Time for an update. :-P
At least I have two races to talk about, and it's a pretty big coincidence, I guess, that they were both 10 mile races, only a week apart, and that it is absolutely impossible that they could have been (or ended) any more differently than they did. These two Saturdays served as a sobering study in how extremely opposite two races of the same distance can be.
Pear Blossom Run - Medford, OR
This was a big (a couple thousand) and very enjoyable race. The weather perfect - a bit overcast and cool. Pancake flat, except for one minor hill, all on city/country roads that were mostly closed to traffic, with multiple well-stocked aid stations. Plus, it was in my hometown, which was very nostalgic and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, which in turn made me feel like I could run forever. I managed to run every step until about 6.5 miles, and better yet, I ran the first five miles in only 1:03, which was (is) a positively scorching time for me. The last three miles were tough, as it was beginning to warm up a bit, but I finished strong and killed my predicted time. There were still quite a few folks out on the course behind me.
Distance: 10 miles
"A" goal time: 2:15:00
Actual time: 2:08.53
Monument Peak Run - Gates, OR
Mud, mud, and more mud. Nearly lost my footing multiple times, but only fell once at around mile 8, and it was a backwards fall on a downhill slope (which made the distance between my butt and the ground much shorter) and coated with about 6 inches of mud (which softened the blow considerably, but as a result coated much of *me* with mud as well!)
The singular aid station was actually at around mile 6 rather than mile 5 as it had been announced at the start. At a certain point, I'd decided they'd already taken it away since I kept going and going and wasn't getting there, and when I finally did get there, I almost broke down and cried because I thought I'd only made it to mile 5, and I was already exhausted and ready to be done. I spent about 5 full minutes at the lonely little unmanned table, extremely grateful that there was plenty of water left, but absolutely dreading the thought I'd only gone 5 miles, and at that point had already been out on the course about an hour and 45 minutes.
Shortly after the aid station I was passed by the two aforementioned runners who were completely out of sight within a few moments, and then I knew I was absolutely dead last, which hadn't happened to me for a very long time. I knew my time was ridiculous - on the climbs I kept having to stop and catch my breath, trying not to completely lose it in total and utter despair; I stopped A LOT and this was slaughtering my time. I mean, very, VERY rarely have I ever had to just stop and not move during a race. It made me mad, but when your legs are on fire and you simply are not sucking in enough oxygen no matter how hard you try, there's not much you can do.
The thought that not only was I last, but that they were probably going to take down the finish line and stop the clock before I got there was just humiliating. When you are out in the middle of nowhere, on a trail by yourself, you don't have a choice to do anything but to either turn around and go back (which would have been stupid in this case, because I was halfway already) or keep going forward. You can't just quit - unless you are so gravely injured that all you can do is wait for a sweeper crew that the race organizers *might* send out, you have to keep moving one way or the other!! So it was a sure affirmation from God Himself (and I mean it!) that I actually caught up with one other person at about the 8.5 mile mark. She was a lovely soul and we decided to stick together to the end, and we did. If it hadn't have been for her....
We were relieved to see that while all the other tables and food and whatnot were long gone by the time we finally staggered across the finish line, they hadn't stopped the clock so we still got official times.
Distance: 10 miles
"A" goal time: 2:30:00
Actual time: 3:32:58
Worst. Pace. EVER.
Dare I say, worst race as well. Even as beautiful as the course was.
But there are certainly a few lessons to be learned here:
One, I need to get busy with some serious hill training. Like, immediately. Because in the scheme of things, this race was not nearly as brutal as many other trail races are - ones that I would like to do someday. This one was more than I should have tried to handle - I was not ready for it. Respect the distance AND the elevation!!
Two, I must never assume that a great pace with a certain distance is going to mean a great pace at that same distance later down the road. I knew going in that Monument was going to be more difficult than The Pear, but....see Point #1.
Three, I need to overcome my significant fear of running (and not walking/stepping delicately in order to keep my footing) when it gets really goopy. It must be mostly inertia that keeps the seasoned trail runners on their feet when slogging through water and sometimes-more-than-ankle-deep mud, especially on the downhill slopes, but I am so petrified of falling that I have a hard time just forcing myself to barrel right through it rather than slowing to a careful walk and stepping through it like there's a hungry alligator lurking in the slime. I must add, though, that the Monument course was a very technical course in addition to the mud - tons of roots, rocks and potholes - and that just made it all the more difficult.
Be that as it may, I am pretty sure I'll do this one again next year (in addition to Pear Blossom, which was cake and rainbows by comparison) -- but, as long as I keep hammering away, it can only get better, right?