Virtual Racing during COVID19
(Photo: Rogue Trail Series 2019: The Stampede)
After racing Bandera 100 km in January I began to look ahead at my next big event: Squamish 50/50 (a 50 mile race on Saturday and 50 km race on Sunday) in British Columbia in August. In an effort to get in some faster trail long runs to keep me engaged and training in the spring, I signed up for the Rogue Trail Series (three 30 km races about a month apart from each other). The first race, The Maze, proceeded normally on March 1st. I didn't do very well. It was a very flat and fast course which boded well for road runners. I wasn't feeling snappy that day and took 5th place, just barely breaking 3 hours. I had been struggling with not feeling great during that time and was experiencing high heart rate during easy exercise. I think my body was fighting some type of sickness.
Just before the second Rogue Trail Series race, Squamish 50/50 cancelled. With the August A goal no longer in sight, it made these stepping stone races feel insignificant. It took me a little bit to wrap my head around still participating and racing in the smaller local trail races I had mostly intended to use as training runs with nothing to work towards, but I decided since I was already signed up and committed, why not. Its not really my style to DNS/DNF, so I decided I would give the virtual racing a shot.
The Tangle (race 2) was my first "virtual" race. This meant we had a 30 hour window to race on a marked course fully self-supported. We used Strava to record our runs and submitted our times afterwards. There was also an option to race "wherever" and those results were listed but not included as part of the placing for the series. The Tangle was more technical and hilly than most local races. It was a 10k loop off of the Moonshadow entrance to the Greenbelt in Austin. The course was pretty empty of non participants so it didn't feel crowded at all. I had some company for each lap which helped me mentally stay engaged. I won the female division and took 3rd overall that day with a time of 3:30 and really enjoyed the race. My legs were sore afterwards and it took me at least a week to feel like I was running normally again.
I raced the third and final 30 km race (The Stampede) in the series (virtually) on Sunday. I got a 30k PR of 2:41 (8:33 pace), 2nd place female, and 3rd place overall, on a very fast course. Most surprising to me is that I WON outright (male + female) the overall 30k series by 20 minutes (cumulative time over the three races). 😳😳😳
Of course there is a HUGE asterisk to the overall series win because so many people dropped out of the series or dropped down to the 10 km. COVID19 made training solo challenging and motivation took a nosedive for many athletes (myself included). For me, the two virtual races didn't feel too dramatically different than normal. I usually don't race other athletes unless the competition is close to my pace, but on trail I'm generally used to just being out there solo and pushing with whatever I have. I usually don't rely on aid stations and carry most of what I need, and doing multi loops has its silver linings: each lap feels different than the one before it and I notice new things or appreciate things I've already seen.
Sunday’s flat and nontechnical course at Circle C Metropolitan Park did not play to my strengths (it was ideal for fast road runners, not trail runners). I do better compared with other athletes on hillier, slower, more technical stuff (like the 2nd race in the series: The Tangle). With my broken toe on the mend I knew the pain would be there so it was just a matter of not thinking about it. My toe pain didn’t get worse and the nontechnical nature of the trail was good for the toe. I had fun rising to the occasion in my head about the easy course even though this style of trail is not usually my modus operandi. Having three laps made it feel less likely like I would “bonk” bc I was never too far from home base (all mental) so I tried not to fret about clocking some faster paces early on while the weather was still cool and my legs could still handle it.
I tried to press on the flat straightaways but it’s always the hardest part for me in trail races. I solicited a few runners that I have been regularly running with throughout the pandemic to join me, so having support for each lap was such a difference maker. Stewart ran lap 1 with me and really helped me find that next gear required that I usually have trouble accessing during the easy sections. Lap two (miles 6-13) was my fastest and most confident/in control. I was warmed up and groovin’. Kiana pushed me and gave me strength and energy from her adolescent well of (s)punk and fierceness. Iram ran the last lap with me which was my “hold it together and don’t fall apart” lap. My IT band started really tugging with about 4 miles left and the weather warmed up significantly from a beautiful 58 degree start to 80 degrees. The last lap was WARM. I was glad I didn’t have more laps afterwards because I was DEPLETED.
I found a rock in the parking lot afterwards and just sat down and cried, minutes after finishing. Big pushes and efforts sometimes (usually?) come with hurt and tears. I found pain, I embraced it, and held on. My pace didn’t drop too much the last lap, but I mentally began to fade. I wanted to be going faster but I just didn’t feel like I had the training in me to press more.
Emotions, hormones, pain and physical exhaustion are the perfect ingredients for a foggy jumbled plunge into a low and dark space. I went there, yep. But as I come back up for air I am finding my homeostasis again (I think? Or maybe my version of homeostasis is just a smaller rollercoaster?). Either way, I’m sore, proud, facing insecurities head on (which is rough) and already scheming about my next virtual race.