Wednesday, September 12, 2012

VHTRC Women's Half-Marathon Race Review

Yee-haw!  This weekend I ran my first trail race, the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club Women's Half-Marathon.  It was a very hilly course, the hilliest course I have run, in either racing and training.  It was difficult.  It was challenging.  It was the best race I have run to date.  Highlights:

Total time - 2:21:55
Placed 47th out of 205 finishers
Placed 5th out of 22 in my age group

Number of times I fell: 1
Number of times I almost fell: 1 (huge improvement from my last trail run)
Number of cheeseburger hats worn: 1
Number of hills I walked:  Don't remember; Too many to count

The course:  Mostly single-track trails, and quite hilly with a number of steep hills that required walking/hiking.

The race:  Fantastic.  The course was well marked, and the volunteers were so enthusiastic, they really kept you motivated (and none of them said, "You're almost there!"  Hate that).   Plus, though this was a low-key race, they had smoothies on hand at the finish!  That was a perfect way to cool down.

Also, this race has a couple of traditions, one being that the male volunteers "serenade" the female runners right before the race starts.  We were told that they would sound really bad, and they didn't disappoint: they were horribly off-key (but sounded much better than I ever would).  Another tradition is to hand out random objects to runners during the race, and if the runner carries it to the finish line, they get a prize. Lucky me, I got the cheeseburger hat!

Trail serenade before the race (photo by Bob Fabia)

Cheeseburger Head! (photo by Bob Fabia)

What I learned:  Running trails is very different from running on the road, for obvious reasons: you have to always watch your footing, you have to run slower, its easier to get lost, etc.  This I knew before starting the race.  What didn't occur to me is that racing on trails is also very different from racing on the road, meaning you have to think about your race differently.  For one, trail races usually do not have mile markers, so you can't really get into a zone and slowly tick the miles off one by one.  Instead, during trail races you run from aid station to aid station, so your race goes by in chunks of miles rather than mile-by-mile.  Also, its common courtesy to give the runner in front of you a decent amount of room; in other words, don't go breathing down their backs.  I was definitely guilty of this, and will be conscious of it on my next trail race.  Which leads to another difference between road and trail racing: it can be difficult to pass people during a trail race, particularly if you are running on single-track trails.  There were definitely situations in which I wanted to pass the runner in front of me, but wasn't entirely sure how to get by them without exerting so much energy I'd have to drop my pace to recover from passing them (which seems to defeat the point of passing in the first place).

Hmmmm...seems I still have much to learn about this trail running thing.  Though I do have to credit PEK, my Peformance Enhancing Kokopelli (courtesy of Trail Runner Nation) for helping me run this race strong.

Thanks PEK!

All in all, I loved this race.  Even when I was walking, even when I was climbing hills, even when my face was in the dirt, I loved every minute of it.  Everyone there--from spectators to volunteers to runners--seemed so happy to be out there.  This is a race I definitely want to do again.

Have you run a trail race? Did you enjoy it? What lessons did you learn?


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