Dispatches From My First Trail Race
It wasn't the perfect race...but that's the whole point of trail running.
It’s 6:15 a.m. on race day, and there’s no peanut butter. Or jam. Or almond-based cream cheese. There’s a condiment crisis, and my pre-race bagel tastes a little…dry.
In our rush to get on the road the night before, my wife and I had forgotten a few key food supplies needed for any good Airbnb stay.
The caffeine situation looks even more bleak than my dry bagel. We’ve got no oat milk, so tea is out for my wife. She’s British—this is a big deal.
I’ve also made a poor assumption that our Airbnb would have a passable coffee offering. Unfortunately, all we’ve got is one, slightly withered Folger’s coffee K-Cup. I harbor concerns it might be expired, as I tend to worry about expiration dates.
My wife kindly tries to brew me the Folger’s, while I choke down my dry bagel. A few minutes later, we realize the cup has literally runneth over on the unfamiliar Keurig machine. As we clean up the coffee, which has traveled all the way across the kitchen counter and begun to drip behind the refrigerator, my wife asks a rhetorical question.
“Isn’t the whole point of the Keurig that it makes just one cup of coffee?”
I know, right? I mean, technically, it has made one, massively overflowing cup of watered-down coffee. Given we have a nine-mile race to run, I try the coffee. No exaggeration here—it’s the worst cup I’ve ever had.
Not an auspicious start to race day.
We begin the race at 7:30 a.m., feeling decidedly uncaffeinated. Our mood improves quickly, as it’s a lovely setting. The course consists of a nine-mile private mountain bike trail (plus a bit more running on gravel roads) in the rolling hills of a North Texas winery. We run along the top of a hill, and the sun peeks over the horizon through the trees. It’s a chilly, yet beautiful, morning.
The winery is located on the edge of a large wind farm, and a few wind turbines spin nearby in the sky, making for a stunning backdrop against the sunrise.
The first few miles, we’re at the head of a pack of runners. It’s single file, due to the width of the trail. I finally stop to fiddle with my Camelbak—I can’t get any water out. I try everything, including squeezing the water bladder to increase the pressure of the water through the straw.
“It’s not working,” I complain to my wife, who rightly points out that I should have tested my gear before the race. After several minutes of messing with the water pack, I give up.
About a mile later, I figure out I just have to bite down on the straw harder. At least we have water!
Another thing we have plenty of? Mud. About this same time in the race, the mud starts to get incredibly thick. A big storm had rolled through two nights before, soaking the course.
A fellow runner notes the mud caked on our shoes is probably “adding five pounds.”
I share a joke, too, with my wife: “You said you wanted to a do a mud run!”
Hardy har har.
The mud gets so thick we don’t think it’s safe for us to run parts of the course. We end up running about half the race and “speed hiking” the other half.
Halfway through the race, we make it to the aid station.
While there's no remedy for our caffeine situation, there’s an amazing snack spread, pickle juice and Gatorade. I have an orange slice and a piece of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The dry bagel is now just a memory.
If you’ve never tried a trail race before, I’ve got to say, the cuisine is to die for! And pickle juice…it just might be new my new hydration obsession.
We finish the race in about 2 hours and 23 minutes. Later, we’ll find out we were about halfway through the pack, which we find really encouraging given we mixed in a fair bit of walking …*ahem* speed hiking.
I finish filming a GoPro video about the race, featuring our spoils: a very cool, wooden medal, and a ten percent off coupon for the 4R Ranch Winery.
After the race, we head out in search of hydration and coffee. We drive about ten miles into Muenster, population 1,580. The German influence in the town is pretty obvious, and it was settled in the late 1880s by a group of German Catholic people.
The lack of caffeine is starting to have an impact—we’re both grumpy, and have a marital debate about whether or not the building in front of us is a convenience store or a standalone Subway with gas pumps attached. It was, in fact, a convenience store, and we did, in fact, get Gatorade.
Soon, we’ve found coffee in a charming local shop, and the grumpiness is behind us.
We finish the day sitting on the winery’s deck overlooking the hills. It’s hard to believe these hills, which are so different from the landscape just a few miles south, are only an hour northwest of Dallas. I feel like I’ve found a new happy place to add to my list of happy places, thanks to trail running.
As we try our flights of wine, we reflect on the day. Despite all the silly challenges—waking up early with no caffeine and the mud on the course—my first rail race was a great success.
I think this day captured what I’m beginning to love about trail racing. The conditions aren’t always perfect, but that’s part of the fun. There’s a friendly, relaxed vibe to the culture, and it can help you discover new places, sometimes not even that far from home.
Best of all, it’s a challenge, but it’s not just about the competition. It’s about the whole experience.