Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Race Report: First Trail Half!

The somewhat sloppy Sloppy Cuckoo Trail Half Marathon

Sunday was my first trail half marathon.  I posted a little about it the night before here.

With a 9am start and number pickup running until 8:30 I got to sleep in until a little after 7, which was fantastic. It's still hard to drag your butt out of bed when you're going to a race by yourself.  Running races and carpooling with friends, you know someone is counting on you to be ready.

The race was 40 minutes away, so my plan was to leave by 7:35 so I could get there for number pickup with a little time to spare. I had a typical pre-race breakfast of a banana and peanut butter on a slice of wheat bread in the car on the way, as well as a bottle of water.

Once I arrived I was able to find a parking spot in no time.  I changed into my running shoes (I drive to races in flip flops, and change back into them for the drive home) and picked up my number, some pins, and a ridiculously over-sized tech tee (size small?). 

 Logo, pre-race

 Super flattering photo of modeled shirt, post-race

This event had a very different, more relaxed vibe compared to any of my other races.  Walking through the parking lot there were several costumed runners (German-themed, just like the race: lots of lederhosen and dirndl-type outfits, someone with a plush bird hat, and a guy in a full banana suit immediately come to mind), but lots of people were also just sitting around in lawn chairs, hanging out by their cars, waiting for race time to roll around.

I brought my stuff back to my car, pinned on my number, stuck 2 gu in my water bottle pocket, debated whether or not to wear my sunglasses for probably 5 minutes, and sprayed bug spray on my legs then headed over to the start area.

Luckily after a couple days of rain, the rain had stopped Saturday morning (despite the forecast predicting rain all day Saturday and Sunday), and I was happy to not have to run 13 miles in the woods in the rain.  It was 67F/91% humidity at the start...and 79F/65% humidity by the end.  Hooray for a mostly shaded course!  That made it feel much cooler, I think.

After some explanation of the course, from a lederhosen-clad race director, we were off at only a couple minutes past 9am.

Less than .2 mile in, there was a backup and people were walking/standing on the sidewalk here to enter the trail.

 Clearly these pics were not taken DURING the race.  
This was very close to my car, so I went back to snap a picture at the end.

I guess despite having "the widest starting line in PA" there's a little bit of a bottleneck when you unleash 200 runners onto a narrow trail head.  While this was my first real trail race, I knew it was much different than road races (particularly the one I ran the previous weekend).  I didn't freak out about stopping 3 minutes in.  However, I heard several comments around me such as, "can I pause my Garmin?"  and "Are they going to subtract this from our time?"  Clearly they were also new to trail running.

Soon after entering the trail there was plenty of mud, which I was expecting.  Everyone near me was trying to stick to the outside edges...I'm sure the fast runners went straight through though.

It also didn't take long to get to our first fallen tree.  Or our first hill.

Does the right side look familiar?  Course was a 6.55 mi double loop.

I ran up the first couple hills and after that, I decided to save some of my energy by walking up hills from that point on.

The course description was pretty accurate.  The "terrain" varied from mud to packed wet dirt to sand to mud with standing water.  Also lots of horse poop: smushed and un-smushed.  I actually ran past 2 horses at one point too.  We had to climb over fallen trees (not just step over... I mean pull myself up, sit on the log, and slide off on the other side), duck under fall trees, descend wet rocky steps, and there was a creek crossing.  There were flat stretches and windy sections and some hills.

Mud. Not even bad mud, but this was the closest to the trail entrance by my car and I wasn't going to re-run the course to take photos.  And I didn't want to run the race with a camera on me.

The scenery was varied.  At times you could see the creek to the side.  Other times you were just surrounded by woods.  At one point we ran through an open field, then along some railroad tracks.  We also ran under an overpass (very wet/muddy underneath!)

There were aid stations just before mile 3 (and you passed it a second time at mile ~9.5), after mile 5 (and again around 11.8), and at the end of the first 6.55 mile loop (a.k.a. the finish line, second time around).  These aid stations were way better than regular aid stations though... there were cups of water and lemon lime Gatorade; cookies, pretzel sticks, Twizzlers, and an all-natural "Carb Boom" energy gel that I have not seen before.  I took one home so I could try it at my leisure. 


~mile 2.85: Gatorade + a pretzel stick (~34m)
~mile 5: Water from the aid station right before having my a mint chocolate gu at about 1:07 (5.4 mi). I bumped back the gu since I had gatorade earlier.
~mile 6.55: Gatorade (I saw 1:25 as I ran past the clock) ... 4 minutes later the first place runner passed the finish line!
~mile 9.5: Gatorade + a pretzel stick (~1:58)

After this aid station I ran with the same woman for about half an hour and we chatted.  We talked about other races we've run (she had also run the Rock 'n' Roll Philly half last weekend), upcoming races, our husbands' thoughts on half marathons, and our goals for this trail half. This was her first trail half too.  We said our goals were to: a) finish, b) finish within the 3:30 time limit, and c) not finish last.

This was a great distraction! But as I was preoccupied, I missed when I meant to take my second gu by about 15 minutes and I ended up having it around 2 hours and 24 minutes instead.

~mile 11.8: Gatorade (2:30?)

Throughout the run I drank my entire 20ish ounces of water in my handheld as well.

The last mile and change wasn't pretty.  There was lots of walking, basically from the last aid station til the end.  I ran for little stretches, then walked little stretches.  I felt like one of my legs was cramping up, and I blame it on the last forgotten gu.  Though, you'd think the Gatorade I drank at aid stations would have been enough to get me through.  Who knows.

Also in the last mile, when climbing over 3 trees down all next to each other, I slipped on the third tree and hit my lower right back bone (pelvis?) as my feet slid over the edge.  Then with about .3 miles to go, I mis-stepped while crossing the creek (which I was able to cross without getting wet the first time) leaving one foot totally soaked.

When I finished the loop the first time at about 1:25, I arbitrarily decided I wanted to run the second half in the same time or less.  This was not based on anything and may not have been a reasonable goal.  I came close though, and ran the loop the second time in 1:27.  Total time of 2:52.  120 out of 166 runners.

I was far less muddy at the finish than I expected.  But how do I get so much mud on the inside of my legs?

Finisher's prize was a pint glass...

...but a few minutes later I remembered that we were supposed to get whistles!  I guess they ran out.  I emailed the race director who nicely explained how they don't want to order too much food, prizes, etc. in a small race like this as to not take away from the money to be donated. He said he had ordered more and for me to send him my address in a couple weeks for him to send me one.  I forget that some races are held to actually raise money, not for profit!

Funny thing about that little pick up truck/camper above...

I took this picture of it at my half marathon back in April!  How can you forget a little truck/camper like this with CT plates when you're running in PA.  I checked the license plates from my 2 pictures and it is in fact the same vehicle.

Oh so back to the finish line: They served sausages, potato salad, watermelon, cookies, and various baked goods.  Also, water, and soda.

I should have stretched a lot before grabbing food.  My legs tightened up while I ate and during the awards, I felt kinda stiff already walking back to my car.

Here's a picture of the creek we ran along (from the road).

This is apparently a magical tube that shoots out ducks into the creek.

I found a Dunkin' Donuts on my way back home and picked up an iced coffee.  When I got home I washed all the dirt off my legs then made my first cold water bath because adding ice sounded too scary.  I am proud of submerging my legs for just under 25 minutes!  I tried to distract myself from the cold with reading twitter on my phone, looking a magazine, and thoughts of the hot shower to follow.  Then I put on my calf compression sleeves for the remainder of the day since they may or may not have contributed to my lack of calf soreness after last weekend's half marathon.

If you made it this far and feet are not your thing, you may want to end your reading here.  Otherwise: Monday morning I felt pretty good.  Unfortunately a little puffy blister on my big toe appeared to morph into a blood blister, which I have never had before.  I distinctly remember tripping over a root or rock with my right foot toward the end of my first loop and maybe that's where it came from?  Anyway...the blood blister never popped and now I just have a big dark bruise on my toe.  <Last chance to exit if you are a feet-hater, but I did make the picture small>

When I told my husband that it was my blood blister he responded with, "oh, that's in you?" He had assumed I dripped something dark on myself like grease or chocolate or something.

I'm actually amazed I've lasted through over 3 years of running regularly and over 1 1/2 years of training for half marathons without any blisters or lost toenails.  I'm fascinated yet grossed out by this little development.  It doesn't hurt, but it does make me want to hide my toe in public.

Ok so the Good:
-enjoyed my first real trail race! 
-bug spray was a good idea! field for start/finish was buggy from recent rain
-successful prevention of next day soreness w/ cold water bath + calf compression sleeves
-sweet aid stations
-HR stayed consistent through entire run, no drift at end like last week...was it due to caffeine-free gels? or use of walking up hills? both?
-My stomach was fine with a new gu flavor that I did not try before the race (I know, bad idea!)

The not as Good:
-the blister/bruise
-waiting too long to take 2nd gu
-not stretching immediately after
-leaving ifitness belt at home (why did I really care if it got muddy? I would have preferred to have my gu and car key securely in the belt instead of obsessively checking my water bottle pocket to make sure my car key didn't fall into mud)
-another over-sized race t-shirt!

1. Have you ever run a trail race?
2. Blood blisters?  Black toe nails?  What's your worst race casualty?


  1. i have never done a trail race before but i would love too. my only concern is that i tend to fall a lot on flat, even ground so i know i would be in trouble on a trail.

    ugh, another oversized tech shirt?!

    after my first marathon i got a blood blister under my toenail. it didn't hurt but took forever to grow out.

  2. When I'm trail running, I always end up with mud on the inside of my legs. Because you can't run as straight, sometimes your shoes rub on your legs and leave all the mud.

    I've only done one trail race, a 12K back in March. I had a blast. There was only one aid station in the middle, so I was glad to have my own water. I don't want to do any in the winter again though, while it was fun, as you said chill attitude, good food at the end, it was cold and rainy and the mud didn't help.
    I'm hoping to do the Dupont State Forest Half Marathon at some point, it's supposed to be really fun and well organized.

  3. I'm so proud of you for remembering bug spray. :) Some people are like, "Oh, do I need that?" and I'm like "'s the woods, aka the BUG'S HOME" lol.

    I think you did really well for your first trail race! You didn't even fall!

  4. Sounds like so much fun! I'll do it with you next year!!

  5. So glad you liked your first trail race! They are so much fun. Your husband's comment actually had me laughing out loud. I've had blood blisters, and black toenails, and hideous chafing - I've covered it all. I love the relaxed attitude in the woods - just run for fun, and who cares about the time? Excellent job!

  6. Kristy- I am pretty clumsy too! I'm shocked that the worst I did was trip over something once and step in the creek. I fell multiple times on a trail run back in August.

    TrailRunningChick- At least i'm not the only one! I thought I ran funny. I will definitely look for more trail races in the future.

    Kara- thank you! I try to be smart about things like bug spray. With all the rain we've had, there has been mosquito-explosion. I got eaten alive when I stepped outside of my office at work for 5 min. the other day. The time is nothing to be proud of, but luckily I had no time goal. And I am proud of not falling! :)

    Heather- it was lots of fun! They are doing another next month on the 23rd in the same park, but the course will be flatter.

    Alyssa- It was lots of fun! I enjoyed his reaction too :) I hope I get to keep my toenails, maybe that starts to become a problem when you get into training for things in the 26.2 - 50 mile range?

  7. No blisters? Ever?! I always get them whenever I get a new pair of shoes. I need to break them in.

    Those hills look tough. I don't blame you for walking up some of them. I probably would have crawled.

  8. I have never run a trail race -- I save those for hikes!! And I love a good hike. I think for whatever reason, I choose to only pay $ for street races, where I can aim for speed, and save the trails for my no-$$ leisure, on my own, at a slow pace.

    I love the post-race-near-my-car pictures of the course. And even if that isn't "bad mud", it still looks like an easy way to wipe out to me!

  9. I did this race lasat year and thought the course was great. But yeah, the small shirt is basically a dress on me! I've done a few more of the race company's races and, while well-organized and a ton of fun, their shirts are crazy huge!
    Congrats on the race!

  10. Michelle- Guess I'm lucky! I have not had blisters from new shoes before. The hills were especially rough second time around!

    Roserunner- This trail race was way cheaper than road races which was part of why I did it. I think of it as a well-supported trail run. I definitely slowed down around the mud! I had visions of myself wiping out.

    Laurie- It was lots of fun! And if I did it again, I'd opt out of the shirt (I think they allowed that if you registered later). It's too bad the shirts are so big, it is nice that they are tech shirts! I don't expect that from a small low-key event.


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