So there I was, sitting in the Seattle airport, watching a news reporter state that there was a large storm brewing along the west coast. Simultaneously I received my second email stating that if the race was going to be canceled we would be notified by 7am the day of. This race? Well, no other than the USA Trail Half Marathon Championships. Dun, dun, dun!
I mean I am not one to run away when conditions get tough, but I can’t say I am used to the rain either. Coming from Santa Barbara, the city who has beach weather 350 days out of the year, rain, let alone seeing more than two or three colors on a tree, is an experience for me. This isn’t to say I haven’t run in the rain before, I definitely have back in my younger years when California was on a normal weather pattern. However, rain, or in this case thunderstorms, are seldom and not something I have had the pleasure of dealing with very often. So considering the logical assumption that dirt+rain+mountains=slippery slopes, I was very aware that the cards would not be in my favor. But, as per usual, my slightly idiotic mindset that I can do anything I believe I can took control of my mental reins and I befriended the weather deciding that the race, if anything, would be super majestic-like similar to the slow-mo montage at the end of a glorious sports movie.
See, the trail half was something I had been looking forward to because, despite my lack of building a true base this year, it is a distance I have come to enjoy. I had run my first trail half in 1:23 earlier in the year (Valley Crest Trail Half) off a month of consistent training and so knowing that I garnered a supple amount of confidence to commit to the idea that I could potentially podium at this race (meaning I could place in the top 5).
The race would take place at Lake Padden in Bellingham Washington. It would begin with a flat first mile before gradually becoming a series of climbs that would last miles 2-5ish. After climbing these rolling hills we would then descend down for about a mile before evening out on the flat part once again thus taking us into that same loop for the second time. The competition was noted as “the deepest trail half field this year” as it featured road and trail studs alike. This was very exciting to me because I mean what is a National Championship without quality talent! You have to race the best to be the best! So let’s summarize all of this. I was going to have to face unfavorable weather conditions, run a tough course, and face some steep competition. Wooo, weeee, I don’t know about you but these are the types of circumstances that keep me loving this sport! I was stoked.
On the flip side, I am not going to lie, the listed field was a bit intimidating, but I knew that if I could focus on my strengths I could potentially have a finish that would bring momentum into my sophomore year of trail running. What were these strengths you may ask? Well, to simplify it there were two. 1) I am sort of a racing addict and 2) I love running technical downhill.
Dun, dun, dun!
The morning of the race I was up relatively early, not normal for me as I typically sleep until the last minute possible. Haha, I can talk about this some other time, I am sort of notorious for sleeping until the very last minute of everything. Anyways, this time I was up early and the reason being, was that if the race was cancelled we were supposed to be notified by that morning, but lucky for us it was not! After an easy breakfast, I headed to the course.
I warmed up, etc. (Let’s fast-forward to the good stuff, the actual race.)
So the gun goes off and the horses take off. Taking into account the talent level of the women that were in the race I had a feeling that we would go out a good steady pace, but man was I wrong, we took off flying. I got our first mile at about 5:42, which you may think “Dani, that’s not that bad”, but take into account this was the FIRST mile of THIRTEEN, and we had a good chunk of climbing ahead of us. Learning from previous races once you let somebody go on a trail it is very hard to catch them especially when the race features single track. So going with my gut I hung with the lead pack for as long as I could. The lead pack had about 8 women in it, all very strong and funny enough most were even talking to each other. I had one gal, Ladia, who was asking me if I had run the race before and we had almost a full conversation on the matter. I wasn’t dying but I definitely wasn’t able to talk with the same ease as her. (Which side note she’s super badass). Nevertheless, as the race continued at its fast pace ( we were averaging 6-6:20 on the first hilly miles) things soon began to change as the entire front pack began to spread out.
As we went up, down, and all around I was unsure what place I was in but it didn't keep me from pushing. Luckily I passed some cheering groups and heard them call out that I was indeed in 6th place, in which case I was like “heck yes!” But at the same time, “I had some work to do!” The hills were tough and continued to get tougher, but I was determined to get to the end of the first loop so I could begin my descent. (Side note: In order to be a major threat as a trail racer, you need to be killer at climbing, as most championship women are beasts on hills. This is something I've realized will take more experience but as for now, I manage.) Eventually, I got to the last hill which included some very painful switchbacks and it was just then that I thought that maybe my watch wasn’t getting the mileage right with all the trees. But then before I knew it, grace was bestowed upon me as we finally hit the best part... the downhill.
Now this was no ordinary downhill, no this was a muddy, rocky, tree roots everywhere type of downhill. With no hesitation, I leaned forward and let my feet and mind do all the work. I am not scared to say it, but I am pretty sure I was flying ;) . Within the first mile, I caught about 4 men and soon enough I eyed and passed the 5th place girl. Then just right before I hit the flat mile again there was a HUGE tree that had fallen over during the storm. Although unexpected, it was probably the best surprise ever. I side jumped the trunk and continued to play catch up as much as possible. The problem, however, is that I had gone so fast on the downhill that when I hit the flat my legs were burnt. I continued to roll just trying to keep consistent but the girl I had just passed was definitely making up ground. I knew she was a strong uphill runner as that was where she had caught me before, but I was determined to keep my lead as long as possible as I knew that the longer I could keep a distance from her the better position I would be in for the last part of the race.
We continued to climb until she eventually caught up with me again around miles 8-9. With muddy hills lurking ahead both of us were pushing. She even gapped me a little but I was determined to stay in range. I was just about gassed when we finally hit the switchbacks, which I knew was the last part of the hilly section. I pushed and pushed until finally I crested and just used about everything left in the tank to catch her. She knew I was behind her as she was flying much quicker than before but then I cranked into another gear allowing me to navigate the technical rocky parts and gain momentum in some open downward stretches. I caught 2 guys who I think were just as surprised as I was to be passing them coming into the last part of the race but made me even happier as it gave me a euphoric second wind to keep charging! Finally, around mile 12 I passed her (Camelia and eventual 5th place finisher #sweetheart) and continued hard into the finish. I crossed the finish gleaming that I was able to pull off a 4th place finish! I was stoked.
After the race, I cooled down most of the top 10 girls who were all stoked as well. I think because we all knew what we had just been through, from the weather to the conditions of the course, there was a mutual understanding that we are all pretty rad.
Overall I was pretty happy with the race. Considering the talent of the field I was happy to come away with a 4th place finish. This year has been the epitome of a freshman pro-year as I really felt like a guppy who had no idea which way to swim. But this race has fueled me of the promise the future holds and has helped me to create goals that are even bigger than they were before!
So "The Calm Before the Storm", yes this title is in regards to the weather of this race, but it is also in reference to the powerful storm that is calmly raging inside of me that I can’t wait to release onto the trails next year!
Until next time, ¡Viva la correr!
Thanks to Run in Rabbit, Hoka One One, and Coach Terry you guys are awesome ! :)