Wee-Chi-Tah Trail Race

This weekend was the Wee-Chi-Tah Trail Race, and it changed my running life! The trail is the same rugged trail that the mountain bike race was on...here's a brief description from the site - "The Wee-Chi-Tah Trail has been called the best urban off-road trail in the State of Texas! It is a fun trail with many short, steep climbs, and screaming descents." My expectations going into this half-marathon (13.1 miles) trail race were: 1)nervous about spraining an ankle on the uneven terrain, 2)expecting it to be fun, 3) expecting it to be more difficult than a half-marathon on pavement, 4)some paved trails mixed in with some dirt trails.

I ran it with my good friend and marathon training partner, Wendell, and we had a blast! standing around the starting line, a friend I saw there said his friend ran it last year and said it's not a matter of IF you will fall, it's more a matter of when you fall, how athletic enough are you to catch yourself without getting injured. Sounds exciting! The race director was giving a pep talk beforehand and said they did their best to remove all of the tree stumps, but it is possible that they missed one or two...thousand. HA! So we're standing around in anticipation of the starting gun, everyone all decked out in their endurance running gear, sipping water, doing last minute stretches, when the race director finally signalled our start...and we were off! All 106 of us. Starting out, it took about a half mile through a grassy trail to get from the starting line to the trail head entrance. I never like running in grass because you have to pick your feet up, which strains your lower legs and can cause shin splints (for me anyway), but luckily we hit the trail after only a few minutes. Immediately, we were running down a dirt trail with tree roots, rocks, trees, tree stumps, and holes in the ground. The exhiliration was pretty high at this point and you could feel it from almost everyone.

The "racers" quickly made it to the front and took off, leaving us "finishers" behind. Soon, the trail narrowed to about 2 feet wide, careening through a dense forest of trees with frequent descents and climbs up rugged terrain that would be challenging on a bicycle, much less running. About 2 miles into it, Wendell and I found ourselves leading a pace group of about 10 or so runners. Our strategy was to maintain an easy 10.5-11 minute per mile pace through the first half and then adjust depending on how we felt for the second half of the race. So, ignoring the runners who passed us earlier, and the strand of runners immediately following us, we settled into a good, steady rhythm. At this point, the trail was too narrow to pass people, so I just hoped for their sake that they were comfortable with our pace. Every so often, the trail would open up and 1-2 runners would pass. Of course, we passed quite a few of them at water stations trying to recover from overworking themselves too early in the race. It's always ok though, and you never judge anyone for their efforts...not seriously anyway, but it does feel good to pass someone who passed you earlier, even though you'd stop to help them if they needed it.

The running community seems to be a very friendly and caring group. It's rare to see someone without exchanging words like "good job", "keep it up", "you doing ok?", "you need some water?",etc., and when you see someone fall, runners always stop to make sure they're ok....now I'm speaking for us "finishers" who are less concerned with time than merely finishing the event. I assume the racers are also like this, but there may be some who are too concerned with winning than helping a fellow runner. I digress...

The course did not have mile markers, so we had to approximate the distance based on how long we had been running. So, feeling like we were at a 10:30 minute per mile pace, we guessed the first water station 32 minutes into the run was at about the 3 mile mark. We both felt good as we grabbed a cup of water from a volunteer's outstretched hand and kept on running. I carried 2 water bottles with me because I was uncertain how much fluids they would have to offer. So, I took a quick drink from the cup and poured the rest over my head. That's about the time I looked down and noticed my $100 mostly white shoes were solid brown from the dirt. We kept on running down the twisting trail, dodging branches, hopping over rocks and tree roots, steadily "run-bouncing" down steep descents of gravel/loose dirt/rock and powering up steep ascents of more rugged terrain. It was so awesome!! It satisfied the desire for adventure that most men have, probably more so than I have ever felt. It was about this time that my body started feeling good. By this, I mean my heart rate settled in to a comfortable rate, my breathing had slowed to a steady rhythm, my legs were loosened up and not hurting, and I was settling in for a good long adventurous run. Ahh....such a beautiful thing!

At the 45 minute mark, as planned, I took out an energy gel pack and sucked it down with some water. Nutrition and hydration are important on long runs. Your body uses up all of its glycogen, which is what makes you tired and hit the wall. Your body also sweats out all your salt, which is what dehydrates you, so you need to intake sugars, carbs, and electrolytes to replace these things. Too much water over a short period of time will dilute your body of sodium, which can be fatal in extreme cases, so you need to eat/drink sodium in the form of a good sports drink and/or gel/powerbar. However, even too much of the good stuff can overhydrate you, causing cramps or nausea, and even make you retain water and swell. I still have a LOT to learn in this department, but it can make or BREAK you in an endurance run, so I'm trying to be a good student. My plan was to consume an energy gel pack every 45 minutes with water. About 5 minutes after I ate the first one, I started feeling hungry, which wasn't a good sign since I still had a good hour and a half before I reached the finish line. I had 2 packages of oatmeal and a banana for breakfast, followed by a PowerBar 30 minutes before the race. I thought this was a pretty good breakfast, but 5 miles in to the run I had burned over 600 calories and my body was telling me it needed food. Normally these energy gels fight off the hunger feeling, but that wasn't the case now. I told myself I would rather feel hungry than injured or exhausted, so I just kept trucking along thinking I could take sips of water/gatorade frequently and maybe the hunger would eventually subside.

Being hungry didn't get in the way of me having the time of my life. It was so much fun being out there on the trail, in such dense and rugged terrain. And since I hadn't fallen or tweaked an ankle, I was gaining confidence in this trail running stuff (this was my first). At about mile 6 I believe, a volunteer on the course helping guide the runners down the correct path said "you're doing good, keep it up". Right as I said thanks, my left foot landed sideways on a rock followed by a searing pain in my ankle and an audible groan. Remembering that I heard you should run on a sprained ankle as soon as you can so it doesn't swell (not sure if this is ACTUALLY correct or not), I continued running, hobbling along, until finally after a minute or so, the pain went away.

We knew we had reached the halfway point, or were real close anyway, so we talked about how we each felt and decided to just play it safe and maintain our current pace since it was working out so well for us. We both felt great, reltively speaking. Part of endurance running is just that...running as you "endure" things like tiredness, sweat burning your eyes, hunger, weak and heavy legs, pains all over your body that shift locations constantly. First your knee hurts. Then it quits just in time for your shin to hurt, which quits just in time for your shoulder to hurt, which quits just in time for your hamstring to hurt...you get the point. So after 7 or so miles, feeling "great" means, yeah your legs are tired and a little heavy, you feel some pain in random places, your eyes sting, you'd love a big fat cheeseburger, but your cardio isn't stressed, you're not feeling any injury-type pains (there's a difference), and you have a positive attitude about continuing to run. I noticed at this point that my legs were feeling much better than they do after 7 miles on the pavement. I guess the softer ground helps reduce the impact on your body somewhat.

We recognized that we should be extra careful now that our legs were starting to get a little heavy. If we weren't careful, our feet wouldn't quite make it over that tree root or rock and we'd end up kissing the dirt. We saw a 55 year old man with a gut fall twice. In fact, throughout the whole race, we took turns passing each other, so we talked to him several times. One time, he was behind us on a very narrow part of the trail where passing wasn't possible. I could sense we were holding him back, so I told him we'd let him pass if he wanted to. He didn't say anything, but a few seconds later, he tried to go around us and immediately hit the ground! I felt bad like it was my fault and made sure he was ok as he stood up. He was ok, so he passed us and went on down the trail. We saw him svereal more times throughout the race. It was about this time, around mile 8 or 9 that I really felt a good rhythm. I was following Dean Karnazes' advice and just simply thinking about "putting one foot in front of the other", and not thinking about how my body REALLY felt. It's amazing what positive thinking can do. It wasn't really a runner's high that I felt, but I was overcome with a very strong sense of accomplishment and confidence in what I was doing. I felt great like I could run a lot farther, I was loving every second of it more and more, and was quite surprised that I didn't have any "real" pains in my legs. At the hour and a half point (just under 9 miles), I had another energy gel pack and some water and started preparing myself mentally for the final stretch. When you know you have 8-10 miles left, you don't think so much about it, but when you know you only have 3-4 miles left, you can't help start thinking about it, which can kill your positive attitude if you're not careful. You get impatient and start losing your drive to endure.

Somewhere around the 2 hour mark, I began to feel a little bit of nausea setting in, and I was feeling like I'd had too much to drink. My cardio was fine, but my legs were pretty tired. Wendell was feeling great still and pushing on. Thinking we still had about 30 minutes, I went ahead and had another energy gel, thinking this might get rid of the nausea and pep me up a little. Almost immediately, I felt a little worse, but knowing the finish line was up ahead, I suffered through it and kept running. Shortly, we exited the trail and ran along a grassy field back towards the finish line. I could sense that we only had a mile or so to go, so I told Wendell to go on ahead and finish strong. He refused and opted to stick together. As we reached the final straightaway to the finish line, I wanted to speed up and sprint across it, but I could tell that if I sped up ANY...I would surely throw up. HA! So, I kept my normal pace, moved one foot in front of the other, and soon crossed the finish line 4 seconds behind Wendell. I ended up finishing 14th in my division and 75th overall. Nothing to brag about at all, but I finished it alive, without injury, and in the process, completely fell in love with trail running! I can not wait to run another trail!!

Here's a funny tidbit of information: when I run at home, I always run without a shirt. Well I wore a shirt during the race and didn't think I needed to put my antichaffing cream on my nipples. Big...BIG mistake! Not to be too graphic, but my nipples have scabs on them today, they literaly rubbed raw yesterday...and that hurts worse than my legs have EVER hurt!!! OUCH!!

OK, I'm too tired to type anymore so I'm going to go to bed now. Sorry if you weren't interested in the trail run story!


Kevin and Katerina Wimberley said...

Hey Kirk,
Great Job! Katerina and I both send congrats on your accomplishment. We are proud of you. Also you are pretty good at this blogging thing. Your "article" made me want to run for a bit until I remembered how comfortable this chair is. We love you. Keep up the good work!

Kevin and Katerina

Kirk Wimberley said...

By the way, the 55 year old man I referred to finished about 5 minutes ahead of us and won 1st place in his age bracket!

Josh said...


Great post! Congrats on the run.