Elevation maps tend to make trails look easier than they are.

I am training for my first 50K road run of my running journey. I have about seven or eight weeks until the big race so I’m coming down to the wire to get in the right number of long runs.  For the past few weeks, I’ve been adding about 30 minutes per week to my Saturday runs, and yesterday it was time to hit the 3.5 hour mark.

In preparation for the weekend, I had checked out a Rails-To-Trails trail in Farmersville, TX. It is the Northeast Texas Trail. I have only run a portion of this trail once as I live in Missouri and visiting my parents in Texas doesn’t usually coincide with a big-run training schedule.  So, like any good runner, I scoured the internet looking for any trail elevation maps to see what I was up against. The entire nine miles  had several small elevation changes for an overall change of less than 100′, so I thought this will be no problem. After all, I’ve run much steeper hills than this both on the roads and trails of Missouri.

I don’t know about you, but I rarely have regular long runs, mine are usually really good or really bad. So I knew going in to this run, those were my options. I usually start out in the 9-10 minute pace range but found myself at about 10:45 during the first mile. No problem, my legs just need to warm up some. It didn’t get any better. After the first two or three miles, the trail surface changed from concrete to crushed gravel, which helped. After about two or three miles further, I was on regular trail/dirt road. I decided to push myself a little further on the “out” portion of the run and didn’t turn around until mile 9.25 and 1:42, which gave me three minutes of extra time for the “back” stretch.

My “out” laps had ranged from 10:45 to 12:00 something and my first “back” lap topped 13:00, which is not good for me. Somewhere around mile 12, I was ready to call it a run and be done. That’s the beauty and the curse of an “out-and-back,” I was still seven miles from the truck, and I’d rather run it at a 12-minute pace than walk it at 15-20 minutes, so I carried on.

I had one runner pass me on the trail and a few cyclists. When I met the runner at his car later, he let me know that I had parked at the wrong trail head because I was about to go from crushed gravel to concrete, which is rarely a good thing. I soon agreed with him beyond any doubt as every step sent pain shooting my lower back. i stopped and did some quick stretching that provided relief. For most of the trip back, I matched my out pace and ended up back at the car with a couple of minutes to spare so I ran a little further just to finish up the 3.5 hours. (Yes, I’m one of those runners that has to finish the next .5 miles or 5 minutes.)

We could all tell stories about most of our runs. We all have good runs and we all have bad runs. One thing I’ve found during my brief running experience is that it is always tougher than it looks when you head out for a run. Whether it is my daily run or I’m blazing a new trail. It doesn’t matter what things look like on paper, or what you hear from other runners, on any given day, you may be lacing up for your toughest run yet, whether it is mental, physical, emotional, environmental, or a combination of countless factors.

As I was running yesterday, I came to the realization that the toughest mile I’ll ever run is the next one. It is also the most important one because the last one is behind you and you can only run one mile at a time.

When I finished, I knew it was a tough run. Not so much from my average lap time, but from the fact that my left thigh was really sore and that my normal stretching didn’t really relieve the pain. I had tried several fueling options but fuel wasn’t the problem. It was just my day for a tough run. In the end, I made the decision to embrace the suck, mark one more long run off the To Do List, and pick back up with my workouts on Monday.

Next time, it will be easier, maybe.