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Rookie Mistake

It was my eighth running of the VHTRC Women's Half Marathon Trail race.

That's a lot of years worth of experience. In fact, this race had been my one and only streak (7 straight years, until my bulging disc injury sidelined me).

My running partner and many of my girlfriends were running. The best trail running club in history, the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club puts this race on every September. I love the tough, hilly, middle-distance course.

Bonus: My parents were visiting from Kansas! It was the first time they'd seen me race. I didn't start running until after college, so this was their first opportunity. It was wonderful having them, my mother-in-law and Hubz out cheering for me.

My Personal Cheering Section

I'd done four training runs on the course in preparation. I'd been putting in strong, consistent mileage as I trained for my upcoming fall marathon.

I warmed up thoroughly. I felt good.
Photo by A. Schwartzbard. Note the quicksand.
Despite all my years of racing here, I made a rookie mistake. 

If you look at my splits below, you might think "ooh, she went out too fast." But that's a necessary evil, as the first mile is on a paved road. Start too conservatively and you'll find yourself behind a tentative, impassable conga line of runners who aren't accustomed to running on trails. I've raced this both ways, and as much as I dislike fast starts, it's a must, and I've trained specifically for it.

It's difficult to decipher the above chart unless you know where the big uphills and downhills are on the course.

I wasn't breathing hard. My heart rate wasn't out of control.

But around Mile 5, my legs ran out of gas. I wrongly assumed it was from all the marathon training I'd been doing. They weren't hurting, or burning, just lazy feeling. I actually thought I was running and would suddenly I'd notice I was walking. What?!

My rookie mistake? I only consumed two energy gels.

That wasn't nearly enough calories for my pace, on that hilly course.

Lots of Hills

What was I thinking?

I was thinking, I only need one gel for a 10K race, so two should be plenty for 12.5 miles (yes, the course is short. But you don't feel robbed with all the hills you get). 

My mind has been immersed in marathon training. Mostly flat road running. Different animal. Different fueling strategies.

I could have grabbed some food from the aid stations, but I didn't feel like I was bonking. I've been running ultras for so long, I kind of forgot that it was too short to truly bonk.

I slogged it out, and managed to finish with my friend Sara, which was way better than sprinting it in alone. 

Finishing kick with Sara D

I didn't truly realize my mistake until after I'd finished. I was explaining my tired legs and lack of energy, and Hubz looked at me incredulously when I exclaimed, "But I ate two GUs!" 

Though I had hoped to PR, I wasn't too disappointed. It was my second fastest time.

It was a warm, sunny, beautiful day. I got to run on amazing trails, something I don't take for granted. I raced in the middle of a tough training cycle for my A race, the Marine Corps Marathon. 

I got such a rush
cheering on my friends and seeing the joy on their faces as they finished, happy with their efforts on the challenging course. 

My running friends (photo by J. Ambrosius)

Having my family there was the icing on the cake. My race time just didn't matter.

Besides, there's always next year!


  1. you silly girl! but you enjoyed it (minus the bonk) and that's what is very important!

  2. I'm sad I missed this great race this year - congrats to you and the rest of the runner girls.

  3. Great race despite the nutrition error! I heard it was super muddy!

  4. Glad the mistake wasn't anything worse! A bad fuel plan can definitely ruin your day!

  5. I did the exact same thing in my trail run earlier this summer. I couldn't believe it because I am a stickler about nutrition. In the aqua velo this weekend I had 8 gels. I know, gross but they saved my butt. I am so sorry I missed this run this year. Wish I had been there with you.

  6. It's funny, I got several comments on Twitter saying 2 gels should be plenty. Guess it all depends ...

  7. It DOES all depend, and good for you for realizing what your body needed on that course, on that day. Better yet, good for you for focusing on what's really important—the fun and joy of having your whole family there with you, and of just getting out and moving, time be damned!


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