Race Experience: Horror Trail Run – 25km

Two weeks ago, and a year after my first half-marathon at Niagara Falls, I ran the Horror Trail Run 25km race. Running the 2.5km laps through the beautiful forest on the Camp Heidelberg property of the Optimist Club of Kitchener-Waterloo is an extremely rewarding experience, especially with the beautiful fall colors at this time of the year.

In this post, I would like to reflect on my experience running the Horror Trail 25k. Let’s get started by reviewing the basic stats quickly.

Distance25km
Official Gun Time3:14:32
Pace7:47 minutes/km
Participants34
Overall Place16
Gender Place12
Division Place (Gender and Age Group 20-29)3

I would like to start by talking about the one thing that made a world of difference in shaping my experience this time. Last year, for the Niagara Falls half-marathon, I relied solely on the weatherman’s forecast which was a mistake. The prediction was a relatively sunny day with clouds and wind, and I only wore my shorts and a half-sleeve running t-shirt. Big mistake! It was around 4°C and there was drizzling rain throughout with some breaks. While I enjoyed the run, I definitely felt some discomfort here and there due to cold hands. It was a good thing that I was running with an extra pair of socks!

This year, I dressed up more appropriately for the weather – covered well, wearing a few layers and gloves on. My Garmin recorded -1.1°C but my run was comfortable and I did not feel impacted by weather at all. That meant I could focus more on my running form, breathing and nutrition. I still wore my road shoes for this race though, but I definitely plan to invest in a good pair of trail shoes for all future trail races.

In my runs in the one year leading up to this race, I accrued 450 kilometers under my belt ( – on my watch?). This definitely boosted my confidence a little but what worried me going in was the fact that most of my runs had been short, between 5 and 10km – more on the lower end of that range than the higher, if I were being completely honest!

I know what you must be thinking – this is an open invitation to injuries! Yes, I know. But life happens! I definitely wanted to increase my daily and weekly mileage in preparation for the race, but could not. I tried to make up by including cross-fit exercises in between and pace variations during the shorter runs. I was not going to let this stop me from doing this race and I anticipated that I would finish with minimal injury. Next year, I would definitely incorporate longer runs periodically in my training.

Another aspect where I clearly lacked in training was trail experience. Throughout the year, I trained on straight and relatively flat paved roads with only minor elevation changes. Living in the core of Toronto does not make it any easier. I had practically no trail-running experience going into this race and it was apparent from the state of my knees in the evening after the race. I could not bend my left knee or bear much weight until about noon next day. Thankfully, the recovery was quick however and I walked quite a bit on the following Monday. In the future, I’ll definitely be mindful and include more trail runs in my training routine.

One of the things that I did get (mostly) right this time was nutrition. I roughly followed a balanced diet for most of the year and loaded up on carbohydrates in the one or two weeks before the race. I also woke up at 4am on race day for a milk and oats breakfast with pistachios and cashew nuts. I stayed hydrated and also had gels for the race. I alternated between water and sports drink every loop and had a banana and some snacks every 3 loops – thank you volunteers!

I did feel like I was going to cramp when climbing up and down the hills in the last 5-6 kilometers. It was the part where I slowed down a lot and struggled the most. But I did make it through without getting any cramps. So I guess I do need to focus more on electrolyte intake and hydration, huh. On my list!

Now, I am not a particularly competitive runner. Having started running less than 2 years ago, I mostly enjoy it for the health benefits, seek refuge from the cray-cray of everyday life [and keep my weight in check]. And so, I mostly run at a relatively leisurely pace – not that I am very fast anyway! I was targeting to finish in 3:15:00, taking it easy, keeping tabs on my heart rate and everything, and an ambitious 3:00:00 only if everything went extremely well which, realistically, seemed unlikely since I trained for the road and not for the trails. In fact, I thought I’d finish at the bottom of the table because my focus was on finishing rather than ranking higher. I managed to finish in 3:14:32 and much to my surprise somewhere in the middle of the charts!

The whole experience has made me happy, and I am sincerely humbled and have a deep appreciation for the efforts of everyone who attempted.

The interactions I had with several other runners were very inspiring! I talked to a few people doing the 50km ultra and the 6-hour ultra. Some told me how they had been making attempts for a couple of years now and, while they did not finish, were getting better and growing more determined to make it each time! Their strength and determination will forever be etched in my mind and continue to motivate me to be a better person every day!

And, last but not the least, I cherish the support of my friends and family who’ve been there for and have encouraged me every step of the way. The 25km Horror Trail Run 2019 has been a worthwhile experience and I am excited for what lies ahead. I hope to train more, train better and do more of these next year.

Wish me luck!