Surly Trail Loppet: My First Trail Run

Phew.  This morning I ran my first ever trail race and half marathon, the Surly Trail Loppet held at Theodore Wirth Park.  I’ve run other half marathons and one full marathon, but never a trail race.  The prospect of running a trail race intrigued me.  The more I’m in the woods and on trails, the better.

Leading up to this race, I figured I could train the same way I have been, while maybe mixing in a trail run here and there.  Unfortunately for me, I was unprepared for the beast that lie before me.  I had been training as I usually would for a road race, but a trail race is a different animal entirely.

First of all, the hills are killer.  The beginning of the course featured a lot of hills and I admit I was overzealous on tackling these hills.  Normally, I pride myself on being able to handle hills pretty well so I figured that when the challenge arose, I’d be able to tackle these hills just the same.  Three quarters of the way through the race, I was regretting my early strategy of hill domination, and wished I would’ve taken a more conservative approach.

Tired, tired legs at the finish

My respiratory endurance felt good throughout the race, but it was my legs that failed me.  Had I done more hills during the course of my training, I could’ve handled this better.

The course itself was beautiful and was well run.  The terrain varied quite a bit with steep climbs, steps, paved surfaces, wooded areas, and lots of singletrack through the woods.  Part of the course used the mountain biking trails that wind through Theodore Wirth.  I absolutely loved running through the woods.  At times I had to remind myself that this race was in the middle of an urban area such as the Twin Cities.  There were specific times I can recall, where I was running on singletrack with two other runners right behind me.  As we ran through twisting singletrack, dodging trees no more than two feet apart from each other and jumping over boulders and fallen logs, I was struck with the solitude of it all.  All I could hear was the panting of our breath and the padding of our shoes on the dirt trail.  I’m sure they wanted to pass me, but the sense that we were running through the woods together in unison, was a much different feeling than I’ve ever had during a road race.

The Course

I loved the race, but wasn’t in love with my time.  When I signed up, my mindset was that since I had never ran a trail race before, I was just going to enjoy it for the experience and not try to over compete.  For me, that’s easier said than done once I get on the starting line.  Although I finished a respectable (I think) 44th out of 218 racers (male category), I felt like I could have done better.  But that’s part of racing, right?

If I was to put a message in a bottle and send it to myself before I run this race again, here’s what I’d say:

  1. You need trail running shoes.  Sure they’re not mandatory and people run just fine without them, but I can definitely see how they’d be beneficial.  My feet – and specifically my toe box area of my foot – felt like it was slip-sliding around.
  2. Run more hills in your training.  I know your son was sick that last week before the race, and you can’t always take him out in the BOB after daycare, but isn’t that what the incline feature on your treadmill is for?  Do something!
  3. Sometimes, walking up the hills actually is a good idea.  Don’t scoff when you see other runners do it, because while you’re busy exerting all your energy “running” up the hill, they’re saving theirs waiting to pass you on the way down.  Sucker.
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Hopefully, I’ll be able to put these ideas into practice and run it again next year.
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5 thoughts on “Surly Trail Loppet: My First Trail Run

  1. Great recap! (I was searching Twitter for “Surly Loppet” and found your post.)

    It was my first trail race too and I agree how it’s such a different beast; overall, I felt great and thought I was flying… but was shocked how much slower my pace was from my road races.

    But still, it was a wonderful experience. Congrats and thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks Matt. One more thing I should remind myself of next year:
      A trail race feels a lot longer. At the beginning, I was cruising along and felt like I had knocked a few miles off, only to find I had barely done any.
      Did you feel that way at all?

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