The fall version of the Tiadaghton Trail Half Marathon was run on October 30 this year. I had run the spring version for the first time this year at the end of March and the trail was covered with 3 inches of snow. I was hoping to see what I could do on a dry version of the course and thought I should have good weather in October. So much for that. The day before the race an early season storm moved through the area and covered the course in 6-8 inches of snow. I wasn't sure how the driving would be, as I've got to go over a few mountain ranges to get to the trail, but I figured I would get up early in the morning and check the conditions.
I woke up in the morning and it hadn't snowed much at night so I decided to go for it. I did take the long way around so I wouldn't have to travel the back roads over the mountains. When I got there, it was actually about 10 degrees warmer (mid-30s) than in the spring so that was a good thing. For the fall race, they reverse the course direction, except for the last half mile, which includes 40 yards through a concrete spillway with 6 inches of water in it (they keep that part at the end, thankfully).
There were about 100 runners that started the race. Other than the 1/2 foot of snow, conditions were decent. We started off on a dirt road for about 1/4 mile before taking the trail into the woods. The first mile and a half of this race features some of the rockiest trail I have ever run on. The rocks are mostly the correct size to be ankle-breakers. I started onto the trail in second place and, after a stream crossing, the guy in front of me slowed down when he got to the rocks so I passed him. I am more confident on rocks after this year than before and have gotten to the point where I can actually pass people. I didn't expect to be in first at this point (or ever) but it somewhat energized me and I pushed it a little through the first few miles. About 4 guys stayed right on me until we hit the first aid station. I stopped to get a drink of water and they all went by me. The next half mile to mile was on a dirt road so I caught them again and we ran together on the road. Soon the trail ducked into the woods again and went downhill. I made a dash for the lead and pushed the descent. One guy stayed on my tail and the other ones were not as fast descenders.
The snow was deep and we were breaking new trail part of the time. I didn't necessarily want to be breaking the trail the whole time but it wasn't too much extra work (the snow was powdery) so I kept doing it. We got to another dirt road section and I started talking with the guy I was running with. He looked familiar to me and I knew I had seem him at other races. It turns out it was David Lister, who had just won the Megatransect a few weeks ago. We carried on a good conversation most of the rest of the way.
At one point, David tore down a steep descent that found me sliding on my butt on a number of occasions and I was not ready to keep up with him. I'd like to blame it on me being in my mid-40s and he in his mid-20s and I'm just not ready to take chances like I did at his age. In fact, I'll buy that argument. At the bottom, however, the trail made a "T" and he wasn't sure which way to go so he was still there when I arrived. I remembered the direction from the spring so we took off again. This inability to see trail markings was a problem at numerous places. The tree branches that were marked with marking tape were covered in snow or weighted down so that you couldn't see all of the markings. We got lost at one point and the two guys behind us caught up and none of us could find the trail. We spread out and wandered through the woods looking for it. We had a general idea of where it went, but we couldn't find it. Finally, the one guy found it at the top of the ridge, yelled to us, and took off. The rest of us got back on track and were chasing him.
David and I caught back up to him and followed him for a little and finally I decided I still felt good and I passed them both and went to the front again. After another downhill section through the trees, we were alone again. We got to the last aid station (3 miles to go) and I stopped for water again and he went flying past and put 50 yards on me before I started again. I kept him in sight for awhile but when we got to the rocky part again, he was definitely putting some time on me. There is no doubt he is the better runner but I was just trying to keep it somewhat close. I went through the water spillway again (it was actually colder in the spring) and caught site of him as he turned to run through the finishing chute. I finished in second, a little over a minute behind.
I was very happy overall with how I ran. I haven't led a race in over 20 years so it was kind of cool to be in the front for about 9 miles. I felt good and had fun running and chatting with Lister. I love the course, even with the rocks, and even in the snow. I think I also like the half marathon distance on trails. It is a nice distance where you don't really have to worry too much about bonking and you can go pretty hard. I'll definitely be back to Tiadaghton. This stuff is just too much fun. I dislike asphalt more and more, with every race I run.