Don't get me wrong. I love running trails. Trail racing, however, is another story. Last weekend I ran the 7.6 mile Cougar Mountain Trail Race in Newcastle, Washington.
I consider myself in decent shape- my last 2 marathons were 2 hr 56 min at Vancouver and 3 hr 03 min at the hilly San Juan Island Marathon just 2 weeks previous.
Feeling pretty strong and confident at the start, I went out comfortably and as we settled in I began sneaking past a few runners on the narrow trail where ever I could.
I was sitting in the top 10 when we hit the first climb, which wasn't particularly steep, but it didn't take long before I started laboring. The runners I had just past got by me and soon disappeared from sight. No problem, I thought, I'll recover at the top and maintain a decent position. That's when the trouble started.
Every uphill got progressively worse until my legs and wind were eventually both taxed to the limit. At that point, slowing down was the only option.
Once we started down, there was even more trouble. Negotiating the turns, uneven footing, branches, stumps, roots, and other obstacles were nonstop, especially on the downhills. I watched helplessly as more runners swept past. How can they run that fast on this stuff? Finally, I gave up trying to be competitive and started stopping to let others go by.
To make a long story short, a good road runner on the flats will have serious trouble with trails without proper preparation. Up hills, down hills, and being able to freewheel on rough terrain are tools that I do not possess.
Still, I managed 25th out of 230 finishers. The way I felt and ran, I deserved much worse.