So This Road Runner Walks into a Trail Race …

Just what the doctor ordered for this road runner!
Just what the doctor ordered for this road runner!

As I explained in my last post, I am taking a break from formal training and “just running.” ย To make this time feel more productive I’ve given myself some goals. Of course, these are not the usual goals I’d make for my running. Instead of hitting race time targets, my to-do list looks like this:

1. Strengthen core (make core work more of a habit even if it means running a little less).

2. ย Address training obsessive compulsiveness (overcome training OCD: stop controlling the pace of every run, making sure to get round numbers of mileage and to get in a certain amount of miles every day/week).

3. Rediscover the fun in running.

I have been doing really well with most of these things. I could still stand to do more core work, but I am doing it way more frequently than I was. I put my GPS watch in the drawer and forgot about it, instead opting for the cheap Target watch I still don’t even know how to use anyway. And when I saw there was going to be a trail race at a park near my house, I signed right up! GULP!

I am no stranger to running on trails. I’ve loved running trails since high school cross country. I even wrote an article in the now-defunct magazine, Ohio Sports and Fitness, about trail running. I argued that even those most dedicated road runner could benefit greatly from hitting the trails due to the soft surface, the challenging terrain and the mental benefits of running close to nature, writing, “trail runs are like recovery runs for the mind.”

Fall perfection. (That's me
Fall perfection. (That’s me near the middle right in the orange shirt and the driving knee.)

And that’s exactly what this was for me. For months, I’ve been grinding out most of my miles on the treadmill. And for years, I’ve been grinding out hard workouts and races on the roads. The idea of doing a hard run on the trails I love during the peak fall season was just too exciting to me to pass up. So, I bit the bullet, and despite not being anywhere near race-ready by any metric and to be honest, somewhat petrified of falling or looking like a complete fool in my fit-for-the-treadmill attire, I decided to toe the line in the grass.

I did a three mile warm-up with some pick-ups. I needed it because it was chilly! I lined up in my regular old trainers admiring all the cool trail shoes around me (mental note: might need to invest in a pair.) It was a small race, so despite not knowing what I was doing I still figured I should line up close to the front, so I picked a nice spot in the second row. The horn sounded, and we were off. I knew the first mile was mostly uphill and very technical for parts, so I decided to take it out conservatively. I was third woman and behind a bunch of guys too, but once we started the steep climb, I started passing people and before we even got to the scary part, the technical section, I was the first woman.

I hit the rocky, rooty section and expected to get passed left and right, but I didn’t. We made it through and then there was a super steep long downhill and I went crazy down that and then really started to pick up the pace, knowing the next 2 miles were rolling on some smooth trail. I passed a couple of guys and then as we approached the same big hill we went down I passed a couple of more. There were still 2 dudes within striking distance. But before I could get them, the course wandered over next to an overlook. It’s like a cliff. There’s a fence, but it’s still a little daunting, especially with all the roots and rocks again. I slowed way down and those guys got a little further ahead. I did, however, enjoy the spectacular view! Here’s a timelapse video of the view I ran by. Just imagine peak fall foliage and a gentle morning mist. AMAZING!

These technical sections are kind of awesome because you can recover before hammering it again. Every time I came off a technical section I went bonkers! This time was no exception. The course started a really nice roll back on smooth trails and I caught the next guy really quickly. It took another half mile or so and then I caught the next one on a long downhill. He was great and we raced each other, passing back and forth for most of the rest of the race. I knew we had one more nasty hill to go, but I tried not to think too much about it and stayed with the guy.

We finally hit that hill, which meant about a mile to go. The trail here was rolling again and more narrow and there were tons of hikers and a handful of racers who went the wrong way running the opposite direction. So there was some swerving and near misses. Finally, I saw the woods opening up and I decided I was going to leave the guy in my dust, or die trying, so, for maybe the first time ever, I kicked and I kicked HARD! Somehow with no more than a quarter mile to go I ended up beating the guy by almost 30 seconds. It felt amazing!

I finished the “8k” race in 34:08. Good enough for 9th overall and first woman. I didn’t wear a watch and was shocked it was under 35:00. I thought for sure there was no way I was going to average under 7:00 with those technical sections, crazy hills and slow first mile. During the awards ceremony, the RD said I averaged 7:07. I’m guessing that means the course was more like 4.8 miles rather than 4.98 which is an 8k? I should have asked, but then again, I’m working on the OCD so I am going with the “who cares” option here.

So that, my friends, is me going out of my comfort zone and doing something new and having fun and feeling like I might even be kind of good at it with some more practice (and proper footwear).

Have you ever run a trail race or jumped into an ultra or some other race out of your comfort zone? I’d love to hear about it!


Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. First, damn woman!!! That time on a trail is AMAZING!!! I love, love, LOVE trail running. It’s kind of funny with me…my first time on the trails I hated it. It was hard, it was completely different than road running, and I thought I am not a trail runner. Then, I came back to the trails, a few times. I can now say after 6 trail races this past year, I am a convert. There is something so serene and peaceful about the trials. I would take a trail race over a road race any day of the week. Once I get through the challenging phase of injury recovery, I plan to hit the trails first. It is definitely easier on your body. I was hoping to run my first 50K the second weekend in November before my stress fracture surfaced. So, I have my eyes on a 50K trail race in March. I feel that the “trail running community” is much more laid back too. It’s less competitive. I feel less anxious at trail races. I have found, though, the more you run on the trails, the more confident you become. I was so scared of falling my first time. Now, I am more apt to be “risky”;).

    1. Yes! The vibe at this race was way more relaxed. There were definitely a couple of competitive fast dudes and I think most people took it seriously, but at least to this point, trail races don’t seem to draw the super type-A crazy competitive types. Let me know what you decide to race and maybe I’ll join!

  2. Congrats on your first trail race! I’ve went trail running a grand total of twice, but I want to do it more often. I’m just terrified of twisting an ankle before my big race of the season (Marine Corps), so maybe I’ll start trail running afterwards. There are a bunch of low key XC races with my running club that I want to look into. There’s also a trail marathon and 50K in March. I don’t know if I’m ready to do that just yet!

    1. I love running on trails for my easy runs and have since I started running. Maybe you can find a bridle trail or some other less technical trail that won’t put you at much risk of falling?

  3. You are a beast! Nice work out there! I haven’t ever run a trail race, and I don’t see one in my future but you sure made it sound fun! haha! If you want a fantastic trail shoe look the the Nike Terra Kiger….AWESOME!!

    1. Takes a beast to know one ๐Ÿ™‚ Yeah, you and your spanks would have stuck out a little bit more than even I did! Haha! Thanks for the shoe recommendation – will check them out!

  4. I love it! Awesome job! And watch out, 8 dudes who managed to place ahead of Salty, she’ll catch up with you next time, if it’s the last thing she ever doooooeees! (Said in my best Gargamel-ish voice). ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. I love trail running. I don’t get to do it very often but it’s like you said – a total recovery run for the mind and soul!! Congrats on an amazing race, you did so well!! You should do more trail races ๐Ÿ™‚