Hello everybody! This past Saturday I had my first in person race since uhhh 2019? I don’t recall but I’m pretty sure I had yet to race in 2020. My first races of 2020 were to be a trail series starting in March but obviously those were canceled. I’ve spent the summer doing virtual races and challenges.

I have discovered that I love love love these virtual challenges. One, you get fun swag and two, you really are competing with yourself. I will never be a podium or age group winner. I’m a mid packer. I definitely run and do races to challenge myself, not to compete with others.

Honestly, I wasn’t ready to return to in person racing. When the trail series announced they would be live this month, I was nervous. I have asthma and have had pneumonia in the past. Coronavirus is definitely something I don’t want to catch. I read the precautions they are doing and still wasn’t sure. 

But my other half said I should do it because I’ve already paid and it would be good to get out and race. I’ve been going out on the trails for my long runs but not for a fun race. I thought about it. And I knew I’d be able to do the race virtually if wanted (it has always been an option for this race) but ultimately decided I’d try it in person.

We had to sign up for a wave start. I picked 8 am because it was the earliest and it still gets warm here during the day. The process was we could not arrive more than 15 minutes before our start. Once we got in the corral, we could not leave so if we needed the bathroom we had to do that first. 

While in the corral we had to have a mask on and stay distanced from other runners. We had our temps checked, were given a bib, and off we went!

Once on the course we could remove our masks. Which, thank god, because with my asthma running in a mask is hard. In winter, I’m always pulling my buff up and down because I’ll get cold but then after a few minutes I need to pull it down to get some deeper breaths. 

The setup was pretty close to what they said. Although it seemed many people were getting their bib THEN going to the bathroom and warming up. Those were supposed to be done before getting bib. The idea was get your bib, stay in the corral, then go when the wave started.

My start time was 8:05 so I wasn’t supposed to arrive earlier than 7:50. I got there around 7:55 and there were already a bunch of cars and groups of runners. I got out and put on all my gear (bib belt and vest for water – there wasn’t any on course). Then I headed to check in. They first take your temp (mine was 96) and then you go get your bib. Got my bib and waited in the corral for a few minutes.

They first announced an  am wave, which I’m pretty sure they didn’t have. I did sign up for 8 am but the email with the listed waves started at 8:05. Whatever. After calling 8 am a few times, he called :05 and I was off!

I ran for a bit with my mask on but after about a tenth of a mile pulled it down. I was struggling to breathe. Did I mention the air was smokey again? Not as bad as a month or so ago when all of California was onfire and the smoke reached Arizona. I started pacing myself off a woman in front of me. She was doing about 10:30 pace which was good for me in the first mile or so of this route.

There’s one spot where a saguaro has fallen so had to leap over that. I always forget its there. 

But then we started getting to the elevation part. With my asthma I had to start hiking up the inclines. At first it was just the really sharp inclines but eventually I was hiking up all inclines. I was still making pretty decent time, despite the walking.

Before the race, I assumed I’d get passed a lot. I’m definitely an average runner. I can do a road race in 10ish minute miles and a trail in 11-12 minute miles. Surprisingly I was only passed by six people. The first man passed pretty early (before the saguaro obstacle). The next two men passed me around 2.5 miles. And then a group of three passed me around 2.75. When I was able I stepped aside, paused, and let them pass. I heard all of them coming and looked for easy spots to let them go by.

The last section of the 5k was downhill and then flat so I felt pretty confident going into the finisher chute. Once I crossed the line, I stopped my watch, collected my swag and a gatorade and stepped far away from people to catch my breath.

Then I headed to my truck to stretch a bit and drive home. Overall, it was a pretty easy process. And it was easy to stay spread out on the trail. I wish the start corral had been a little larger. I felt like as a few people filtered in it was harder to stay six feet apart but we were all wearing our masks. The finish was a little weird, if I hadn’t paid attention I might have gone back through the start mats instead. Oops. But it was easy to get the swag and move on. I didn’t get my mask pulled up right away at finish but they had a plexiglass. I pulled it up as soon as I could but walked away so I could pull it down. It was even harder to breathe in it after the run!

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I have done this race five times. Three in fall and two in spring. The course goes the opposite way in spring so my strava doesn’t compare them as matched runs. This fall was my fastest of the past three but one spring was faster. Per strava which pulls from my Garmin, my spring 2019 was 11:35 average and 36:05 total. Spring 218 I averaged 14:17 and it took me 44:31!

Today I did it in 37:46 and 12:03 average. In 2018 I did it in 41:14, 12:57 average and 2019 was 40:19 and 12:53 average. So, getting better! For some reason the fall seems to be 3.13 miles and the spring only 3.11. I dunno how because it’s the same course, just in reverse.

I’ve also been running the trails more so it definitely makes it easier. When I did that first race in 201, I had never done a trail race before. I barely had done any trail runs. Hiking was about all I had done in recent years. I’ve definitely taken more to the trails in the past couple of years, both running and hiking.

It just goes to show that no matter how old you are, you can still improve!

As of when I recorded this, the official results were not posted yet. Maybe I’ll update if it posts before the episode goes live. Otherwise, it will be in next week’s coffee corner. 

Being around people still makes me a bit nervous, but in the corral everyone had on their masks. It was after I saw people without but it was easy enough to keep way more than 6 feet apart. I have two more in this series in 2020, November and December. I am looking forward to it. I also liked only having a few people start at once. It opened up the trail a lot. Usually there’s spots I get caught behind someone and it becomes difficult to pass. This almost felt like a normal trail run with a few other people but with the pre-race anxiety. 

It has me thinking of adding a couple more runs in spring. I really want to do a couple of longer distances and Aravaipa has two options at my favorite parks. And I know theyve been doing the socially distance races for a few months now. 

I’m actually thinking I could attempt the 50k in January. I have a problem. Send help.

This week’s podcast will be a little shorter than last week. I’ll give your ears a break. 

Have you had any in-person races yet? If so, how has your experience been? Let me know by heading to runsonespresso.com and dropping a comment on the show notes page, find me on Instagram at runs_on_espresso, or leave me a voice message on Anchor (anchor.fm/runsonespresso).

Coffee Corner:

You’d think coffee corner would be easier to write than the main body but its not. It’s really hard to think of something not running related. 

I’m halfway through Salem’s Lot. I will probably not get any other spooky books read this month. Stephen King needs to learn to be less wordy. I said it, don’t at me.

My office has decided we need to start coming back to the office once a week at least. I’ve been going in as needed, usually every other week or so. It will be a change to start going in once a week. Most of my work can easily be done from home. And I actually get more accomplished at home. One day a week won’t be too bad. It just worries me that they are starting this as our numbers start rising again. Working from home has been so amazing. I think my introverted nature and self-discipline really lends itself to working from home. 

Alright, signing off now. As usual, may your runs be as strong as your coffee. 

Categories: Podcast


Jenna Volden has a degree in business and has spent the last 10 plus years working for others. She believes it is time to start her own photography and writing business. She enjoys running, coffee and helping others achieve their goals. Gluten-free foods are a lifestyle, not a choice, for her due to celiac disease. She is currently based in Phoenix, Arizona.