“What did I just do?”
The guy from the Hudson River Valley who was parked next to me and who had also just finished running the Wachusett Mountain Road and Trail Race looked over and said, “Yeah, it’s a really great course. It has a little bit of everything.”
It’s true that it has a bit of everything in trail running. We started by running 1.25 miles up Mountain Road / Mile Hill Road; with names like that it’s probably not surprising that it averages a 6.5% grade and is a “Category 4″ road cycling climb (except that we were running). Then we turned right around and ran down the Donbrowo hiking trail, which was quite technical, having lots of rocks and tree roots. Later on we ran up and down some fire roads. But at least I was running on all of those parts. The middle of the course, was mostly me (and my cohort) walking up the 10-12% Old Indian and Semuhenna Trails. I thought walking would let me catch my breath and then restart running up the mountain, but I was wrong; that mile-long stretch was just too steep. So I walked; everyone did, except maybe the people who won.
So what did I do today? This morning, I (mostly) ran 4.7 miles up and down Wachusett Mountain in 46:10. That’s a lot slower than my usual road race pace of around 7:15/mile, but it was my first mountain race.
What did I learn? Here are the easy, straightforward answers. I am not great at running steep climbs — that’s clearly something to work on — but I’m a demon running downhill. I’m not trying to be immodest, but I fly downhill on the trails. After a fellow runner and I passed someone going a little slower down the trail, I just threw myself into it. At the bottom of the hill, I heard, “Nice one!” And then, as I came bombing down the steep, rocky, root-laden trail into the finishing area, I heard someone shout, “D-A-M-N!” That was awesome! So, while I didn’t have a great uphill section, it’s nice to end strong.
The harder, tricky answer is that I have learned a lot about perseverance. As I was running up the opening hill, I was certain that this was the last thing I really wanted to be doing, that I would never want to do it again. The same thoughts occurred to me as I was fast marching up the trails in the middle of the course. (Also during the swim portion of the tri three weeks ago.) These aren’t exactly thoughts that I’m proud of, but as I’m getting physically stronger, I’m also trying to get mentally tougher, so that I can push through the difficult parts and finish all out. I have trouble holding on to people who pass me, but I’ve been finishing too “fresh” on most of my races. I need to figure out how to keep a stronger pace throughout or to start my final kick much earlier. I suspect most of that will just come from me building up more grit and having more experience to draw on.
I think I’m on my way. 2009, the year I got my bike, was all about losing weight and developing some conditioning. Last year, I focused on getting more physical strength. This year, I’ve been racing, and that’s been a source of tremendous growth. I’m learning by doing.
Oh, and the runners who specialize in running up mountains are a crazy group of people. I expect that they sit around saying things like, “Why do we run up mountains? Because that’s the kind of running we did in ‘Nam, kid.” Trail running is definitely the bomb-diggity, though.