Final race of 2016 was a first-time trail race with an unexpected first place AG finish. The Del Dios Trail Half Marathon “The Race of the Gods” at Lake Hodges in Escondido, CA. It’s been six months since the San Diego Rock n Roll Half where I finished a little over than my sub-1:40 goal. However, my goals for this race was not about time. While I still wore a Garmin to track my pace, I set the display for the timer and heart rate only. I usually set A, B, C goals based on time, but since this is not a usual race, I aimed to run my best effort and be completely aware of the course and surroundings.
A week ago this Huffpost article caught my eye, How Trail Running, So Fun, Can Make You a Better Meditator. This article discussed how running off-road helps us to be more mindful of the present. We pay closer attention to every step we take along the trail. Yes I agree about being more mindful, but better yet is being surrounded by nature’s creation – the mountains, the landscape, the clouds hovering above me. The article also mentioned the Japanese practice of forest bathing (shirinyoku) – “immersing yourself in the natural world and drawing on all of your senses, which can lift your spirits, improve cardiovascular health, boost your immune system, and even possibly lower your risk of cancer.” With all these benefits, I can see why more people are hitting the trails.
Alarm went off at 5:15am and I quietly changed into my race gear. Projected temps at the start of the race was in the 50s so I opted to wear shorts with compression socks, a short-sleeve purple shirt, and a hat. I don’t like being cold but I knew I’d quickly warm up with the hills in the first few miles of the race. I ate my usual long-run breakfast of whole wheat pita bread with banana slices and peanut butter and black coffee. Then did 10 minutes of PT strength exercises. This past week my hamstring started to feel a lot better and this morning I didn’t feel any soreness/tightness. I’m very grateful to see progress after three weekly visits to the PT.
With a 40min drive to the race, I was out the door around 6:20. It gave me enough time to hit the porta potty (only 4 available but the line wasn’t long) and warm-up. This was also when I realized I forgot the GU that I set on the kitchen countertop the night before. Luckily my friend had a honey stinger to spare. I also chewed one piece of Run Gum for an extra caffeine/energy kick.
13.1 mi of Trip Avoidance
150+ half marathoners lined up at the start line by the lake parking lot around 0750 and listened to instructions. The first portion of the race was a total of 6mi out and back that had plenty of singletracks. Those messed with my head because I kept thinking about ‘What if I trip and end up rolling down the mountain?’, so I was extra cautious through those areas.
I guess I’m not good with determining the inclines/declines on the elevation map because I was expecting major ones. Glad they weren’t too bad as I struggled on the declines afraid to lose control. Every time I went downhill, a group of women would speed by me but then I catch up with them, only to lose them again on the next set of downhills.
I thought I turned on my watch when I crossed the start line but as I looked down to view my heart rate, I noticed the timer was still at zero after the first mile so my distance/time ended up being a mile short. I wasn’t too worried about it since a time goal wasn’t on my mind. It was all about focusing on the trail and avoiding falls. Fortunately, I only had one incident when I stepped on a rock and got a bit off balance.
The views on that part of the course were spectacular with the mountains and lake backdrop. I can see why they called it the ‘Race of the Gods’ as it made me feel like I was running in heaven. I wished I had my phone to capture all the amazing sights but that would have taken away from my goal of ‘mindfulness’ and paying attention. Fumbling with my phone would have been a disaster on the trail.
Because this was an out and back course, I started to see the front of the pack passing by as I neared the 3 mile marker. At 3 miles was the turn-around point and first aid station. I decided to carry my Nathan handheld bottle because of the distance between the aid stations. The next one was after 7 miles! To me 4 miles is a long way without a drink.
I spotted the first female and started counting off the number of females passing by, with my best friend being in the top 10. After mile 3 was the point when I started to pass several runners who must have started out too fast. The second portion of the out and back course started after we reached the parking lot and on to the other side of the lake. This is where I felt more at ease and decided to kick it up a notch.
At the 7mi aid station, I dropped off my water bottle to lighten the load. With 10K more to go, I pushed the pace a bit. I felt great with only a little discomfort on my left foot. I could feel a blister forming near the side of my big toe where I had one before. At this point, I was on my own with one or two runners I can see ahead of me. My goal was to catch up with at least one of them.
By mile 9, I started to see the front runners again, counting the number of women ahead with my best friend in 6th place. I didn’t see anyone else behind her which meant I was in 7th. An unexpected hilly rock-filled trail towards the end where we turned around greeted me. I think it was the toughest part of the course. But shortly afterwards, I was on my way back with only a 5K left.
Two runners were far ahead of me but I decided to chase them. At this point, I already passed at least 5 runners on this portion of the course. It felt as though I had another gear left inside me. After a mile, I passed one runner who significantly slowed down. And as I turned towards the parking lot with the finish line chute in sight, I sprinted past a female runner whom I didn’t see behind my best friend earlier which officially made me the 7th female runner to finish!
It’s always interesting when you set your expectations for a race that doesn’t focus on time, the results can surprise you. As was the case for me, I finished in 1:57:29 (8:58/mi)! It was better than what I predicted based on the final trail run I did three weeks prior. And to top it off, I got my first age-group award in the new age-group category of 40-49! It feels great to be a 40yr old runner.
Overall, it was an awesome experience and I look forward to many more trail races in the future. Perhaps a TRAIL MARATHON?!
I am connecting with Holly and Tricia for their Weekly Wrap. It’s a great link-up supporting active women. Thanks ladies!