A Trail Race

On Saturday I ran a trail race–the Yeti Trail Race Series in Dixon, Illinois. This series includes one race a month. The December race is a 5k, and they get progressively longer each month–10k, 15k, and 20k. I haven’t fully committed to the series yet. I need to see what the weather is like. Last year, Chris ran the 10k in about 2 feet of snow. A trail run in 2 feet of snow? No thanks.

Here’s a picture of the 5k last year:

This year, it was in the 40’s with no snow. Quite different! Illinois is so unpredictable when it comes to weather.

Something unique about this race was they had a little drone taking video! I was surprised at how smooth it was. Here’s a YouTube clip:

I am wearing a white long-sleeved shirt and a black headband. Can you find me? I’m only at the beginning and at the start of the race, mid-pack. Chris is wearing a black long-sleeved shirt and shorts and Evan is wearing a red jacket and shorts.

Here’s a map of the course and the elevation:

It doesn’t look like much but that last hill!! Using a calculator I found online and some Garmin data, I figured out that the toughest part of the hill, which is just under a half mile, was a 7.28% grade. Ouch! It actually started and ended before that, but those were the measurements for the steepest part. Don’t forget it was single track trail! I have to say it was the hardest hill I’ve ever run up. Two comparable hills were one in the half marathon in Galena, which was about the same distance and grade, but that was on the road, and a trail race I did in Oregon, but those hills were only about 1/10th a mile. I am proud to say I didn’t walk though!

Backing up to the start of the race: the first mile was down the hill I was just talking about. I was slowed down by my footing–it was slick! The trail was covered with leaves over a thin layer of mud, and there were rocks under that. I definitely need more grippy shoes and/or more practice trail running if this is something I want to more seriously consider doing. I was following a girl, “blond ponytail girl,” but she just pulled away from me by the end of the hill because she handled the trail so much better than I did. I also got passed by another woman towards the bottom during a technical section. First mile split: 9:11.

The middle mile was mostly grass, and I knew I had to go and make up time I’d lost. The grass wasn’t incredibly fast, though. It was chunky and partially frozen and I didn’t feel strong. I did pass the woman who’d passed me in mile 1 and also three other women. As I entered the woods again, I could see blond ponytail girl just ahead. I tried to catch her. Middle mile split: 8:28

The start of the last mile was single track in the woods, curvy but not overly hilly. I caught up to blond ponytail girl and passed her. Then, I started to climb. It was actually nice to not have known how horrible this hill would be going in. I passed another woman and a girl, maybe even a third woman, I can’t remember, who were walking up. The footing was tough, and it was STEEP. Like I needed a walking stick steep. I was so happy to reach the top and run the last 1/8th of a mile or so through the grass to the finish line. Last mile split: 10:22

There are some things I love about trail racing:
– It passes by quickly! I think focusing on my footing so much kept my mind off the actual agony of the race. It was a mental workout as much as a physical one.
– Your pace is so varied and there’s less focus on time. In a 5k, I’m so focused on holding 7:30 or 8:00 or whatever pace. In a trail race, the footing and the elevation change have so much impact on the pace you’re able to run. You really can’t compare one trail run to the next.
– The crowd is friendlier. Something about those outdoorsy trail types–they’re nice.
– The scenery! Stunning. We ran along the Rock River for a bit in mile 2 and through the woods for the rest. So pretty!
– It’s tactical. You can’t pass people whenever you want…you have to use the wider trail areas to your advantage.

I ended up being the fifth female (small race!). I’m hoping I can finish all four races…we’ll see!

Have you ever done a trail series on the order of this one? Do you prefer trail or road racing?


Yesterday I went a bit crazy in workout land, which is totally unlike me. First off, I ran the Oregon Trail Days Rugged River 5k Run.

I don’t know how you all take pics during races because this is what mine look like:

I will just say that the run was tough! The first mile or so was on roads. We started in a farmer’s field (really) and ran maybe 3/4 mile to the entrance of the park. Here are some pics I took on the shuttle back to the car:

Race start (told you it was a farm field).

Then, we ran through the campground area of the park, where they had their Oregon Trail Days festival set up. It’s not every day you run through tepees.

But then we hit this gravel road that went down, fast. You couldn’t even carry speed with the gravity of the descent because the footing was so uneven. I said to this woman near me, “I hope we don’t run up that!” to which she replied that what we’d run up would be worse. She was right. We ran along the river for a bit, which was a pretty nice single-track trail, and then we went UP. Here’s a picture I snagged off the internet. We started at the top, then ran down by the river (like close enough to touch it), then we ran up and past that statue. And then up a little more. It was so steep in parts!

Here we are after the race:

Then, Lori and I went mountain biking. I didn’t take many pictures because mountain biking takes 100% concentration for me, but here’s a picture I took on our break, in one of the prettiest spots.

Here’s our route! We went about 7.5 miles.

And then, because a race & 80 minutes of biking wasn’t enough, I joined our running group for the long run (part of the half marathon training plan). I had already run 3 in the a.m., so I dropped out at about 5.5 miles (they ran 8).

I felt great during the run, but I’m so sore today! I’m not sure if it was the biking, the crash I took during biking, or just excessive exercise, but today is definitely a rest day!

Trail Run Teachable Moments

Trail running with a 9-year-old is different than running with my adult buddies. We end up stopping a lot to check things out. I don’t entirely mind. There are a lot of teachable moments on a trail run. Kids learn best when they are in the moment in real-life experiences. While I’m not that outdoorsy, thanks to a family who is (my parents & grandparents) and an interest in science, I do know a few things. A few LITTLE things. When I don’t know what something is, I take a picture of it and ask my friend’s husband, who’s a biologist.

The park rangers (or someone) will periodically clean up the trails and cut away fallen trees, but big ones like this hang out for several months sometimes. This particular tree was there last year. Sometimes the tree is so big that they just reroute the trail. I’m not sure what will happen here. It’s a horse trail, and clearly a horse cannot climb through like we did.

My favorite part of the trail: flat, wide, and smooth.

We found an owl pellet! I saw one running the other day, too. They look like a pile of dryer lint. If you haven’t heard of an owl pellet, it’s the remains of an animal that an owl ate. They swallow the thing whole and somehow regurgitate the non-meat parts. More info here: owl pellets.

If you take an owl pellet home and carefully disassemble it, you can actually lay out the whole animal skeleton. I didn’t have a pocket, or I would have taken it home to do that. I pullet it apart with two sticks a bit. Owl pellets are technically PUKE so I didn’t exactly want to handle it a lot. I think it was maybe a mole. It was too much fur to be a mouse, I think. Plus, the pelvis seemed bigger than a mouse.

Our state park includes a man-made lake. Many years ago they dammed up a small creek to create the lake. The dam is to the left of where Evan is running here.

And to his right is where the creek emerges. I think it’s really creepy looking into that tunnel. I don’t even like looking at the picture. I did not stay and check this area out for long. For a trail runner, I’m really wimpy. They can control the amount of water that comes out.

Evan did not mind. He wanted to throw rocks in there. No. Just no.

The park is full of steep uphills and downhills. This is partially due to trails that were formed before good trail management/planning existed. Instead of going straight up and down the hills, they should be zig-zagged to prevent erosion. (info on trail management here: linky link)

This looks like an animal cave but is really just a weathered area of rock. I’m not saying a possum or raccoon hasn’t holed up there before but it’s not like it’s a bear or cougar den.

Another “cave” in the rock. It’s very rocky here. I’m assuming glacier activity cut it out like this but I’m honestly not sure. Maybe just years of erosion.

Limestone weathers relatively easily. It is a carbonate rock. This means it reacts to acid in rain, even mildly acidic rain. Normal rain is slightly acidic due to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Limestone also commonly has fossils, though we didn’t see any in this big rock.

We ran about 3 miles. Evan wasn’t feeling great and had a headache, so around mile 2.5 we cut over to the road and ran that back to the car. Still, it was a fun and educational trail run. Did you learn anything new?