On Saturday I made my big trail race debut and I must say Mt. Magazine did not disappoint. I had no idea what I was getting into but that was probably a good thing! This race was such a crazy, hard, fun, and exciting learning experience. Now that a few days have passed (and it’s getting a little easier to walk around) I think I’m ready to write about my adventure on Mt. Magazine.
While I’ve run numerous road races over the past 30+ years this trail race was a completely new experience for me. So what would possess this serial road racer to run a technical trail race? There were actually quite a few road races that same day but something about this one intrigued me. I’ve been wanting to run a trail race for a while now but for whatever reason the timing has never been right. Now that I was finished with Little Rock and Boston marathon training I wanted to try something new. Something different.
The Arkansas Ultra Running Association has its own racing series and this particular race was one of the shorter ones on the schedule. (Only 18 miles!) The race website describes Mt. Magazine as a “fun run” with breathtaking views. I’m always up for a fun run and love scenic race views. Who doesn’t? I figured there would be some climb since the race was on a mountain but I was up for the challenge. I’ve run in a couple races considered trail runs (on service roads or paved trails) but they were nothing like this race. I went into this without a clue and I learned a lot in the 2 hours and 48 minutes it took me to get to the finish line!
My basic strategy was to follow some runners I thought I could hang with because I did not want to get lost! I knew one of the guys from the Arkansas Grand Prix series and figured I could follow him. I quickly learned that running similar (or even faster) road race times to someone does not equal similar trail times!!
The group I was trying to follow seemed to be trail experts (at least compared to me) and they were flying through all the twists and turns. The footing was so uneven and I really had to watch every step. One of the guys who had run the course before commented that this was the easiest section of the course. Really? I remember at one point it felt like we had been running for a while so I decided to take a chance and look down at my watch. I couldn’t believe what I saw: 0.98. We hadn’t even gone a mile yet!! From that moment on I barely glanced at my watch. Mostly because I didn’t want to trip and fall but also because I wasn’t going to think about pace, time, or distance. I was just going to run.
Around mile 3 I slipped on a rock while crossing a small creek. Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt so I kept running. Then it happened again in mile 4. By this point I was wishing I had been a little more prepared with some trail shoes. After these two falls I was nervous about going too fast on the downhills. I decided I would need to slow down on the rocky portions.
Somewhere around this point in the race we ran along side the prettiest view of Arkansas I’d ever seen.
The pack I was following started to separate in mile 5. Two of the guys fell back and one was in front of me. I followed him for the next few miles and during this time I had one of my gels with water. (For this run I carried a Nathan’s handheld water bottle.) Fueling wasn’t very convenient but I still had a long way to go and I knew I better eat something. I was slowly catching up to the guy in front of me but around mile 7 or 8 we went through a muddy forest area and I lost him completely. Suddenly I realized I was alone and had no idea what I was doing. It was time to pay attention to the pink streamers that were hanging every so often on the trail or when the trail changed direction. I kept running and followed the next set of arrows and streamers into the next trail section. After a little while I started to question whether or not I was going the right direction. What if I did it wrong? How will I get back? Why am I so bad with directions?! After a few minutes I decided maybe I should turn around and look for another runner. Within 15 seconds of turning around I found two of the guys I had been running with earlier. I was so happy to see them because it meant I was going the right way! I decided I was going to stay with them and I did but only for a mile or so. Once again my lack of trail running experience caught up with me.
Miles 9-11.5 basically consist of running down a huge cliff to the bottom of Cove Lake. Generally I’m a fan of downhill racing but I quickly learned that running downhill on rocks and roots through creeks and mud is completely different!! The two guys I was with sprinted on down the mountain as I cautiously tried to follow. My shoes were slipping all over the place and I fell another time. Where was the bottom of this hill? Was I almost there? Finally I started seeing some runners coming the opposite direction. These were the guys in the lead. It was so good to see them because once again I was assured that I was going the right way. It also gave me hope that the turnaround point was ahead somewhere out there. I lost track of how many guys were ahead of me- 7 or 8? Maybe 9? One more passed me going down the hill. It’s about 2.5 miles down the hill so I knew I had to go the same distance back up. The downhill had been so challenging that I actually thought it might be easier going up. At first it was and I went around the guy who had passed me on the way down. Then things started to get REALLY hard. I kept jogging up but then I reached a STEEP uphill slope and I could not force my legs to keep running. Even in the toughest marathon conditions I’ve always been able to continue running. Here I was in Mile 13 of a race and I could not run anymore. So I let myself walk for a few seconds and then I tried to run again. Then I walked, then I ran, and after a couple minutes of this walk-run cycle I made it over the worst of the climb. For some reason the phrase “There’s no shame in walking” went through my head when I started to get frustrated at myself for not being able to run up the hill. I repeated this saying every time I had to stop to walk. I thought for sure someone would pass me during this stretch but surprisingly no one did. When I finally made it to the top I grabbed some Gatorade and had half a banana at the aid station. Then I hit the next trail for the final few miles.
Once again I was alone so I was back to watching for the pink ribbons. I had another moment of directional self doubt so I asked an older couple out hiking if they’d seen other runners go by. They told me they had so I continued down the path. Eventually I passed two ladies who were doing the shorter race option and in the last mile another guy passed me. Anytime I saw another runner I was glad because it meant I was on the right path. I kept moving and eventually there was a clearing that led to the road and the parking lot where we finished. I MADE IT!!! Once my feet hit the pavement I tried to pick up my pace. It felt so strange running on the road after hours of uneven trail surfaces.
When I finished the race director wrote down my time and I grabbed some water. I was a mess with my hair in knots, mud on my legs, and my arms and legs had a few scrapes and scratches but I didn’t care. I was ecstatic that I had finished. This was the victory. Typically I base my race success on my finish time but in this case I had nothing to compare it to.
Official Time- 2:48:05. I was the 11th finisher / 1st Female. Then the race director told me that I set a female course record! It was an added bonus! Official Results can be found here.
I learned so much from my first trail race. Mt. Magazine is a beautiful place and I’m so glad I was able to experience it on the run. I have no idea how a race director puts on an event like this but it was very well done! The fact that I didn’t get lost is truly a testament to how well marked the course was. There was also a huge lunch spread in the pavilion by the finish line with grilled hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, cookies, and plenty of drinks. The overall race awards were handmade by Chrissy Ferguson and are truly one of a kind. Thank you to Paul Turner and everyone else who made this such a great race event! I hope to be back next year!