Saturday was a day of many firsts for me. I ran my first race of 2016, my first 25k, and my first trail race. It was also the first of several races Taryn and I will race together in 2016.
Taryn convinced me to register for the TrailDawgs PHUNT 25k sometime during IM training last year. She ran the race in 2015 and we thought it would be a fun adventure. Alyssa’s roots are in ultrarunning and she has won the 50k version of the PHUNT (at least once, maybe twice?), so she was 100% on board with me giving it a try, even with the race falling just one month before the L.A. Marathon.
A few ladies from the running group Taryn and I belong to, “MRTT,” registered, too, as did another of Alyssa’s athletes, Beth. I was so excited to get to see Beth, who I haven’t seen since July.
The race was in Elkton, MD, which is almost in Pennsylvania, so we had a long drive on race morning. I drove thirty minutes to meet Taryn at her house at 6:00 a.m. We then had an additional two hour drive from her house to Elkton. Patty from MRTT carpooled with us as well.
The Race Site in Elkton, MD
As soon as we arrived at the race site, I knew this was going to be a very different experience than running a road race. The first thing I learned was that the trail racing uniform is shorts, a long sleeve top, compression socks, hydration vest, and beard. The male grooming products industry is really missing out by not sponsoring these races!
It was much chillier than I had anticipated and I went back and forth about what to wear a zillion times. I made a last minute decision to switch out my tee shirt for a long sleeve (this turned out to be a mistake), we picked up our bibs (there were no timing chips – whaaaatt?!), adjusted our gear, and got ready to race.
I spotted Beth (and her awesome dad, who also ran the race) and we took a few minutes to catch up.
Reppin’ for TeamHPB at PHUNT
We proceeded to the athlete briefing (which was indoors, thank goodness!), where the race director provided a brief overview of the course markings and then everyone started walking outside. I started noticing people running and realized the race was starting! This was just one example of how informal and un-type A this race was, especially as compared with triathlon.
Beth, Taryn, and I started running together. Right off the bat, it was very clear that the mud was going to be a factor. We were slipping and sliding even on some of the flatter sections at the start of the course. When we hit the trails, we had to run single file and there were definitely some back-ups where we were stuck behind other runners and had to wait to pass. Again, this was a new experience for me, so I just tried to soak it all in.
We ran into another MRTT runner, Anna, at the first aid station (around mile four) and it was great to see another familiar face on the course.
I really enjoyed running with Beth and Taryn, but it became obvious pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with them (and was going to blow-up if I tried), so right after we ran through the first aid station, I backed off a bit and they ran ahead.
I tried to settle into a more comfortable pace for me. There were definitely some sections of the course that I had to walk, either due to mud, a steep incline or decline, or a combination of the two. There were also some water crossings that required caution. I’m not very coordinated (understatement of the century) and I really didn’t want to fall and hurt myself with a marathon less than one month away!
Have I mentioned it was muddy?
(photo credit Sean Toohey, top, and Patty Thompson, bottom)
The scenery was beautiful, but I was trying to focus on foot placement and surely missed out on some of the views along the course. There were switchbacks in a couple of spots and I tried to see if I could spot Taryn and Beth running ahead of me, but never did.
There were some noticeable wind gusts, but generally, the weather was perfect. I definitely could have worn a tee shirt and shouldn’t have switched into my long sleeve before the race. We really lucked out, since it snowed during this race last year!
Even after I slowed down a bit, I still felt like I was struggling. I distinctly remember at mile 19 of my first marathon (in 2009) thinking I was in over my head and shouldn’t have registered for such a difficult race. I felt the same way about half way through the PHUNT. It was a much tougher course than I expected and everything from my waist down was hurting.
Alyssa didn’t want me worrying about my speed, so I did not wear a Garmin. There were no mile markers on the course, so I wasn’t sure about my mileage throughout the race, other than knowing the third aid station was around mile 10. We had been warned that the 5 (ish) miles after that last aid station were the toughest, so I tried to really stay on top of my fueling. As I thought I might be getting close to the finish, I asked someone running next to me if he knew how much longer we had to go. He replied: “For the first loop?” I can’t even imagine running the 50k on this course. My hat is off to those runners for sure!
On the Run (photo credit Ryan Goverts)
The last little bit of the course is uphill and when you cross the line, the race volunteers hand record your number. They haven’t posted results yet, but I believe I finished in about 3:19.
I ran into Taryn as I crossed the line. She had a HUGE PR over her time from the prior year (over 20 minutes!). I was elated for her, especially since she had a tough end to her season last year and couldn’t run for many weeks. I’m so proud of you, Taryn!
I was definitely hurting as we headed back inside for the post-race food. (They had vegan soup, which I was thrilled about! So many races only offer post-race pizza, which I can’t enjoy. Thank you so much to the race organizers for accommodating vegetarians and vegans!) We met up with Beth and the other MRTT-ers there and everyone agreed it was a really challenging day. I was exhausted. I texted Alyssa to let her know I was near death and of course she was responding with words like “fun” and using exclamation points. I told her I would need a few minutes before I could even think about whether I enjoyed myself out there!
Since this was my first trail race, I don’t have much to compare it to, but the course seemed to be quite hilly (supposedly over 1800 feet elevation gain) and I was definitely hurting more than I would be running 15 miles on the roads. I honestly think this 25k was as difficult as any road marathon I’ve done.
Post-Race with Taryn, who had an awesome day!
Yup, it was muddy! I didn’t even bring my shoes home!
By the time we ate, collected everyone, and headed home, it was 5:00 p.m. before I got back to my house. I took a shower, ate dinner, and fell asleep at 6:30. Trail running is no joke!
It’s now Monday and even though I am still sore I can honestly say that I do want to try trail racing again. It was a huge test for me – physically and mentally – and a great change of pace from road races and triathlon. I may even do PHUNT again next year!
I would definitely recommend this race to anyone thinking about giving trails a try. It was a fun, friendly event; very affordable; and the post-race food was great. I also loved the medals, even though I’m not a huge hardware person. If you drive to and from Northern Virginia on race day, it is an all-day affair, but doable. The weather is always going to be a big question mark in January, but that’s just part of what makes trail running such an adventure! Just get out on some trails and hills beforehand because it isn’t an easy course.
Thanks to Taryn, Beth, Patty, and all of the other ladies who made the day so much fun! And, of course, thanks to the “TrailDawgs” for a great event!