On Saturday, October 15th, I ran my first trail run (excluding Warrior Dash, which was a whole different game), the Big Woods Run 5k. The run was held atNerstrand-BigWoodsState Park. The event offered 5k, 10k, half marathon and kids run options.
The packet pick up, 10k/half marathon start and shuttles for the 5k start line were all located at St. John’s United Church of Christ, which is located a mile from the perimeter of the park. The event was well-organized except for the fact that the safety pins were not in my race packet/bag, like I was told they would be. I heard from other runners that their safety pins were missing as well. It looked about half of the packets had pins and the other half didn’t. Luckily, there were extras and it was a simple, quick fix.
Since I was running the 5k, Nate took me to packet pickup at the church, then I took the school busses shuttling 5k runners to the start line located in the park. Nate ended up driving to the park and walking down to where I was to watch me start the race. He was able to drive back to the church and be at the finish line to take pictures before I got there, but said the first 5k finishers were crossing the line about the time he got back to the church (15 minutes).
I started toward the front of the pack because friends who had run the race before said it was hard to get spaced to set your own pace due to the narrow path (about 4 people wide). I started out a little faster than I would have done on my own, but was able to get in a good place without too many people crowded around to slow me down. I just hugged the right side track of the path and stayed there for most of the race.
The biggest thing about trail running is that you really have to watch your footing. Several people around me hooked toes in roots/rocks and went flying through the air like Superman. Luckily, I was very good at dodging and jumping over the roots, rocks and ruts in my way.
About 1.5 miles before the finish, there is a steep hill that everyone warned me about. I was a little worried going into the race, but once I hit it, I just looked down at the trail and dodged around the people who were slowing to walk. The footing was looser gravel, but I kicked into high gear and kept my pacing and passed people; many of whom never caught up to me again.
The last mile, as I was again warned, felt like forever. You come out of the woods onto the road and can see the church the entire time, but never seem to get any closer. It doesn’t help that the last mile is all a slow, steady uphill climb. Add the gusty wind and it was by far the toughest part of the race for me. I tried to just focus on a runner ahead of me and keep up.
As I approached the final turn, I spotted Nate in his bright green Eddie Bauer jacket (can you tell we LOVE these jackets? We wear them all the time.) in the pine trees. He was able to catch a few shots of me, but since I’d taken my jacket off, he had a harder time spotting me, not remembering what shirt I had on under my jacket.
Per my usual, I cranked up the speed to the finish and turned in a 33:15 time, which was the same as my last road 5k. I think it’s pretty impressive that I finished as quickly in a trail 5k as I do in road 5ks. The best part, though, was that I felt really good during the entire race and it felt relatively easy. I didn’t even have my music with me because I figured I would enjoy the trail and not worry about my time. The only walking I did was about four steps through the water station.
I see trail runs in my future because they’re definitely more interesting and the scenery is better than most road races. Even though I was surrounded by people, it was easy to tune them out so that I felt like I was running alone through the woods. As much as I love hiking, I’m not really surprised that I enjoyed the event as much as I did. The hiking and Warrior Dash definitely prepared me for this one! I’m putting this race on my calendar for next year and may even up the mileage to a 10k next year!
I highly recommend trying a trail run if you haven’t given one a chance yet.