For a couple of years now, the Runner’s World Weekend Festival was on my must do list. It just hadn’t worked out timing wise with other races. Well, this year it finally did and when I decided to sign up, I wanted to go big with the Grand Slam. This mean 4 races in 3 days for a total of 26.2 miles.
The first race of the weekend was the 3.8 mile trail race on Friday afternoon. I was actually in the Philly area for work that week, so late morning I headed up to the Bethlehem to start the weekend. I had been given some awesome tips by friends who had done the weekend before so I felt pretty prepared going into the weekend. The plan was to not actually race any of the races but slow down a bit to enjoy them so that I could actually survive them all. I was most nervous for the trail race as I had never done one and starting off the weekend, I certainly didn’t want to get hurt and not be able to complete the rest.
Upon arriving in Bethlehem I headed right to the ArtsQuest SteelStacks Campus. This essentially served as race headquarters all weekend. It was great to have inside shelter and bathrooms all weekend. I think for the first time ever I can say I went to a race and never used a port-o-potty! The first thing I did though was get my bib and race goodies. Since I was doing the Grand Slam, I had one bib for all four races. I was shocked at this, but it distinguished you from the other runners with your yellow bib. After getting my goodies, I did a quick sweep of the expo before changing into my race gear.
The trail race took place about 7 minutes outside of town. The only way to get there was by shuttles they provided. I wanted to get an earlier shuttle as Golden Harper, co-founder of Altra, was doing a Trail 101 talk before the race. Being an Altra ambassador I certainly wanted a chance to meet him, but also just hear some tips about trail running. There were a few other Altra ambassadors at the race and I was hoping to meet them as well.
I arrived to the site about 45m ahead of race time and lingered back to hear Golden speak. After Golden spoke, Bart Yasso also spoke about the course and what to expect. Apparently he designed the course and changed it up from the previous year. All I knew is that it was mostly single track and the worst hill was at the end. Finally with about 10 minutes to go, we started shuffling to the start. Bart lead us in and asked us to back load in. As we just started walking into the woods toward the start line, I knew I was in for an adventure.
I chatted a bit with others around me and finally just decided to line up toward the end. I really had no idea of pace, but as Golden said, it wasn’t going to be road pace and to expect a few minutes per mile slower. And then just like that we were off and my first trail race was happening.
My biggest fear was falling. The real goal of the race was to finish vertical and with no blood or bruises. The first half mile or so was a wider part of the trail which was nicer. it let us sort ourselves out. I thought to myself that this was nice and totally doable. But just as quickly as I thought that, the course quickly shrunk to single track and I quickly realized I don’t necessarily have the patience to be a trail runner.
Now, I wasn’t trying to win this race, but I quickly got frustrated with the single track. I finally said screw it and every chance I had, I would try and pass people. Luckily I actually had on trail shoes and because of that was pretty confident in my footing. I think without my Lone Peak 3’s, I wouldn’t have been so confident out there. Any small clearing along the side I would push out and pass some people. At one point I had several people following me and I asked if they wanted to pass me. They said not at all, they were just following my footsteps. And then if there was a downhill, oh boy, I went for it.
When my watched buzzed for the first mile I was shocked. I felt like I had been out there for way longer than just 1 mile. There were some decent hills and for most of them, I pushed to the right and just walked right up. I had no problem with that and didn’t think I was weaker for it. Most people in my general area were also walking up the hills.
Eventually it did thin out a lot and that was so much nicer. The trail even widen a little more than single track in some of the back half. The one thing that did seem to get worse though were the rocks. I was prepared in my mind to deal with tree roots, not rocks, but there were a ton out there. Again, I felt lucky to have my trail shoes and probably without them I would have rolled an ankle or two. Finally we got to the last hill. We had all been warned it was the toughest one and that was correct. The only nice thing about this hill is that it was wide open so walking up, I wasn’t holding anyone back. I mean there wasn’t anyone passing me but it was nice to get off the single track.
Once you crested the hill, it was truly downhill the rest of the way. There were still lots of people at the finish area cheering every runner in. Bart was also there as MC of the race, so I got a nice high five before crossing the finish line.
I hung out for a bit to chat with others. I finally got to meet twitter friend Angie and her husband, Josh. With her was Chadd, who was a Bib Rave Ambassador along with Amy. It didn’t hit me until later that Amy was another Altra ambassador. Finally we figured it out. Doh! While we were chatting, someone from the Runner’s World Podcast came over to interview me. I haven’t seen the episode come out yet and when it does, all I hope is that I don’t sound like an absolute idiot. Let’s just hope!
Finally after some chatting, I decided to head back into town. My Step-dad had come out to support me for the weekend and I wanted to hook back up with him. I also just wanted to take it easy. With only one race down, I still had 22.4 miles done. However, I was very proud of myself for surviving my first pretty technical trail race.
Official Finish Time:
113/211, Overall Female