The morning was chilly and as I stood around waiting for the race to start, I realized that running a race that morning was what I was supposed to do that day. The Cougar Half Marathon put on by Dirt Devil Racing, was a race that I had signed up to do months and months ago. I was excited for this race at the time of sign up, but as the weeks got closer, and it seemed like more and more personal misfortunes came upon myself and my family, the less and less I prepared to run a race. It seems logical that training for a race would be put on the back burner as life gets busier and more stressful, but essentially going for a run probably would have made things a little but easier.
As I stood in the gravel on race morning waiting for the race to start, I started to psych myself up for the events to follow. I was about to partake in something that I loved. Something that I signed up and paid to do. I was about to complete this race while most people I knew were stumbling out of bed. The feeling that I would have after the race, is all worth being there so early in the morning, cold and tired.
As I lined up with my wave, my adrendaline started pumping and I was ready to go! As the gun sounded, my wave took off like a pack of wild animals. I started out in the front of the pack, heading down the single track trail on a mission to get this race under my belt. I knew the course well and after about 2 miles, the trail spilled out into a gravel track along the side of the road. Running along the single track made me realize that I started out too quick in my wave, and I should have stayed towards the back. The pressure from the runners behind me kept me moving at a pace that was beyond me at that time, but I couldn’t slow down because I already had runners on my ass.
Almost from the beginning of the race I had to start with my mantra, “Slow and steady, steady and slow, that’s the pace I like to go. Slow and steady, steady and slow, that’s the pace I like to go.” This course is mostly flat with the exception of Raptor Ridge hill. If I were properly trained I maybe would have considered attempting to run the hill just to better my overall race time, but that was not the case. I had to remember that this race was nothing more than a training run. The Holcomb Valley 33 is the next race on the agenda in two weeks, and the Cougar Half race was merely taking place of a training run.
About halfway into the race I had an overwhelming feeling of enjoyment and appreciation for the trail, and I remembered the reasons why I became a trail runner. The smell of the earth beneath my feet and the light breeze through the grasses are things that are unmatched in any other type of run. The sound of wild animals at the nearby San Diego Safari Park calling for mates as well as roosters crowing at family farms, are reasons I choose to leave my earphones at home when venturing on the trail. The elements of the trail are precious and priceless. Their is nothing in a road race that can replace these special details of trail running, and it was at this moment that I became excited again for the race.
Continuing with my mantra, I found my place along the trail. The front of the packers, the ones whom actually trained for this race, started heading back my way, so I cheered them on as each one passed me by. Most of the runners thanked me for the encouragement, some reciprocated it, some ignored me and others didn’t hear me at all (they had earphones in, grr!).
So as I neared the end of the course, I happened to glance down at my watch and to my surprise I was at just about 2 hours with only 2 miles or so left to go. I knew heading into this thing that I could in no way compare this race to the others because it was a trail, and I had only completed road half marathons, and those of course I had trained for. So once again with so little to go, my adrenaline amped up again when I realized that I could actually finish in under 2:30, which was my conservative goal.
The best part of the race for me was the finish. I couldn’t wait to cross the line and get this thing over with. As I came around the corner, my legs wanted me to stop, but with the end in sight, I plowed on through and got blasted with a huge spray of water!
This race was hard, and as strange as it seems, it was even harder than my last 50k. Throughout I had to continue to play a solo mental game, work through the pain of a huge blister developing on the bottom of my foot, try to hydrate myself after a couple nights of drinking, and curb my boredom.
Onto the next one…