On Sunday, I ran my first official trail race. It was the Crystal Cove 6k Trail Run.
I wasn’t worried about the distance since I often run anywhere between 4 – 6 miles on my trail runs during the week and still have enough energy left to keep going. But, I had some goals and I wanted to try and really run this one.
My Goals for This Race:
Personally, I wanted to finish in under 35 minutes. If I hit that goal time, that would’ve placed me in the top 30 – 35 (according to last year’s race results) and top 3 in my age group (again, according to last year’s race results).
I had been training on a local trial called Shady Canyon and my splits were as follows:
Mile #1: 8’23″/mi
Mile #2: 9’54″/mi (+ 1:31)
Mile #3: 9’56″/mi (+ 0:02)
Mile #4: 8’38″/mi (- 1:18)
Total Time: 36:51
I’ve been nursing a sore achilles so I knew that if I rested and treated it well (ice/heat), come race time, I could probably shave some time off of my average pace and finish in under 35 minutes.
But, come race day, I failed to plan/account for something and I paid for it…
Here’s the terrain for the Crystal Cove Trial 6k:
My previous trail runs only have an elevation gain of ~353 ft covered over a .4 mile distance. The Crystal Cover 6k has an elevation gain of ~669 ft covered over a distance of a little over a mile.
I can run the hills on Shady Canyon at a pretty fast pace because it’s a short distance and I know how to recover on the flat distances and on the downhills (I got a handle on my posture and my breathing). But I wasn’t so sure about this hill. It was steeper and covered a longer distance. And I didn’t go on any practice runs of the terrain and thinking back on the race, I really wish I would have.
My Game Plan Come Race Day:
It was simple really. Sprint at the start, pace myself up the long hill (10′ – 11′ per mile). Then, sprint the straightaway at the top of the hill and run downhill as fast as possible without stomping my feet, causing strain on my knees and falling down.
So far, my fastest mile to date has been at 6’33”. So I was confident I had it in me to run a pretty fast pace at the start and at the top for about half a mile.
How Things Went Down:
I think there was a total of about 200 entrants for the Crystal Cove 6k. I got there early and made my way towards the front of the pack. I wanted to run it fast at least until I hit the hill which I’m now told is often referred to as “The Elevator.” (It’s a steep little bastard).
I took off right out of the gate like Steve Prefontaine only to later realize, I’m not Steve Prefontaine. (Props if you get the style reference here).
I ran that first mile in 7:21 and I was feeling pretty darn good. But I could hear people breathing behind me. I didn’t turn to look, but I knew I’d have to keep up my pace. If I could speed up and gain some distance before the hill, I was in good shape. I didn’t mind letting people pass me on the hill because I knew I’d make up for it on the straightaway and on the downhill.
Here’s a shot of the hill. It’s steeper than it looks (or at least, it felt it). And it stretched for about a mile. About a half-mile (or less) into it my pace slowed down. That guy in front of me, and several others slowed down to a walking pace.
When I checked my split times later, man, I really slowed down. I went much slower than I would’ve liked here.
I ran mile #2 in 14’23”. Not good.
As soon as I saw the top of the hill, I tried sprinting it. In retrospect, I should’ve waited so that I had full energy to sprint the straightaway at the top just before the downhill.
I did sprint some of the straightaway in order to pass some of the group in front of me. But I slowed down towards the end too. I guess I thought I should save some energy for the downhill towards the finish. Except, it’s only a 6k. I should’ve kept running hard because I later came to discover two things:
- You can only run so fast downhill.
- You can’t go too fast on a technical terrain (especially downhill).
At the end of that first stretch of flat terrain we turned right onto another straightaway. There was an aid station for the 16k trail runners and a few others from the 6k stopped to grab water. I kept going, but I slowed down my pace from a run to a slow jog. (I should’ve kept going hard).
I finished mile #3 in 10’37”. That’s the pace I originally wanted to keep on the entire uphill.
I looked down at my watch at this point. As soon as I saw the downhill, I knew it was time to flip the switch and start running fast again. I saw that we’d just run 3 miles and I had some catching up to do if I wanted to hit my goal(s).
By this point though, mostly everyone was too far ahead for me to catch up to. I only passed a few people (maybe 2-3) on the downhill. And the terrain was a bit of a pain in the butt. I run in a pair of Nike Air Flex Trainers. They’re comfortable, but they’re not designed for trails, especially not technical terrain.
I hit a narrow gravel path on the run down which made me uneasy and a narrow, technical trail towards the finish.
There was one runner in front of me (pictured above) that I still had a chance to catch up to. We almost had a photo finish – that was a lot of fun. It gets the crowd jumping and cheering to see who’s going to cross the finish line first and it motivates you to run your guts out until you cross that finish line.
I finished mile #4 in 7’37” and I felt good.
My Race Results:
I placed 46th (11 spots behind my goal) out of ~200 other runners.
My official chip time was 39:55:5 with an average pace of 10:43. That’s 4 minutes and 55 seconds over my goal time (that hill really slowed me down).
But, I finished 35th for my gender and 5th in my age group (that puts me at about middle of the pack for my age group).
My splits were as follows:
Mile #1: 7’21″/mi
Mile #2: 14’23″/mi (let’s not do this again)
Mile #3: 10’37″/mi
Mile #4: 7’32″/mi
Miles #1 and #4 felt great. I could’ve run mile #3 faster. And mile #2 was just a complete bust, but lesson learned.
- Incorporate weekly hill-repeats (lots of ’em) into my training. Especially if I want to keep racing on trails.
- Get a few practice runs in on the course you’re racing on so you know where to pace yourself. Where can I speed up, where should I slow down, et cetera.
- Buy some better trail shoes with more traction for the downhill technical terrain. And lastly,
- Don’t take so many photos. If you weren’t being such a tourist, you’d probably finish faster 😉
That was fun for my first trail race. I didn’t quite hit my goals, but I’m feeling good about my progress and each run is a learning experience, so I know how to train for and approach the next one.
My next race is the Paramount Ranch Trail 10k. It’s 6.5 miles but I’m confident I can cover the distance. And though I haven’t done a practice run on the terrain, it has a cumulative elevation gain of 700 ft but the biggest hill is only about 75 – 100 ft. That’s closer to the terrain I’ve been running on at Shady Canyon so I’ll be able to keep a much faster pace without a hill slowing me down…hopefully.
There’s one thing I know for certain… I love a good trail run and I definitely see more trail races in my future!