March 21, 2013

Citrus Trail Marathon, March 17, 2013

Trail running in Florida is a little (or a lot) bit like running on a leafy beach. To prep for a Florida trail race, throw a bunch of leaves and pine needles on top of the sand in your kid's backyard turtle sandbox and jump. Repeat as many times as possible.

This was the second year for the Citrus Trail Marathon, and this year they tacked on a 50K. Plus they offer a 10-mile and 4-mile option. Originally, I really wanted to sign up for the 50K, but because my mom was going to juggle (not literally) my four kids while I ran, I decided that I should choose the shorter of the long distances to avoid any major catastrophes. About mile 16, I was super glad that I wasn't in it for another 16. My legs, which hadn't really done any distance since my 50K in February, were not feeling the 31 and some change miles. They were barely feeling the 26.2.

Travel: I was staying in Ocala, which is a very easy one-hour drive from the trails in Withlacoochee State Forest. Yes, it is pronounced just like you would think.

I got up at 4:30 to be ready to go between 5 and 5:30. My sock choice for the day was Injnji with added baby powder on my feet to ease the rubbing effects of sand. In case you didn't already know, baby powder is a magic sand repeller. It works great after a beach trip too. Also we did a tie-dye experiment on my Injinji socks earlier in the week. Not quite as bright as we planned them to be, but I still like faded tie-dye better than mud-splattered white.


Once I got to the forest, I found the signs that the race director had set up leading me down some dirt roadage to the race start. Parking was easy and plentiful and very close to the start line.

Before the race: There was an option to pick up your bib the night before the race, but I waited to sign up and pick up my bib on the morning of the race. I made it in plenty of time to do both. There was only a small line to wait for my turn to fill out my race entry form, and once I gave them my check, I was good to go with my bib and race bag filled with some goodies and my race shirt.

Picking up bibs before dawn.

There were three port-a-potties for the approximately 125 people running the race, so there was rarely a line on my 50 trips over there. The only bad part about there not being a line was that it was really quiet around the toilets. I like a little background chatter to make my port-o-pot business more inconspicuous.

Each distance started at a different time, with the 50K at 7:15 and the marathon at 7:30. Before each of the races, the race director huddled us up to give us some last-minute instructions, like what color tape to look for and that some horses had gotten out onto some of the trails to leave some poop patty obstacles. All very important info. Anticipating the horse droppings gave my mind some focus during the long, lonely stretches of trail.

The course: With the 7:30 start, the sun was just beginning to shine more fully on the course. The 50Kers started in the milky dusk.

50K start

You can see there was no issue with lighting for us marathoners.

Marathon start

I received the pre-race email from the race director because he was nice enough to send it to me when I told him (via Facebook) that I accidentally missed the online registration cut-off. There was some great info in there, like the specific snacks that would be at each aid station.


And some wildlife warnings that I didn't anticipate. 


Wild pigs?! I was thinking gators and snakes, but pigs didn't even blip on my wildlife radar during my mental race prep. I was so hoping to see a pig out there. But no pigs. Also no snakes or spiders, but occasionally I would feel a sudden, short-lived sting on my exposed skin. I blamed it on some invisible-to-me insects, but I'm still not certain what it could be. Plus, I got to jump some horse patties, a strangely rewarding section of the course.

For the marathon, we did the loop on the right once, plus the little one mile out-and-back that you see looking like a stick-person arm on the right. Then, we doubled back around and completed the larger loop. The course ends at the start line.


Although I'm not 100% positive, I think that the 50Kers did the same course as us but their stick-person arm on the right went out longer than ours. Plus they may have added another small out-and-back somewhere else. 

The course was well marked. The only time I got off course was coming back from the out-and-back segment. When the sign said to turn around and head back, I turned around and headed back, but back was some other path. Luckily I saw other runners heading up the trail before I got too far off, and I could still easily cut through the woods to get back on track. It was actually kind of fun to jump through the woods a little bit compared to the relatively tame trail. 

This pic shows what most of the trail looked like. Sandy dirt covered with pine straw. Very soft and easy on the joints. 


The first loop of the course was really shady and felt like it had a lot of downhill. Though when I look at my Garmin stats, I don't really see that reflected in the stats. As you can see (below) there were some hills, but they were all very runnable. I hiked one at the end just because I felt like it, but really, these weren't the type of hills that will kill your legs if you run them. My Garmin listed total elevation gain as 1776 ft.



Not surprisingly in such a small race, no one was running the same pace as me, so I spent this whole race almost exclusively alone on the trail. I rarely run alone on trails for safety reasons, so this was a sort of introspective treat. It was peaceful and made each aid station truly feel like an oasis. 

Seeing the first aid station

Towards the end of the race, it got slightly hotter and less shady. With the heat and more tired legs, I really started to noticed the sandiness of the trails on the uphills. My goal on each uphill was to not step in the sand because I wanted to avoid sliding backwards with each step. 

Even though it got hotter, the weather was relatively mild for a Florida race. The high was supposed to reach 81F that day, but I think it never made much above 70F while I was out on the course. 

Some of the gorgeously gnarled oak trees shading the course.

The end of the race was predictable, as it covered the same trail that had led us out on the course earlier that morning, but I'm not sure when I was happier -- starting out on the journey fresh that morning or heading back after slogging it out for hours. I'm thinking the finish was my happiest place that day. 


My race: My original time goal for this race was 4:30. I just wanted to take it slow and easy. But I started off running my easy miles in the 8:30s, so I knew that it could potentially be a faster day. Or it could be a blow-up day.

Because the course stayed mild throughout, I didn't have any major blow-ups, though I did get a little lonely and tired at the end of the race. My times definitely slowed down for the second half of the course with most of the miles in the 9s. It wasn't any more difficult terrain, but it was a mental challenge to keep pushing when I hadn't seen a human in what felt like hours.

I started to listen to music around the halfway point and enjoyed being alone on the course so that I could sing out loud and not bother anyone but the wild pigs.

For food, I ate a few chips and orange slices at each aid station. Plus, I drank Gatorade when it was available to help keep my electrolytes up. They warned us that it could get hot, and I wanted to avoid getting dehydrated. I also brought three gels that I took at miles 5, 12, and 17. Then I had an energy drink that I took somewhere in the 20s. I also ran with water (40 oz.) in my Camelbak, and I only needed to refill it once during the race.

My stomach was feeling a little off in the beginning of the race and chewing food was a little gaggy to me, but I managed to not spew, which I thought might happen a couple of times. Intestinally, I actually felt better at the end of the race than at the beginning which is a reversal of my normal order of things.

The biggest terrain challenge for me was the sand underfoot, which got harder to navigate with tired, wobbly legs at the end of the race.

After the race: My favorite part of this course was that they didn't make you wait around for race awards. As soon as I crossed the finish line, they told me that I was the first girl to come through for the marathon and handed me my plaque right there. I loved that! 

The overall winners got this citrus-y plaque. My kids were happy to learn that I finally really won something. For some reason (that I am positive I did not teach them), they consider an age-group win a fake win. Though when I told them that three guys finished before me, they became suspect again. 


I was kind of hoping that someone would spread out some of that trail marking tape and let me run through it at the end to really live that moment up, but no one received my mental telepathy and did that at the finish line. Dang it!


The after-race vibe was really chill and welcoming. Everyone was just hanging out chatting in their camp chairs, which they had set up to face the finish line and cheer people home. 



For snacks, they served pizza, watermelon, bagels, bananas, beer, water, and Gatorade at the finish. Not too many gluten-free options, so I had the pizza and some fruit. 


I loved the finish-line photographer. Complete maxin and relaxin, and he got the good shots too. Bam. Done. 



Swag: The swag bags came with a few little treats. The Raw Revolution Chocolate Coconut Bliss sample bar was amazing! It was like a healthy version of a Mounds bar. I will be getting more of those. 


I also really liked the Softlips lip balm, which had SPF 20 in it. Scoring. 

The shirts actually fit pretty well for unisex shirts. I didn't realize until I got home that I accidentally ended up with a 50K shirt. Whatev if the world gets a more hardcore vibe from me with this shirt that reads a distance much longer than I actually ran. Or maybe most people will just shrug their shoulders and wonder how far that is. The second option is more likely. 


The medals were simple wooden squares with an added plaque-y type plate to the front. Stop me if I'm getting too technical in these descriptions. It can be overwhelming for the layreader.



Overall: The cost of the marathon is $65, and it's $85 for the 50K. The course difficulty is pretty mild with low hills throughout the course and some sandy footing to keep things interesting. All of the trails that I was on were plenty wide for passing. Low-key and friendly, this race would be a perfect place for you if you are just starting out trail running or if you are looking for a break from the roads. You will break a sweat, but you won't have to climb or jump too much. If this race falls during our spring break again next year, I'd consider coming back again to use this as a long training run for my April marathon.