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Old Mountain 5K Trail Race Recap

[Edited to add: I forgot to mention that I ran this race without my Garmin or any sort of watch. Garmins tend to be inaccurate on trails anyway. It was weird to run an entire race without any feedback along the way (I’m used to at least having a regular stop watch or some sort of time keepers at the mile markers) but it was also strangely freeing. Definitely something I’m going to do more often.]

On Sunday, I ran my last race of 2011. It wasn’t my fastest race of the year, and it certainly wasn’t my furthest. But I did learn a few very important lessons:

1.) A race that is marketed as a trail race with “technical portions” is probably not going to be like the cross country courses I ran on in high school and college.

2.) All it takes is a personal email from the Race Director to erase any frustration about a race mix up and make me excited about doing the next one in the series.

And most importantly,

3.) 23 degrees is not too cold to run in shorts…as long as you have a pair of soccer socks to cover your calves. (Did you hear that, Dad? I’m still staying strong with No Tights December!)

Oh, and a beautiful pair of “precious” gloves to keep your hands warm.

precious gloves

But, I should probably back up a little bit.

A few weeks ago while researching winter races, I came across the South County 4th Season Race Series and discovered that their inaugural race, a trail 5K, was being held the weekend before Christmas. After telling EC how trail races can be fun and make you feel like you’re just playing in the woods, he agreed to run the thing with me.

So on the coldest morning of the year so far, EC and I made the trek down to South Kingstown for our first non-relay race together – the Old Mountain 5K Trail race. At that point, I can’t say either of us were all that thrilled to be racing in frigid temperatures. But since neither of us wanted to be the wimp who bailed on the other, we sucked it up and tried to pump each other up.

It was only after we had gotten to the field and started doing a warm up that I realized that neither of us really had any idea what we were getting ourselves into. Before the race, I figured I knew all about trail racing. I had run cross country, after all, so clearly I knew what it was like to race on trails, grass, and rocky hills.

A few seconds of warming up on the race course was all it took to make me realize that this was no cross country-style trail. This was a small, narrow path through the woods with streams to cross, rocks to climb, and tiny bridges to run over. This was the type of trail we used to practice slow, easy runs on – not race. As we scrabbled over countless roots and tried to find the narrow track through the woods, a poor shocked EC remarked, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to run any faster than this!”

trail rocks.jpgThis was not the actual trail we raced on, but I swear some parts looked like this!


We finished our jog and starting making the final preparations with one last stop at the porta-potties. Unfortunately, not everyone was quite as prepared as the two of us were. The registration/check in line was longer than ever. In order to give all the runners in line a chance to get their numbers, the race was going to be delayed a half an hour.

A race delay on a normal day is frustrating. Having one on a day when it’s nearly impossible to keep warm is pretty much torture. Finally, after what felt like forever, EC and I joined the clump of people on the field for the start. There was no marked starting line, and until the Race Director came out and explained the beginning of the course to us, I couldn’t even tell what direction we were going in. I tried to work my way around the mass of bodies to get near the front but was not successful. And then, with a simple, “On your mark, get set, go!” from the RD we were off! I said goodbye to EC and surged out.

The course started on a wide open stretch of grass but then almost immediately converged into a very narrow section that ran around the edge of a baseball field. It was impossible to get any sort of position on the steeply sloped bank. As soon as it flattened out, I knew I only had a short window to get around people before the woods. So I weaved and bobbed as much as I could, passing the one woman that I could see in front of me.

Once we got into the woods, everyone just kind of settled in. We were running in a single file line and the only thing I had to do was follow the feet in front of me. I couldn’t help but think how fun this little run in the woods was….until it hit me that the leisurly pace I was keeping wasn’t exactly a 5K race pace. Since there wasn’t really anything I could do about it at the moment, I just followed closely behind the runner in front and waited for my time to strike.

That first mile was definitely the hardest. After running over a series of small wooden bridges and a section with rocks piled everywhere, we hit a huge, seemingly never ending hill. I tried not to look up at the stream of runners ascending ahead of me and just laughed as my legs stopped moving with any sort of speed. It was all I could do not to climb up that thing on all fours.

trail bridge.jpgAgain, not the real course – but we also ran over a lot of little bridges like this


After that part, the course became more of a blur. There were little orange flags lining the route, signs with arrows on them pointing out the turns, and mile markers at every mile. But since I wasn’t wearing a watch, I had absolutely no idea how fast I was going when I hit that first mile marker. I figured that between the bottle-necked start and the steep hills, it was probably pretty slow. I tried to focus on picking up the pace and slowly reeling in the runners ahead of me.

But the trail didn’t get much easier from that point on. At one point in the course, it all but disappeared, leaving nothing but the little orange flags and line of runners ahead to guide me through the underbrush. I crossed so many little streams that I stopped counting after the second one. And we ran across and down surfaces covered with large, slick rocks where all I could think about was putting my feet down carefully enough so that I wouldn’t fall.

During this long section of the course, a ton of thoughts were going through my head:

I can’t feel my legs!

Good thing I can’t feel my legs – it means I can’t feel the scratches I’m getting from all this brush.

This is amazing!!

Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Don’t fall.

Ugh. I forgot how long the second mile of a 5K feels. Where is that sign!?

This course must be marked wrong. I know I must’ve run at least 4 miles by this point!

Oh, two miles. Phew. Okay, you’re going to make it. Just hold on.

This is amazing!!

I’m so tired. Am I really this out of shape?

The course opened up and crossed over some grassy fields and a short section of bike path. You’d think that at this point I would be happy to have flat ground under me, but I hated it. Flat ground meant I actually had to pick up the pace. And my lead-filled legs and burning lungs did not want to move even the slightest bit faster.

I had no idea how I was doing or how fast I was running. I figured I wasn’t going to be setting any new records today, but I did know that there was a chance I was one of the first women. I tried to keep pushing myself along, but I admit – it is a little hard to stay motivated to move fast when I know I’m not going to be running even close to PR pace.

Just as I was struggling to find ways to keep myself pushing, a volunteer who was directing runners saw me and shouted, “Go!! First woman!!!!” That was all the motivation I needed. I can’t say that I suddenly shifted gears into an impressively fast pace, but I did try my best not to slip back.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, I could hear the cheers of the finish. We were still back in the woods though, winding along a narrow path and climbing down rocks. I couldn’t see anything (or even sprint for that matter), but I let that sweet sound of the crowd pull me in.

I crossed the finish line in a blistering 23:31, so excited to be done. EC finished a few minutes later with a huge smile on his face. He kept telling me how awesome that was. And how he bet he had more fun than I did, since he was just running along at a steady pace instead of trying to kill himself on that tough course.

Oh EC, don’t you know by now that I think trying to run fast is fun!?


I excitedly told him that I thought I was the first woman, so we hung around for a little bit for the awards. But when the overall winners were announced, instead of hearing my name, the RD called out someone else. She seemed shocked, and hesitated for a minute but then had no problem going up to accept her prize. I was confused, but we were running a trail race, after all. And she was standing in a group with some of the faster guys who had run that day. So I just figured that she had gotten ahead of me right from the start and I never saw her in the woods.

I got called up for winning my age group and happily accepted a new pair of Saucony arm warmers – in lime green, of course. Since we had a Christmas party to get to, we left as soon as my name was called. I tried to put the whole thing out of my mind (I had still won a prize, after all!) but secretly I couldn’t wait until the results went up so that I could go back and check.

saucony xc arm warmer green

The next morning I woke up to a very exciting email:


Thank you for running the Old Mountain 5k Trail Race. It came to my attention while processing the results that there was a mix up with bib numbers and the women’s overall winner was announced in error…it was in fact, YOU! Congratulations and my apologies on the mistake. Please accept a free entry into the next race for the error.
Preliminary results are posted at: http://racesplitter.com/races/6F53F4DBC/results
Race pictures and more information on future races will soon be posted to the series website: https://sites.google.com/site/4thseasonraces/
Thanks again and nice running

It’s funny how much a simple email can change your entire perspective on a race. I had won!! My first time with an actual race win!

When could I sign up for the next one!?

Overall, I had a great time at my first real trail race. It was tough, but I loved that it was basically one big obstacle course from start to finish. I definitely think these races need to be a part of my regular rotation. And I think EC might be hooked right along with me.

Final stats:

Time: 23:31 (7:35/mile) – in comparison, the winning male crossed in 19:17. So that means everyone was slowed down a bit, right?

Place (overall): 23/146

Place (females): 1!

And just in case you’re looking for even more reasons to ditch the Garmin, there was an interesting (and timely for this blog!) article published in the NY Times yesterday about just how unreliable our beloved GPS watches can be. I especially loved reading the Great GPS Test that the article linked to. Where does your watch stack up?

I think it’s important to realize that GPS watches aren’t always 100% accurate but these articles DO make me think – with any of the Garmin tests, I’m just wondering – how is the “accurate” distance actually determined? The NY Times article references Google Maps, but I’m curious as to how we can trust that that is more accurate than the distance calculated by a GPS watch? I’m no expert, but I wouldn’t think that it is…

29 Responses to Old Mountain 5K Trail Race Recap

  1. you’re amazing! holy fast…on trails!!!! sounds like so much fun, i’ve been wanting to do a trail race for awhile now but i’m so afraid i’ll trip and injury myself. i can be very klutzy at times.

    so glad they figured out the mix up and you got your (well-deserved) first overall female award!
    Kristy@RunTheLongRoad´s last post ..A Strength Training Conundrum

  2. Google Maps is REALLY inaccurate. (Well…that or my car’s odometer is really inaccurate, but I drove parallel to a measured trail once to check my odometer, and it seemed fine.) Apparently the maps on Running Ahead are accurate, or so I’ve been told.

    • That’s what I would’ve thought to! When I’ve tested them out in the past, they haven’t seemed all that accurate to me. I had never heard of Running Ahead. Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll check it out!

  3. Great job! Super impressive, and I’m glad they figured out the mistake. I want to try trail running. And those GPS articles are fascinating – reminds me how silly it is to get too caught up in precise mileage, and makes me wonder if the race I did last month that same up short really was accurate.

    • Have the race directors come out and said the course was short or was it just everyone who ran it and saw the distance on their Garmins? They usually have a standard method of measuring the distance – so if they insist that it was correct, than you can take it!

      • The race directors are standing by their distance. They had a ton of problems getting permits and the race course kept changing up until the week of the race, so that contributed to the suspicion…but realizing that Garmins are not the end-all be-all has made me think maybe it was right after all and I will take it!

  4. Congratulations! It doesn’t shock me at all that you finally won a race; you’ve always been a speed demon.
    Evan Thomas´s last post ..Fig And Hazelnut Balls

  5. Wow congrats! That’s an impressive speed on the trails. Especially since there were narrow parts where you were stuck behind some people.

    I am planning on signing up for some trail races in 2012 since that’s the only kind of running my bf is willing to try.
    Rena @ milehogger.blogspot.com´s last post ..Confession time

  6. Oh my gosh congrats!!! That is so awesome!
    Laura´s last post ..Monday Morning Motivation

  7. Congrats on the win! You’ve inspired me to look into trail racing asap.
    Rebecca´s last post ..Getting Out of the Sweat Pants

  8. Congrats this is totally awesome! I am really impressed :) No tights for you on top of it all, you are totally going to do it lol 😉
    Stephanie´s last post ..Home for the Holidays Virtual 10K

  9. Your outfit is so cute! Love the green and red!

    Congrats on the win!
    Jocelyn @ Enthusiastic Runner´s last post ..Twitter Road Race

  10. Loved this recap! I have never done a trail race of any distance (way too scared) but it sounded like so much fun! Challenging but fun. You might have convinced me to give it a try sometime… :-)

    Great job on scoring first female and a free race!
    Tia´s last post ..Rest Days and Being Crafty

  11. Congrats on the win! :) You guys look so cute. I love the matching socks!

    I read the article about the accuracy about Garmins. I think we all know that they aren’t a 100% accurate, but a useful tool. Hopefully. I hate when people say the course was long because their Garmin says so…I am not sure about smaller races, but I know for certified races they have a very scientific method for measuring that the course is the right length.
    Celia´s last post ..2011 Ted Corbitt 15k

  12. Congratulations on your win :)

    I’ve never won a race, but I was elated with a 2nd place finish once…the closest I’ve come to your trail race was a fell half marathon along Hadrian’s Wall (it’s a Roman construction that runs along the border between England and Scotland). Toughest race of my life, far more challenging than any marathon I’ve done. Your time is amazing on such a tough course. Well done 😀

    And I’m also pleased to see that the no running tights movement is still going strong 😉

    ~Jessica~´s last post ..Strong Is The New Skinny

  13. I love going on trail runs but I definitely would be a little hesitant to race one. I would be scared I would get injured! Congrats on your win, super awesome! I think you made out well.. you scored free arm warmers and a race entry!
    Sarah´s last post ..Miss Racing

  14. Wow, you won! Congratulations!!! I wish you could have heard your name announced, but oh well. There will be more races that you win :)
    Kate (Embarrassment of Riches)´s last post ..Deck The Halls

  15. Congrats Lauren!! That’s awesome.

    My first trail race was the Colt State Park 5K. I apparently hadn’t read the fine print well enough, because I thought it was going to be along those really nice paths by the water. Imagine my shock when the RD told us to pay attention to the white markings, the flags, the trail, etc. I was like “I’m sorry, the trail?” Oh GOD! This is through the WOODS!? It was crazy, and I actually got lapped by the eventual winner of the race, but it was a pretty awesome experience. I totally had the same thoughts run through my head that you did.

    Congrats again! :)

  16. OMG, congrats! You won! that is so awesome. I’ve never run a trail race because there aren’t many around here and I’m really scared of biting it multiple times on rocks or branches (or both). But they sound really fun :)

    Nice job keeping the streak alive. Although i think the running Gods are taking it easy on you this week – it’s been so not cold here lately!
    Kelly´s last post ..So this is what it’s like

  17. Man, this post is boring. JUST KIDDING. How exciting!!!!! I cannot believe how fast you ran that under the conditions you were describing! I tried doing my own trail run this weekend and could barely keep at 8:30 pace… trails are hard! I’m still not sold on the awesome part, but maybe if I win first female at a race I’d think otherwise. 😉 Congrats, LB!!! You rock!!! Merry Christmas to you & your family. :)
    Alyssa´s last post ..Jingle Bell Hell Virtual Run

  18. Great job Lauren! You now hold the record for fastest trail race in our family!

    I may sound like a broken record, but I am very proud of you.

  19. I congratulate you on not only winning, but not falling! I fall on the bridle path in central park!
    Meggie´s last post ..Christmastime in the City

  20. CONGRATS!!! WOW winning a race that’s amazing! My Garmin 305 ranked 2, I’ll take it. By the way, Operation Christmas cookie and trying out your routine hasn’t worked out well. I have been cold ridden, dizzy etc, so exercise was not a good idea, in fact it was dangerous! 😀
    kristin miller´s last post ..Holiday Cheer

  21. you’re awesome!!!! this is the third instance in about a week that i’ve heard amazing things happening when ditching the Garmin… hmmmm…
    natalie´s last post ..Finally at the Computer

  22. Congratulations, winner!!! That’s awesome that you won! And if you’d like, since you didn’t get the big “stand up on the podium so we can take your photo” moment, I’d be happy to re-stage that for you. I have a photographer on hold already. I’ll also make a medal. Just let me know when you’d like to accept.

    But really, that’s awesome that you were the first female finisher and had to feel pretty great when that chick shouted “first woman!” as you blazed by. Also, this: “I just followed closely behind the runner in front and waited for my time to strike.” You are such a badass. I’m psyched you’re going to pace me during my first sub-4 marathon in Eugene…

    Ali´s last post ..Thankful Things Thursday: Happy Holidays!

  23. Congratulations! Way to stay strong through the race and the running tight boycott!

  24. Congrats! I just ran my first trail race recently and loved it! Those gloves are super cute!!
    Chels R.´s last post ..Jingle Bell 5K Run Recap.

  25. Congratulations, that’s so awesome that you won!

  26. Congrats on the trail run win! I’m glad they figured out the mix up and you got your well deserved win :)Hope you had a great holiday!
    Nancy@triathletestrials´s last post ..Monday Motivation

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