Trail Half Marathon: One Runner's Tough Race-Day Decision

You sign up for a trail half marathon, plan a vacation around it, and carve out some time on your calendar for training.

That seems pretty solid, right?

Spend a couple months training. Run some trail miles. Build endurance. Dial in nutrition and hydration. Then taper just in time for race day and an epic trail half marathon.

That’s exactly what Oregon runner Anna Marie Costello planned to do when she signed up for the Valkyrie Trail Race hosted by Mad Moose Events in Colorado Springs, Colo.

But when she stepped up to the starting line, she had some tough decisions to make.

  • Drop out
  • Downgrade to the 4-mile race
  • Or come up with a last-minute training strategy to finish this trail half marathon

What would you do?

Anna had one of those get-real conversations with herself...with her entire family waiting in the wings, and made a decision.

Here’s what happened….

Oregon-based runner Anna Marie Costello signed up to run her second half marathon at the women's-only Valkyrie Trail Race in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Trail half marathon: Pre-race prep

About three years ago, Anna trained to run the Vortex Half Marathon hosted by Run Wild Adventures in Oregon.

She did the work. Ran consistently. Got comfortable with running longer distances.

And then she got the news from her doctor just a week before the race... 

“You’re pregnant.”

Anna cruised through the race with that news on her mind. And then everything changed.

“I stopped running after that,” says Anna. “I had to get clearance from my doctor to run. They were concerned about increasing physical activity while I was pregnant, so I stopped.”

Run happy

Spending all her time taking care of a baby and her other kids (including one with special needs), plus running a soap-making business and setting up shop at local farmer’s markets kind of took over everything. 

Days and weeks turned into months, and she started to lose herself. COVID hit. She was isolated even more. And it was taking a toll.

That’s when she signed up for the Valkyrie trail half marathon.

After a long break from running, Anna decided it was time to get back to training, running races, and doing something she loves.

“Running helps my depression quite a bit,” says Anna. “It makes such a difference. If it’s been a few days and I’m crabby, my husband and kids will send me out the door to go for a run.”

Signing up for a trail half marathon was supposed to provide some deadline-driven motivation to carve out time for training.

The Valkyrie Trail Race hosted by Mad Moose Events is a multi-race event held at Cheyenne Mountain State Park in Colorado.

But chances are pretty good, you already know things don’t always go as planned. 

Valkyrie Half Marathon start…

When Anna stepped up to the starting line at the Valkyrie Half Marathon, she knew her training over the past few months wasn’t ideal. But that didn’t stop her.

“I mostly tried to get out at least three days a week and a longer run on the weekend,” says Anna. “I was trying to focus on putting miles on my feet and get moving instead of focusing on a specific time or mileage goal.”

But managing kids, COVID, and going back to work all took a toll on training. And she wasn’t able to get in as much running as she had planned.

Been there, done that?

Anna decided not to let that stop her.

But there was at least one other problem.

Elevation: Anna lives and trains in Oregon City, Ore. But the Valkrie Trail Half Marathon was held in Cheyenne Mountain State Park at about 6,800 ft. elevation. 

Valkyrie Trail Race runners begin the race near Cheyenne Mountain. The event includes a 4-mile run, half marathon, marathon, marathon relay, and a 50K.

“I was pretty nervous about showing up without doing enough training,” says Anna. “But I wasn’t concerned about the elevation. I grew up in Colorado, and thought it would be no big deal. It turned out to be a much bigger deal than I anticipated.”

On your mark, get set, GO!

Anna took off from Cheyenne Mountain State Park to climb 2,000 feet and run 13.1 miles.

The goal: Finish her second half marathon by running 13.1 miles.

Her family was there to support her and celebrate with her at the end. And there were plenty of other trail runners and volunteers there cheering her on.

“Valkyrie Trail Race was created as a women-only trail/ultra event, featuring Colorado Spring’s, Cheyenne Mountain State Park,” says Race Director Kylah Ricks. “The race offers amazing views of the city and a diverse eco-system. We have several different distances available, so everyone in your running group can participate.”

Anna ran the Valkyrie Half Marathon Trail Race, completing three loops on the trail system inside Cheyenne Mountain State Park. The course included single track trail and some technical trail with boulders to climb over or go around.

Ever run a race not sure how it’s going to turn out?

Despite feeling nervous, Anna joined 93 other half marathoners to go the distance.

Front-runner and eventual winner Sandi Nypaver took off at the front of the pack. And runners doing the 50K, marathon, and marathon relay were already on the course.

“The first mile was really good,” says Anna. “It felt good getting out there after such a long break from running. I only got back into it six months ago. I spent the first mile trying to hype myself up, ‘You got this. You can do this.”

Miles 2 - 4

When the race started, it was around 68 degrees.

Cool enough to notice, but it didn’t take long for the mercury to rise along with Anna’s doubts.

“Miles 2 to 4 were really tough,” says Anna. “After just a couple miles, I had to talk myself out of dropping out. The elevation difference was a lot harder than I expected.”

She shuffled through the 3-loop course, making her way back to the Talon Far Aid Station to start another loop.

She stocked up on Gatorade, fruit, chips and snacks, and decided to keep going.

Even though the course was beautiful, Anna felt the effects of Colorado's higher elevation almost immediately. But that didn't stop her.

Miles 4 to 10

And that’s when it got real…

“I started out running and got tired really quickly,” says Anna. “That was the elevation difference working against me. I have asthma, and didn’t bring my inhaler. But luckly, I was never short of breath.”

But it was HARD.

Still, she pushed herself to complete another loop, 

“Cheyenne Mountain State Park is really beautiful country,” says Anna. “The course included some technical trail. And there were some rocks and boulders you had to get around and over. That really challenged me, along with the distance.”

Miles 11 to finish

By the time Anna reached mile 10, she was feeling the effects of undertraining and the elevation difference.

Everything felt she was moving in slow motion, but it required a ton of effort.

“After about 10 miles, I was ready for it to be done and wanted to get it over with,” says Anna.

But she still had three miles to go.

“I had to keep telling myself, ‘You’re not dropping out,” says Anna. “Finishing is the only way through.”

And that’s what she did with the help of her family, volunteers and runners on the course cheering her on.

Anna was one of 93 runners to finish the Valkyrie Half Marathon Trail Race.

Race-day reflection

“I was very glad to be done,” says Anna. “I wound up walking the majority of the race. By the time I finished, I was physically and emotionally tired.”

A day later, only a little muscle soreness was hanging around. And a blister on the back of her heel was already getting better. 

And all the feelings of finishing started to settle in.

“I told a lot of people I was doing this half marathon,” says Anna. “I didn’t want to come home and tell everyone I dropped out. That really motivated me to keep going, even though I wanted to quit.”

What’s next?

I would love to run a full marathon,” says Anna. “I also want to do the Hood to Coast Relay, and run a 50K one of these days. And it’s totally doable.”

Fun facts about Anna Marie Costello

  • I started the Army. The first time I ran more than a mile was pretty eye-opening to me.
  • First 5K. My sister-in-law invited me to run a 5K with her for Thanksgiving back in 2016. I thought she was crazy, but I went anyway.
  • My running club. Eastwind Running & Endurance
  • Running shoes. Saucony Excursion and Saucony Cohesion
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Evan Jensen
SANDY, Oregon
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I help RUNNERS reduce injuries, fix running form, run longer & faster by strength training without running ragged. I'm a NASM...


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