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  • Writer's pictureChristina Koenig

Hill Country Trail Fest Race

Hey y'all! The past weekend, I had my first race of 2021. Quite frankly-as we all know-races have been so limited over the last year due to the 'rona and as a runner who enjoys racing, it has been a bit of a bummer. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm so grateful that running hasn't been canceled, but there's just something about being at a a race and having the excitement of friendly competition and the camaraderie with the other runners. So, when I found out kind of last minute about a race for this past Saturday, I immediately jumped at the opportunity! The catch? It was a trail race. Y'all! I am not a trail runner, have never been a trail runner, and don't even own trail running shoes. To be honest, I am one of the most simple and basic runners that I completely baffles some of my close running friends. Let me explain lol. I've been competing for over 24 years now as a runner and just started using a watch that tells me pace and distance less than a year ago...I've used a cheap $10 watch from Walmart for years that did start and stop and that's it...I could tell you how long I ran (time wise) but that's it. I've qualified for Boston 4 times now and have done all of those races with that trusty $10 watch and just running by feel...probably not the smartest thing to do...don't judge lol, it worked for me. Bryan, I have you to thank for pushing me to get a real's been a good change for me. Also, I own only one pair of running shoes at a time. Most runners have an arsenal of different running shoes for different running situations and I have my one pair. I know, I a runner, I should know better but like I said, I'm pretty simple and basic when it comes to my running and quite frankly, I'm okay with that. I don't even like wearing my running shoes any more than I have to. I only wear them for running and can't stand wearing them when I'm not. If you know me at all, you'll pick up on that at races I will always show up in either sandals or a pair of old checkered vans. I'll put on my Mizunos for when I need to warm up and for the race, obviously, but afterwards my sandals are vans are going right back on. I've made a few changes over the last year as a runner so I guess you can say this whole running gig is finally getting pretty serious. I even purchased a heartrate monitor about 5 months ago or so; however, I rarely wear it...note to self that it probably does me more good to actually wear it then it does sitting in my gym bag.

I found out about this race when I randomly came across an email from a race organization, Run in Texas. I hadn't checked my email in a few days and when I saw the email, it had "Run the Hill Country TrailFest on Jan. 30" in the subject line so I was excited to see the details of it. It was for an upcoming race (like that weekend) that took place at the Lighthouse Hill Ranch, a 2,000 acre hill country ranch located just north of Blanco, Texas. The race offered a 5.5 mi, 10 mi, 20 mi, and 50k option...all on trails. My first reaction was excitement for a race...FINALLY...and second, was that I wanted to sign up for the 20 miler; however, after some back and fourth thinking with myself, I figured that the 10 miler would probably be a smarter choice since I am not experienced with trail running. I am a road runner to my core (and even a treadmill runner...yes I actually quite enjoy running on it) and figured, if anything, that I could gut out 10 miles on trails. It might not be pretty...I'm might even finish with some bumps, cuts, and bruises, but was confident that I was strong enough to finish 10. I went ahead and signed up for it not really knowing what to expect other than knowing it could go one of two ways. It was either going to be not as bad as I imagined it to be or it was going to be ugly. So my mom and I showed up on race day this past Saturday...her, excited to see me run...and me with my trusty road running shoes and enough anxiety to drive anybody crazy. You see, we pulled up to the ranch and as I looked around, my immediate reaction was, "What did you just get yourself into??" I was completely psyching myself out. My mom could tell and she told me to just go go out there and do what I loved...easier said than done, of course, but by this point is was too late. I was committed.

Packet pick-up was the morning of the race so immediately got that and then my mom and I took the 1/2 mile trek (that was actually part of the course) to the start line. I only rolled my ankle once during that walk, which I was hoping was not a telltale sign of how my race was going to be (insert emoji with the hand to the face)...hotmess, I tell ya lol. My mom and I just laughed at that when it happened because I think we were thinking the same thing. So, with about 15 minutes til the start of the race, I switched out of my vans and into my running road running shoes...and got in a half mile warm-up and then headed to the starting line. The gun went off and we (the 5.5 and 10 milers...the 20 mi and 50k runners started an hour prior) all started off. I was with the top 2 guys for maybe just over a mile, realized that they were doing the 5.5 mile race, and decided I felt comfortable enough to pick up my pace a bit and went on ahead. We were instructed at the beginning to follow the signs for our race distance, so when I got to the 3 mile marker and saw a sign and race volunteer, I knew that the 10 milers had to go left. I declined the water there at the water station because I really didn't feel that I needed it and I asked the volunteer about any that would be further up and he said there would be another one around mile 5.5. I made my left turn and around 3.2 miles in, I came up to a spot where I had two options...go straight, or go right. I slowed to pretty much walking because I had no idea where to go. I looked around and noticed a sign, face down...of course, on the ground. My gut told me to go straight, but I had no way of knowing for sure and I didn't want to accidently go the wrong way and then get lost. So, I decided to wait for the next runner to catch up to me to see if he or she knew where to go. I waited probably over a minute (my time just clicking away) til the next runner showed up and I asked him if he knew where to go. He felt we should go right...I was hesitant, but you could tell he was an obvious trail runner so I said okay. We went right and about a quarter mile in we come up to another volunteer table and water stop. My first thought as we approached it was that I found it odd that we had a water stop so close to the last one. I asked the volunteer if the 10 milers were supposed to be running by there and he said, "Yes you are, but you shouldn't be here should have gone straight back there." Ugh! I was so frustrated with me...with the sign...with that fact that I just didn't go with my gut. I immediately turned around and hauled butt to get back to that turn and at this point, had no idea if anybody else had passed us up. I ran the quarter mile and turned the corner and told myself to run as fast as my body would allow me considering the terrain, as I didn't want to get hurt. By the time I got to about mile 4 of the course (now 4.5 miles in for me), I had passed up four men. The last guy I caught told me as I caught up to him, "weren't you ahead of me?" I told him that I made a wrong turn a while back and ran an extra half mile...he immediately knew where I was talking about too and said he saw the sign down but that he's run there before so knew where to go and then told me I was doing great and to "keep moving!" For the next half mile or so, I was still pretty upset about getting lost and things not going how I would like and just did my best to gain some ground. It showed in my mile splits too...I hit mile 5 for me (4.5 miles on the course) at fastest mile the entire race.

I was back up in the front at this point and had a gained a decent lead. Mile 6 for me was my toughest and slowest mile as the terrain got more technical and intense for me. It forced me to slow down and think a bit about not only my footing (I can be a little accident prone in my athletic endeavors...two of my running/cycling friends Ian and Richard can attest to this) but also about me being frustrated about the situation with getting lost. You see, I had no real reason to be upset about the situation. I was back on course and doing well and honestly, even if I wasn't at that position at that moment, did it really matter? I was still getting to do something I loved. I wasn't going to be any less of a person if I didn't get back to this position or a watered down version of me so I told myself to chill and enjoy the rest of the ride. I reminded myself to "race fearlessly" and I swear for the rest of the run, my anger dissipated and joy took over. One of the things I love about racing is that burn in the lungs and legs and feeling your heart beat so incredibly fast. There's just something about seeing how strong you are and let me tell you, my legs were feeling it by that point...a feeling I loved. I stayed focused and the rest of the miles seemed to fly by while I enjoyed the tough course and beautiful scenery. I ended up hitting 10 miles in 1:17:26 ( this included the stopping and waiting trying to figure out if I was lost or not) so at that point I knew that I only had a half mile to go...a very welcomed realization and feeling because I was ready to get done and grab a cold beer lol. As I neared the finish line area, I took the sharp turn towards it, ran down a short steep rocky hill, saw my mom, gave her a smile, and ended up crossing the finish line as the first finisher overall for the 10 miler. I was quite pleased and completely shocked with my performance that day and despite the slight setback, I couldn't have asked for a better experience for my first trail run and race. What can I say, but that I am so incredibly grateful for this passion that God gifted me in this sport of running. Running has become so much more to me than just running and I hope to never take it for granted nor to ever become too overly serious about it and lose my simple and basic approach to it. While I know this is not how most of my running friends approach running, it works for me.

To conclude this recap, I want to leave y'all with a few takeaways from my first trail running experience. One, I learned pretty quickly that trail shoes were PROBABLY designed for a reason. All I have to say are, "Holy ouch." Road running shoes are for the road and not trails. Two, trust your gut'll be right most of the time. Three, I still wouldn't consider myself a trail runner...not yet anyway. I have much to learn about this form of running. Four, I learned that you have to concentrate SOOO much more when running trails than you do when running on the road. I found that the few times that I relaxed on that is the few times that I either rolled my ankles or nearly fell flat on my face...yup came close twice. My brain was tired too by the end lol! Five, if I ever thought that trail runners (I might be guilty of this) had it easier because you get to run "slower" on trails than you do on the road...I just want to say I am SOOO sorry. I gained the biggest respect this weekend for trail runners...y'all are BEASTS! Six, I finally got that cold beer and got to try a new brewery in the process. Those who know me, know I'm a huge craft beer fan so I was pretty pumped about it. Rough Diamond Brewery, a craft brewery located in Spring Branch, Texas had their Sunset Lager out there at the race and I'm now a fan. Last, but definitely not least, when can I do this again?!

Well, till we meet here again. God bless you my friends...much love and if there's anything that I can pray for you about or with you about...don't hesitate to reach out!


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