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Reflections on a Killer Trail Race

Emerson Trail RaceI ran my first race of the year on Saturday. It was a 10 mile trail race, but I feel like I just ran a marathon. My body is pretty well wrecked, but in a good way. As is often the case with races, the pain I felt during has been replaced by a feeling of contentment. I’m happy I ran the race, even if I wasn’t exactly prepared for it.

The race course was tough – about 75% on rooty, rocky single-track with tons of twists and turns, the remainder on dirt access roads. Lot’s of up and down as well.

I quickly realized that training on roads through winter and early spring does not prepare one for a race of this type. I was walking up a hill within the first mile, I’d lost a quarter-sized chunk of skin from my left heel by mile four (painful!), and I think I briefly hit the wall at mile eight. But I kept on moving, my heel burning and quads screaming for much of the second loop of the course.

My sole goal going in was to finish since I knew it was going to be hard (I ran this race last year, but they changed the course and it was much more difficult) . I finished with an average pace a bit under 11:00 per mile. Most of my road training lately has been around 8:00/mile or a bit faster. The difference is a good indication of how tough this race was!

What I’ve reflected on most since finishing the race is how sore I am in places that I’ve rarely felt soreness before. I often tell gait analysis clients that running trails is a great way to mix up the forces applied to the body and increase overall strength, but it’s one of those “do as I say, not as I do” type of things. I don’t run trails often enough, and given where I live I honestly don’t know why. I need to change that.

I have the normal post-race soreness in my calves, quads, etc., but what really feels different is how sore my ankle and hip stabilizing muscles are. The outside of my hips are really tight, and I almost sprained my ankle while standing on one foot to get out of the shower. The muscles supporting the ankle were so shot that they almost gave out. Even my upper back is sore, and I’m not sure why.

Perhaps the best thing to come out of the race was some motivation to get myself back in shape. After a brutal winter with too much eating and too little running, I need to start getting my mileage back up. I also need to race more, and I need to overcome my hesitation to race when I not in peak shape. I was reminded that racing is not only fun, but a hard race can provide one of the best possible workouts.

So my first race of the year was a good one despite the pain. I’m toying with running a trail half-marathon this summer as a next goal, with a few shorter races sprinkled in here and there. Maybe a road half in the Fall. But my main goal is to just continue having fun.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. i am a new-ish runner, and an even newer trail runner. I ran my first trail run two weeks ago and couldn’t believe the hit my pace took. I ran another one a couple days ago, and though easier, my pace was still so much slower than the road.

    How funny you noticed tight hips after the trail run, I noticed something really similar, except it seemed to also include my glute.

    Maybe your upper back is sore from keeping your arms out and up more in an effort to balance yourself on the uneven terrain.

  2. Steve Snyder says:

    I have run a series of desert races last fall and winter from 9k-10 miles and feel your pain Pete. :) Just wait until you are 55,oh boy! Anyway, I find compression socks help support my feet, ankles, and calves. I couldn’t run a trail race without them. Farlek over a runnable hilly trail once a week is what I do for prep. Helps the body stay in touch and shape with trail running.

  3. Carlos says:

    I just ran my first trail race ever a couple of weeks ago. It was 11 miles with an average altitude of around 9000 feet (in the Andes in Colombia, I should add) and I cannot believe how much slower I was than on the road. The first 3 miles were a steep single track, very muddy trail and I was ready to give up right after it. I ended up making it but it took me about twice as much as I would in a road race at a more reasonable altitude.

    Thanks for your website Pete, I’ve been following it since I took up running not too long ago and it’s been of great help for me.

  4. Pete, you know that this site is all about the shoes! :-) What shoes did you run in and how did they do for you?

  5. I ran this race too Pete, and it was my first trail race…holy hell am I sore this week! I’ve been running these trails, but hadn’t raced on them before. I’m still shocked at how sore just doing the short course made me.

  6. Caitlin says:

    Well, that makes me feel a lot better that you averaged just 11 min/mile. I’ve got a tough 10.2k (the official distance) and I am hoping to average 10 min miles.

    I just raced a 20k last weekend (on the road), making it more interesting.

    You are absolutely right, muscles and bones hurt that don’t hurt after a regular long run. Including the bones in the feet.

    Phil, when it comes to trail running, you run for time. You aren’t going to have even splits, and your per mile will be drastically worse than on the road.

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