2012 Xterra Trail World Championship race recap
It was a half marathon on trails. That was the short answer. Little did I know that this race was more than I could imagine. Billed as the Super Bowl of trail racing, the Xterra Trail World Championships draws the most talented and skilled trail elite runner from all across the country. I had conveniently had forgotten about why it was dubbed the world championship, until I stepped on the course and just let everything to chance that lazy Sunday morning. I didn't expect what had transpired that morning. It was an epic day that proved to be something incredible that I hoped that would be something that could continue for in the years to come.
Still undecided for next year, but never say never! Its a local race and I did certainly got my $$ worth on this one. Happy that I did finish and that Xterra waited for the last finishers to cross the line, including Team Extreme, a group of military personnel who donned on gas masks the entire 21.1K course. One person even had a prosthetic leg too. It was remarkable, appreciative, grateful, and humbling to see them cross that finish line that day. It reminded me that with the internal struggles I personally went through on that course, I'm sure that it was 10X more of a challenge for them. And then some.
Race weekend began on a Saturday morning where I went into Waikiki to the Xterra expo /packet pick up location, which was basically out on a lawn next to the Yard House and Ruth Chris Steakhouse. It was kind of cool. They had race day bib pick up too, but it was nice to check out the "expo" for once and not just be in and out for a race, like how I had been for my east coast doubles in October and November. I stayed for a couple of presentations after picking up my race packet and even watched the video presentation they had set up. I remember parts of the video as I scaled M10.5 of the course and grumbled to myself that this section was there and I had to conquer it.
After all that, I had a late lunch and was craving Pho, the popular Vietnamese noodle soup dish that I haven't had for awhile. I guess I was carb loading, so that was good. Along with summer rolls, it really hit the spot. On the way home, I fell asleep on the public transit and ended up on not where I wanted to be. Guess that was the Pho talking and eventually made it back home after losing 1 hour asleep when I could have used it for something else. Thankful that the Xterra half marathon started at 9am, so I didn't have to either drive or have a friend drive me up there. After having a small dinner, I chose to sleep early and prepared for the day that was sure to come. After laying out what I needed to wear and bring with me, sans my sanity, the gift of running and finding happiness wherever it may lay became a part of me as I drifted my expectations and excitement aside for a nice relaxing dream.
Race morning happened at 5am and I had a pretty good sleep. Knowing that it was a half marathon distance, I didn't feel the need to have breakfast, so I just grabbed a couple of bananas and headed out the door and to the bus stop. The ride took about 1 1/2 hours, smiling at the decision that I outsmarted the Xterra officials by taking the affordable way and not have to pay for parking. I got to the race start and it was as awesome as I could have imagined it to be. The Koolau Mountains hugged this side of the island with a glimpse of paradise that you would not believe. The films "Jurassic Park" and "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" were filmed here, making it very scenic and gorgeous to be there. The weather was surprisingly cool on this day, even when the race started at 9am. I somehow got off the bus about a mile from where the actual start / parking area was, so I had a good warm up along the highway before noticing that the traffic began to slowdown in front of me. That was the indication that the entrance was nearby.
It was a crazy atmosphere. 1st trail half marathon and in my own backyard - in a way. No airline tickets or hotel room, it was great. Just a race bib and I was good to go. I met up with friends and before we knew it, it was time to go. We all got to see the arrival of Team XTreme: a group 6 of military personnel who was running the 21K together. All were wounded warriors and wearing gas masks throughout the course. It was amazing to see them out there and giving it there all. I lined up in the back of the pack and met up with the last runners and the sweeper. We were off when the cannon exploded and everyone started running. Under the balloon Xterra arch, it was a pretty epic moment to start from, but the rest of the day had to be across 13.1 miles on my own two feet. The sweeper on the course turned out to live near me and commented that she wanted to be a marathon maniac someday. I smiled and continued on with her at a steady pace.
The first mile already was like a bat out of hell, climbing a significant stretch for the first mile and it was already strenuous to start. I thought it was going to be one of those types of trails, but the fun was just beginning. It was a continuous climb to mile 2, where we went down a grassy knoll, only to climb through a small trail, and down another grassy knoll till we all saw this ancient looking arch, which I later found out it was a film prop left there from a movie filmed a whole back. At mile 3, I left my new friends and started to book it a bit, seeing how the trail started to level off and I could somehow navigate pretty good. I ran next to this African American woman from CA, who runs marathons for charity. It was her 1st time doing this trail run, but has done Honolulu twice. We talked about where I have been and which marathons to do in California. We both had a pretty good time, till we reached the 10K / half marathon split.
The volunteers and the directional signs told us where to go and those markers were very well marked. I had some skepticism as to how good or bad this one would go, and I am happy that this one was alright. After seeing the finish line in the distance, we 21K runners had to run back into the valley on a different route and do about 7 miles to get back where we needed to be. Easier said than done. With the huff and a determined attitude, we set off to do just that. I lost my new CA friend just after the course split, when I just wanted to speed up and go further and explore more. It was a steady incline and rolling hill mix, which was basically a gravel trail, which snaked up and down the valley, I had hopes that this will continue to the finish line. The aid stations camera at every 1.5 or 2 miles, it seemed, not too much enthusiasm on their part when I breezed through, but it was just all in a day's work.
At mile 8, we started climbing again. The scenery was lush and inviting, but we just had to keep on going while marveling at where I was. Being present in the moment and never forgetting how you managed to get here is always a nice reminder to have. We crossed through 3 small streams on the course, which made a sizable puddle pond on the paved trail each time. I carefully crossed it just so I did not have to get my socks wet. Not a worst feeling in the world, but just uncomfortable at times. At mile 9, I caught up with another runner, which gave me hope that I wasn't too at the back of the pack. Thought I could come in at about 3 1/2 hours at this pace. Shortly thereafter, I saw Team Extreme in front of me and that humbled me, since one guy was carrying another guy on his back, a paraplegic wounded in combat. Another had a prosthetic leg. It was always humbling to see that, when your personal struggles take a back seat and you see them going through the same thing you are attempting to do.
I humbly passed them at mile 9 at the makeshift aid station and got the biggest surprise at mile 10 where this obscenely steep jolly incline reared it's head and I had to climb it going forward. I just shook my head in disbelief and marched on that hill like a demon possessed and I just went for it. That finisher's medal wasn't given, but earned and I needed to get to the finish line no matter what. At the top of the hill, I saw a couple of runners ahead of me, so I caught up to them and engaged in some small talk. We all soldiered on, snaking uphill and around the tight bends until we came about what looked like a dead end and an aid station. Mile 11 was here somewhere, but the sign was nowhere to be found. The course direction arrow point left, which was a very narrow trail that I had to conquer.
It felt like an eternity at some parts on this section of the course, but it had to be done. Very narrow and sometimes it felt like I was going to somehow fall and tumble down the ravine next to me, so I just took it really slow. Up the rigid trail and around the corner, only be told by a course volunteer that I had 2.5 miles left of downhill to go. Perfect, I thought. This downhill, however, probably wasn't the best, since it was as narly as they came. Going up was hard enough, but going down a steel trail with nothing really to hold onto, made it for some suspenseful moments for me. I thought of DNF at this point, but remembering that there was not time limit, so I just needed to take my time and not get injured. Just getting through this race and recover for Honolulu Marathon the next Sunday was paramount. With each cautious step I took was one step closer to the finish line. As nervous as I was, I could not let myself down. My main motivation was that finish line and the finisher's medal. After getting off that trail finally, I shook the mud off and proceeded to wrap up this race once in for all.
The last 2.5 miles of this course was basically miles 3 through 5, so it was sort of familiar to me. I basically had walked and jogged the entire way through, since I did not want to get injured at all. The finishing time wasn't important, but the finish was. It's either you make it there or you don't, and I choose to strive for the finish line. And so, I weaved those last 2.5 miles, following the couple of runners ahead of me and the hundreds of trail runners whom already had finished ahead of us. I picked off those final miles, found the 10K / 21K course split, but now, it was just a directional arrow down to the finish. Once that happened, it was a gentle downhill, zigzagging towards sea level and saw the finish line chute ahead of me. I turned my ifitness belt around to display my bib number in front of me. Hearing my name called from a couple of friends waiting up for me at the finish was enough to make me want to sprint the last 500 yards to the finish.
The applause from the crowd was intoxicating and with luck, I made it across the finish line, while looking at the race clock ticking past the 5 hour mark. Didn't matter much that day, as getting myself physically to the finish line was the critical item. Pace and time were secondary. After crossing the finish line, I received my finishers medal from a volunteer and was directed to the tent where the food was and I camped out there for a good 10 minutes, taking down donuts and blueberry muffins along with Gatorade and ice water. I made the decision to wait for the last finisher - the CA lady - to come in, since I made friends with her in the early going. Before she came in at 5 1/2 hours, Team Extreme came across the finish line at 5:14:36 and the crowd of onlookers crowded the finish line and everyone gave applause for the hard work and dedication these men endured out there on the course. After talking and sharing partying thoughts with her, I decided to make my way home.
With luck, a friend of mine whom I had met up earlier before the race offered to give me a ride back home. Thought that was amazing and pretty much perfect timing, since they were on their way out as well. I probably would have waited a good 45 minutes to an hour if I had waited for the city bus. Once arriving at home, we bided farewell and congratulations since my friend has ran the 10K while her husband watched the kids. We hope we would see each other at Sunday's Honolulu Marathon, as my friend's husband is planning on running it.
It was a race that maybe in hindsight that I shouldn't have winged. Without much trail experience, the Xterra Trail World Championships could have been better with me being more confident in my abilities and being able to run it more smoothly and not be afraid of failing and falling when I surely could have in all parts of the course. Ever thankful of the opportunities that is presented to me, this race reminded me of how lucky I am to be living in Hawaii and I would need to explore more and not be cooped up at home playing on my iPhone when I could be out there and having loads of fun. Running Xterra was a blessing in disguise. While I have to run trails more regularly, I have gained invaluable knowledge and experience that I will use for the future and I am glad that I was out there gutting it my all.
Even though it was just 13.1 miles, it was truly a beast that couldn't be beaten, until the bitter end when I headed to the finish line. No wonder why it's billed the World Championship, but I managed to finish it with a smile on my face and finisher's medal around my neck. Not sure about next year, but one thing is for certain, I am a survivor.
2012 Xterra Trail World Championship Half Marathon
Chip time: 5:00:50