I've been in FL for the past week on business. It's made it a little bit more difficult to run because I've been so worn out from working, but I still got in at least 40 miles this past week. I found a great path which parallels a freeway that traverses Tampa Bay. In case you are wondering how pretty it is:
During one of my work breaks towards the end of last week I started googling local races on my phone. I thought it might be fun to sign up for a half marathon for my long run on Sunday to switch things up a bit and give me some company. The greatness of this idea was confirmed when I found out that the XTERRA Wild Horse Trail 1/2 Marathon was to be held a mere 45 minutes from my hotel! What luck!
XTERRA races are fantastic because you really never know what they're going to throw at you. They are also perfect "train-through" races because you can't become preoccupied with or focused on your time - each course is so different that comparing times from course to course is impossible. My goal for this race was to get in a long training run, have fun, and if possible get the win.
I signed up on race day and it was a small venue but well organized. I lined up at the start behind a fast-looking woman (same MO as my previous trail race) and ran behind her for about a half a mile. Her pace was a little uncomfortably slow for me, so I took the lead at that point and ran at my own decent but comfortable pace.
Within the first mile things started getting crazy! There was a steep downhill (don't ask me why this race had so many hills in it for being in FL - I still haven't figured that one out for myself) that led straight into a river. Yup, there was no way around it. I watched the guy in front of me plunge in with reckless abandon. He tripped and was up to his neck in water, which prompted a volunteer to shout out, "Be careful, it gets a little deep in the middle!" I took things a little more cautiously, but still found myself chest-high in water. So much for not getting my shoes wet or dirty. It had rained all day the previous day so actually the trails were very muddy and slippery. There was one insanely technical section that lasted for about a mile where I was essentially walk/hiking because otherwise I would have 100% for sure hurt myself. At this point, I modified my goals; not getting injured became top priority!
I tried to make up for my slowness on that section on the flats. However, the flats weren't all that easy either because being in FL, they were mainly composed of soft sand! There was another section of "trail" which was basically a swamp with 10 old tires through it. I thought it was way too likely for me to slip off a tire if I tried to run across them so I just trudged through the swamp. This worked out pretty well, though I almost lost a shoe! There were some sections of "trail" in which there was literally no trail. They called these "off road" sections and I'm pretty sure they just handed someone orange flags and had them set them up randomly in the woods. Needless to say it made for slow goings at times.
After two laps of this craziness I finally made it back to the river crossing. The cold water felt kinda good on my legs the second time around. The same volunteer as before yelled out, "Great job! Only about a mile left and only a few more surprises left for you!" The surprises were more "off road" sections and a crazy hill that was so steep you could not run up it. Instead they had tied a rope to a tree at the top and you had to pull yourself up the hill with your upper body while running to get to the summit. I laughed out loud when I saw it and thought it was fitting that they put that in the last half mile of the race!
No woman passed me throughout the race so I knew I had won as I ran down the finish chute. I was pretty happy because it was a fun, outside the box, enjoyable 13.1, and I got the W! The funny thing is that this is third trail 1/2 marathon I've ever run and the third one that I've won. So I'm 3 for 3 in trail 1/2 marathons and I guess I can say undefeated :) Pretty cool! As I was accepting my award for top female they told me I was only 3 seconds off the course record! Dang it! I so could have gone 3 seconds faster. I had no idea what the course record was or that I was close to breaking it! Well, I suppose it gives me a reason to come back next year...