Surly Trail Loppet
This race has distance options from 5k to half-marathon. My friend Shashi had registered for the half and suggested that I give it a shot. I liked the idea of doing my first half-marathon on a trail so I signed up. When you register, they allow you to select which corral you want to start in. They suggest that you base this on your road half-marathon finish time. The first corral was named “Furious” and was suggested for people who finish a half in 1:40 or under. This is right on the border of what I run so I opted to sandbag and chose the second wave named “Abrasive”.
When I arrived at the race, I immediately looked for Shashi. When I found him, he was appalled that I had chosen Abrasive and insisted that I jump in the Furious corral but I wimped out and stayed in the the Abrasive. This meant that we couldn’t run together but I would have held Shashi back anyway.
The first portion of the race was flat and I was able to cruise by a lot of people. I started approaching the front of the Abrasive wave just before we entered the woods. At this point, the course became a single-track path and everyone basically ran single-file. There was no room for passing. We even had to stand in line to get over obstacles. This allowed me to recover so when we hit the open trails again, I felt fresh and was able to run hard. This became my strategy. Attack on the flats and recover in the woods. I also decided to walk the big hills. It seemed to work fairly well. I definitely wasn’t losing ground because a lot of the people near me at mile 4 were the still near me at mile 11.
This race is held in the Theodore Wirth Park which is less than three miles from my house. The locals lovingly refer to it as “Theo”. One of my routine running routes is a 9 miler where I run to Theo, do a loop in the trails and head back home. The trails I run on are the only ones that I know of in the park so I was real curious to see where all of these other trails are. What I discovered was that the park was about four times the size that I thought it was. The course led us through areas that I never knew existed. There was also a wide variety of terrain. Single-trail dirt, grassy meadows, gravel, flats, hills, switchbacks, mud, pavement, the works. I will definitely be doing a lot more running at Theo in the future.
One thing about this race that was different than other trail races that I have done was the people. This was not the usual trail crowd. This was the crowd that I would expect to see at a road race. In fact, I was shocked that only a few of us were wearing trail shoes. Everyone had road shoes! There was one especially slick uphill section and a gentleman in front of me could not climb it because his shoes kept sliding down.
I did better than I thought I would but the last couple of miles were really tough. My stomach was in knots by mile 11 and I did not bring gels. I stopped at the last aid station and downed three Gatorades. It seemed to be just what I needed because I felt much better after that. One weird thing was that when I was feeling really fatigued in the latter half of the race, I could still run surprisingly hard on the flats. The problem was that the slightest incline would make me really tired.
The last mile was flat with a slight downhill so I was able to hit it hard and pass a lot of people. My finish time was 2:05:58 which seems slow but, then again, it is a trail race so it was actually good enough for 9th place out of 40 in my age group. Afterward, I was given a free beer token and my friend Shashi also gave me his. I ran into some friends from a Ragnar team I was on so we sat and chatted for almost an hour.
Overall, it was a great race and I am glad Shashi suggested it. I would love to do it again next year and really prepare for it.