Race Report: Holy Cow Trail Stampede 10 Mile

Well, I had that little burst of blogging at the beginning of July just before my France trip and then… it’s been busy.

The trip to Chamonix was phenomenal. I initially intended to write up full blog posts on it, but I ended up sharing so many photos and a brief writeup each day on my Instagram that it never felt pressing to write a blog post as well. So maybe just check those out? To get the biggest FAQ out of the way, it was all booked through Run the Alps – a tour company that typically plans point-to-point running tours throughout the Alps, but this one was a “trail camp” where we stayed in Chamonix the whole time. I was really happy with most of the organization of the trip, but there were some missed details that were a bit annoying (especially since they would have been easily fixed). Overall, it was a great way to get comfortable running in the Alps and not having to worry about anything, but for my next trip, I’d probably just plan it on my own rather than book through a tour. More anticipation and enjoyment when I do my own planning, too!

Trail_to_Lac_Blanc

The Run the Alps crew picked some spectacular trails for us, though!

But the amazing part of my time in France is that it coincided with the IVF hormones finally dissipating, and me finally feeling like my normal self again. I stuck around Chamonix an extra day to celebrate my birthday on the trails instead of stuck on a plane, and a guy I met on the tour stayed an extra day to join me. With the guidance of top-ranked ultrarunner Mimmi Kotka (who was our tour guide for the week), Torben and I decided to run a 10.5 loop around L’Aiguilette de Posettes – which took us across the ski slopes of Le Balme and to a lunch break at the most beautiful little chalet, surrounded by 360 views of the Mont Blanc Massif and in the midst of a herd of cows with surprisingly peaceful cowbells clanging a relaxing lullaby. Sitting at that picnic table eating a blueberry tart, I couldn’t think of a happier place to be – and as we kept running up the trail after lunch, I started tearing up with joy at how lucky I was to be on this incredible trail on this perfect summer day. Running had not brought me joy in a long time, since before the IVF, and I was so happy to finally have confidence that the cloud of depression wouldn’t be with me forever and I’d get back to being myself again.

Blueberry_Tart_in_Chamonix

This was SUCH a happy day, and such a peaceful, amazing place to sit.

With that Chamonix trip to kick things off, I had a very productive July, running-wise, and ended up clocking 201.5 miles on a mix of roads and trail – an average of exactly 6.5 miles per day. With that average in mind, I set out to beat that in August, and I’m well on track to do so. Back in 2020, when I was quarantining solo, I got in the best shape of my life – and while I’ve put on a bit of weight and lost a bit of fitness, I’m realizing that high mileage seems to suit me well, both in how my body looks as well as how much faster I get. And so, last Tuesday, I decided to sign up for the Holy Cow Trail Stampede 10 Miler and see exactly how much faster I’d gotten.

The Holy Cow Trail Stampede is a new race organized by 3W Races, an organization I’d done many races with in the past. But I thought I remembered that they allowed dogs at their races – and sure enough, that was true here. Although I run with Sadie nearly every morning, I had never before done a race with her – and I decided this would be a great opportunity to give it a try.

Although I thought it would be fun to test my own 10 mile time, I was more excited to see how Sadie would do in a race setting. She’s a really friendly dog, but she gets a little nervous around other dogs; meanwhile, although she has no problem when we are running by people on the sidewalks and trails, I wasn’t sure how she’d react to being in a pack of lots of runners. And finally, while I knew she could easily do 10 miles (we’ve done several runs of 14-16 miles in the last month or so), I didn’t know how she’d do at my expected “race pace” of about 7:15-7:30/mile. The day before I signed up, we did 8 miles at an 8:20 pace, but Sadie was pretty tired at the end of that, so I thought it might be a bit much to hold a 7:30 pace for even longer. However, for this local race that I hadn’t been specifically training for, I was more than willing to sacrifice my own time in the interest of experimentation. Let’s see what happens!

After that 8 mile pretty hard run on Wednesday, Sadie and I ran an easy 4 miles on Thursday, and then took Friday as a complete rest day. (We were both pretty grumpy about that, and Friday was definitely not a good day!) From a fitness perspective, I was happy with how strong I had run on Wednesday, but was dismayed to wake up on Thursday and find that my Garmin said I was “peaking”. No, no, no – I wanted to be recovering Thursday and peaking on Saturday! I woke up on Friday to see it still said peaking, and I figured I had no chance – surely you can’t peak for three days in a row. But it turns out, you can: I woke up on Saturday “peaking” again! 🤷‍♀️ Personally, I would call this a “mesa” rather than a “peak”, but okay, Garmin – let’s do this.

The race was set to start at 6:30am, which I was thrilled about – with how hot this summer has been, I wanted to be done as early as possible. That did mean a pretty early wakeup call though: I set my alarm for 5am, allowing me time to get ready without rushing, and also time to have a cup of caffeinated coffee before I left. After my experience with too much caffeine for the Superior Mile, I didn’t want to drink too much, but I ended up only having time for one cup anyway… and it seemed to work out perfectly, with me having plenty of energy but no jitters. Score!

My mom came to cheer Sadie and I on, and my mom spent most of the car ride trying to soothe Sadie, as she was shaking with nerves the whole time in the car. Sadie generally gets pretty excited when I’m driving us to a trailhead rather than running from the front door, but I think she could also tell something was up on this day. When we got to Big Dry Creek Park where the race would start, she continued to shake with excitement, and I ended up pulling her to sit on a rock with me for a bit as I petted / reassured her and tried to calm her down. My sweet girl wanted to RUN!

Sadie_Nervous_Pre-Race

Little miszka!!

Before long, it was time to line up. I know that typical race etiquette is for dogs to start at the back. However, after chatting with my friend Claire, who’s an ambassador and volunteer with 3W, she said I should be fine to start up front given the pace I wanted to run. I got a little nervous about barging my way up to the front line, though, so I split the difference, with Sadie and I lining up kind of in the middle. Sadie, however, knew exactly where she wanted to be – and when the race started, she took off to the front of the pack in a dead sprint! The other runners in the pack laughed with me about her eagerness, and someone joked that “maybe she’ll win the whole thing!” I am pretty sure they thought she was going to sprint to start and then slow down… but we did not do that :)

Sadie_Leading_Holy_Cow_Stampede

Let’s goooooooo!

Our first mile clicked off in 6:41 – and while normally the race day adrenaline hits me and I do the first mile way faster than the rest, I actually felt like this was close to a sustainable pace. We had maybe gone out just a click faster for that first quarter mile to get out to the front, but my heart rate was relatively low and it felt like we were at “talking pace” – something I tried to take advantage of by making it a point to say good morning to every person we passed. Although this was said to be a trail race, I’d use that term verrrrrry loosely – it was about half dirt trail (completely non-technical) and half paved sidewalk, and there were plenty of non-race people out for their morning walk / run before it got hot.

But when I say Sadie wanted to be at the front of the pack… by the first quarter mile, there was no “pack”; it was just me and Sadie in the lead, with the next runner a few hundred feet behind us. My little girl wanted to show those naysayers a lesson and win! I have finished a race as the first female before, but I’ve never won a race outright, or even come close. And it was kind of cool to have the lead biker ahead of me to follow! But I didn’t need to pay too close attention to him, as the course was pretty easy – it was literally just an out-and-back on the main trail, with the only tricky points being where construction was rerouting the main trail a little bit here or there.

The second mile took us past our first aid station, just before the 1.5 mile mark (where the 5Kers starting later would turn around). My friend Claire was volunteering at this aid station, and it was really fun to see her for a moment! I didn’t get a drink at this point, but I was excited to see Claire – and also proud that Sadie and I were living up to the fast pace I had promised when I asked her if it was okay for us to not start in the back. Mile 2 ticked by in 6:55, and mile 3 in 6:48. I was really delighted by how comfortable a sub-7 minute mile pace felt – could I sustain this the whole way?

Mile 4 is where Sadie showed her true colors, though. German shorthaired pointers are known to be energetic dogs who need a “job” to be happy. While I think Sadie has learned that her “job” in my house is running with me every morning, I am pretty sure that her original family (who had her until she was 4 years old) taught her to hunt. And when we ran through a field of prairie dogs, Sadie wasn’t sure which job to do 😂 It was here that staying at a conversational pace became really important… so I could yell “Uh uh, leave it, focus!” to Sadie and keep her on course! We clocked mile 4 in 6:57, and I was thrilled we only had one more mile till the turnaround – we were doing well.

I saw the lead biker slow down and then come to a stop (he was several hundred feet ahead of me at all times), and soon realized that the turnaround was right up ahead. It was just a hair past 5 miles (which I clocked in 7:07 with a few more prairie dogs), and I was happy that there hadn’t been any really significant hills. There was a slight downhill from mile 4.3-4.6 (which would become an uphill on the way back), but for the most part, this was flat to rolling. And I hit that halfway point in 34:28 – which meant if I could keep up the pace, I might even be able to finish in 70 minutes and go for a sub-7 minute average page! Wow, that would be beyond my wildest dreams.

But right after we hit the turnaround and prepared to go back through a particularly populated field of prairie dogs, Sadie couldn’t take it anymore – and stopped short to go into full “point, stalk, and hunt” mode. “Sadie, leave it! Come on, focus!” I yelled. But as she had already run off the trail and into the field, my direction just confused poor Sadie, resulting in her circling around to the other side of me and getting us both all tangled up in our leash. Whoops! I quickly got us untangled and back to a run, but we definitely lost a few seconds there. Between that and the slight uphill, I clocked a 7:20 pace for the 6th mile – significantly slower than before, but I had high hopes that we could make it up in the last mile when we gave it everything we had to finish.

The way back was really fun – I knew the course well now, and I got to keep cheering “Awesome job, way to go” for the runners coming on the outbound direction. However, now that it was past 7am, the sun was starting to heat things up, and I found that my once-conversational pace now felt much tougher. Although my splits were reasonably steady, my heart rate increased consistently throughout this race. Miles 7 and 8 ticked by in 7:03 and 7:11, and I tried to stay as close as I could to a 7:00/mile average. I couldn’t remember what my 10 mile PR was (probably something like 75 minutes?) but I knew I was on track for a big PR, and I really wanted to see if I could go sub-70 minutes. Meanwhile, Sadie was running strong – no signs of slowing down, except when she saw prairie dogs on the side of the trail that she wanted to go hunt 😂

Sadie_Laura_Shadows_Mid_Holy_Cow_Stampede

I love this pic of our running shadows that I snapped mid-race :)

With each mile, I was pretty close to on track for a sub-70, but just a tiny bit over. However, I knew I would kick it in strong at the end, and I hoped I could pick up 10 seconds or so then to help me go sub-70. I powered strong through the final hill of the race at mile 9 (or so I thought; turns out that on this course, which had a slightly different start / finish from 3W’s usual, there was a mild uphill to the finish), and calculated that I was going to be about 20 seconds over on a sub-70; could I make that up in the final mile?

But coming around a curve of houses about a half mile from the end, Sadie and I found our kryptonite: an older gentleman with an off-leash dog. (Please note that leashes are required in this park / on this trail, and there were signs everywhere stating as such.) His dog started running up to us, and I slowed my pace to a jog to try to reassure Sadie in a happy voice that this was a friend so she wouldn’t freak out. Meanwhile, his dog quite aggressively came up to us, and Sadie darted off the trail to try to get away. I tried to keep us running forward as Sadie swerved and pulled right to avoid his dog, and she ended up clotheslining the guy with her leash in her haste to escape. I shouted sorry, and he didn’t fall or anything, but… ugh. In the moment, I just felt bad that Sadie tripped him and really guilty that I had tried to keep running. In hindsight, though, it was kind of his fault for illegally having his dog off-leash, particularly when he clearly didn’t have his dog under solid voice command to recall the dog when Sadie was scared. How frustrating to be in this situation, especially in the final mile!

And unfortunately, that incident cost me – according to Strava, my pace for that 0.2 mile stretch dropped to 8:10/mile. Not what I wanted in the final stretch! But after we moved past the guy, Sadie and I picked the pace up for the final quarter mile to a 6:30. I was trying to outkick Sadie so that I could be the outright winner of the race, but she was loving the thrill of sprinting hard (vs the easy trot she usually does to match my run) and was eager and practically pulling her way across the line. Go, Sadie!

Sadie_Wins_Holy_Cow_Stampede

I look tired, Sadie looks like she’s trotting along bored 😂

I was so excited that we had been able to win the race outright. While admittedly a small field, this was the first time I’ve ever done that, and it was fun! And when I finally looked up my old ten mile PR, I found it was 75:34 at the 2019 Colorado Women’s Classic – so my official finish time of 70:50 was a full 4.5 minutes faster than my old PR! I was so surprised and delighted by that.

Sadie_and_Laura_After_The_Race

Relaxing post-race and basking in the glow of victory :)

Now – I need to add a quick disclaimer here. As much as I was shocked by my “surprise” PR on a day when I wasn’t expecting it, I don’t want to sound like one of those influencers who works her butt off in secret and then plays, “who me, I can’t believe I PRed”. Although I wasn’t training for this race specifically, I have been running an average of 6.5 miles a day. That’s a lot of running! When I stop and think about it, it’s not surprising that I PRed, since I have always raced well with high mileage training; I just hadn’t been expecting it since I signed up for this race last minute and was doing more general “stay in shape” running than training for a specific distance.

In the moment, though, I wasn’t thinking about any of that “this makes sense” logic. Instead, I was eyeing my Garmin and how it bumped my VO2Max up significantly from this hard effort (ahem, apparently I need to throw a few more hard efforts into my regular training). And I also noticed that the mythical “peaking” status was still showing! (In fact, I continued to “peak” on a 12 mile hiking date I went on Sunday.)

But the other thing my Garmin showed… was a predicted 5K race time of 19:06. Whoaaaaa… I have never seen it that low! I am signed up to race a 5K in Saratoga, NY, when I go visit family there next weekend… and now I’m wondering whether this will be my chance to finally go sub-20 in the 5K, which I’ve wanted to do for years. Flat course, sea level altitude, and apparently me in peak form? Bring it!

Race stats:
Distance: 10 miles
Time: 1:10:50
Pace: 7:05 / mile
Overall place: 1/30
Gender place: 1/15

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