Good Content from: Saucony Athlete, Tim Ritchie
It started with a simple question from my wife. “Hey, want to try this trail race up in New Hampshire? It could be fun!” I thought, well since I have that day free, I’d love to go for a run in the woods with my wife during peak New England foliage season. So, we signed up. Then I actually looked at the website. This was no ordinary trail run. This was a mountain run with 3000 ft of elevation gain in 5 mi (this is a lot).
AND this was no ordinary mountain run. This was the USA Mountain Running National Championship! Oh man, was I in for it.
Any distance runner I know has a natural affinity for trails. We cannot drive by a trailhead without thinking what running there would be like and I don’t know how many times I’ve started down a path to end up in thick brush saying to myself “nope, not a trail” before retracing my steps and doing the same thing a mile later. There is something about rolling through the woods that feels so natural, adventurous and authentic that has always been a key part of my running routine. This, however, would be the first time I would be on the trail with both a start and finish line.
At the time, this race was sandwiched between two goal road races, both half marathons. My training then was almost exclusively road based and half-marathon specific, with the occasional fun trail run for recovery. We signed up so close to the race day that the chance for real focused and proper training for this event was out the window. So, I figured I would roll the dice on what I had.
I mean, half the fun of a trail race is the unknown!
We showed up and got a parking spot 30 feet from the start line (small races for the win!). While we sipped on the free coffee and lounged in the Lodge with the 250 or so other racers, it felt like waking up at summer camp. There was a cheery, welcoming vibe, a natural sense of camaraderie but also the underlining anxious feeling of what was approaching (perhaps because every time you turned around there was a giant mountain staring at you!). While the women raced, I warmed up with a few of the other male competitors. Among them was the eventual second-place finisher, a multi-time Team USA member and former road race rival of mine. As a total rookie, I flooded him with questions the entire warm up. As far as what to expect, he gave this terrifying description … “Well, it’s like a half marathon because that’s about the time duration you’ll be running, but it hurts like a half mile (aka quite painful).” And yet, as we watched the women finish one-by-one they were all smiling. Very exhausted, definitely muddy, but all smiling. This was going to be fun.
The gun went off and we charged the mountain. I was out of breath after one minute and my quads were burning. Then, I just accepted that as my reality and kept on climbing. There were times I felt powerful and times I wanted to cut the course. There were some amazing panoramic views and there were stretches where all I could do was look at my feet trying to take one more step. I never knew my pace or how far I had run, I just knew I had to keep going until I hit the summit. There was something very liberating in that feeling. I was freed from the metrics that can define a typical elite race for me and was able to just run.
I hurt the entire time. I got passed on the descent like I was standing still. I walked a whole bunch. I finished mid-pack. I nearly fell on my face a dozen times. I loved every second of it.
I think I was seeking something to inject a little excitement and newness into my running routine and this was just that. This was an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and get back to the basics. So, if you are looking for something different, uniquely challenging, full of fresh air, great views, wonderful people and racing simplified – give a local trail run a shot! Running is running. Have fun.
Photography Credit: Michael Scott