Trail Race #1 is in the Books!

Yay! After nearly causing a slow moving car wreck in the business park where we were directed to park and pick up the race shuttle, after having a lackluster training cycle, and after having downgraded the “race” to a “training run” in my head (does anyone ever successfully do this?), my body proved to be in better condition than I gave it credit for. It carried me over the North Face Endurance Challenge 10K course – 5.85 miles (more on this later) of dirt, mud, asphalt, crushed gravel and a few large puddles – all with very few complaints. It kind of makes me wonder whether I should have pushed more, but even as I look back, I think the only thing I could have changed on Sunday was where I lined up.

Crazy storms blew through Friday evening, leaving in their wake cool temps and low humidity both Saturday and Sunday. This is such a rarity in northern Virginia in early June. What a treat!
The shuttle bus dropped me off at the race course about 10 minutes before the half marathon was schedule to start. I bee-lined it to the port-o-potties. I kind of felt bad to be on line with the half marathoners about to toe the line, but my body had decided to keep things exciting: apparently I had a sensitivity to something I had eaten the night before. And it had been close to 45 minutes since I’d left home. So, a huge GRACIAS to the guy who let me go before him. I’m pretty sure I cut the line.
I can’t remember the last time I had such a mellow pre-race. I mean, I actually pulled out a book and read! Maybe I was a little too laid back about things because when it came time to line up for the race, I put myself in the middle to back. Granted, I wasn’t entirely sure what my body was capable of.

[All race photos are screen grabs from]

This is where I admit that on Saturday I did the anti-taper. My confidence was so shattered after running with the stranger on Thursday that I needed to make sure I could hold a pace. My pace. So I did an early morning 3-miler on Saturday and chased it with yoga – taking one class and teaching another. So the legs probably weren’t the freshest for racing. Good thing this was a training run.

Although I crossed the starting line running, everyone slowed to a walk as we began to wend around a congested loop circling a playing field. I walked for about half of that loop before being able to take regular strides. 

My plan – to the extent that I had one – was to use the wider asphalt golf cart path and crushed stone path (where runners could actually run two abreast, and where the surface was firmer) to position myself behind people roughly my pace before heading onto the single track portion of the course.

Executing the positioning plan.

This worked out pretty well for me. Once on the crushed stone path, I stayed mostly on the left, passing. We came up to the aid station, where I expected to turn onto dirt single track, except it was asphalt. Weird. It eventually became a dirt path, and I found myself passing on the single track until runners started coming back toward us on the out and back. At times, the group would chat. The taller runners among us would call out when there were on-coming runners. In general, we weren’t a chatty group, but I also think that the trails were a new thing for most of us.

Somewhere in the midst of mile 3, I started wondering whether I could keep this up. “This” being hanging with the latest pack that I’d run up to. We were on single track, looping around a wooded area near the Potomac before heading back on the trail we’d just left.

Coming out of aid station, ~1.7 miles to the finish.

Once we returned to asphalt – and later the crushed stone path – I found that my strength had been running on single track. I could hang with the runners in front of me on the trail, but they pulled away on the more even and regular surface.

Back on the crushed stone path, the 10K course and half marathon course were one. Half marathoners began to pass me, but having them on the course was actually great motivation because I think the 10K runners were really spread out by this point. Not that the half marathoners weren’t all spread out, too. I’m sure they were glad to be able to pick off the slower among us. It was probably a symbiotic relationship. But, the half marathoners definitely paced me for a strong last mile or so. Plus, I have them to thank for leading the way through the puddles/water crossings on the way back in. 
Back on golf course, getting chased by a half marathoner.

The last stretch of the course was on the asphalt golf cart path. It’s crazy how an imperceptible downward slope helps me immensely. At about a quarter mile to go, I stalked down two 10K runners and shot past them just as the path sloped down. It looked like a bigger move than the energy I used – I promise – because about 10 strides later, 2 half marathoners zipped by me.

Ahhhh! Can’t! Hang! On!
What’s up with my arms?

But, it was a great finish for me – I actually had a kick!

Here’s the thing: I’m a trail running noob, and I completely understand that distances aren’t as precise for trail races as they are for road races. The trail 10Ks that I know about have always run long. When the 10K course guide listed the distance as being 6.4 miles, I mentally braced myself. Nearly 6.5 miles on dirt was not going to be easy with the training that I’d had. But I was as ready as I was going to be.

So, I was not expecting to look down at my Garmin at the finish and see that it had measured the course to be 5.85 miles. I mean, that’s half a mile shorter than advertised. It’s not even 10K.

Yes, my Garmin has been finicky at times, so maybe it measured the wrong distance. But off by half a mile?

The course guide stated that the turn north toward the Potomac,
 just past Sugarland Run (bottom right) was at mile 2.4…hmmm…

And, yes, while it would be awesome to have run 6.4 miles of trail in under an hour, given that I’m not in great shape right now and my best 10K on asphalt is just under 58 minutes, 5 years ago, I really doubt the race course was 6.4 miles.

In the end, I don’t mind that the course was shorter than expected. But at the same time, I thought I’d be running at least 6.2 miles. I guess I mostly have mixed emotions – I don’t feel like I can say that I ran a 10K trail race.

I’ll just have to register for another one, right? And wear a shirt that doesn’t ride up.

2 thoughts on “Trail Race #1 is in the Books!

  1. I would be annoyed if the course was shorter than advertised for sure. If there were switchbacks involved then Garmin type watches sometimes can't pick it up and measure a bit shorter on the distance, but mesauring that much shorter over a 10K is probably not likely. Yes, time to register for another one!! 🙂

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