I knew early on that Hagg Lake 25K was going to be a special race. Since registering for it months ago, I have been receiving informative and entertaining e-mails from the fabulous race directors. There was a Facebook group in which race rookies were able to glean information from race veterans and look at pictures of trail. I was amazed at the race director's attention for detail and how well cared for runners would be on race day. Cute shirts, finisher socks, cookies baked in the ovens of the race directors and lots of mud were promised to runners of this 25 K or 50 K trail race.
My running partner and I decided to make a weekend of it and booked a room for two nights at the Grand Lodge. We got in lots of gab time, ate well and begrudgingly limited our pre-race Gin & Tonic consumption. Our friend Carolyn was also staying at the GL and would be running the 50K the following day. It was fun to be able to hang out and enjoy each other's company the night before the race.
Race day arrived too soon, after too little sleep. The weather was fantastic! Blue skies, sunshine and projected temps ranging between 34 to 47 degrees. We had coffee and a quick bite before heading out to the race. The drive out to Hagg Lake was gorgeous. Forest Grove is a quaint little town. It had pretty views of the farmland and coastal mountains. We were getting pumped for the race. The drive took longer than we had expected which gave us little time for anything other than packet pickup, dumping our stuff back at the truck, and using the portapottie before hightailing it to the start. The mood was festive. It seemed like everyone knew each other. We were new to trail running. I certainly felt like a rookie. I kept overhearing veterans, who were signed up for the 50K talking about how they "forgot" to train for this event. I had been training for weeks to (just) run the 25K. I had done hill work, speed work, long runs, medium runs, short runs, had PRd at my last 1/2 marathon and had even tapered for the last week to have fresh legs for today's race.
We made our way toward the back of the pack since we had decided to start off slowly with just a minute or two to spare before the race began. This was by far the closest I had ever come to missing the start of a race. I'm sure that from now on, I'll arrive insanely early to prevent this from happening again. The mood was festive. Everyone looked as happy as I felt to be out running on this gorgeous sunny Saturday morning. I hadn't really bothered to study the course map all that much and relied instead on what past participants had said about the run. It wasn't very hilly, was super muddy, I'd likely fall down a lot, might lose a shoe in the mud, should be careful crossing the icy bridges, and would be lucky to run the 25K in an hour more than my half-marathon pace.
The first mile went up a steep gravel road and turned around to go back down that road before moving on to the trails. I was able to see all the fast people whiz right by me. I don't even remember if I ran or walked up that hill. It probably was a combination of the two. I was able to cheer on a couple of fast folks that I knew. I was quite relieved when I got to the downhill portion. I didn't blaze down the hill but I went as quickly as I safely felt I could go with large chunks of gravel under my feet. I kept remembering my friend who had trained with Earth First! and how he would carry a large bag of marbles to dump in emergencies to slow down pursuers. This gravel, along with pine cones, sticks and roots were potential threats to my safety. More than anything I wanted to be safe and have fun. Running this thing in 3:04 or less would be the icing on the cake.
The rest of the race is a blur of beautiful trails, fantastic views of the lake, jovial runners, fabulous aide station volunteers and lots of glances at my Garmen. I was surprised to find that the course was a lot more scenic than I had expected. It took us under the chartreuse forest canopy among glorious ferns, coniferous trees and streams. Crossing streams were one of my favorite tasks. Some I just waded through while others I balanced on logs to cross or rock hopped to the other side. I kept thinking during the whole race that there was nothing I would rather be doing than running this race right here right now.
There were portions of single track trails that I felt a little claustrophobic due to the bottleneck of people. Especially at the beginning, I felt like I was going slower than I wanted to because of a nervous runner afraid to cross the stream or runners taking longer than I wanted to ascend or descend hills in the single-track areas. The mud wasn't nearly as bad as I had expected but it had been relatively dry out there for the last few weeks. I hadn't expected the mud to be stinky, but it was in places. I also met a new type of running surface, mud moguls. These threatened twisting or snapping my ankle as I hopscotch ran on the higher portions of the earth.
The aide stations were positioned just where I needed them the most. Even though I had had breakfast and a Gu, I found myself ravenous by the time I made it to the mile 6 aid station. Rather than waste my time waiting in line and using the portapot, I decided to grab a bite to eat. A friendly attentive volunteer asked me what I wanted in my water bottle and filled it for me. Such volunteers are angels! I grabbed a handful of potato chips and started munching on them while I scanned the table for other things that looked good and wouldn't come back to haunt me. I didn't see anything on that table that I DIDN'T want. It all looked delicious. My only limitation was how much food I could carry away with me to munch along the trail. Knowing that time would be tight, I certainly didn't want to waste any hanging out stuffing my face at the aid stations. I shoved the handful of chips into my mouth to free up my hands and proceeded to grab a salted potato (ultimate endurance fuel), a handful of M&Ms, another handful of chips and on impulse a 1/4 of a PBJ. I realized that I had a little more room and grabbed some more M&Ms at the last minute. I might be a little paranoid but I think people were staring at me in my gluttonous state.
I walk/jogged as I ate my food and picked my pace back up once my hands were empty again. Everything went down well. Surprisingly, the food I was the least excited about were the M&Ms while the PBJ and chips were my favorites. I was relieved that my stomach accepted all that food in such a short amount of time and was stoked that I could skip my second Gu. I took a pit stop in the woods. That would be my one and only bathroom break for the race. I believe I drank nearly bottles of water and one bottle of Gu Brew during the race.
Around this time I decided that the sounds of the trail and runners needed to be supplemented with a little music from my iPod. I kept the music down low and only wore one ear bud so that I could still be social and hear what was going on around me. The mix of music turned out to be great and helped keep my energy up. I was surprised at how quickly my muscles were fatiguing. I knew that I'd finish the race but worried that I might end up walking more than the uphills as I had originally planned. It was definitely hillier than I had been anticipating. I have been hoping to register for a 50K March 1st. This experience was making me question my physical and mental strength. Could I really handle doing this for 31 miles? More importantly, would I even want to? Why push myself that much?
I was definitely ready for the next aid station at mile 11. More chips, another PBJ, a couple Fig Newtons (my favorite running food) and some juicy oranges. This time I decided to have my bottle filled with diluted Gu Brew so I could get in some additional liquid calories to keep my energy up and muscles from cramping. The aide station offerings went down well and were an instant pick-me-up.
Over the next several miles I started passing several of the 25 K runners. I told them good job and passed as respectfully as possible. I was surprised by the speed at which the 50K runners would pass me. ZOOM! They were amazing and fearless. Streams, muddy bogs and hills didn't slow them down in the least. According to my watch, I had less than two miles to run. I tend to lose all ability to do math while running but with my quick, rough projections, I thought that I had a chance of not only finishing in 3:04 but had the possibility of breaking 3 hours. I was stoked! I picked up my speed and hoped that I could maintain what felt like a blazing speed. It actually turned out that it wasn't likely any faster than 10:30 mi/mi. I am still getting used the difference between speed and exertion on the trail versus on the road. Runners, volunteers and spectators hanging out in the far parking lot a quarter mile from the finish line cheered as I ran by. It was great. I was not used to running an event so light on spectators. I guess I kind of like the crowds at marathons and how I feel like a rock star when they cheer me on. The trail requires more humility and self talk. I could feel my heart rate and respiration increase. I was really pushing it. The sound of the cowbell at the finish was music to my ears. I spotted the clock as I ran to the finish: 3:08:14. My eyes involuntarily teared and I felt a brief moment of sadness and disappointment. For the first time in my racing, I hadn't made my time goal and/or PRd.
I thought back to all the fun I had on the trail, what a great day it was out there and how much I'd learned. By the time I had collected my finisher socks, grabbed a space blanket and cooled down a bit my disappointment and sadness had (thankfully) vanished. My stomach was a little tight from exertion but I knew it was important to get some food in me. This time I feasted on peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies, chicken noodle soup, tofu dog and coffee. I was tired and a little stiff but quite pleased with how well the race went.
It turned out that my Garmen had been off for around a half mile or six minutes which explains why I had underestimated my time. Note to self: I needed to learn how to use the Garmen! I was amazed at how quickly my body recovered from the trail race as opposed to the road race. Hardly any soreness and by that evening the muscle fatigue was long gone. This added to the growing list of reasons why I absolutely LOVE the trails.