Wow. That was tough.
I knew that I was in for some hills, and was hoping my experiences at Ledges would help pull me through the race. They kind of did, just not the entire time.
This being only my third different trail race, I was amazed at the difference in people at the starting line. What I mean by that is at any given road race, a substantial amount of the runners are there to cross something off a bucket list and/or drink beer at the end. At Afton for a 25k and 50k, you’ve got some slightly more serious runners.
The start of the race itself was about perfect. It was a crisp sunny morning with minimal wind. Really, you couldn’t ask for better weather, especially in July in the Midwest.
After watching the 50k start, those of us in the shorter race had another hour to wait. It was definitely an odd feeling for me, not really having a goal for time or for place. My mind still remains focused on River Falls Days and Midnight Madness next weekend.
At the start, I deliberately slid into the front-middle of the pack, as to not get sucked in to a pace that would be unmanageable for my first true trail race.
The start of the race sent us flying down a hill, and I was amazed at how fast so many runners got out. At a pace just over 7 minutes even, I wasn’t anywhere near the top pack. Then we hit the first big climb, and things evened out.
Normally my plan in a race is to attack the hills. However, knowing what awaited me, I took a different strategy to Afton. Be controlled on the hills, and cruise in the flats and downhills. For the first 9 miles this was a golden strategy. I was moving up in the race, picking off runners on the flatter portions atop the hills.
My problems began at mile 10. A steep climb through some pine streets (which reminded me of Muir Woods) really taxed my endurance. However flying back down the hill onto a long straightaway brought back my pace on confidence. That straightaway, however, was my downfall. I should have used it as some recovery, knowing two major climbs were coming in the last 3.5 miles. Here, though, I was grouped with some other 25k runners, and learned this is where the race began. Foolishly I got sucked into that pace which would have been fine in a road race, but not with the longest and steepest climb of the race coming.
That climb did me in. From about 12 and change to the finish it was a struggle for me. I couldn’t make the climbs, nor were my legs prepared to fly on the downhills. My legs and body were taxed at that point. All the work I had done to move up in the first 11 miles was undone as well.
Still, I was able to put down my first 25k finish, although I would have liked to be under 2 hours. And I finished in the top 10% at the USATF Minnesota State Trail Racing Championships. So all things considered, not too bad.
I’ll likely return to Afton next year and will do somethings different. First, I’ll actually work on some hill training. Also, I won’t commit the cardinal sin of racing (or as I would say, I won’t make a bush league mistake). Despite knowing what awaited me, I didn’t eat any breakfast the morning of the race, and went in going off of whatever fuel I had left from dinner. It was stupid, and certainly played a role in me running out of steam by the end.
All in all, though, it was a good day. My calves burn today, but that’s alright. I got more elevation than I ever have on a run as well. Now it’s time to prepare for the impending 25k this weekend, between three races.