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Race Report – NJ Trail Series (Watchung 10K)

I signed up for this event on a whim. I had never run on trails before, but I thought it sounded fun, and it was also close to home.

Some time later, I remembered that I have always thought trail running sounded like a bad idea. I mean, I like hiking. But the thought of running on those same trails where I would probably roll one of my already busted ankles just sounded awful risky.

This was my ankle several years ago.

Oh well, I’d already signed up. I decided that I’d walk any tricky parts of the trail. The event featured a no frills approach – no medals, no t-shirts (just minimal aid stations and a timing chip). The fee of $30 (for all distances) was used as a donation to Jersey Battered Women’s Service.

The New Jersey Trail series appears to host several informal train runs throughout the year. The Watchung event is an annual ultrarunning race, with distances of 10K, half marathon, marathon, and 50K offered.

I had never run a 10K before this event, although I’ve run a few 5K’s, a 10-miler, a couple of half marathons, and the run portions of sprint, half, and full distance triathlons. The distance of this run didn’t bother me, although it was more than I’d been doing in my recent training (max 3-4 miles lately).

The course for each loop in Watchung Reservation.

The week of the race was a wet one, and rain was also in the forecast for race morning. I had to think about how to handle that. I’ve run in the rain before, but never on trails where I could expect a lot of mud. The temperature was forecast to be in the 40’s – cold enough for me to layer up, but not too uncomfortable once I got moving.

I ended up wearing an old pair of running shoes and bringing a change of shoes and socks for my ride home. I also packed a towel and dry shirts. I didn’t bring any headphones because I decided against listening to music. It just didn’t seem right for a run through the woods.

When I arrived to check in, I was running late. I walked from my car to the start area as the race began. That was fine by me. I was only here for the run, not to work on a PR or anything. I took my time getting my timing chip and then stowing my jacket back in my car.

The beginning of the course took my around the parking area and then on paved trails to start with. The rain began with a light drizzle, but was barely noticeable. Soon enough, the path took me down a steep and narrow trail and into the woods.

The route for the race was well-marked, with orange surveyor’s tape and paint. It would have been hard to get lost. After only a minute on the trail, I encountered the mud. It would have been impossible to avoid it for the whole race, although I did try to stick to the drier patches where possible.

My shoes quickly plunged into the muck and filled with chilly water. Despite being one of those people who is always cold, my feet warmed up and never went numb during the race. The beginning of the course was muddier than the later sections, although it did rain more heavily around miles 3 to 4. I was warm enough to take my gloves off for a while, but put them on again later.

I started to laugh at the mud as I went and realized that I was actually having fun. Running in the woods was a nice break from the monotony of laps around the nearby park or the same familiar routes near my house. Because of my late start, I didn’t see too many other runners, but I was not completely alone out there either. Several people were hiking the trail, despite the weather.

One aid station was located near mile 4 and I stopped for some cookies and water. The trail beyond that point was a lot wider and flatter, with one uphill section at the end. Around mile 5, I was lapped by someone doing multiple loops of the course. He reminded me of an elf because he appeared to be literally bounding through the woods with hardly any effort.

I completed the run in 1:36:25 which made me happy, as I was hoping for something under 2 hours. I was able to run more of the distance than I had thought I could, and the rain and mud hadn’t been as much of a hindrance as I had feared.

The second aid station was at the finish, and I had a few more snacks before heading back to my car. I would definitely consider a future trail run (ideally without the mud and rain)!

Do you do any trail running? Do you have any tips for someone new to trails? Were you out there in Watchung with me? Let me know in the comments below.

See all of my race reports here.

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