Race Report: Sleepy Hollow Mountain Race

1:01:56, 18th Woman.

First and foremost, I am a road runner and spend very little time on trails (although I would like that to change in the coming years as we’re moving to an epic trail running town!). That said, I LOVE playing around in the woods and am wholly entertained by sliding sideways through mud and skittering along cliff edges. Despite moments of frustration yesterday, I had a complete blast getting out of my comfort zone and up some big hills at Sleepy Hollow.

Before I recap, let’s take a flash back to my last trail race and the areas of improvement I identified after that adventure.

  1. Learn how to tackle downhills.
  2. Don’t give up time on the easy parts.
  3. Tie your shoes tightly and learn how to cross rivers/mud.
  4. Know when to hold em, know when to fold em.

Coming into yesterday, my goals were simple: finish, keep both shoes on and try to apply lessons from last year’s Rivah. I actually spend a fair amount of time at Sleepy Hollow in the winter on skis but had literally never seen it without snow until yesterday. That said, I knew it featured some super gnarly singletrack and set a goal of 10 minute pace overall to balance the faster grass sections with the singletrack. Other than that, I didn’t have any plans, hopes or dreams.

The weather was perfect for a trail race with temps in the low 40s with just a touch of drizzle. We were well protected in the woods from wind but I suspect spectating wasn’t a ton of fun. Will and I ran the last 2 mile chunk of the course as a warm-up and although it was technical, it featured an amazing last mile of downhill and flat with good footing so I hatched a plan to use this place to move up if my legs allowed it.

This was the largest Sleepy Hollow Mountain Race (300 runners) ever and since I’m no trail runner, I positioned myself midpack for the start. When the horn sounded, people shot off while I jogged up the first incline. Since I didn’t know what to expect, my plan was to take it easy on the first ascent and see how I did. Even at that easy pace, I was breathing hard by about 5 minutes in. We turned onto a lovely singletrack and since we were still densely packed, this gave me time to calm my breathing and settle in. One of the best parts of this race was that it was either up or down and once you survived a climb, you knew you had a lot of recovery coming. After we crested the first hill, I felt good and started on the downhill. And people started STREAMING by me. Apparently my downhill skills have not really improved since last year…With rocks and roots and mud and leaves, I just wasn’t comfortable sending it and just did my best as what seemed like half the field went by me.

We then hit a long section of flat to downhill packed gravel/grass and I found my tempo effort and went. This awareness was a HUGE improvement from last year and was something I was able to do throughout the race. As we reached the bottom of this trail and the lowest point of the course, the hardest climb (for me) began. It started as a mudslide uphill that was nearly impossible to run, so I stayed to the side of the trail and powerhiked. (Look at all this learning!) Then after another short section of wide gravel/grass , we turned onto a switchback heavy singletrack where you could see so far up the ridgeline that the leaders were visible. Mentally and physically taxing, this was probably the hardest part of the course for me, especially when we hit the mile 3 marker and I realized I wasn’t even half done. Towards the top of this section, we saw Darth Vader and traversed a sketchy little cliff section where I literally grabbed a tree as I second guessed my footing. We went up over the absolute top of the land (another powerwalk hill) and finally headed down towards the start/finish area and the final loop.

This downhill and flat section offered a great opportunity to settle back into tempo effort and I felt strong and in control. Cruising past Will at the beginning of the third loop, I focused on my form with driving knees and turnover and felt super confident in my ability to tackle the third loop. After all, I’d already run it and it wasn’t THAT bad. Ha. As we turned onto the singletrack portion (most of which is at a 28% grade), I found myself struggling to powerwalk, let alone run. The only reason I wasn’t completely devastated was that literally everyone else around my was powerwalking too. Turns out that what might seem easy on a warm-up is a bear after 4.5 miles of racing. When we finally reached the top of that climb, I forced myself back into a jog and carefully watched footing then rejoiced when we hit the gravel/grass road descent. As I’d planned on my warmup, I clicked into tempo pace and started moving towards home. I was able to pass two people and caught up to the woman whom I’d passed on every uphill but who decimated me on the downhills. As we worked up the last hill, I realized I wasn’t sure what the etiquette was for kicking it in at a trail race and felt like maybe, that wasn’t cool. I stayed a couple steps behind her as we finished up and crossed the line at 1:01:56.

All in all, I’m so happy with the way this turned out. I wanted to get a solid effort in, have some fun in my last race in Vermont for a while and see if I could apply what I’d learned from my last trail race. I did a great job of keeping both shoes on, powerwalking when appropriate and running fast where it was possible. My downhills, however, still leave a lot to be desired. There’s always next time!

 

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