Saturday marked the first annual Aravaipa Running Flagstaff Extreme Big Pine Trail series. There were four separate races: 108k, 54k, 27k, and 13k. I was originally signed up for the 27k, but after hurting my ankle and not running for six weeks, I contacted the race directors to drop to the 13k (8.4 miles). I was pretty nervous going into this race since I’m not exactly in race shape. I’ve only been back running for about 3 weeks and 8.4 miles seemed like a looooooooooong way to go.
Saturday morning I woke up, made some coffee and ate peanut butter + banana toast (per usual). I packed a Picky Bar for pre-race consumption and my hand held water bottle to carry during the race, as well as my nalgene bottle for before/after. My friends, Cristi and Jeremy, came and picked me up at about 7 and we headed over to Ft. Tuthill where the race was being held.
The course consisted of a giant loop that covered parts of Solider’s Trail and Highlands Trail. I had run about 2 miles of Solders Trail before–and fell and sprained my ankle, so I was a bit nervous regarding the terrain. The crazy looking elevation chart also had me a weeee bit nervous.
We got the parking lot about 7:15 and Jeremy headed off shortly after to begin his warm up. He was running the 27k which started at 8:00, while my race started at 8:30. I hung around with Cristi who was there to spectate and offer support.
This was a very small race. Since all four races were run on the same course (each race ran the loop x number of times. For the 13k it was once, the 27k was twice, etc) the participant number was capped at 400. My race had a total of 92 runners.
The start line consisted of a refreshment tent–which served as post-race food and beverage, as well as an aid station for the runners. There was one other aid station set up at about mile 4 of the 8.4 mile loop. Because of this, the majority of runners carried their own fuel and hydration. I ended up carrying my handheld water bottle and I’m sure glad I did! It was quite warm out by the time I started running and the extra water definitely helped.
The races were run incredibly smooth. The 27k started promptly at 8:00 and it was fun to see Jeremy take off.
Around 8:00 is when it started to get pretty warm out. The morning started off with a nice cloud cover, keeping the temps around 60*. By the time I was starting my race, the sun was shining at the temps had risen pretty quickly. I warmed up a bit prior to the start of my race and tried to figure out a game plan.
Since I didn’t know the terrain of the race, and because it was so small, I started to develop the hope that I could maybe, possibly, place. I decided I would try to keep my pace around 9:00min/miles on the inclines and try to make up some time on the declines and see what I could possibly do.
At about 8:27, they gathered us around to explain trail markers and what to look for, as well as protocol in case anyone decided to drop out. Our bibs were chipped, but there were no checkpoints along the course, so we were to go back to the timing tent if we were to drop and let them know so they wouldn’t think anyone was out in the forest, lost.
At 8:30 on the nose the airhorn was blown and we were off! I was feeling pretty good and near the front of the pack, running a steady and easy 8:15 pace. At about mile 0.45 we started the first incline. By 0.65 I was already walking.
I immediately started to panic. My breathing was off, my legs felt heavy and I was thinking that if the whole race was this bad, there was no way in hell I was going to manage 8.4 miles. I instantly decided to let go of any racing plans and to just enjoy myself. I was out on a beautiful morning, running on a beautiful trail and I decided to let myself enjoy every minute–regardless of my fitness level and performance.
Once I took that expectation off my shoulders, I started to run a lot better. The first two miles were pretty up and down and the trail was quite rocky. I took it pretty slow, wary of my ankle and not wanting to push it too much too soon. By about mile 2.5, we got out of the very rocky terrain and onto a more paved path. It led us around Ft. Tuthill and we started to climb onto the Mesa. This was also where I saw Cristi, who had run a different trail to spectate! She cheered for me and I huffed and puffed and told her “This is brutal! I’m dying!”
Once we got onto the Mesa, I decided to stop and take a photo and catch my breath.
This was the last time I stopped. Anytime after that moment I needed to rest, I walked. I told myself no matter what, keep moving forward.
Around the time we got to the Mesa we met with a lot of runners. This part of the course looped around to meet back up with the Soliders Trail which took us back to the start line, so there was a lot of intersection with other runners from other racers. We were also on very narrow, single track trail. It was difficult to be the one moving downhill and needing to hop around runners making their way back up. Most were very courteous and moved off to the side, but some simply refused, so I found myself running around bushes to avoid them at times–kind of annoying.
As we were moving down the Mesa, I was catching up on my breath and some time and I started to get nervous about having to climb back up. At this point, I had broken the race up into two. Getting to the aid station, and then getting to the finish. Breaking it up and focusing on the first four miles, and then the last four miles, seriously helped my mental state.
I managed to run a decent amount getting to the aid station–with the exception of a few walking breaks on some of the inclines. By the time we got to the aid station, I was getting kind of hungry–having forgotten to eat my Picky Bar. I have never been so thankful for food at an aid station! I was about to go for a banana when I saw a tupperware full of watermelon. I grabbed a slice and it was heavenly. It was nice and cool and I felt a million times better after eating it.
We started heading back towards Ft. Tuthill and the Mesa and I started playing leap frog with an older gentleman and a girl about my age. We’d all kind of run, someone would pass the other two and then stop to walk, then the others would pass them and start to walk, etc. While climbing the Mesa, I walked the steepest parts and ran the other parts. I figured if I could get myself a bit of space in between me and these other runners, I would be good. I don’t know WHY I thought this, but I suddenly was worried we were towards the back of the pack, and I just did not want to come in DFL. So, I pushed myself and got up the Mesa and let myself recover on the subsequent downhill.
We were at about mile 6 at this point and I figured “2 more miles is cake. You got this”. Shortly after I hit another steep incline that brought me to another walking break. About mile 6.5 we finally got out of the hills and were running trails that circled Ft. Tuthill. This was relatively flat and much more runnable than any other of the other trails were. I kept a steady pace and just told myself to keep moving forward.
Leap Frog girl caught up to me and we trailed each other for the next mile or so. We finally reached the part of Soldier’s Trail that I had hurt myself on and I stopped to walk around the gnarly terrain. Leap Frog girl got away from me and I was by myself for the rest of the race. I probably could have kept going, but I really didn’t want to take any chances on my ankle.
After the last big incline, I started running again and maintained that until I got to the finish line. I crossed in 1:25:48–nailing my sub-1:30 goal! I finished 28th overall (out of 92) and 12th Female (out of 58). I am crazy proud of the race I ran on Saturday. Considering my fitness level and the difficulty of the course, I don’t think I could have had a better race. I’m anxious to run it again next year when I’m in better shape, as I think I could have easily placed if I had still been in pre-injury shape.
*Bonus! One of my morning goals was to not have Jeremy pass me on his second loop on the way to the finish. I finished about 2 minutes before he came in the shoot, winning the 27k. NBD
I LOVED this race! It was the best introduction to trail running I could have asked for. Everyone was incredibly friendly and supportive out there. Maybe it was because I was in the middle of the pack, but I didn’t get an overly competitive vibe from anyone. During road races, everyone has a goal time that they’re gunning for and chatter on the course isn’t often seen. Most people are wearing headphones and they’re in their own world. During a trail race, people are much more chatty. I got more “Looking good”s and “Way to go!”s than I’ve ever had in my years of racing. It’s such a different vibe! Everyone is just out there to run and it’s awesome.
This got me so jazzed for my other trail races coming up in the fall. I have three lined up currently and I am so excited! I definitely fell head over heels in love with trail racing this weekend.
I then spent the afternoon with friends and J-Money at a giant beer festival. It was an awesome Saturday!