Today I ran a ten mile trail race in Northwest RI! The Run with the Beavers is a 5 mile loop with a 10 mile option, and runs around the Pulaski Management Area.
I've run a couple of trail races before -- the Leadville 10k in Colorado, and the Dandelion Half Marathon in Derby, VT. I loved both of those races, but I wouldn't exactly describe them as trails. They were both run on packed dirt roads, and the terrain wasn't super varied. Leadville was something I did more to say I visited and ran there, as it is really storied and important to runners. The Dandy has some excellent climbs and descents, and an awesome race culture, but it doesn't exactly satisfy in the primal "go for a run in the woods like a caveman" factor. This race really satisfied in that regard as the course was a pretty rugged five mile loop.
I've hiked this area, and camped here before, so I was really excited to run this race. Man, was it hot. I tend to do most of my miles at night or (a couple of years ago) really early. This race had a 9 am start time, so I was expecting it to be a bit of a slog. Combined with the fact that I've never done a race with any single-track technical trail, I didn't really know what to expect. But I can cover ten miles easy, so I was confident in my ability to take on the challenge.
The first .3 or so of the loop was up hill at a fairly decent grade, so I dialed in a reasonable effort on it, but made sure to save some effort for the trail ahead. Once we fell into the single track trail I was in the midst of a pretty steady stream of runners, and we were just going along. Found a real stream of consciousness flow state in interacting very immediately to the terrain, and trying to sync up my motions with the motions of those around me as we jumped off and over rocks, logs, and ducked under branches. A couple of places the trail let out onto unpaved roads, and the rolling hills were ongoing but not entirely unpleasant. By the time I was half way through loop one I felt like I was working really hard -- and I was, my heart rate was consistently in Z3.
Some more trails, some plank bridges over swamp, and then a really steep climb and we were done with loop one. There was a cool covered bridge, a beaver damn on the pond and the smell of water lilies as we ran along the pond too. Neat stuff.
About 250 people ran, which was a pretty good sized field but by the time we got to the second loop things had thinned out a bit among the pack, because the five milers had finished. As I started loop two I noticed only a few runners ahead and occasionally behind me. I decided to walk up the steeper hills to save something for that big hill at the end of the loop. With the mounting heat I think that was a good call, but walk breaks are a tough thing because they show cracks in the mental strength, and I have always felt like it is harder to start once you've stopped to walk part of a course. At least that is how it's been for me in the past.
I managed to run walk the last loop, and dial in a strong finish coming through the chute with about 1:47 on the clock. Not too bad considering the heat and technical nature of the course. The other runners were super friendly, and the experience on the whole was really positive. A lot of the time I feel like people in road races find the whole event to be drudgery, and that wasn't my experience with trail runners. They talk, joke, and go like hell the whole time. I could easily see doing more runs like this, even with the heat being a thing to contend with.
You know what else? Mentally I felt really stimulated by this race. I was ready to go out for another four miler last night, and had to talk myself out of it because I had been gone for half the day and really needed some family time. Usually after a road race the last thing I want to do is go out for another run on the same day, but yesterday all I could think about was running more. That's pretty special, and maybe it even means I'm finding the fun in the sport again.
So, overall: fun course, fun pack, great volunteers. I will probably try to run this race next year, depending on what summer plans look like. Next week I'll be running the blessing of the fleet in Narragansett, which is a road ten miler. It is a real classic of races in RI, and is one of my regular races every year.