As Dan mentioned, my experience during the Run Through Time Trail Marathon was much different than his, so I’m recapping my race as well.
We registered for this race thinking it would be a great training run for the North Face Endurance Challenge DC 50k that we’re running (this weekend!). With five weeks between the two races, I wanted the marathon to be my biggest effort before the 50k. Neither of us follow a training plan, so it wasn’t hard to make it work into our schedule. The week before the race, I tapered and only ran 15 miles with a couple of rest days too. I went into the marathon feeling fresh and ready to roll but not like I had lost a lot of 50k training time.
I had absolutely no thoughts about winning the race even though earlier in the week, Dan tried to play some sort of psych move on me by saying “You know you’re going to win, right?” No, no I did not. After training for my first ultra in December at The North Face Endurance Challenge California 50k, I feel like I’ve made huge improvements to my mental game. I ran that race strong, both mentally and physically, and I channeled the same thoughts and mantras for this trail marathon. First and foremost for me, I focus on running with joy. I am my happiest when I’m running on trails and that shouldn’t be different on race day. But I’m also a competitor and that’s the next step in my mental race prep: I actually picture myself as a lion at the start line, ready to just tear through the terrain. So, going into Run Through Time, I was calm and excited to be out there but I also knew I wanted to feel the fight of a race, too.
As Dan said, we were so excited to be there that morning and loved the energy that all the other racers and spectators provided. I love small races and have nothing but good things to say about the organization of this one. When we made our way to the start line and the sun was coming up over the mountains and there was a cool breeze, I knew it was going to be a good race. As I watched Dan make his way to the very front of the line, I sized up all the fast looking dudes there, knowing he’d have his work cut out for him! I found my spot at the start and noticed there was only one other woman next to me. We smiled at each other and then we were all off.
Within the first two miles, I was already having the best day. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning and I said out loud “this is fucking awesome!” I don’t think I got a reply to that but I was not dismayed. I was in a big pack of guys and when I noticed my first mile was 7:20 (which is waayyy faster than I can run a road marathon in), I didn’t even get excited or get worried because what I was doing just felt like the most natural thing.
At mile 2, I thought to myself ‘I’m going to win.’ and then I thought to myself ‘Calm the F down, cowgirl, you’re at mile 2 of a marathon.’ After a few miles, we started the climb up the single-track on the front side of the mountain and I saw Dan way ahead in his neon shirt. I mentioned to the guy behind me that that was my boyfriend and he noted that he was going to be “the hunted” during this race.
I found myself in a good groove during the miles of single-track. That guy behind me, Chris, and I began chatting and the miles flew by as we talked about trails and racing and Colorado. I was the first woman and there were a few men between me and the next female. I made it my goal to keep it that way. Once again, around mile 9, I exclaimed “this is freaking awesome! I love running trails!” and Chris agreed.
When we got off the single-track and onto the gnarly jeep road, I knew it was going to be grueling but I just kept telling myself that I would be rewarded with downhills once I got to the top. Chris went on ahead of me and I just went into autopilot for the 8ish miles up the road. I was as slow as molasses but I didn’t stop. That type of running is really hard for me – I’d much rather have a steep uphill that I get to bomb down – so I felt really happy with my effort. As I neared the turnaround, I waved, smiled, and head-nodded at the runners coming down and got a fist bump from Chris. I was still the first female but as I made my way back, I saw a few more not far behind me. This is when I started getting competitive and also started freaking myself out. I had a couple of rough miles when I was so in my head and couldn’t get my heart rate down. I was expecting to be able to cruise some downhills and that was not the case, so everything was not awesome. We went through a muddy section that took me down and a (very sweet) woman behind me asked if I was okay. I appreciated her thought but did not appreciate that she was close enough that she could ask!
After the mud came the snowy sections. The snow brought all racers around me to a trudging hike as we just tromped through single file. This actually worked out to my advantage because it was near impossible to pass it this point but whenever I got the opportunity, I did what I could get in front of a guy so that there was a buffer between me and the women behind me. I think this is called race strategy but I can’t be sure.
The back side of the course was really beautiful and I would love to do it again when there’s no snow so I could actually run all of it. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, occasionally looking back to see who was behind me but all other women were out of sight. When we got to the second-to-last aid station, I passed a couple more guys and in race delirium, called out “thanks, babe!” to one of them. Sorry, stranger. Sorry, Dan. I loved bombing down those techy trails, so happy to have the downhill I thought I was promised. With about 3 miles left, I was so dang ready to be done but I also knew I had a good enough buffer on the 2nd woman to take it easy. I reminded myself that this wasn’t my goal race so I didn’t need to kill myself and also reminded myself, ‘holy shit, I’m winning a marathon.’
That final descent down the front of the mountain and back into town seemed to take forever! I saw a tiny neon Dan at the bottom and just couldn’t wait to get to him, preparing what I was going to say once I saw him. After 26 miles, though, I didn’t come up with anything profound. I crossed the finish line in 4:15 feeling better than I probably ever have after 26.2+ miles. Trails are magical.
As you can probably gather from the novel above, this was a really positive race experience for me. I mean, I won! That’s never happened before so that’s pretty cool. I got to practice actually racing (rather than just running for a time only I care about) and I learned the different types of thoughts that come with that. And, I got to run beautiful trails with people who love doing this stuff just as much as I do. I’m so appreciative to anyone who let me talk at them during the race and even more so to those who replied! Also, the volunteers were top-notch and I loved the group of girls spectating who would yell “first woman!” when they saw me. The ultra community is really cool.
If you’re looking for an early spring trail race, I definitely recommend Run Through Time. We can’t wait to head back to Salida and race it again!