Monday, November 8, 2010

Mud and Chocolate Half Marathon trail run

On Sunday I participated in my second trail race (how do I get myself into these things?), this time the Mud and Chocolate Half Marathon on the trails at the Redmond Watershed Preserve. I will say right off the bat that the course, while genuine trails, was way easier for running than the trails of the Defiance 30K+, so my seemingly improved pace was as much due to that than any improved performance on my part. I did, however, run steadily throughout, without any stops or stalls, so I did save on frittered time more than I did at Point Defiance.

I invited my mom along for company (in the car), so she drove and I directed us to the Redmond Watershed, which I'd never been to before. The directions said that parking was very limited, so we arrived very early--at 7:30 for the 9:30 race! The directions implied that we would have to park out on the main road, or in a parking lot even further away, but we drove right into the park and at 7:30 there was plenty of parking. In fact, the only other people arriving at that time were race organizers and volunteers, plus possibly one or two other runners.

We parked near the start/finish area (and bathroom), but not too near...we parked next to some bushes for camouflage. We were a little concerned that they would not let us stay there. But as it turned out, parking in the park was fine, for those of us who got in early enough.

We were so early that I made a total of four bathroom visits before the race. I only had to wait in line for the last one, at around 9 a.m. or so.

The weather ended up being perfect! After torrential rains the whole night before, and well into the early morning hours, by 9:00 the rain had stopped competely and there were even glimpses of sun. There were still plenty of patches of mud on the trails, but no puddles or anything. I decided to wear a long-sleeved half-zip, lighter than a jacket but heavier than a long-sleeved shirt. At the time I got dressed at 6 a.m. it seemed a lot chillier! In retrospect I would have been fine in a regular long-sleeved or even short-sleeved shirt, but I was okay. I even ended up wearing my gloves for the whole race. I thought I would take them off after a few miles, but never did.

I had signed up for athlete alerts from the New York City marathon (two friends plus celebrity chef Bobby Flay), so throughout the race my cell phone was beeping with text messages of their splits. I was strong, and resisted pulling it out to look! Afterwards I learned that my friend Annie had finished in 3:43:00 (amazing!) and Bobby Flay was 4:01, I think.

This race included a 4.5 mile option (one loop) as well as a half marathon (three loops). At 9:30 we all gathered at the starting area for instructions, which mostly consisted of an explanation of the trail markings, plus some trail etiquette tips. The trail was very, very well marked, and I never had an issue of getting lost or even wondering about the right direction.

We all started out in a big group, and for the first bit just ran in line along the trail (everyone the same pace). As the trail widened people started passing and finding their pace. I would say that in this first bit, after the fasties zoomed by, I mostly passed others and was not much passed myself. I think that running with the 4.5 milers led to a slightly faster pace in the first loop (that is reflected in my splits). It was a little disconcerting, though, to be passed by people bolting to the finish line while I just plugged along.

The second loop started after about four miles. (The 4.5 milers split off to the finish line. I don't think their distance was actually a full 4.5 miles, though, as I found out at my finish that the half marathon was a little short too.) It was amazing how many people had dropped off to do the shorter distance, and now (as well as for the rest of the race) I was usually on my own. There were a few people that passed by me at various points, and I may have passed a couple.

Mostly, though, I may as well have been the only one out there. That was a strange experience. I run alone all the time, of course, but when you're alone in a race it's hard not to feel like you are the very last. I was really happy in my final mile to catch up to and finish with a couple of other women, just to show that I wasn't completely isolated.

The trail alternated from almost-single-track woods, with rocks in the ground but no roots or branches, to wider bridle trails. It was flat a lot of the time but also had significant portions of downhill (not steep) and uphill (mostly not steep). At two points on the course (which I passed three times) there was a sort of gate that we had to pass through--like a cattle gate but I don't think there are any cattle in the park. Obviously that required walking through so as not to slam into it. Other than a brief pause at the aid station my second time past, I didn't walk at all, not even on the steeper hills.

The most surreal moment of the race was when I finished my second loop and was passed by a female flying by to the finish. The time then was 1 hour 35 minutes. Crazy fast for any half marathon, let along trail!

The aid station was at the beginning of each loop. The first time I just passed by it. The second time I took a piece of something that was like a chocolate granola bar. It was okay...I figured I needed fuel. I also ate a Gu from my waist pack around mile 9 or 10. I am trying to be more proactive about fueling in long races.

In my final (third) loop I decided to try to push myself more. I made a concerted effort to run harder, especially on the downhills, although I still plugged up the uphills. I don't really think my splits reflected my efforts though. My first few miles were still the fastest.

As I approached the final mile, I saw two women ahead of me that I had seen earlier in the race. I caught up to both of them, and passed at least one, maybe both. However, one of them flew by me in the final stretch and there was no way I could outrun her. As for the other, I genuinely don't recall which of us finished first!

The finish was a bit of a surprise to me, because my Garmin didn't even say 13 miles yet, let alone 13.1! I know that I had been running the tangents very aggressively in the last four miles, but I am also sure that the course was a little short. I accepted that for purposes of the race, but before we left I ran around the parking lot and back onto the trail just enough to make my own final distance 13.1 miles for the day. I would have just felt unfinished otherwise.

As we crossed the unmarked finish line, we were handed a gold foil covered medal. Unfortunately, my mom didn't get a very good picture of my finish.... Although you can see the traditional stopping of the watch. My time for the distance was 2:24-something. My goal (which I only made up in the last couple miles) was to finish under 2:30. Despite the race being short, I have calculated that I would have done so even with the full distance.

The woman in the reddish shirt is one of the ones I finished with (she's the one I don't know whether she was ahead of or behind me). Here I am telling my mother to hand me the medal so I can put it on for the picture.
In front of the chocolate table, wearing my medal! I partook of several chocolate goodies, including chocolate chip cookies and truffles.
This is probably where I informed my mother than I needed to finish the distance before we left.
My shoes and ankles were really the only part of me that suffered from the mud on the trails! I saw at least three people fall down, so I guess I was lucky. After the first one I figured that I was doomed to fall at some point...but I never did.


shannon said...

Great finish on the trail half-marathon! I recently ran a trail marathon in Walker, MN. I agree, it's odd to be alone on the trail in a race. I ran for about 2 miles without seeing another runner. I kept thinking, "Did I miss a turn somewhere?" This was followed by "Am I still on the course?" :)

Tina @GottaRunNow said...

Congrats on a great finish time! I want to run a race with chocolate at the finish!

Anonymous said...

Do you have any good tips for someone who is completely new to running a short marathon? - specifically the 4.5 mi mud & chocolate one i.e. what and how to prep beforehand, what to carry on the race (water at all?)
Thanks in advance ~