During my first Spartan Race, the NJ Super dubbed the “mini-Beast”, I fell in love with trail running. Prior to this, I had never really run on trails and dreaded running, both on the road and on the treadmill. I just did a few 5K races here & there, but never really enjoyed running until this day. As I found myself alone running in the woods up steep mountain biking trails, I felt a sense of calmness and peace. I enjoyed having to watch my every step as to not twist my ankle & as I run under the trees I felt burst of sunshine on my face. Barring the occasional “on your right” as I was passed by fellow racers, I only heard sounds of nature and really took in all of the beauty that surrounded me. As I emerged from the woods onto the gritty and rocky terrain, I realized that this was something that I could see myself really enjoying that would help to bring peace & serenity to my crazy and busy life.
In an effort to train for more OCR races I had to incorporate running more, which honestly I was not looking forward to. I realized that I had to make this an enjoyable experience if I was going to stick to it so I started to run the Appalachian Trail by my house fairly often, in all types of weather, even ice and snow. When it came to road running, I often ran around a large lake with nice views. Although Saturday is my only day to sleep in, I always chose to run very early in the morning so I could enjoy the peacefulness of my surroundings rather than the dealing with traffic and crowds of people. While I enjoy running around the lake, there was still something about the mornings that I ran on the trails that I enjoyed and it rekindled my love of nature and all it had to offer.
As I thought about my goals for 2014, I decided that I wanted to embark on a few new endeavors, including participating in an official trail race. I had selected the NJ Trail Series “Muddy” quarter marathon as my first trail race, which took place at Mountain Creek Ski Resort located in Vernon, NJ on Saturday April 5, 2014. I had no idea what to expect, but I had been training all winter by running almost every Saturday morning no matter what the weather or the temperature. I felt confident that I would be able to make the 2 hour cut off time for not getting an official DNF since I had become a much stronger runner, especially on trails. As I sign in and am given my bib, I hear a runner that was out in the early heat attempting to do the marathon length (same course but done in 4 consecutive loops) complaining how hard it was and how he can’t risk injury on this course because it is not a trail run, but more like running just through the woods. At that point in time, the woman handing out bibs says that he has been complaining about it being too hard & he only went out 1 mile and then the guy that actually marked the course came over & said “you will not finish in the 2 hours, I guarantee it” and he was right! Out of 49 racers, only ONE finished just under the 2 hour mark at 1:53!
I became nervous at first, thinking what have I gotten myself into? But then I quickly remembered that I have done several Spartan races including 2 Beasts up & down the mountains of Killington, VT so how bad could this be? The ski slopes were still open during the race and we began our adventure running out on snow covered ground and then immediately up a steep ski slope. In fact, that same ski slope was the one I ran up in my very first Spartan Race so I knew what a challenge was before me. I was feeling good & as we got about ¾ up the mountain, it was time to turn & head into the woods. During this race, I had to climb over down trees, scale rocks and mountains, walk/run through briars, mud, swamps, and even ice cold streams and freezing water up to my hips! I had to run up and down a ski slope covered in snow still…in trail sneakers! At one point I even had to run across a live ski slope as snowboarders were coming down the mountain as we ran under occupied ski lifts, which some were amused kicking snow off of their boots trying to get us. As I run in the woods, often alone with no one else in sight, I realize that this is really a challenge that I was not expecting. At Spartan races there are more people so there are strangers around pretty much at all times. During this race, I was on my own in the woods with all that nature had to offer, including animals! All in all, I think I ran on an actual trail for only about a half mile cumulatively for the entire race.
When I was doing the race, I heard many people say that they were turning around or giving up, that this race was too hard and not what they expected. While I agree, it was not what I expected; I think this race was one that truly tested my mental grit and physical endurance. Being it was only 6.55 miles, I opted not to bring water and only one gel along with me, which I started to regret about mile 5. I also didn’t bring gloves, so my hands were sore and my lower body was soaked in freezing mountain water so it made it even more challenging with my Reynaud’s. As I made my final descend down the snowy ski slope and passed snow boarders on my left and crossed the finish line, there was no big “celebration” just a few awesome people congratulating me on finishing one of the hardest races they too have ever done. My finish time was 3:03 and while I didn’t make the 2 hour cut off to not get that DNF, I finished and I would totally do this race again!
For more information regarding this event, including elevation changes & course description here is a good read: