Friday, August 23, 2013

Island Lake Triathlon Recap

What's better than a triathlon? A triathlon where you trick your friends into doing the swimming and biking for you!

The day started with a 5 AM wake-up so that we could leave at 5:30. I had only managed about four to five hours of twilight sleep the night before, so instead of eating breakfast I tried to throw up to get ready of my exhaustion nausea. Glamorous, I know. I wasn't even successful, so the misery continued.

The race was about an hour away at Island Lake State Recreation Area in Brighton. The drive was pretty with fog all along the deserted highway. We parked near the end of the parking lot, Karin adjusted her bike, and then we went to packet pick-up. This is when we discovered almost no one understood the concept of a relay.
Wait...the three of you are competing...together?
The volunteer handing out packets at least was with it enough to check all our IDs, but when I asked where the relay exchanges were, she looked at me like a deer in headlights. We then went to get Hannah's swim cap. In order to increase the awkwardness of the race, the director had decided that all Olympic relay swimmers should start in the same wave as the Oylmpic men. When Hannah tried to get her Wave 1 swim cap, the poor volunteer looked caught between trying to be helpful and trying to be PC. (Don't worry, we explained the situation and she felt better.) She also tried to give us three swim caps, even after we insisted only Hannah would be swimming. The volunteer was still holding them out as we walked away.

While it had nothing to do with the relay, we did have a scare getting our timing chip. I showed the volunteers the bib number on our packet, only to have them say, "Oh, we don't have that number anymore. I guess we gave out another chip incorrectly!" Luckily, a different volunteer was just playing with our chip and eventually gave it to us. I was a little disturbed that apparently multiple chips had been given out to the wrong people and that people were just playing with them for fun. Getting ready for a race is stressful enough without having to solve the case of the missing chip.

The bodymarking situation was even more hilarious. A woman and her son were volunteering there, and they were extremely confused about how three of us could have the same bib number. Again, we explained we were doing the relay but got only blank stares in return. We must have really scared the mom, because she just wandered away before bodymarking Karin. I wanted to give her son a medal for actually doing the job. (He was also the only one of the pair to understand the concept of racing age. Oops.)

Finally, we were able to get into transition and go to the pre-race meeting, at which we got the most confusing course directions ever. I had looked at the run course before online (both as a written description and a map), and I left feeling even more confused. The bike directions were even worse: one of the landmarks was a dumpster.
We worried Karin would never come back from her leg.
We had just enough time to run to the car and make it back for the swim start. On the way back, we ran down the hill that would be part of my run course. It was incredibly steep and wet, and the director said there was an even worse hill later on. I tried to forget about it.

The only tri I've ever been to was my first one, so it was really fun to actually spectate one. It was surprisingly hard to spot Hannah among the men. It also didn't help she was wearing a red cap and the Olympic women were wearing orange caps. In the direct sunlight, they virtually looked identical. We had hoped to see her as she turned for her second lap of the swim course, but that was impossible.

While we were waiting, I noticed a guy off to the side who looked really familiar, but I couldn't place him. Karin agreed that she thought she recognized him, but she couldn't put a name to the face either. Once he started shouting for his teammate, it hit me: he was the really short Walmart Wolverine who had been on The Amazing Race. He and his partner were hilariously inept, and Eager Feet Dad particularly loved making fun of him. I never expected to see the guy, but he really is short in person.
I'm clearly super awesome at subtly taking pictures.
I obviously wasn't on the course, but I did have some problems with the swim organization. A few times, a swimmer went way off course and it appeared no one was redirecting them. It was also a shame the way the swim caps and waves worked, because the first woman out of the water was part of a relay, but almost no one knew the difference, so the true first woman only got a smattering of applause. 

Hannah killed her estimated swim time, so Karin hustled off to transition when we saw her come out of the water.

Karin was quickly off for two loops of the bike course. Hannah and I set up camp at the top of the hill. The course had a teardrop turnaround to tack on a little bit of final distance, so we would be able to see Karin four times. My stomach finally felt better, so I had one of Hannah's mom's homemade granola bar, which was amazingly delicious. I also thought I was being clever by waiting to use the bathroom until now, when there was no line, only to discover neither the port-a-potties nor the indoor park bathrooms had any toilet paper. Excellent.

I super failed at taking Karin's picture on the bike, but Hannah did a much better job. Karin always had a few other people by her, so it was hard to immediately pick her out, and both times she would come by on the loop was downhill, meaning she was going so fast it was hard to time the picture right. This means I got some nice shots of an empty bike course. Karin had a great bike time, but it was so strange without the sprint athletes on the course. We got really worried we had missed her.

When we saw her the third time (hooray!), I ran down to transition. Karin rolled in about one minute before they opened part of the fence for the sprint athletes, who were getting super antsy. Luckily, I was able to run out before the angry mob burst in.

Again, I wasn't on the course, but there seemed to be some organization problems. On the first loop, everyone coming by us was in huge clumped packs. I was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt and thought perhaps there was an unseen bottleneck that fed into the portion of the course we were spectating. However, Karin reported there were blatant drafting and blocking penalties the whole way, with no USAT officials in sight. (This also irked me - I paid my exorbitant $12, I would expecte there to at least be officials!)

It suddenly hit me I had to compete, not just spectate. Starting out the run on the super steep grass hill was brutal. I knew there would be some grass, so I hoped that would be the worst of it. The rest of the first two miles was paved, with part of it on a boardwalk. Almost none of it was shaded and there were some hills, which made it relatively challenging. I skipped the first aid station, thinking I would be fine. Big mistake. The second aid station made a big difference - at least, it would have, if the final mile hadn't been all grass. I despise running on grass, partially because it really hurts my Achilles tendons. The grassy sections were also significantly longer than advertised.

I finally got to the final hill, which was even scarier than the director had described. It was a super steep downhill, ending at the edge of a cliff over the lake. I felt awful walking so close to the end of the loop, especially the second time, but I was legitimately worried I would have so much momentum I would fly into the water. Not only would it have hurt, I didn't think I would be able to climb out at the same spot, and I wasn't ready for an aquathon.
Pictured: almost me.
I was super hot at this point and 1000% done with the grass, but I still had one more loop to do.

The second loop did feel better, even if I did know the grass was coming. I did hit both aid stations, though I got more confused looks when I requested a cup of Gatorade and a cup of water. So needy, I know. I couldn't figure out why the Gatorade (which is what the volunteers were calling it) tasted so weird. It seemed watered down, but the color still looked very vibrant. I realized afterwards the Gatorade was really Heed. I've read race reviews where people complain about how awful it tastes. They are completely correct.
It's me - Hammer Nutrition!
My watch showed the course to be a little short, but I think it was just because it was unclear were exactly to run in spots. They had cones out, but it wasn't obvious if we needed to run directly next to them. I also spent a lot of time dodging recreational runners and bikers using the path. I understand why they couldn't close it, but it would've been nice if they had put out more signs explaining that there was a race. Some non-race were getting really cranky. There also could have been officials here, several people with bibs were rocking to their iPods.

Run Time: 1:00:06
Team Time: 2:56:00

We ended up coming in 4/5 for the Olympic relay teams, but I think we were all happy with our performance. The three teams above us were made up of members of the UM tri team, and only one was made up of only women. In the end, we only lost to the third team by nine minutes, which I think means we kicked butt, considering our disadvantage. It was disappointing only in that the top three relays got awards, and last year only one team had done the Olympic distance. I hope this means I'll have enough karma built up to place at an upcoming race. 

The post-race food was really good, included tons of fruit and a selection of sandwiches. I had a fruit roll-up, which made me really happy for some reason. It was nice to wade in the lake afterwards; I only wish I had had my tri suit on so I could swim a little. The swim area was nice and large; I might consider it in the future if I want to do an open water swim.

I don't think I would recommend this particular race - there were just too many problems, especially the blatant rule violations at a sanctioned event. The race company hosts a tri on this course three times a year, so it's not as if they're new or had some unexpected events occur. I imagine if I had done this tri as a solo athlete, it would have felt even more annoying. 

I wasn't sure what to expect from doing a relay, but it was super fun! I haven't done any team sports since seventh grade track, when my specialty was placing consistently last in the 800. I was surprised how nervous I felt going into my leg to do well, even though I knew we were virtually out of contention to place. (My super secret plan to turn into Usain Bolt didn't pan out.) It was also really fun to spectate and to cheer on my friends. I would definitely recommend a relay to anyone even remotely interested.

Go team!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

50 Shots in the Dark, or How I'm Picking Marathons without Having Run One

(Uh oh, time for some real content since I took last weekend off from racing and have nothing to recap. You have been warned.)
Lucky for you, accounting has left me with a small vocabulary.
When I started looking for my first marathon last fall, I became BFFs with Marathon Guide. I don't even remember having any sort of criteria; I just wanted a "cool" race. I found a race in Maine that involved a short section in Canada, which I eventually tabled in favor of the Bayshore Marathon. Again, I have almost no recollection about why I picked Bayshore, but I realized right before putting in my credit card that I had a wedding that weekend and couldn't go.

At some point, I pushed my potential race date to the fall. (In the end, I'm so glad this happened. If I had tried to train while working in the spring, I think I would have actually died of sleep deprivation.) I ended up finding the Sleeping Bear Marathon, and I was suckered in by the medal design. Seriously, it's adorable.

Please ignore that the mother bear is dead in the legend because then it's sad instead of cute.
Once I decided I wanted to do the 50 States, I started to read reviews for countless races. I started with states that have very few marathons (looking at you, North Dakota!) to make it less overwhelming. That's partially a lie; I ignored the Eastern Seaboard for a long time. For anyone who's not familiar with it, Marathon Guide makes a dot for each race proportionally sized to its number of participants. Nothing can escape the tyranny of a Major marathon blob.
They probably just got confused when the NYC Marathon swallowed New Jersey.
I didn't go into this search with any set criteria either. When a state has less than five marathons, it's pretty easy to decide which one will be the best. One or two will probably be bad to barely mediocre, and it's easy to compare the remaining ones mentally.

However, some states have a lot more choices with no clear-cut superstars. For example, I skipped the horror of California by choosing Big Sur based on its reputation, but Texas is still making me a sad panda. Because I'm an accountant, the obvious solution is to make spreadsheets.
Because the folder of marathon spreadsheets I've already made is clearly inadequate.
However, to actually set up a useful spreadsheet for my remaining states, I needed to suck it up and clearly define what was important to me. I've tried to separate these factors into three categories: Hardline Rules, Other Notables, and Red Flags.

Hardline Rules

1. No RnR or Disney races.

I wrote an entire post about why I will never do a RnR race. I hope it at least gave you one laugh, because I can't turn around without Facebook suggesting yet another RnR race to me. It causes me physical pain. 

I'll refrain from doing a whole rant about Disney races, but just imagine something similar to my RnR post, only with a little less hate. Suffice it to say that I loved Disney as a child and still have strong nostalgia for certain movies (I'll watch The Lion King if I happen to see it on TV), but I really don't understand adults who want to run a race to take pictures with the characters. I know the experience must be designed for adults instead of children, but I still think it's sort of creepy.
I also refuse to pay $160+ to get up at 2 AM to run on some service roads.
2. There must be a medal.

Okay, hear me out on this one before I get crucified for putting race bling second on my list. I'm not sure yet what exactly I'll do to showcase my 50 States races (because that involves using Pintrest and pretending to be creative, aka certain failure), but I do know that I would at least like to have 50 medals to work with. I might just get some simple medal hangers, but I want the option to do something really cool.

I'm willing to compromise on this if something could be made into a medal. I think one race I looked at gives small wooden plaques at the finish; I would be fine drilling a hole and getting my own ribbon to make a DIY version. I will try to be 99% nitpicky instead of 120%.
My only saving grace is other swag is unimportant. Great if it's there, fine if it's not.
3. The course should be scenic or unique.

On one hand, I can understand why people are drawn to easy courses, since most of them are chasing a PR or the all-important BQ. On the other hand, if I see another course described as "fast and flat", I think I might slam my head into the wall.
Please don't even think the phrase "net downhill" in my presence.
If I'm going to take the time and spend the money to travel around the country, I want to see really awesome things during my races. I'd much rather run significantly slower and have a cool experience, instead of setting a PR while being bored. (I have no plans to chase a PR during any of the 50 States; if one happens, great, but that's not my purpose.) When I'm narrowing down the field for a particular state, I really focus on what I'll be able to see, especially if it's unique to the state. For example, Sleeping Bear will showcase northern Michigan during peak fall foliage. I wouldn't want to do Detroit because the idea of seeing downtown isn't particularly appealing.

I'm also willing to accept a unique course, rather than a scenic one. States with few races don't necessarily have any scenic ones. My tentative plan for Oklahoma is to run Route 66. Reviews indicate, as you might expect, that it isn't exactly visually stunning, but it involves running on the historic Route 66 and offers a fun detour to the "Center of the Universe". 

However, there are some caveats. I want my races to be scenic (or unique), because that will make them fun. But there is not a 1-to-1 ratio of these characteristics. While I'm sure the Pikes Peak Marathon would blow my mind with natural beauty, I would probably die. I just have no way to adequately train to run up a mountain at altitude. Feeling miserable is not fun, and I don't want to become some sort of race martyr.
Besides the scenic-not-stupid criterion, I only eliminate courses if they have weird nonsense I wouldn't run on in a shorter race. I read reviews for one marathon with three miles on gravel. At first, I thought, hmm, that's not a big deal, 23 miles wouldn't be on the gravel! Then I realized I would never run an all-gravel 5K, so I ultimately decided against it.

4. The information I need is easily accessible. 

There's not a lot to say here beyond the obvious. If your marathon doesn't have a website, forget it. If I can't find out basic things like the start time, a course map, or the time limit, that's also a big no. I'm fine to wing it a little in shorter races, but if I'm spending hours running your race, I worry what it will be like on race day if you can't even throw a website together.

5. The race is a reasonable size.

I haven't set a hard limit here, I just have a general concept in my head of what "too big" is. While I want medium to small races because they seem logistically easier and more in line with #3, I mostly want to avoid this.
File under: also no.
I have what I can only describe as people-claustrophobia. I'm not sure if there's a real term for this, but I feel extremely uncomfortable if I'm in a mass of humanity without a clear exit. It's not like I have a panic attack or something severe like that, but I certainly can't relax and have fun. (This is why I cry when people describe one of the Majors as being "fine, because it clears out after 10 miles.) I know some people worry about getting lonely at races, but I do almost all my running solo; I have no problem doing it at a race as well.
60% of the time, it's 100% true.
 6. The proceeds go to charity (or the race is a non-profit).

In general, I try to only run races that raise money for charity. This seems to be the majority of middle-distance events out there today. (Hooray for helping people!) I understand that isn't always possible for larger events that have huge costs, such as marathons. However, if that's the case, I would like the race organization itself to be set-up as a non-profit. It's your race, so you can decide if you want to break even or charge more in order to make a donation, but I don't want anyone in charge walking away with my money at the end. (And before anyone gets cranky, NFPs can totally pay their employees; the RD getting a salary for their work is completely different than a business trying to maximize profit.)
Magically delicious.
 Other Points of Note

Unlike my hardline rules, which are specifically ordered in terms of importance, this is simply a collection of other factors I pay attention to when finding races. They're still important, just much more flexible.

1. The race is actually a marathon.

Hang tight there for a second. I know that sounds incredibly stupid on the surface, but the Marathon Maniacs have rules about longer races "counting" as a marathon, i.e. you can still count a 50K towards your total, because it involves running 26.2 miles. I understand the rationale here, but it seems a little silly to me. If I run an ultra, you better believe I will tell everyone how I ran 31 miles (or more), not 26.2. My personal rule is going to be to define a race distance by how I would describe it to someone the next day. If I would use any other word besides marathon, it doesn't count.
For reals, if you do an Ironman, shout it from the rooftops.
2. Don't pick a race just because everyone does it.

I'll be the first to admit, I can be one of those people that doesn't like some very popular things. This is because I try to actively question something before falling in love with it, not (usually) because I'm secretly a cranky old person.
Cranky old person in disguise is much better than the alternative, though.
Off the top of my head, two states that suffer from this syndrome are Montana (Missoula) and Alaska (Mayor's). I was 100% honestly surprised to find these states had other well-liked options. I had assumed out of the limited selection, those must have been the only truly good races in those states, because I hadn't even heard of any others in passing. Come to find out Montana has some other really cool choices, and the reviews for Mayor's aren't all that fantastic. Now, I have no problem doing either of those races if I decide they fit my other criteria the best, I just want to make sure I look at all the other options for states where I have a preconceived idea of the "best" race.

3. Are there other interesting things to do near the race?

Branching off the rule above, I discovered in my Montana research that the Two Bear Marathon has great ratings and is extremely close to Glacier National Park. I've taken almost all my vacations to National Parks since I was 7, and my family has always wanted to go there, but it's a long trip with nothing else around it. Two Bear would give me a great reason to invest the time to go out there for a week. I'm also leaning towards a race in southern Utah, even though the most popular races are around Salt Lake City, because it would give me a chance to go to the Four Corners region again.  

4. Only repeat races for good reasons.

This is the one rule that basically goes against ever other facet of my introverted personality. I happily eat at the same restaurants, watch the same movies, and listen to the same songs on repeat, but I have almost no desire to repeat races. I do my local turkey trot with Eager Feet Dad every year, but otherwise I don't think I've ever repeated a race.
There will obviously be some exceptions to this rule. Michael isn't coming to Hatfield-McCoy since it's for a bachelorette weekend, but he'll still need West Virginia. I know some people working on their 50 States go back to favorite races and take longer to finish, but I can't see spending tons of money to re-run a race if neither Michael or I need the state. I want to stay focused on my overall goal. Maybe when I finish I would consider doing a repeat.

5. Do I have to fly, or can I drive?

I have a set a relatively arbitrary limit of 10 hours as the time I'm willing to drive before I fly. I won't automatically fly if something is 10 hours and 5 minutes away, but I'm not up for any cross-country road trips either. This might have to change based on race dates and what PTO will look like when I start work full-time, but driving is significantly cheaper.
Even if it does feel counter-intuitive.
I would hate to skip a race I really want to do because it falls outside the 10 hour zone, but I have to be realistic. If I can save hundreds of dollars in plane tickets and the other options sound good, it makes the most sense to save that money for when it's necessary. (Hawaii, you might want to really consider secession. Take Alaska with you.) 

6. Does it conflict with anything else?

Pretty self-explanatory. However, I need to remind myself to keep major events in mind, even if they are far in the future. Like with the wedding and Bayshore conflict, it's easy to forget about events months and months in the future.

Red Flags

As the name implies, the following are rules for what to avoid, rather than what to seek out. If a race violates any of these, it's almost always taken out of consideration. (The exception is small states where I might not really have a choice.)
I know your state is the size of a thimble, but is having three options too much to ask for?
1. An open course with little protection.

I'm certainly not opposed to races open to traffic. My first half was on open roads in a rural area, but I saw maybe two or three cars the whole time, and they had plenty of room to pass safely. However, I find the idea of fast cars not paying attention to be extremely stressful, especially if I'm trying to run a marathon at the same time. It doesn't help that long run brain kills my knowledge of traffic patterns.
This is your brain on long runs.
If anyone mentions feeling uncomfortable with traffic, especially if they define themselves as "slow", which honestly tends to be anything past four hours, I get out of there as fast as possible. I don't want to deal with the fear of getting hit during a race. If the definition of slow is left ambiguous, I assume it will encompass me, because, let's be honest, that's not exactly going out on a limb.

2. A confusing course.

While I will definitely be near the back of the pack at my marathons, there's a real chance some might be so small that I'll end up flying solo. I also have probably the worst sense of direction ever. If I haven't driven or run somewhere multiple times, it might as well be in China for all I know. (The only reason I know my cardinal directions now is because I can always orient myself to Lansing and East Lansing, not joking. I'm still clueless in my hometown.) Having to worry about running too far or getting totally lost makes my palms sweat just thinking about it. 

Just like above, any time a person says they had to spend significant time by themselves during the race to guess where to go, I flee as fast as possible.

3. A significant chance of awful weather.

I know there are people out there who want to challenge themselves at extreme races, but I'm not one of them. One blogger I follow did the Running with the Devil Marathon, meant to mimic Badwater in terms of heat and sheer misery, and reportedly spent a lot of the race crying because of the conditions. I'm sincerely happy she felt accomplished at the end, but I don't want to sign up for something that will automatically result in tears. Sure, it's hardcore, but like I said, misery is not fun.
They're wearing those hoods so you can't see how much fun they're actually having.
One marathon in Texas apparently suffers from chronic dust and wind storms, also no fun. I know weather is variable and might not be what I hope for when I register, but there's a difference between that and purposefully choosing pain.

4. No food at the end.

This seems to be a problem at races with a half and a full that run concurrently, letting most or all of the half runners hit the refreshments first. Considering how cranky I get without eating after a long run (or any other time, really), I might have a meltdown if I finished a marathon with nothing to eat at the end.
I felt a profound sense of joy when I learned the word hangry.
Final Rule: Have fun!

I know this sounds horribly, embarrassingly cliche, but I do have a valid point here. I listed to a podcast interview with the youngest woman to finish the 50 States, and she mentioned how stressful it got. I know her situation was different because she was operating under a hard time limit, but there was nothing on the line but personal satisfaction; she always had the option to opt out with no repercussions. Awesome that she did it, but I can't imagine not going home for a whole month to fit in all my races.

Another blogger I follow has mentioned feeling a little tired and burnt out, and she only runs about one marathon a month. Yet another blogger talked about running through illnesses and injuries to fit in her races.

I'm way too Type A for my own good, so I want to be conscious of the fun factor. The whole reason I want to do the 50 States is to travel to new places and see new things. I don't want it to ever become stressful or cause unhappiness. Running is the one thing I can count on to always keep me sane, and regular doses of racing are a great supplement. I would hate to lose that joy.

In other words, I want to give myself the freedom to take a step back at any point, if I think it will make the whole thing more fun. Whether it's a month, six months, or a year, I want to keep this exciting and wonderful, not a chore or an obligation to anyone other than myself. There are other goals I want to tackle, like PRing my half marathon or tackling an Olympic triathlon. I don't want to give up everything for the 50 States, I want it to be an extension of what I already like to do. I want it to be a motivating goal, not a definition of who I am as a runner.

This all sounds great on paper before my first training cycle is even over. (But I'm more than halfway there! Scary and exciting.) I'd like to revisit this post after my first two races and see if the actual experiences change what I want in a race. I hope my previous racing experience and my self-awareness (introversion is really awesome, guys, I promise) mean I did a fairly decent job.
At least I hope so. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Legend Half-Marathon Recap

Saturday was another first for me - my first trail race. The Legend offered a 5-mile, 10-mile, and half-marathon option, with a theme based on the name of the park: Sleepy Hollow. (The only problem with that is I'm pretty sure everyone will just think it was a Halloween race when they see my shirt.) I tried to be a good blogger and read Wikipedia research where this name came from, but apparently no one knows. In any event, Sleepy Hollow is a nice state park with hiking, mountain-biking, and equestrian trails, surrounding a man-made lake.
An unfortunate lack of headless horsemen, however.
Last year's results indicated the race was actually pretty slow, and the organizers give AG awards 5-deep, so I took it into my head beforehand that I really wanted to win a mug. Unfortunately, I stalked all the entrants in my age group on Athlinks (Everyone does this, right?), which indicated I would need to add doping to my pre-race ritual in order to get one. I gave up on that idea and decided to run by feel.

I carpooled with my friend Karin and her fiancé to the park because it's in the boonies. We got there 45 minutes before the race started, which was almost exactly the amount of time we needed to get our packets and use the bathroom. I usually love races organized by Running Fit, but I don't know who decided that five port-a-potties would be adequate for 700ish people. It was probably a guy.

I was also excited for this race to try out my new trail shoes. I ran at the park once in my regular running shoes and got some amazing blisters. I'm happy to say the worked great!
During the race some girl told me she liked my shoes and then laughed. I'm still not sure if she was being sarcastic.
The 10-mile and half started together at 8:30. We lined up by pace, except instead of signs, Running Fit's owner waded through the crowd, waved his arms, and called out a pace. I probably was too optimistic lining up with the 9:30 group, but everyone slower than 10:00 minute miles was being lumped together, and I didn't want to get stuck. (Personal pet peeve - I hate when faster runners set some sort of arbitrary time cut-off. While neither are blazing fast, there is a significant difference between 11:00 and 13:00 minute miles.)
He was also the guy who kept reminding us to "follow the flags, not the cute butt in front of you".
The race seemed to start on time, and they released us in waves. I think I was maybe the third or fourth wave out. The first mile took a surprising toll on my legs, as it was run on the asphalt. My trail shoes have a noticeably smaller heel drop than my road shoes, which is fine on the trail but hard on my legs otherwise. And no, I'm not going to give up heel-striking.
If Shalane can do it, so can I. Deal with it.
Around mile two we finally settled into the trails. I tried to pace off people for awhile, but lots of people passed me early on. I tried to keep a hard but comfortable pace. The trails were wide, but there was really only a good single-track for running, which made passing a little tricky. It was here I enjoyed two white guys singing black spirituals together. Different strokes, I guess.

Everything went smoothly, even though my pace was slower than I wanted. I still felt like I was working plenty hard, so I went with it.

Then the wasps happened.
Pretty much.
We were running along, minding our own business. I had just gotten past by a small group and had a small group behind me. Something flew against my leg, but I brushed it off, thinking it was some sort of bug from the swamp we were by.

Then both groups of runners started screaming and flailing around. I was mostly surprised, until one of the guys started screaming "Bees! Run!" over and over. I somehow didn't get stung, which was a minor miracle considering everyone around me was stung at least once, many two or three times. I have no idea how I escaped unscathed. (Clearly not because I'm fast, I can't even see exactly where it happened looking at my splits.)

I was able to laugh after the incident because I passed a guy with a color-coordinated running outfit and Camelbak. Which is fine until I also tell you he was wearing converse. Needless to say, he was driving the No Fun Bus all the way to the finish.

We were greeted shortly afterwards by an aid station, and I felt really bad for the volunteers. They had a mini-first aid kit, good for small scrapes and similar injuries, and then they suddenly had an influx of stings to treat. Karin didn't have any wasps problems, so they weren't prepared when we rolled in.
This is also the aid station that gave me the stink-eye for getting two cups of water. Oh, the humanity!
The run continued uneventfully, except that my splits kept getting slower and slower, so I kept getting passed. To be clear, I have no problem letting faster people past, but it was frustrating that I would essentially get tail-gated, move over, and then have to run on uneven terrain while people took about 1000 years to go around me. 

At one point, I got stuck to the side and got run into some bushes because a giant group wouldn't let me back in. Only one of them even apologized. I ended up sticking my hand into some of the boughs to keep it out of my face, and suddenly I had a sharp, burning pain along my hand and arm. This was a little scary because of the bush looked harmless, so I didn't know what was wrong. The skin wasn't broken anywhere and didn't immediately look inflamed.
This is what it felt like, though.
The pain was actually a wonderful pain localizer and took my mind off running. (At least this time I can see it in my splits!) About a mile later I noticed I had a blister the size of a dime on my knuckle, but it didn't look awful. I decided to monitor it; I didn't think any aid stations would be able to help, and it wasn't like I needed to pulled from the course.

I forgot all about this come that next aid station, which required running up a very steep hill and immediately back down it. It's okay, stupid hill, I'm only super thirsty. Here I learned other people had suffered from the wasps too. I would much rather have a little blister than a bunch of stings.

I discovered at this point in the race where my "mental game" part of a half happens. I've only run one before, which I took very easy until the last four miles. I have no problem running long distances, as long as they're slow. Just being outside with a good podcast keeps me happy; it's the speed I have problems with. I found miles seven through nine the hardest mentally. Once I got to mile ten, it was only one more mile until only a 5K left. (Hey, I didn't say it made sense!) I'll keep this in mind in my marathon, in case miles 14 to 18 feel extra hard.

I ended up leap-frogging this chick on headphones who insisted on taking up the whole path. Seriously, lady, no need to flail your arms around when you're walking. I also got to hear another woman's death metal for a good 1/4 mile.

I'm ashamed, but I turned into this.
Finally, I thought we were getting close. There was supposed to be one final aid station, so I motivated myself to pick up the pace until I got there. We moved to a section of trail through tallish grass with no track, which for some reason really put the hurt on my legs. I wanted to speed up, especially since I wasn't breathing too heavily, but my legs just felt fried. I'm not sure if it was the hills or a lack of sleep or improper fueling, but they wanted to be done.

Unfortunately, there was no final aid station. I kept thinking it would be just around the corner, especially when I could hear road noise, but it never happened. The last 3/4 mile or so were on asphalt and grass again, and I felt like dying.

Suddenly, I was at the finish line. I don't say suddenly to be cliche, I say it because my Garmin said I hadn't even hit 13 miles. I had been in sync with the mile markers until around mile 11 or so, but I had assumed it would work itself out. There was no significant change in tree cover at that point (if anything, it became more open), so I think my Garmin was correct. I have to say I'm disappointed the course was 1/4 mile short. 

Just look at all that disappointment.
 Overall Time: 2:24:30 (womp)

I was glad to be done, and I found Karin easily at the finish line. I got my medal and went to get food. I got a banana and half a banana-nut muffin. (I asked the volunteer what flavor it was, but all she said was "yes" before giving it to me.) It was a bit like banana overload.

I don't know what my hair is doing or why it looks like I'm crying.
Behind us is the final part of the course. (Glamorous, I know, especially because we're standing in the parking lot.) Karin got a special medal and glass for doing all the races in the series. We also had a funny moment when a guy ran by to the finish and wanted his picture taken. If I had seen his bib number, I totally would've stalked his results.
No one should be that chipper at the end of a half.
Overall, I was pretty happy with the race. The short course was a bummer, but not super important in the grand scheme of things. The race shirts were gender-specific tech tees made by Brooks, so mine fits appropriately, which is amazing. The medals are fun and fit with the theme.

Finally, my takeaways from my first trail race:
  • Tape my big toes beforehand. I have a chronic problems with blisters there in any shoes. The trail shoes made a big difference, but it still hurt a little towards the end.
  • Have no time expectations. I felt down about my time, since I didn't even PR on a short course. But my legs were totally shot at the end, so I wasn't slacking off or anything.
  • Carry my own water. I'm not sure what happened with the aid stations, but I got pretty dehydrated. I took two cups of fluid at each aid station plus a full bottle of water at the end, but I was still down between three and four pounds when I got home. (Humidity was very low, so I sweated more than usual.)
  • Schedule walk breaks. I generally never use a run/walk plan, unless I need to fish around in my fuel belt or something, but the hills ate my quads alive. I ended up taking my sweet time at the aid stations. I could've saved some time by at least walking while I drank.
I've been thinking about doing trail marathons for several of my 50 states. This was a good test drive. I felt done by the end, but that was with pushing the pace. I think if I slowed my pace and knew I would be settling in for a much longer period of time, they would be fun. This one has made me a little nervous, but it had probably the warmest conditions of any trail race I've considered, which obviously had a big impact. If I follow my four rules above, I think it would fine.

My enjoyment in this race was hindered by the crowds (I think there should've been a registration cap and/or a better wave start system) and the missing aid stations. But I'm definitely willing to get back in the saddle.
At least I'll be able to run really slowly but still sound hardcore!