Here is my trail-running story in all its (non) glory.
I’ll recount the most recent event and its lead-up, and end with some rah-rah takeaways for all of us pursuing a goal.
March 5, 2023. That day marked a fulfillment of a goal deferred for my budding trail running “career.” It was that, but it was so much more.
The story begins in the fall of 2021. Feeling the tension of letting my own cardio conditioning fade as I worked with a local racing company on marketing their events, I knew I needed to get back into the game of running. One that I loved so much, but had let slide due to other competing priorities.
Ironically, the company I worked with hosts the best runs in town. Ones that I would have eagerly signed up for were it not that I was working at them as their onsite social media person.
I saw a workaround in their other company, which hosts trail running events, Bivouac Racing. I’d never considered trail running, even though I’ve been a runner my entire adult life and a hiker since I was barely old enough to walk (thanks, Dad!). Trail running was a perfect merge of two of my favorite fitness activities. In this case, it was a chance to not only give me a reason to start training again, but to support these two fine companies doing great work in the community.
Now we return to fall 2021: my first trail run. I had insufficiently trained for a pavement 5k and had done zero trail training. Perfect. So off we tromped to Ft. Stevens State Park for Battle to the Pacific. Let’s just say it kicked my butt. Mike’s too. Running trails is a whole different animal than my normal pavement routine. The unbelievable soreness in my ankles for the next 2-3 days after the run was a constant reminder.
Yet, that is where this story kicks off. I’d found a good thing in this newfound hobby and wanted to keep going. I knew that Bivouac hosted a run at the gorgeous Silver Falls State Park every March. I set my sights on that for March 2022. Knowing that the shortest option at Silver Falls was a 1/4 marathon (6.55 miles) was daunting, considering a trail 5k (3.1 miles) had just beaten me up and taken my lunch money. I had a lot of work to do to get ready.
The best laid plans
I knew that getting trained for double the mileage over the cold, rainy winter months was a big ask for my current commitment level, but that was just the challenge I needed to up my game. So I began training. But alas, the best laid plans…
January 2022 found COVID wreaking havoc in these parts, infecting me, my husband, most of our extended families, and many others I knew from Christmas until well into the new year. The long road ahead for sufficiently training, armed with my eagerness and gusto, got the wind knocked out of its proverbial sails as I fell ill for a week. Then I was mostly better for a week, only to get a resurgence that was worse than the first time.
Not only did that derail my training for most of January, it killed my confidence because I knew that I was already facing too short a training window even BEFORE I got sick. You are welcome to pull out a tiny violin and send your mock condolences my way. 😆
I would have done it anyway, but with so many people sick even at church, schedules got rearranged and a youth retreat where I was committed to volunteering got moved from January to the March race weekend. So I had an official reason to skip the race I had anticipated, but was dreading.
After that, I settled in for aimless training for nothing in particular for most of 2022. But I knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to conquer Silver Falls in 2023.
That was a really long backstory. If you’re still with me, you are my people, and I appreciate you!
A rematch: Silver Falls Trail Challenge 2023
2022 roared by at lightning speed, as years tend to do. Before I knew it, the holidays were upon us and my training, while improving, had still been lackluster. I knew the first weekend of March would be here in the blink of an eye, so I started training in earnest.
This time I even did some trail running to train! Imagine that. I made sure to add in some hills too, knowing the terrain at Silver Falls offered some modest climbs. It was not enough. It never seems to be.
March 5 arrived and I knew I was undertrained. The longest training run I had done was 5 miles, and I was staring down 6.5. Or 6.7, as we were informed at the start line. My final mileage recorded by my running app was 7.3. I felt every step of that.
To complicate things even more, there had been snow for several days in the park. The evening before, trails were reported as largely clear. It was not to stay that way. The sky poured forth big white flakes for hours leading up to the race. Mike and I navigated snowy roads to the park, and were greeted with trails covered in several inches of snow!
Turns out, snow is more challenging to run on than dry trails. 😆
My mindset going in was that this was not going to be a personal record run. This was going to be a limit-testing effort to set a baseline–so I knew what to beat for the next race. I knew that I’d probably have to walk some. Having hiked the trail as recently as the summer before, I knew it was a moderate hike that could be done as such in a worst case scenario.
The phrase I used was, “It might be a jog with hikey spots,” and upon finding out the snow curveball, “OK, it might be a hike with joggy spots.” It turned out to be a combination of the two.
Tails from the trail
Upon being released at the start line, I felt optimistic. I even managed to pose with a little swagger for the camera man:
As the miles wore on, the swagger wore off. I got tired. Running on snow took more out of me than I expected.
I had to walk more often than I anticipated.
I even felt weak and under-fueled, which was a surprise. (So you’re telling me a McDonald’s McGriddle breakfast sandwich eaten three hours earlier is insufficient fuel?!?😆)
Even though I knew I was undertrained, I couldn’t help but feel discouraged about my perceived poor performance. The course seemed to take FOREVER.
Finally, I MADE IT! I was carried through the last few miles with the thoughts of the delicious pancake and bacon breakfast that awaited me at the finish. And yes, even the post-race beer. I enjoyed all of it very much. Even through my shivers induced by snow-drenched clothes, as it had continued to dump snow during the whole race.
This is not intended to be a story of self-pity. Rather…
This is intended to document my journey so I and the few others that are reading can remember what it took to get me here. It is a notch on a log to note my current status.
The important thing to keep in mind is that this is just the beginning. You have to start somewhere. Once you start, there is no where to go but up.
Per my 2023 goals post, getting back into a previous level of fitness is the plan this year. I just need to keep showing up.
Some rah-rah takeaways
Like any worthwhile endeavor (whether a fitness goal or some other you might be pursuing), it’s important to remember the fundamentals:
✅Do your best to be consistent in your training. Just keep putting in the reps.
✅Know that delays and sidetracks will occur (like getting sick). Get back to it as soon as reasonably possible.
✅Don’t beat yourself up for sidetracks beyond your control. In this case for me, it was snow on the trail.
✅Remember: every experience is a data point. How did you do, what factors contributed to that, and how can you do better next time?
✅Set goals that are a little beyond what you think you are capable of. Stretch yourself.
What goal are you working toward? Fitness or other, drop a comment below. I’d love to hear so I can cheer you on!
To wrap up, here are three short (less than :60) trail running videos I made: training, at the event, and after!
Thanks for reading!