First Time Trail Race with CrossFit as My Only Preparation

A couple Saturdays ago I participated in the Xterra Malibu Creek 6K Trail Run at Malibu Creek State Park. It was my first trail race ever so I didn’t know what to expect. It was a fun time and surprisingly I placed 3rd in my age group 35-39 (i’m 39) out of 17 men, 13th out of 108 men, and 15th out of 238 people.

Not Much of a Runner

I would not consider myself a runner. As I’ve aged I’ve been plagued by IT band syndrome where any runs over 3 miles cause me knee pain on the outside of my left knee. Any running I do is short distance normally less than 3 miles. This typically works out well for doing CrossFit since rarely do we ever do more than 3 miles total in any WOD.

Aside from the CrossFit WOD’s for the past few months I’ve been trying to do some longer low intensity aerobic training like rowing for 30 mins or jogging at a slow pace with the intention of keeping my heart rate relatively low, but for a longer time. For reference when I do my runs I’m running at a 11:00 mile for 30 minutes so with an average heart rate 139 bpm (which for me is “low”). So as you can see definitely not blazing speeds.

I figure the one thing lacking from my training are longer workout sessions targeting Aerobic conditioning. Most Crossfit WODs are 10-20 minutes and depending on the format are more biased towards high intensity.

Anyway, aside from a few road races I’ve done over the years, I just wanted to illustrate that I am by no means a seasoned runner.

The Race Course – Malibu Creek State Park

The official race website describes the 6K race as: “6k is a great introductory trail run with single track and fireroad trails.”

Race Day

Aside from knowing the race distance of 6K (3.73 miles) I didn’t know what to expect. My wife signed us up for the race and I didn’t do any prep outside of looking up driving directions to the race venue. My initial plan was to just run with my wife at her pace and enjoy the scenery. However when we checked in and got our race packet each racer received a timing chip. I decided since there was official timing maybe I should see how well I could run the race (my wife forgave me later!). It’s not everyday you get accurate race results so might as well make the best of it.

Like most mornings I didn’t have any food as I don’t eat breakfast and typically have my first meal around 1 or 2PM (I’m one of those intermittent fasting / fasting people). The only thing I had was my morning coffee, the only pre-workout I take 🙂

Mile 1 – 8:21/mi – 140 feet elevation gain

The first mile was flat so it felt like a normal run, just over some dirt roads. I remember glancing at my Apple Watch seeing my pace as 7:59 per mile and thinking cool I’ll be done in like 28 minutes or so. Though I did think that was odd since I overheard that last year’s winner won with a time of 25 minutes and as I mentioned before I am by no means a championship runner.

Mile 2 – 11:55/mi – 192 feet elevation gain

Right after you complete the first mile the course takes a sharp right turn and starts climbing up along a single track. I saw people making that turn climbing the incline and soon realized I would not be keeping up my record-winning pace.

The first part of the mile was the climb up a mountain. Not a tall mountain, but it kept going up. In the back of my mind I had to keep telling myself to keep going as at some point it was going to back down and give my legs a break. I was watching my pace as I didn’t want to stop running, but didn’t want to blow out my legs going too fast, a lesson i’ve learned far too many times thanks to Crossfit.

The past few months Southern California received lots of rain and along the trail it showed. The poppy flower plants and greenery covered much of the path. While running you no choice other than to run right through it rather try to avoid it. In addition to dealing with overgrown vegetation you also had to avoid the horse poop strewn along the trail.

Even though the pace was slower it was still exhilarating. The adrenaline pumps as you are worry about tripping, avoid natural obstacles (at one point there was a down tree we had to climb under), and contend with other racers on the single track trail portions of the race.

Mile 3 – 9:04/mi – 301 feet elevation loss

This part of the race was mostly running downhill and hoping I didn’t trip and hurt myself. Going down fatigued my legs and at some parts I felt my feet giving way… so I focused more and slowed down the pace. On the way up the “mountain” I passed a woman who was ahead of me, but on the way down she was trailing me so I let her pass. I never passed her again (later i found out she got 2nd for all women and 11th overall ).

Maybe it was my lack of trail running experience, but I was afraid to go too fast running downhill. I got spooked at one point where my left foot got too close to an edge and the soil gave way and almost fell. I am not a surefooted mountain goat.

Mile 3.8 – 7:52/mi – 3 feet elevation gain

At this point I was checking my watch to see how much race was left to decide how fast to push the pace. Some of my wife’s coworkers were running along side me so I kept pace with them for most of this section. With a half mile remaining I felt good and thought to myself, “It’s only 800 meters left”, so I picked up the pace. I started to regret it as this seemed like the longest 800 meters. Luckily when I rounded a corner I saw the finish line so I sprinted to the end.

The Results

As mentioned for my age group (35-39) I placed 3rd with a time of 35:36 with a pace of 9:33 per mile. For comparison’s sake the guy one place ahead of me, the 2nd place finisher in the age group, got 35:16 (9:27 per mile pace). 20 seconds faster and 2nd place could have been mine!!! The guy who won first place in my age group was a beast. Not only did he get first in the age group, but he also won the overall race. His time was 26:52 (7:12 per mile pace)! There’s no way I could have done that pace.

I recently set up Strava to analyze my runs (check how I use my Apple Watch Activity App to import my runs into Strava). I was browsing Strava when I noticed the guy who won the race and the 2nd place finisher were sharing the running data from the race we did. I compared their race split times to mine below.

Here you see the wide gap between 15th place and 1st and 2nd

Notice how the winner’s pace climbing the mountain was 8:29 per mile? Mine was 11:55 per mile! I was pretty uncomfortable too while if you look at his heart rate it was 155 bpm. It looks like it didn’t change from start to finish. My heart rate was probably 190/200 bpm on that last sprint. It is seriously humbling to see how these guys run on a different level. I guess that’s one downside of Crossfit … not enough running.

View all the Malibu 6K Race Results

Conclusion and Observations

Should have worn leggings on the race!

I wanted to sum up some observations and lessons learned for this race experience:

  • I’m impressed Crossfit prepared me for this race with no real trail race prep. When I was running up the mountain in my head I was thinking of all the step ups and lunges I’ve done to help me get to the top
  • Didn’t get to take in the scenery as much as I would have liked. I was more focused on looking at the ground to make sure I didn’t trip and fall that I didn’t have time to soak in the sights. That kind of sucked since where we were running was nice.
  • Should have worn my heart rate monitor (it would have been cool to track the heart rate going up and down the mountain)
  • Should have worn leggings (aka compression pants) to help block the overgrown vegetation. I got cut up on the run and having some leg protection would have helped
  • Glad I brought wet wipes (to help clean off the mud and blood from above point)
  • Glad I raced ahead of the racing pack at the beginning of the race… once you hit the single track I could see how that would hold you back
  • The trail shoes I used, the Merrell All Out Blaze Aero Sport, were great… they were light and the traction was great

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