In only my second trail race in less than one year back from running, I ran the Black Mountain Summit 7K. And it is also only the 2nd time in my ‘running career’, that I won my age group! Results: 31:08, 1st in AG, 7th overall (only 159 runners..) The splits make sense knowing that it’s an out and back course: 18:19 uphill, 12:47 downhill. It was definitely a surprise win for me considering I was not all that prepared to run such a tough course. But I did have the opportunity to get a few hill workouts in a couple of weeks before and I got some inside information about the course, so I was not too surprised on race day. But going into the race, I did start doubting myself thinking, ‘how am I going to run uphill continuously for over 2 miles?!’ Fortunately there were a few downhills and some flat trails on the way up, which allowed me to rest my legs as they were shot soon just after going up the first few hills.
I arrived to the race about 15 minutes before the start to find out I wasn’t even in the list of registrants! However, the people working at the race were very nice (and I think it happened to quite a few people) so I was allowed to just sign in real quick and get a race bib. The announcer called everyone to the starting line, which was technically just the finishing shoot. Because it was so cramped at the start, I thought it was going to get very congested but nobody wanted to even get near the front of the line. So I hung around near the front and got a pretty good start, passing people early. But maybe I was wrong in doing so because everybody else knew that it was smarter to take it easy. Within the first 50-100 meters, I was already in the top 15-20, which sort of added to the pressure in my mind: ‘oh it’s possible to place, you better hold on to this pace or else you’ll blow it.’ Thanks, I needed that..
What I noticed about the course was that it was not like any other trail I’ve ran on before. I was used to solid dirt that’s fairly easy to run on. What we raced on however, was built more for hiking because the trail was covered in rocks and it was almost impossible to really get in a comfortable rhythm. We were literally jumping left and right trying to find the best grip, avoiding rocks that might cause use to slip, which happened to this one kid who was in front of or trailing me the entire race. Next to the steep hills, trying to find my footing on the trail was definitely one of the biggest challenges of this race.
Toby Guillette, a local ultra-endurance athlete who ran this race last year and got 6th, gave me some very helpful information and tips about the course beforehand which definitely gave me an advantage when preparing for this race. His strategy was simply to, ‘run as fast as I possibly could to the top because I knew that on the way down, my momentum would carry me quickly, even if I was tired from the ascent.’ It definitely worked for him, running roughly 18 up, 10 down. I did my best to run the same strategy, but that whole ‘run as fast as you could to the top’ was easier said than done. After the first couple of hills, my legs were on fire! But knowing that Toby took 18 minutes to get to the top, I was hoping I could do around the same and see what I had left on the downhill. It was relatively quiet going up and I was competing against the 12-year-old that I mentioned before, a woman around my age, and one or two other guys. I would get passed by one or two of them on the way up the hills while I passed them back on the downhills. There were few occasions where I felt good enough to pass on the uphills, but that was rare.
Once I got to the peak, I felt a lot better knowing that the rest of the race was mostly downhills. But at that point, I was so worn out already I really didn’t know how much else I had in me. Toby must have been rolling down those hills last year because as fast as I wanted to go down, I couldn’t with all of those rocks in the way. I suppose if you disregard your fear of falling then going down those hills would be a piece of cake. But I didn’t really want to be wheeled down on a stretcher if I wasn’t careful enough. Running uphill uses more of your glutes while running down is more your quads. So on my way down, when I did run into the few uphills, it actually didn’t feel that bad, I suppose because I was mostly using my quads. Too bad I was already out of energy to really attack those hills. But I was able to hang on long enough and it was nice that the finish line was at the end of a downhill, it made it a lot easier!
There was a race photographer a couple of hundred meters away from the finish, hopefully they turned out ok. But there was also a race volunteer with a walkie-talkie and as I approached the finish line, I understood what he was doing. He was calling out bib numbers as they passed him so the announcer would be able to call out each finisher’s name and time as they crossed the line. I know bigger races try to do that as often as possible, but because of the sheer number of runners, it’s almost impossible to get every single one. But the people running this one did their very best to get everyone’s name called out, which I really liked about the race. I also had to leave the race, but I heard someone say something about only 5 runners have finished so I had to wait until they got the results before I could leave. Although I didn’t get in the top 5, top 10 is definitely still good and of course, first in my age group! Even though I left before the actual awards ceremony, the race announcer asked for my name and called it out to the crowd as I left, which was pretty special.
What I’m hoping from this race and any future hill/trail runs is that it helps in all of my upcoming races: the Carlsbad 5000 5K and La Jolla Half Marathon in April as well as my marathon debut, the San Diego Rock N’ Roll Marathon in June. I will most likely begin a 10-week training program for the marathon next week, with the two prior races falling within those 10 weeks which will more or less be training runs for the marathon. And after putting it off many times, I’ve finally taken the first step to doing the 100 pushups program by Steve Speirs. It’s a six-week program that helps you work your way up to doing 100 straight pushups. I’m hoping this strength training will really help with my upcoming races.