Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Coastal Trail Runs - Final Review
Less than a year ago, I got into trail running. Oh sure, I'd run a trail before, and I spent a couple semesters in college running on Austin's Town Lake Trail nearly every day. But I'd never done any kind of serious trail running, and I'd definitely never done a trail race. I'd barely even heard of one.
At one point a few years ago, a friend asked me if I'd ever do a marathon again. At the time, I was unsure. I'd completed every running-related goal I'd ever had, and the appeal of urban mega-marathons had somehow worn off. I figured the only marathons I'd do from there on out would probably be destination races. I might as well make it a trip; maybe I could go to Hawaii, or Tahiti or something? Do they have a marathon there?
Then I started hearing about trail running. It sounded like the best things about running, leaving out what I don't like about large events. Definitely something I'd like to try someday. But when? And what race? There aren't a whole lot in Texas to choose from.
I discovered Coastal Trail Runs when I randomly rode past a race on my bike one day, and managed to remember their name long enough to Google it when I got home. Not only did the races look like they'd be a gas (and a great challenge!), but they had a thing they called the Blazer Awards - you earn points by placing high in races, and at the end of the year, the highest point total wins. Multi-race challenges like that are addicting to me. I was in.
I signed up for a race only two weeks before it was held, despite not quite being in marathon shape. Much to my surprise, I was able to hang in there on a difficult course, and I even placed third! If I could actually improve, I'd have a chance in the Blazer Awards. On top of that, it was fun! Yeah, I should definitely do more of these.
In my very next trail marathon, only two weeks later, I won! The addiction was now solidified. I wound up doing nearly every race in the series, only missing a couple when I was out of town or forgot to sign up on time. I had done six marathons before this year. I have now done 27 races of at least marathon distance.
There are a lot of things I could say about trail running that make it different from "normal" running. The surface is softer, so you don't pound on your joints so hard. The surface is also more uneven, so your stabilizer muscles get nice and strong, giving you stronger joints and making injury less likely. It's tougher, and you're more likely to deal with hills, making you a (literally) stronger runner, and much more versatile and capable to boot.
But perhaps the most important thing is it's fun! Rather than running around a few boring city blocks, you get outside, and I mean real outside, not just on the sidewalk. That's not going outside, that's the equivalent of going into the courtyard of one gigantic building. You don't have to listen to obnoxious loud cars, you don't have to choke on their fumes, you don't have to stop every quarter-mile for another intersection, you don't have to weave your way through dozens of humans. You get a chance to go into a zone, maybe have a little quiet time to reflect. It's almost therapeutic, that one hour a day you get to yourself. And the uneven trail presents little challenges all along the way, making it more interesting; you're never just running a little farther, you're taking on a new challenge that's different from any other part of the trail. And your approach to running becomes less goal-oriented and more process-oriented. Sure, you can still set goals for yourself, but trail running is about the run. You enjoy the training runs. After a race, when someone asks you "How did it go?" you're more likely to say "The course was beautiful, kinda tough on that one hill, and really fun!" instead of "My time was 3:21."
During the year, I finished nine trail marathons (winning six), eight 50ks (winning two), and a 50-miler (which I won). I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams, and trail running made me stronger than I had ever been before. I managed to qualify for Boston in LA despite having an absolutely disastrous day, then set a PR in San Francisco, the hardest urban marathon course I've ever run. Then I broke that PR a few months later in Berlin. What made me so fast on flat pavement was forcing myself to run over technical hills. Everything became easy after that.
But what I really want to talk about is Coastal Trail Runs. Of those 27 races I've done, when it comes to creating an enjoyable race experience, their races take spots #1-18. No race I've done comes close to how much fun their races are. Well-organized, low-key, beautiful courses, great volunteers, and an impressive spread at the finish line (oodles of snacks, soup, barbecue, and beer!).
I credit this to the fact that it's run by runners, not businessmen. And it shows - these are truly runners' races. The people that take on these races aren't the type that just want to say they've done a half-marathon or show a medal to their friends. They're the type that want to challenge themselves. People that like going outside. But most of all, people that love running. And the sense of community and camaraderie among trail runners is stunning and contagious. Of all the races I've run, all the hills I've climbed, all the results I've gotten, I feel like my proudest accomplishment is becoming one of them.
And the courses? My goodness, I can't think of one I didn't like! Every single one was unique and interesting in a different way, and presented a different challenge each time. You never knew exactly what the course is going to throw at you, or exactly how you'd handle it. No two races are alike, so you never feel like you're doing "another" race. And you start to learn that in trail running, anything can happen.
Coastal Trail Runs helped me re-awaken my passion for long-distance running, and also brought it to new levels. Marathons are my first true love, but trail running and I may be soul mates. That being said, my time with Coastal Trail Runs is coming to a close. I've moved back to Texas, and unfortunately, trail running isn't much of a thing here. Also, I'm starting training for another challenge: biking around the world alone. To loyal readers, thanks for reading.
One last big thank-you to the good people at Coastal Trail Runs. I had fun out there!