Surviving The Hardest Fitness Test To Date: 17K Trail Run Recap

Happy Sunday!

After 10 glorious hours of sleep I feel like a brand new person this morning. Yesterday, I was pretty much dead to the world, so it’s nice to be amongst the living today.

Why was I dead?

Yesterday I completed my very first trail race!

It was a 17K race through Harbison State Park in Columbia, SC. I truly didn’t know what to expect, I just assumed we would run dirt trails around the woods. The race page had mentioned that this was their flat course so it was great for first time trail runners.

I rounded up some friends and we decided to give it a go.

At 4:45am my alarm started to buzz. The park is about 2 hours away, so we had to get on the road pretty early to make it. I enjoyed a hot bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter then prepared myself for the 35-degree temperatures by pulling on a pair of running leggings, pj pants and 3 tops. I told you I am a wuss when it comes to cold.

The drive was smooth and we had plenty of time to pick up our bibs and t-shirts. The shirts were really cute! Though, I searched for the goat, I never found it on the trails. Fail. 🙁

I also noticed immediately the the race crowd was small. I knew that they limited entries but I wasn’t used to a race with less than 100 people. To be honest, it was a bit intimidating (most of them looked as if trail races were a norm).

At about 8:55, Ashton, Julie, April and myself headed over to the starting line. That was a perk of the small field, no need to stand out in the freezing cold at the starting line to claim your spot.

Right at 9am, the sounded for the race to start and we took off.

We started off on gravel roads which were pretty easy to navigate, then at about 3/4 of a mile, the race made a turn into the woods. It was at this point, that I realized what they meant by “trails”.

harbison 17k trail race

The trails at times were no wider than 3 feet, so it was clear why they had to limit the race size. With a big group, we would be elbows to elbows and pushing each other out of the way. This was never an issue with the 90 runners sharing the trails yesterday.

The first mile wasn’t so bad… it was a completely new event to me and I just took it stride by stride, watching where my feet hit so I wouldn’t trip over roots or branches.

At mile 1.5, that’s about the time I looked up and saw the first incline and thought to myself (outloud)…

“Oh hell, flat my ass.”

It was like suddenly turning the incline up to a level 10 and tossing gravels and twigs on it. Talk about arm pumping and core work! A bit later I was enjoying a break with the decent.

harbison trail inclines

This pretty much happened the entire run. There were inclines so steep that my butt was burning and I had to keep mentally telling myself that I could do this.

What I also learned about trail running… who cares what your mile splits are on the road because they mean nothing here.

These were the longest miles ever. It seems like 15 minutes between mile markers! Holy crap, just keep running.

The highlight was when we came to the top of a “mountain” and rounded around it to start the decent down and were surprised with the most gorgeous view of a river. It was beautiful and I kid you not…

harbison trail running

Unfortunately my GPS lost satellite after mile 6.2 so I couldn’t get all the trail or stats. 

This was the first time I ever gave thanks to being able to partake in events like this. The first time I was truly grateful for my ability to run. I guess you can say I had an almost spiritual moment… I don’t know. It didn’t last long since we were greeted with more hills, logs, and sudden turns.

All of us just took it mile, by mile, giving everything we had.

On the last stretch, I tried to give it everything I had, but I didn’t have much left. I actually had tears at the finish line I was so physically burnt out. Tears of accomplishment, pain, and relief.


This was the HARDEST fitness event I have ever done. It made last week’s half marathon seem like a piece of cake. It made the MC Mud Run seem like a breeze.

If I had not had such a great group of women around me, I honestly don’t know if I could have completed the entire thing running. But knowing that we were all struggling to move forward, gave me the strength to push ahead until the end.

Yup, as soon as the race was over, I had an extra pair of sweats!

I ended up getting 1st for my age group and 4th overall woman… There weren’t a ton in my age group but for my first trail run I am proud of myself!

It’s funny what we can accomplish, even when we don’t think we can.

I have to give special shot outs… 

My friend April (far right). She is amazing. This girl has never raced anything beyond a 5K and yet, she laced on her shoes, layered herself up and takled not just a 17K but the hardest race I have ever seen. I am so proud of her, and April… I hope you realize what you accomplished out there!

Even Dan said during my recap the he wouldn’t have been able to do it!

Ashton: It was Ashton’s big 2-4 birthday. Instead of spending it sleeping in, recovering from the night before, she woke up and did this race. What a great way to start off the day! Of course it also gave her another reason to celebrate extra hard last night. Happy birthday Ash!


Friday Night Pre-race dinner

New friends: Ashton’s friend Julie (group picture on the left), drove down from Charlotte to race with us. When we first met up she kept saying, don’t let me slow you down, I am not fast. This girl is crazy fast!

We stayed together 90% of the race until the final mile when she sped ahead. She was motivation the entire way. Upbeat and dedicated. At the very end, put her head down and gave it her last bit of energy to sprint across the line. Way to go!

And last, Our team moms: Brittany and Chelsey. These girls woke up far too early on their Saturday to support us and drive us to the race. They did a great job taking pictures, making us laugh to relax and taking control of things so that we didn’t have to worry… we could stay focused. Thank you girls.

race moms

Overall Race Thoughts

This race added a new level to my fitness goals. I can’t wait to tackle another soon. It was so different than road races, truly no comparison.

I love this picture because it looks like snow in the trees. There wasn’t any… it was just cold.

While I LOVED the Mt In The Middle Race, there are a few suggestions for next year that we came up with:

  1. Water stations. There were 2 water stations but both were managed by young girls (like 12 years old). This race was so tough and at parts, dangerous that I think more qualified people should have been here for first aid help and advice.
  2. It felt rushed. Because of the small field, it felt very rushed. There was no one to cheer you on at the finish line and as soon as someone ran in to claim their age group, they received their medal. I felt as if the post race event was more of a hassel for the directors than anything. In fact, they were closing down and packing up while runners were still out on the trails.

All in all though it was a wonderful race. I was drained like no other after and pretty useless. It was awesome.

Trail Race Tips For Future Runs

  1. If it says “flat” practice runninng at crazy inclines… like levels 10-12.
  2. Agility work is important. Because you’re having to jump back and forth to saving make your way back down some of the hills, having strong ankles and being confident with agility is important. There were lots of quick cuts back and forth and sudden turns.
  3. Mentally prepare. Unlike road races where you’re never alone, you’ll be alone from time to time. Don’t let it discourage you from pushing ahead.
  4. Abs of steel. Abs are important for road races of course, however, there were several times while I was pumping my arms to get up an embankment that I was thankful for a strong core. It was burning but helping me get to where I needed to do.
  5. And finally, don’t be afraid. This was the hardest event I have ever done but I would sign up again in a heart beat. It is also the biggest feeling of accomplishment. It might not be my longest run ever, but sometimes miles just don’t matter.

What’s the hardest fitness related thing you’ve ever done? 

Ever run trails before?


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