Natural Bridge Caverns Trail Runs Race Recap

This is another extremely delayed race recap, but I was at a point where I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to continue blogging or not. This race recap had been sitting in my drafts folder, just waiting to be completed, for a very long time now. I recently had a change of heart and decided to continue to use this blog as my creative outlet to talk about something that I love. I could’ve decided to pick things up again at my next race (or Paul, at his next race), but I enjoyed this race so much that I wanted to finish this recap – so, here it is, just long overdue.

The Natural Bridge Caverns Trail Runs includes a 5k, 10k and half-marathon. It takes place at Natural Bridge Caverns, which is located near San Antonio, Texas in the Texas Hill Country. The 2018 races took place on February 4th. We ended up running this race mostly by chance, as we had planned on visiting my mother-in-law and her husband who live in Texas during the winter, and this race was taking place during our visit. I ran the half marathon, and Paul ran the 10k.

Pre-race

The half-marathon started at 7:00 am, and the 10k shortly after. We had to be there by 6ish to pick up our race kits – this worked out perfectly for us, as we arrived the day before, had a long travel day, and were jet lagged, all of which made it easy for us to go to bed on time and wake up early. We stayed at a nearby hotel, which was about a 15 minute drive to the race.

Everything was very organized. Once we arrived, we had our race kits in no time, and waited between 30 (for me) and 60 (for Paul) minutes to be ushered outside to receive some instructions and information from the race director. What I really liked about this race, and found out just before we started, was that each race had a runner that would stay behind the last person, so the last person wouldn’t feel like they weren’t out on the course alone. I found this comforting because I was truly worried that I would get lost. After the race director finished going over everything, we headed down into the caverns!

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At the start of the race, waiting to go down into the caverns.
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On our way down into the caverns.

Race

I was a little nervous about this part, because caverns aren’t exactly my thing, haha. The caverns are alive, meaning that there are still microorganisms that are contributing to formations within the caverns, so you aren’t allowed to touch them (and you are reminded of this before you start). Once in the caverns, you are guided to the start point and are allowed to start, one by one (they have a race marshal at the start who confirms your bib number and allows you to start). There are a few points within the caverns where you have to walk, but other than that you get to have some fun running through the caverns. According to my watch, I was in the caverns for about a half mile or so after the starting point.

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In the caverns.

Once out of the caverns, it was early enough that we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise and the temperature were still nice and cool. The course takes you out of the park to run on the road for about a half mile, at which point you meet up with the trails.

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Beautiful Texas hill country!

The trails ranged from caliche trails to jeep trails to beautiful meadows, and some people saw wildlife and/or farm animals along the course (I didn’t, but Paul got to see some cows). Overall, I didn’t find the terrain that difficult for the pace that I was running at (if I had been truly racing it for a particular time, I think I would have a different story to tell). Towards the end, around the 10 mile mark, there is a very steep hill that you have to conquer and nearly everyone in my race walked at least a portion of it (myself included).

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My original intent was to run purely for fun, as I hadn’t been doing any serious training and I was going from running on the treadmill to a trail race, but at around the 7 mile mark or so, I decided that I was feeling good and decided to pick up the pace for the rest of the race, but still keep it within my easy range. With 2 miles or so to go, the sun was out and started to get pretty hot, but nothing that I couldn’t manage for the last bit of the race. There were plenty of aid stations with water throughout (I can’t remember if they had any electrolyte drinks).

Post-race

I ended up finishing in 1:49:35 and placing 10th overall female, 3rd in my age category. I was incredibly happy with my time given the effort that I was running at and a trail race. Paul came 1st in his age category and 3rd overall in the 10k. Your results and placing are available immediately following the race on computers that they have set up at the finish line. While waiting around for the awards ceremony, they had a ton of delicious food to eat, including watermelon, which was so nice since it had gotten pretty hot by that point!

We received beautiful medals made from geode rock – another unique and fun thing about this race! Definitely my favourite medal to date.

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Finisher medal.

I’d like to come back to this race again, or run another race hosted by Redemption Racing. If you are in the area (or want to visit the area), I highly recommend this race!

-Jessica

Niagara Falls International Marathon Race Recap

A much delayed race recap!

Race Preparation

We went to the race expo to pick up our race kits and go through customs two days before the race. This was so well organized. When we arrived at the expo, we were directed to go straight to customs, which was quick and easy (tip #1: go on the Friday before the race to get your race kit!). We got our bibs scanned, picked up our shirts and browsed around for a little bit.

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The customs officials kindly obliged to my request for a photo.

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The day before the race, we had a late Thanksgiving dinner at my mother-in-law’s place. My sister-in-law is pregnant, so it was a way to celebrate that as well. It was nice to spend time with everyone – it really helped to calm some of the pre-race day jitters. While everyone else enjoyed all of the Thanksgiving fixings, myself and Paul enjoyed our plain and boring veggie pasta. I followed that with all of the pretzels later that evening. Then it was off to bed!

Race Day

For breakfast I ate oatmeal with PB and a banana. This was not a wise move, as I have never fueled with this during any of my long runs. I thought it was pretty plain, and that it wouldn’t bother my stomach, and luckily it didn’t. But, I won’t be doing that again (tip #2, as I’m sure you’ve heard before, don’t fuel with fuel that is new to you the day of your race)! I also had half of a cup of coffee and about 250mL of water or so. This was all about 2.5 hours before the race was due to start.

My mother-in-law and her husband brought us across the border and to the race start in Buffalo (tip #3, DO NOT forget your passport! Even if you are taking the shuttle offered by the race – apparently it has happened in the past).

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We lined up for the porta potties and by the time we were able to use one, it was time to go line up for the race.

Leading up to the race, I knew that achieving my goal time was going to be difficult. The marathon didn’t start until 10am, and at that point it was already going to be approximately 23 degrees Celsius, but feeling like 30 with the humidity. The winds were also going to be gusting to 80km/hr and steady at 55km/hr. I know people say that you shouldn’t set goal times for your first race (that’s probably even more true when you’re dealing with those types of weather conditions for a fall marathon), but I decided on a couple of goals so that I would walk away happy. My A goal was to finish in 3 hours and 30 minutes; my B goal was to finish in under 4 hours; and my C goal was to finish. I knew I could finish, even if I had to roll myself to the finish line, so I decided that those were appropriate goals for me.

Paul and I decided to run together, and for the first 5 miles, we were running at our goal pace. However, after mile 5, I started to feel dehydrated and could feel myself having to work harder to stay at our goal pace. I slowed down to about an 8:20 min/mile pace after mile 5, and knew by mile 8 or so that my A goal was not going to be achievable. I decided to voluntarily decrease my pace to 8:20-8:30. But, but mile 12, things started to feel harder – I started to experience mild muscle cramping and slowed down a lot. Paul decided that he needed to take a break and walk for a bit, and I continued on at about a 8:40-8:45 pace.

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Then, at mile 21, my IT band flared. This left me with no choice but to run/walk the rest of the race. I knew I could still finish in under four hours if I continued to walk/run, so I decided to be ok with my IT band’s decision to get angry at me. At about mile 23, I asked a random fellow runner if I could try running with him, because he seemed to be going at a pace I thought I could run, even with my knee pain, and he said yes. He was so incredibly nice to me, talking to me here and there, but my knee just wouldn’t let me keep going at his pace. I was about 1.5 miles from the finish at that point, and continued to walk/run while being passed by so many runners. I was emotionally and physically hurting a lot, but everyone who passed me clapped and gave me a thumbs up or said words of encouragement, which really turned what could’ve been a lonely and discouraging last mile into one filled with hope that I could still finish the race in under 4 hours.

I was able to finish in 3:54:26, and am very happy with that. I ended up coming in 89th overall (out of 809 finishers), 22nd woman overall (out of 409 female finishers) and 6th in my division (out of 60 finishers).

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For my first race, I thought I had picked a good course. It was flat, and after you cross the Peace Bridge into Canada, it is only a mile or so until you are on a gradual downhill most of the way. Unfortunately, I had not run in those conditions since the summer, so the humidity was a little bit too much for me. However, with favourable weather conditions, I think the NFIM would be a great course for a PR. It’s also a relatively easy course for family members to come and cheer you on along the way (lots of places to park along the race route). We were lucky to have my in-laws cheering us on at several points along the course, which was incredibly motivating. I was incredibly happy with the number of water stations that were available as well – there were electrolyte drinks and plain water available at each water station. They also had gels at about every 2nd or 3rd water station, which was good if you didn’t bring any of your own fuel (I fuel with dates and had those stuffed in my pockets). Overall, this was a beautiful and incredibly well organized race. It was fun to be able to run across an international border and finish at the Canadian side of the Falls.

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I was asked by many people about the whole crossing back over into Canada without going through customs thing. When you go through customs at the race expo, they link your bib number to your passport. When you cross back over into Canada, there are a bunch of customs officials who look at your race bib as you run by them to make sure you cleared customs at the race expo.

I’ve decided to not share Paul’s experience, with the hope that he might decide to write a blog post and share it with you instead. 🙂

Happy week-end, everyone!

And, because it’s Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the U.S., Lest We Forget.

-Jessica