Thursday, November 8, 2012

USATF Marathon Trail National Championships

Double O Arch
I traveled to Moab, Utah for the USATF Trail National Championships. I was enticed by this race because I had never been to Moab before and I'd always enjoyed the USATF Championship races. Good courses, good competition, and cool places. This year, the location was no exception! I arrived a couple days early and was able to check out Arches National Park. It was beautiful, and so different from anywhere else I've been. Arches was spectacular! I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit.

Arches National Park
 The itself race was interesting. The website had shown some rocky terrain and a section of trail where a rope was needed to safely cross. It honestly looked like a lot of fun. I love races that have some tough terrain to break up the monotony. I tend to do well on those courses because I'm able to have fun with it.

The day before the race I checked out the course with Ryan and Natalie Bak, who also came down from Bend to race. Upon inspection we realized that the race was going to have a few more 'fun obstacles' than we expected.
Ryan checking out the trail
The morning of the race was clear and sunny, perfect temperature for running. I slowly made my way up near the front of the starting line, not really sure I belonged there with so many elite women racing! Everyone was super friendly though and before I knew it, we were off, barreling down the narrow, rocky trail.
View of the cliff we ran up. Picture doesn't do it justice.
  The race was hard. I wish I could say I enjoyed it, but I suffered. I'm not even really sure why it was so difficult. It seemed like I could never get into a rhythm- I was either climbing up over boulders, running through sand, or using my hands and legs to crawl down over rock ledges. The trail was not crazy technical, but there was never a point where it let up. It was exhausting because I had to constantly think about exactly where I was going to put my next footstep. It was also hard to follow the trail at times, because there was often not a designated trail, only flagging. Since I was spending so much time looking at my feet it was easy to miss some of the flagging. I ended up going off trail a few times, which was no one's fault but my own, but still annoying.

The course consisted a a big 21 mile loop followed by a smaller 5 mile loop that contained all the 'obstacles'. There were also two out and back checkpoints where we had to run to the checkpoint, designated by an orange kite, punch our bibs with a special hole punch, and turnaround to head back to the course. Adventure race, anyone?


I think I settled into 5th place around mile 5 or 6 and stayed there until the finish. Due to the nature of the course, everyone was really spread out. There was a good 10 mile stretch where I could see no one ahead of me or behind me. No man's land. Not a good place to be when you are suffering. The last 5 miles were particularly challenging for me because I was tired, dehydrated, and not thinking very positively. I wasn't in the mood the climb up the side of boulders or use ropes to propel me down a rock slope. I think I would have loved the ropes and ladders more if the race in general had a better mix of crazy challenging sections interspersed with more runable sections. I almost ended up catching the 4th place woman, but in the end I didn't have the mental capacity to push myself into the next gear. I was just done. I crossed the finish line in 5th, thankful to have just finished! I took a couple steps past the finish line, realized how bad I felt, and immediately walked myself to the medical tent. I had stopped fueling and drinking during the last 5 miles and was paying for it. Not smart. I was ok after a bit of shade, fluids, and salt though.


Although the race course was not what I was expecting, I think it was good for building mental toughness and making me stronger. I think every runner I talked to had a similar experience and wasn't feeling so great after finishing. I thought about dropping out more than a few times, but am glad I didn't. Now as I look back, the lessons I learned were different from many races, but still just as important.

1. Just keep running. Yes, things get hard and races don't go how you plan but you have to just keep going. 

2. Be flexible. In this race I was constantly having to change gears: jump up over something, turn sideways to fit through a narrow rock ledge, use my hands to climb down a huge rock drop off, run under something, etc. I challenged myself to be adaptable and accept everything that I encountered. 

3. Keep a positive attitude. It's hard to stay positive, especially when things don't go as planned. This is probably the issue I struggled with most during the Moab marathon. There were times when I did a good job staying positive and there were also times when I just gave up. I realized I need to work on my attitude when things start to come undone. I think recognizing where both of my strengths and weaknesses occur is the best way to learn and become stronger in the future. So here's to the future…. 

Enjoying Moab the next day!

Making my way down the 'trail'

So much sunshine!

Ryan on the race course