Dance with Dirt Devil’s Lake Trail Half Marathon, my first trail half and my 6th total half marathon (even if the course was a little short of 13.1). Finished in 2:24:19, with ~2,100 ft elevation change, not close to the #blueridgemarathon or blue ridge half marathon elevation change, but it was challenging! There were some steeper grades and most climbs were not nearly as long as the road marathon’s, but they were tough to say the least, especially the one that lasted almost 2 miles and had me walking and heart rate talking over 200 bpm. Participation was a lot more than last years’ race totaling about 770 for the half distance, about 50 in my gender age group alone (one of the largest).
I woke up about 4:15am in order to get ready and leave before 5am to get to the race in time. Good thing I did the open water swim practice the day before and got up early then to get me used to the early hour. I was gathering my items to head to the race…water pack check, protein bar for breakfast check, electrolytes check, body glide check, gels and energy….nope. I had totally forgotten I ran out during the last half marathon 2 weeks ago and didn’t buy more. Looks like this is going to be an interesting race. Race day temps were expected to be in the high 70s or low 80s with sun. Perfect day for a race. But when we got there, it was clouding over, sad face. I wandered around checking out a few in #Inknburn and all the different running shoes. About 3/5 the people wore trail shoes. I honestly don’t know how people handled wearing road shoes the whole race. I watched as the marathoners started the race at 6:30am, there were maybe 30 total of them!! I wish I could have done the marathon with them, the half was so crowded on the single track trails. 7am hits and the horn goes off, only your gun time would count for time. I was going to try and place in my age group since awards were 5 deep…but the story continues.
Mile 1 was fast, I was with the faster group and hit about 9:10 average, too fast, have to slow down. The hills did that for me, next mile was 10:14, ok pace, but should be slower still. When I was reaching mile 3, however, my right foot started going to sleep…just like the last two trail races I did (my first tri was 5k, foot started going to sleep at 2.85 miles, and the 9 mile trail race where it went to sleep at mile 1!). I thought, crap, this is happening AGAIN, and I had been trying to hunt down the reason why this was happening last two races, but never did I guess. I stopped at a bench and loosened my laces. Went on and it started happening again. I stopped at the next bench, and took the laces and undid the first eyelet and loosened the rest. Kept going for a little while longer, but it started again, but I was going down a steep grade and could not stop. By the bottom, I stopped at a stump and sat down, took my right shoe off and took my sock off, maybe the sock was too much compression? I went into mile 4 and trail turned to pavement and the climbs started, where my foot recovered, no sleeping here. Came to the first water stop, I took a sip but not much more since I was carrying. Hit mile 4 with a nice pace of 10:23. Back to the trails. I started feeling a blister develop, now it’s too late to stop that I thought. Bad news approaching mile, my foot started acting up AGAIN! I was so mad at this point, since all my little stops had already cost me 7 minutes of time!! Mile 5, I sat down, untied my WHOLE shoe, and re-laced them only lacing the top 3 and putting my one sock back on (blister feeling really bad now). I got back to it, but by this time the BIG climb up the east bluff had started. From this point on, I no longer had issues with my foot falling asleep.
Along this part of the trail, I saw many fall and trip. I was slow going up, but I flew downhill every chance I got. I thought people might think I was stupid for going so fast downhill, but I had a lot of confidence in my ability to maintain my footing.
4.3 to 6.3 miles was all uphill, and the steepest grade being around mile 5.4 going up to 6 miles. I had to walk it was so steep, and my heart rate reached 203 bpm WALKING! My pace suffered during miles 5 and 6 dropping to 13 min/mile and 14 min/mile. Still a nice pace considering the elevation change, just one mile was 321 feet, no downhill. I recovered and wish I had a gel at this point. Mile 7 and 8 suffered in time trying to recover from the giant climb and successive climbs, about 250 feet of change for each of the miles. Part of this trail was between large rocks, which I had encountered last weekend when I did some of these trails near the race. This slowed everyone down because you had to literally climb down the rocks, no running here was possible. I came up and over to the edge of the bluff at the top, and took a picture here now my time did not matter to me, just finishing. It was beautiful and saw where they were having the swim race in the lake below. Due to the path being so narrow here, I could not make up much time. It was very crowded, so many people not confident in moving forward between the rocks and the drop off being just a meter away from them. Certain death if you fell off the path here. I was a little annoyed I couldn’t move past them to catch up.
I got my 2nd wind by mile 9, thinking, I only have a little ways to go now. I chilled out listening to 10 minutes of Focus Shift and brought my pace back to 10:23. Mile 10 I suffered again as I was fighting against my mortal enemy: tall grass. This mile was all in the sun, but that was not the hard part. The hard part was shuffling through the grass for over a mile. It felt like running in dry sand. My pace slowed but I used the time to recover my heart rate. Mile 11 is always one of my hardest mentally and physically. But I was proud I had a pace of 10:11! Although not many hills during this mile, I was still able to push myself. Mile 12, approaching the finish. There was a large portion of the end up another hill with a steep grade. Where I heard a voice at the top, saying, “Only 100 yards until the downhill to the finish!” I did not really know what 100 yards was, but I knew it wasn’t far. I pushed and pushed to get there, and saw the steep slope downhill to the finish. I went as fast as I could down to there with all my energy, yes I can beat the 2:30 finish I set out to beat today! I paced under 6:00 min/mile for the little that was left of the race, wow. I finished knowing I did not make the age group cut off, but was happy I finished faster than I expected at least, and learned a lot. The food was amazing at the end, which I usually don’t eat after a race (I let my stomach settle for a bit before attempting to eat). I found my new post race food 😀 FRUIT!! It was amazing and my stomach loved me. This was a first for sure. Nothing can beat watermelon, which I did have during my first marathon because a little girl was handing it out.
I was surprised to see people did not finish. I saw lots of people walking around with bandages. I guess falling is a common problem in trail races. I know my running through the woods when I was little carried over now, as I never felt in danger personally, but could sense others did not feel the same. I rolled my right ankle twice pretty badly, but was able to keep going. Even today I don’t feel any damage there, this was always the case in soccer too when that happened. The course was also not dirt, but more so mud, the ground was very soft all the way, which I thought would slow me down some. Maybe it did? I haven’t timed a good long run in a while.
I would like to attempt the marathon or 50k next year, as it was a great little environment. Now I know what to do with my shoes as well. For now, I get ready for the Xterra race series in just a few shorts weeks, and cannot wait to combine mountain biking with technical trail running.