Running My First Trail Race: UnBEARably Epic

It's time for a confession. 

I am without a doubt that annoying runner who claims: 

"I'm not going to be fast today, I'm so out of shape," before throwing down a pretty speedy race.

"I'm taking it easy today, I haven't been feeling great," before setting a new PR.

"This race is going to be ugly, I'm so sore," before marveling at how fresh and fast my legs felt.  

"I don't care about my pace today, I just want to enjoy a run in the park," before sprinting through the finish line after giving 100%.  

I swear, I don't make these comments because I'm fishing for complements or kind words of encouragement before my races. Many times, I truly go into a race not expecting much, trying to set my expectations low, only wanting to enjoy the day and not worry about the outcome. 

But time and time again my competitive side comes out the second I find myself in a race atmosphere. 

I'm sure it annoys people. I'm sorry! 

Last weekend, before facing my first ever trail race and first ever relay race, I was full of these types of statements. I told people I was going to walk. I told people I was terrified. I told people it was going to be ugly and slow and hard. 

And for once, the outcome was what I had predicted. 6.5 slow miles. Walking breaks. And the added bonus of a super clumsy wipe-out. 

But I loved every second of it. 

SIGNING UP

So, how did I find myself registered for a marathon relay trail race? Good question. I have always been uneasy about trail racing. It seemed like a great way to twist an ankle, and besides, no one sets PRs in the woods. 

But after seeing how much fun the North Face Endurance Challenge Series at Bear Mountain looked last year, and realizing that SO MANY November Project friends were signing up, the FOMO took over and I knew I had to be there. Plus, my very best friends wanted to form a relay team. I couldn't say no to that. 

So we signed up - paying just $40. Looking back on the experience, it seems like the biggest steal EVER. 

THE SQUAD

One of the most fun parts of running a relay is feeling like you're part of a team. We immediately started brainstorming what our team name would be. We landed on AVOCARDIO. Because we love avocados, and we love running. 

North Face Endurance Challenge

We bought really awesome tank tops as our squad uniform and anxiously awaited race day. 

Really - we were anxious. None of us had ever run a trail race before. Nor had we gone out for any training runs on trails. EEK. 

BUS TO BEAR MOUNTAIN 

November Project organized two school buses to bring us all from NYC to Bear Mountain. City kids getting out into nature. For $25 round trip, it brought the total cost of the day to around $90 ($40 entry fee, $25 tank tops and $25 transportation). 

After just 60 minutes we had arrived at Bear Mountain and I was stunned at how beautiful it was! 

We walked over to the starting village and I was immediately impressed. 

North Face Endurance Challenge Bear Mountain

THE SET UP 

There were tons of vendors setting up their booths with free samples of coconut water, incredibly delicious nuts, EPIC bars, cold brew coffee and more. 

There were picnic tables, wide open fields to set up camp, giant water jugs to fill up your water bottle, and even a table where you could get November Project tags spray painted onto your race gear. 

Everywhere you looked there was someone from November Project. Even though I didn't know half of the people there, it felt like a big family reunion. 

We spent a little while walking around, getting things tagged and pinning on our race bibs. 

Before we knew it, it was time for Rebecca to set out on leg 1! 

North Face Endurance Challenge

PRE-RACE PREP 

As is my new routine, I prepared for my leg of the race by doing some glute bridges, toe raises and side planks while trying to loosen up my forever-tight calves with my Addaday massage roller. 

Then, it was time to get into the transition area and wait for Rebecca to return. As I stood there waiting with some other November Project ladies I found myself getting butterflies in my stomach. Suddenly, everything that could possibly go wrong was popping into my brain. 

  • The transition area was crowded. I wasn't going to be able to see Rebecca coming. 
  • I was going to put the timer/chip on my ankle totally wrong. 
  • Everyone would be watching me as I ran out into the woods. What if I looked funny running? 
  • I didn't even know which way the first turn was! Where did I go when I got to the end of the grass?! 
  • Why were people coming in one at a time? I wanted to have company out there, not be all on my own! 
  • Ah shit, someone who is really fast just came back and said it was harder than she remembered... 
  • I have approximately 0 sense of direction. What if I get lost? 
  • Should I be running with my phone? Really, what if I get lost out there? 
  • What if I fall? 
  • Is it okay to walk? I'm going to have to walk. 

And then suddenly, there was Rebecca. I was putting the timer around my ankle and I was running down the grass onto the gravel path and I tentatively turned right and up and no one told me I was going the wrong way so...

Then, I was running my first trail race. 

North Face Endurance Challenge

THE RACE 

Pretty quickly, the trail started going up

At this point, runners like myself who had just started were on the right side of the trail while runners on their way back to the transition area were passing on my left. Everyone was really friendly and encouraging and until the two groups split there was a lot of "Good job, finish strong" and "Have fun out there" exchanged. 

I found myself focusing on taking little, quick steps and paying attention to my footing, especially on the uphills. Eventually, the rocks became too hard for me to navigate while running and the incline too steep so I walked to the top of the hill and then picked up the pace again. 

Everyone was spread out a good distance - I had room to move and navigate but never felt like I was completely alone out there. 

I continued to walk when my footing became an issue and run when things were semi-flat, downhill, or a short uphill. 

Sometimes, the downhills were also too tricky with all of the rocks and I'd say I slowed down the most on those downhill portions because I was scared of ending up on my butt sliding down the mountain. 

I was aware that my surroundings were beautiful, but it was a little difficult to take it all in when I was so focused on not taking a tumble. 

 Erin took this beautiful picture while she was out there!

Erin took this beautiful picture while she was out there!

I made it to the first water station and chugged two waters. I hadn't anticipated it being so warm and sunny out - which was such a pleasant surprise while hanging out the rest of the afternoon! 

After the water station I walked a big uphill and then things flattened out. The path was fairly rock free and I found myself thinking, "Wow this is really incredible. I'm having such a great time, I would totally do a second leg!" 

That's when it happened. Those few seconds where I let my thoughts shift off of the trail, my foot caught on a rock and I found myself sliding along the rocks as if I were trying to slide into home plate. 

Everything stung and I was aware of two runners behind me stopping and asking if I was alright. I was up and brushing myself off fairly quickly - giving them the thumbs up and insisting that I was fine before I had really even had a second to think about whether or not that was true. 

I re-pinned my bib onto my shorts (I couldn't bear to cover the cute little avocado on my shirt) and when I realized all I felt was stinging from scratches and nothing muscular was astray, I continued on without taking full stock of the damage. 

I'm not a fan of blood. I knew I couldn't do anything about it until I got back to the finish anyway, so why make myself queasy looking at it? 

 BLOOD!

BLOOD!

The rest of the race, especially on the downhills, I was more cautious. But I still enjoyed every second out there in the woods. 

We jumped over tree trunks, we saw a river. I heard birds. 

I had to stop at one point and wait for another runner to come along because the trail got a bit iffy, but otherwise I didn't get lost and I didn't beat myself up for walking. I still pushed myself to pick up the pace when possible, but it was such a nice change of pace to truly not care that I had run an 11+ minute mile. 

Growing up, I loved hiking. We would go to the Pine Barrens on Long Island and I would purposely try to get my family lost in the woods because I didn't want to go home, I just wanted to be out in nature. 

This trail race made me feel like a little kid again, just running through the woods, embracing nature. 

North Face Endurance Challenge

THE FINISH 

When I neared the end of the race, I did some cheesin' for the photographer, dodged some little kids crossing the path, and found myself on a paved path for the first time in over an hour. I focused on finishing strong, kicking it up a notch as I passed the November Project people lining the finish chute. I was so in the zone that I almost missed the part where I had to veer left to get into the transition zone! 

North Face Endurance Challenge

I saw Erin and as I took the chip off my ankle and put it around hers I told her, "THAT WAS AMAZING GO HAVE SO MUCH FUN!" 

I bypassed the finisher's medals and water bottles, grabbed a cup of water and made my way to the medical tent where a nice woman helped clean out my cuts and put antibiotic cream on them. I bandaged up some of them (mainly my elbow) and left the rest to air out. 

Then, I backtracked to get my medal and water bottle along with some free Olomomo Nuts (check them out, the flavors are crazy good!) and ORANGE SLICES. I couldn't stop with the orange slices. I didn't feel like drinking water, but the juicy oranges were really hitting the spot. They also had pieces of banana and bagels. 

CHILLAXIN' 

The rest of the day was spent enjoying the beautiful scenery, the amazing company and the incredible set-up that North Face had going on. Rebecca and I wandered around to some booths, winning free socks, free bandannas, free beers and taking lots of fun pictures. We ate snacks, we chatted, we cheered on lots of runners finishing a trail 50K and marathon (crazy) and I was so happy that the 237489 layers I had packed were completely unnecessary. 

North Face Endurance Challenge Bear Mountain
North Face Endurance Challenge

When the time came that we thought Melissa would be finishing up, we walked a ways from the finish line and waited. When we saw her coming, our whole team jumped in and sprinted through the finish in perfect unison. It was so fun and none of us could stop smiling afterwards! 

We hung out for a little while longer and then it was time to head back to the concrete jungle. 

HOMEWARD BOUND 

I left Bear Mountain with lots of scratches, bruises, blood and dirt. But most importantly, I left feeling like I had been on a vacation - even though I was out of Manhattan for just a few hours. 

I can't say exactly what it was about those 66 minutes in the woods, but it completely invigorated and refreshed me and I can't stop thinking about

We wrapped up the night with homemade onion/pepper/mushroom/basil pizza and a round of Bananagrams.

Every way I turned around in bed that night, I couldn't get comfortable. So many bruises! But it was so worth it!! 

North Face Endurance Challenge

WHAT'S NEXT 

I'm itching to do another trail race, and I'm happy to report that there's already one penciled into my calendar. The Paine to Pain half marathon at the end of September! 

I've also been finding some crazy adventurous sounding trail races. So far, I'm intrigued by the Ragnar Trail series and this incredible sounding Trailfest that takes you to Bryce, Zion and Grand Canyon! 

North Face Endurance Challenge

YOUR TURN: 
HAVE YOU EVER RUN A TRAIL RACE? WHAT DID YOU THINK? 
DO YOU HAVE ANY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EPIC TRAIL RACES I SHOULD LOOK INTO? 

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