"Challenging, but rewarding"

The closer I get to the marathon, the more I realize how happy I will be to say I finished. It's more than many people can say in their lives. This being my first marathon, I keep telling myself to not get carried away with time - just go out and finish it.

Today was the 30k I've been writing about coming up. Little did I know, this was an all-out cross country style race. The course description on the Richmond Road Runners' Web site was as follows: "These races will be run on the roads and trails of Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield. ... This event is an ideal training run for the Richmond Marathon. The course is challenging but rewarding." Sounds to me like this would be 50/50 or 60/40 trail and roads. Uh, no. I would say MAYBE three miles of this race was on roads, which included a hill much worse than the one in Riverside Park in the Virginia Ten Miler. And we had to run that hill three times (well, actually, six if you count three times down, three times up).

So, let me cut to the chase. My time was an abysmal 3:27:57. It was hot. It's October and Richmond's highs today were forecast to hit the low 90s -- and it looks like this will continue for two more days. (According to Weather Underground, Richmond was 2 degrees short of a record high today.) I saw people out there clearly in much better shape than me reduced to looking like they've never ran before. The course was three of the exact same laps through Pocahontas State Park, the largest state park in Virginia. On top of being a very inexperienced trail runner, I completely dislike repetition. Out-and-back courses are fine. More than two loops? Boring. This reminded me of running a 5k on a track back in June -- no matter what you do, it feels like you're going nowhere.

On to the race ... since I knew it was going to be hot, I threw out any ideas of trying to go faster than usual or setting a goal time. I initially used this race to be a practice of what I'd do in the marathon. I wanted the first lap to be slow -- everyone who has ran a marathon has told me to go out slow. It seemed everyone else had the exact same idea. Plus I had NO IDEA what this course was going to be like, so I wanted to take it all in the first loop. Then I practiced what most everybody else has said -- walk through the water stops. I did this at every water stop. I did the first lap in just over an hour. For the second lap, I decided to pick up the pace a little bit, but about halfway through is when the heat started letting loose. Second lap was about the same as the first. Third lap ... I was reduced to walking. Initially, I just said the hell with it and walked for about two minutes. My knees were hurting, my back was aching and, like I've already said, it was freakin' hot. Then I got into a pretty good routine of running for four minutes, walking for one. After a little bit of that, the downhills became unbearable, so I actually ran the uphills fairly hard, then walked the downhills. Opposite of what some people do, but the downhills were too much for my body to deal with. When I walked, I was pretty much speed walking, probably actually burning more calories than I would have had I sluggishly ran. Walking also prevented me from possibly injuring myself -- something that I don't need right now.

Today was a test of endurance, and I realized that if I wanted to be good at a race like this, I have to move to the trails. Today was either a gradual up/down hill or a steep up/down hill -- there was nothing flat. There was running on regular gravel, sandy soil, grass, fallen pine needles, narrow passages, over the same exact bridge six times, and, like I said, a very little bit of pavement. Back in June with the Xterra James River Scramble, I realized I don't like trail races. Some people love running on trails and doing cross country races, but it's not for me. Will I do this race again? Actually, for reasons other than the trail, I probably won't. I'd rather not get into too much, but I don't appreciate one person yelling at a few hundred people about not wearing headphones (can't that be put on a Web site, an entry form and signs - not a five minute speech), and then another person treating us like a bunch of chatty fifth-graders ("I'm a teacher so I'll wait until you're all done talking."). I'll leave it at that.

So back to the race description. This was certainly challenging ... it's by far the hardest thing I've ever done (No. 1, this race; No. 2, the scramble; No. 3, my first cross country race with the Apple Valley 5K in Bedford). Twenty degrees cooler certainly would have made a huge difference. Rewarding? While my body is still screaming at me for today's abuse, like someone else said on the course today: this is going to make the marathon seem easy. I don't care about my time - I'm happy with finishing such a grueling course. Like a marathon, not many people can say they finished a 30k. So, not only being rewarding from a physical standpoint, this event also was rewarding from a mental standpoint.