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The Everyman: Making the Leap to the Trail

Jason Devaney writes about his first trail race, which was chock-full of steep climbs, rocks, roots and mud.

Jason Devaney writes about his first trail race, which was chock-full of steep climbs, rocks, roots and mud.

Trail racing is a lot harder than racing on the road, as I found out in real time last weekend.

It started as a last-minute decision to run a local off-road event that benefits soldiers who need help readjusting to life in the States upon returning from the battlefield. I know some people who ran it last year and they said it was hard. But really, how hard could it be?

Turns out they were right.

The 10K race started fairly easy, with a nice downhill section that was wide and not too technical—except for a few rocks and roots. When I glanced down at my watch and saw I was doing a 7:30 pace, I thought this thing was going to be a piece of cake.

Moments later, I nearly fell flat on my face when I stepped right into some mud. I slowed down at the last second and instinctively reached out with my left hand and grabbed onto the nearest runner’s shoulder to catch my balance.

Luckily I didn’t fall, but for the next half mile I was half-dragging my right foot because of the giant glob of mud sticking to my shoe. It was like running with an anchor attached to my feet. I was able to get most of it off when I reached a grassy section a short time later.

RELATED: Do I Need Trail Running Shoes?

From there, the climbing began. Up and down. Up and down. And then, up, up and up. The first loop was short and it ended with us climbing a ridiculously steep hill that featured grades of at least 30 percent. It was a mix of singletrack and a wider trail, and it was riddled with rocks, roots and ruts filed with mud.

It was ugly.

The second loop was longer and featured rolling hills, brook crossings and an asphalt/gravel section. My legs were screaming as I did my best to run up the hills, and then I slammed on the brakes during the steep descents on which I nearly wiped out on numerous occasions.

When I reached the asphalt/gravel part, I silently rejoiced.

Finally something I’m used to running on! Now I can get back to running 8-minute miles.

Or not. My pace was stuck around 10:00. My body would not move any faster. The course was either up or down—there were no flat sections on this thing. The asphalt and gravel was actually one long, gradual climb that acted like a governor in a golf cart engine that automatically slows it down when it reaches a certain speed.

Thankfully the second loop bypassed the mud pit, but it featured a screaming downhill that was so steep I was afraid I’d fall head over heels like our nursery rhyme friend Jack. From there, we climbed that awful, evil hill one last time to the finish line. I ran up the first third of it before switching to walking, which may have been faster than running up this hill that I’m convinced came straight from hell.

I reached the top and started running again, and when I turned right the finish line was straight ahead. But my legs didn’t have their typical finishing kick. I crossed the line on exhausted legs.

RELATED: Trail Running Tips From Eric Orton

Afterward as I was standing around with my wife and a buddy who joined us at the race, we swapped stories about the course and how we did. And then I said this:

“I would come back here to train on this course. It’s great training.”

Did I really say that, after putting myself through an hour of misery?

I suppose it wasn’t all that bad. And I can’t wait to run it again next year.