks, sticks, and slippery dirt (especially when flying down hill but more on that later.) When I chose the Quicksilver Trail Challenge I admit that I didn’t do very much research. I saw pictures of the course and fell in love with what I thought would be a fairly flat race with a few rolling hills in lush greenery. What I encountered was a whole ‘nother beast and the race lived up to its name. I was challenged physically and mentally as I cursed my way up, up, up an unrelenting ascent that made me want to quit more times than I can count. But let’s start at the beginning shall we?
I COULD NOT SLEEP and woke up around 5 a.m. the morning of the race because of my excitement and nerves which gave me plenty of time to grab some breakfast. I discovered a mom & pop bagel shop near home and bought a couple of fresh ham & egg bagel sandwiches for Matt & I.
He was still sleeping when I got back so I left his on the kitchen counter and started prepping for the race after I ate. For my first trail race I knew I wanted to bring hydration with me just in case aid stations were lacking and it turned out the be the best decision of the day. With my Camelbak filled up, I put on my new trail running Nike shoes (I highly recommend Air Zoom Terra Kigers), grabbed a gel to put in my pocket and headed out the door. I drove about 30 minutes to Almaden QuickSilver County Park and almost missed the starting location because I didn’t see signs on the way up. Luckily a runner directed me to the parking lot up the hill right above me leaving me with plenty of time to spare.
I parked and took in the whole scene. Beautiful mountains in the background and perfectly cool weather. This was it! my very first trail race! I was alone in a new place and about to embark on an adventure that was bound to teach me a thing or two. I had absolutely no idea what to expect except that I would need to run a 10k on trails. I was diving into the unknown and I have to admit that a big part of me liked the idea of having little information to go on (I would regret this later.) Unlike the road races I’m accustomed to, packet pick up was my first mission since they didn’t have an expo. I picked up my shirt and bib and headed off to my car to relax a little and get mentally prepared.
Looking around, I noticed that this was a fairly small race despite a full parking lot. There were maybe only 40 or so people in each race category (Half Marathon, 10k, and kids race.) Many people had Camelbaks which made me feel like I at least looked the part which is sometimes half the mental battle 🙂
After the half marathoners left, it was the 10k racers turn to line up and hear the instructions. We were told to follow our designated flag color throughout the course to make sure we stayed on the correct route.
Our color was red and the race director made it a point to tell us that multiple flags in a row on a corner would designate a signal to turn there. I thought to it sounded pretty easy but added this tidbit to my growing mental list of things to keep aware of out there. In no time at all, we were off running down the slope in the above picture. It would be one of the few
respites downhills on the course unknown to me at the time.
The climb started shortly thereafter and never really let up long enough to breathe. Surely, the trail will flatten out now right?!? Dear god, why? My lungs were burning as things got steep quickly. A portion of the trail felt like I needed rope because of the incline and rocky surface that coupled with fatigue, made me feel like I could tumble right down and never get back up. I could not believe that I had signed up for an uphill hike rather than a run. But there was no way I was quitting. I was still ahead of people and determined to give this race everything I had. Guts and glory all the way! I re-framed this race as a hike with small opportunities to “let it rip” with running segments any time I found flat ground to recover lost time.
About half way through, I met a really sweet family with their daughter that were also doing their first trail race. We seemed to share the same unspoken feelings about this course being hella difficult. After yo yo-ing with them during some more climbing, I finally pulled out ahead during a half mile stretch of flat course. OMG did it effing feel good to set my legs free and run at last!! It was the best high to feel my pace quicken as my feet turned over faster and faster. After a stifling climb, this run portion was like drinking water when you’ve been thirsty all day.
But it was gone too soon. The mountain cut me down by introducing more climbing and I simply had to keep my head down and work my way up. I knew I was closer now. This was almost over and would be completely worth it. As I neared the final aid station they told me the finish was coming soon. Only a few more hills along with a big one and that would be it. Damn. More hills I thought. Be positive I told myself. At least I know what to expect now.
I kept going and going and going. At one point, a boys high school team jogged by and cheered me on. It gave me an extra jolt of energy and I continued following the flags towards the finish. And then I think this is where I messed up. I noticed both blue flags and red flags on corners. I have to turn left I thought. So I turned and was already congratulating myself on a job well done. Less than a mile to go!! WOOHOOO!!!
……less than a quarter mile to go…..um shouldn’t I see the finish somewhere by now?? Maybe my watch is off by a little because I didn’t run tangents….6.3 miles done now and still no finish in sight. Oh shit. Where the hell am I? There just some to be a lot of rolling hills now and I’m just running up as quickly as possible thinking that the finish line surely has to be beyond them. But no. There are just more hills. A fairly fit shirtless guy comes running up and I ask him if the finish line is nearby. He grumbles and thinks the course seems long. Great, well that’s just dandy. I start getting really upset at this point because I just want to be done. I’m sooooo tired and I’ve already run 6.8 miles. How much farther do I have to go to finish this race? Did I make it onto the half course by mistake? how many more miles have I tacked on?
I finally hit the finish at 7.34 miles and could barely muster a smile as I was handed a medal. This was officially the longest 10k of my life. I sat down at the aid station and was wheezing pretty heavily as I tried to catch my breath. They had a pretty cool spread of snacks laid out which was really nice, but all I wanted was a drink. I grabbed a cherry coke and felt the pain fade away as the sugar hit my system. After a few minutes, I walked over to my car and sat inside a little while as I finally let my accomplishment sink in.
I survived my first trail race. But more than that, I came face to face with an old friend-my inner warrior. I found a flicker of that tough chick inside of me and she helped me finish. As I looked at my medal, I felt a rush of pride that I haven’t felt in a while from a race. I earned this with every ounce of my being. This was the most challenging race I’d done in recent memory despite having done many half marathons. And because it was tough, because it was beyond my comfort zone, it meant so much more. The arduous trek was worth the pain because this medal will always remind me that I am stronger than I think.