Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tiadaghton Trail Half Marathon

March 26, 2011 - The Tiadaghton Trail Half Marathon is a relatively new race (second year) that takes place near Lock Haven, PA. This is the first year that I ran it but I was really looking forward to the run; and then it snowed and got cold. The race did not start until 10am, but it was only 21 degrees at the start, according to the thermometer in my car. It was also windy, but at least it was sunny. As it turned out, with the cover of the trees and appropriate garb, it was actually a nice day. There were about 275 runners that braved the conditions.

The snow did make the running challenging at times. Some of the snow was powdery while other times, on top of the ridges, it was crusty and icy (which is the most annoying snow to run in, in my opinion). There was three inches or so on a lot of the trail so it wasn't too deep.

My mantras for this race were run "comfortably hard" and "don't get injured." I've got too many other runs that I want to do this spring that I didn't want to mess something up on this run. At the same time, I wanted to try to be competitive.

At the start, the trail quickly turned uphill and then started crossing streams. My feet were wet within the first two miles, but it could have been worse. The first half of the race was mostly uphill. There were only a few really steep sections, however, so most of it was runnable. Around mile 8 or 9 was the toughest climb of the trail. Although it wasn't terribly technical, it was steep and long.

After the steep climb, there was a more gentle climb to the top of the ridge, and then a long, fast descent that joined the same trail that the race started on. Then came the unique twist of the race, that I believe was just added this year. With less than half a mile to go, the course actually went into the stream for about 40 yards under Route 80. This was a tunnel, with about 6 inches of water in it, and it was impossible to avoid. With the air temperature in the mid 20s, this was a frigid little jaunt that left my feet numb for the final 1/4 mile uphill climb to the finish.

I felt good this day and finished in tenth place in 2:01. I may have been able to push a little harder in some sections but the trail was slick in spots and I stayed injury free, one of my goals. This was a well organized race with great volunteers and well-spaced aid stations. I would definitely recommend it and will probably be doing it again next year.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon/50K

I chose this race because I was looking for an early season race that I thought would have a decent chance of having good weather, although after looking at race reports from the last few years when they had ice I wasn’t sure how that would turn out.

It really is a beautiful trail and for the most part you would never realize how close you are to suburbia. It is rolling with only a few climbs that are walk-worthy. The trail is very runnable and it is possible to run a good pace on most of it. It is not very rocky at all (at least not compared to Central Pennsylvania races) but does have its share of tree roots (and I did a face plant after catching one of them with my trailing toe). There are a couple of stream crossings to make it interesting.

It was about 45 degrees at the start under overcast skies but the weather turned out to be nearly perfect, with the high in the mid 50s, and the trail was mostly dry. After a short stretch on blacktop at the start, the course turned into the woods and followed single-track trail for nearly all of the race. By the way, you’ve got to love a race where the race director’s only words at the start are “are you guys ready” and “okay, go.”

I ran comfortably hard from the beginning and wanted to see what I could do. When we hit the single-track, I was probably in about 15th place. I felt good the first 15 miles and I began picking people off one-by-one, while getting passed by just a few others. At one point there was a train of 7 people and I passed them all at once so I knew I was getting close to the top 5.

One unique aspect of this race is that you get to choose at mile 15 whether you want to run a trail marathon (actually I think it ends up being 27.75 miles) or a 50K. The 50K adds a 3.5 mile loop around a lake at this point. At the start of the race I decided to see how I would feel then and since I felt quite good at mile 15 I went for the 50K. The lake loop was nice and I came out the other end feeling strong so I kept pushing my pace.

I was still doing well at mile 21 and actually passed the second place guy, who looked like he had bonked, but over the next few miles I started feeling my own good bonk coming on. I immediately took a Gu but I believe that the bonk was about more than calories, unfortunately. By mile 24 I was reduced to walking all of the hills and had to use my go to mantra, “if I can walk, I can run” quite frequently in order to make reasonable progress. During this stretch I was passed back by a few of the 50K guys I had passed earlier so I knew my position was slipping. Frankly, I didn’t care too much at that point.

With about 2 miles to go, I was able to get a little of my mojo back and started moving a little more quickly. The scent of the finish line can do wonders for one’s soul. With about half a mile to go I looked behind me one more time to make sure I wasn’t going to get passed at the end. Lo and behold, there was a guy 100 yards behind me. I was planning on cruising it in but instead had to pick it up and finish hard in order to not get passed. I ended up finishing in fifth place in 4:19, a time I felt good about.

All in all, it was a good day, although I was in a dark place for a few miles. I would definitely recommend this race, as long as the trails aren’t icy, to anyone who wants an early season trail race. It is inexpensive, well-organized with great volunteers, low-key, and a nice trail.