After I finished the race I kept saying that it was so great for only being its first year, but the more I thought about it the more that seems unfair: this was, first year or not, a fun and well run race. RD Eric Eagan (+ his wife Sheila) and all the crew at #TrailsROC did a phenomenal job putting on the 0 SPF Trail Half Marathon. Eric is not your typical RD, so this wasn’t a typical race, which is why it was so much fun. For instance, they offered an early start for those those who thought they would need more time. Eric was also kind enough to let a few people in after the race had technically closed (including this guy 😉 Thanks Eric!).
Weather It had been in the 90s with high humidity the entire week prior to the race. At the packet pick up it was hot and muggy…but the heat broke over night and the morning found it overcast after some rain had fallen; temperatures were in the 70s with a cool breeze—perfect for running. It didn’t rain during the race, afterwards it came down in buckets.
Course I think Eric is sadistic (he basically admitted to as much…). This is a very challenging course. Experienced trail runner or not you will walk some if not most of the hills. It is an out-and-back course, but he added some extra sections on the way back to make it a bit more challenging—4 major climbs on the way back. This, in turn, made the run “half-ish”—it measure at about 13.4 miles. Also, it is “the hilliest race, elevation per mile, of any race in the area”. Awesome; of Yikes. Whichever; or both.
The Race I worked my way to the frontish area of the pack at the starting line as Eric sounded his bullhorn to sent us off. Immediately we climbed a hill, and this would set the tone for the rest of the day. I quickly knew that any “racing” would be of a very limited nature because not only were the front runners off at a blistering pace, the course was immediately proving to bite back.
The trail plateaued for a bit and then hit the downhill at the power lines (just before mile 1 on the elevation profile). I saw Katie snapping pictures at the bottom of the hill, yelled a “hello” and continued on. We crossed Turk Hill road, then headed into the woods. Most of the remainder of the race was spent on narrow single track trail which is mostly technical but with some flat runnable sections. (There was only one short section of pavement [maybe a 1/4 mile?] and then the few times that the course crosses roads
The climbing was tough. At points the trail would climb stteply up or down and at other times it wound drop via sharp switch backs—none of which I was looking forward to running on the way back out. I ran as much of the hills as possible, but there was just no choice but to power hike a majority of them. Also, the course, up until just after the turn around, was a bit congested with runners coming back from the early start and the front runners already returning. This made the already narrow trails difficult to traverse—one or more people had to step off the trail to let others by—but everyone was polite and friendly as well as vocal to warn people when a runner was coming.
All the while I was trying to eat a GU every 30 minutes or so, concurrently with taking an S! Cap to keep my electrolytes in line. I kept this tandem up until the turn around, where I ate a few watermelons as well. By then, however, the GUs were starting to turn my stomach. The tough effort, the warm weather, and the steep descents and climbs were making it tough to keep taking food in; even though I knew that I needed to keep eating if I wanted to keep my energy up.
Energy. This seemed to just be leaking out of me. I was trying to stick with a guy who I had been with me since before the turn around, and we chatted about how he had the energy to pull ahead on the uphills and how I would pass him on the downhills. But once we headed back I just couldn’t get me legs to keep up with him, and eventually he dropped me.
I then took to more power hiking even some of the less steep sections, finding them just as difficult. At a few points I found myself, as I usually do, talking to myself—bargaining about getting to “that tree” or to “run 10 more steps”—it seems to help put my mind in a good place. One thing that really did bolster my spirits, though, were the random spectators who cheered us on. Some were planted in one spot and I saw them twice (out and back); but a few must have driven to different crossings so I saw them a number of times. (I went up to a couple after the race to thank them for the lift their cheering gave me.)
I knew that if I could just make it back to the power lines I could at least see Katie and then walk the final big climb. I came out of the woods, crossed Turk Hill road, filled my bottle, looked up…and saw Katie and my Mom-in-law waving to me. I tried to muster a slow jog up the hill but only made it a little ways. I zombie-walked the rest of the way to see them; chatted for a minute, then continued up the hill. My stomach had really turned sour, but my efforts to puke failed. So I told myself that I just had to pull it togehter for one last mile, most of it flat or downhill. Hot damn.
I bombed down the last steep descent, crossed a street, waved to a camera, then flew down the trail to the finish. I saw Eric there clapping and yelling, “Alright Nomeatbarefeet!” What a way to end the run. Plus, my little niece, Charlotte, was there handing out water and beer cozies—she was loving helping out we had to drag her away.
I finished in 2:22:43, which was good enough for 17th. Given the really challenging nature of this race I was happy with the finish. All in all it was a really fun time, and I cannot wait to come back next year.
The only thing I might suggest for next year is to include more porta-potties. (Sorry Eric, I couldn’t think of this when we were drinking later that night :-)) The North Face was kind enough to allow runners to use their bathrooms, but things got a bit backed up (pun) as it got closer to the race. Other than that I thought everything else was great.
I think one of the best decisions Eric made was to have volunteers take photographs on the course. (You can see all the photosets at the #TrailsROC Facebook page.) This had two advantages: (1) all the photos are free and available to all the runners as soon as they are put online; (2) staggering multiple photographers throughout the course gives others a unique perspective on how the entire race went. The downside, of course, is that the quality of the photos can suffer—but since no one really looks good while running I think that having volunteers take the photos is a great cost efficient way to provide runners with documentation of their suffering.
So if you are looking for a race that has lots of great people, a very challenging course, and is very well run (by a great guy and a great organization) consider running the 0SPF Trail Half Marathon. Next year’s race will probably sellout fast, so be on the look out for info on signing up…just make sure that you leave me a spot!