Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dam Half

My friend Michael talked me into doing this event, largely because the premium was a hoodie. A small group planned to do it, but for various reasons (work conflicts, injuries) it was just Michael and me.

The event was about 60 miles outside Harrisburg, PA, which would have meant a really early wakeup call for a drive up that morning. Or, getting a nearby hotel. Fortunately, our friend Matt's mom lived nearby and let us stay over the night before. Nothing like saving a little money and avoiding a super long day of driving the morning of the event!

We arrived at R. B. Winters park in time to see the marathoners start at 7:00 am. Our race was at 8:00 am so we had plenty of time to pick up our hoodie, bib number, eat a little bit, and gear up.

For me, this was my first event using my new UltraSpire Kinetic pack, which I intend to replace my trusty Nathan with. The Nathan is a great pack, but it is a reservoir/bladder system which has some advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include ease of drinking - the tube is easy to use while running. Meanwhile, the Kinetic holds two bottles, which are harder to get to while on the move. I usually need to slow up to get and replace a bottle.

For that disadvantage, a bottle system has a lot of great advantages. Bottles are easier to top off during an event. Bottles are easier to clean; bottles can also hold different liquids (one plain water, one sports drink - the reservoir can be cleaned but I still don't want to put sports drink into the reservoir). Bottles are easier to leave in drop bags for mid-race replacements. And the big reason I want to switch to bottles - they don't freeze. Last winter, I had the drink tube on my Nathan freeze solid 3-4 times, twice at events, twice on training runs. That's not fun to deal with! What I had to do is redo my outer jacket, putting it over the pack. Eventually, the extra layer helps melts the tube and I can drink again... this takes about 30-45 mins though.

Anyway, Michael and I lined up with about 330 other half marathoners and started off at 8:00 am. It was crowded for the first bit, like most trail events, but this race stayed that way for a solid 5 miles. We ran a small loop past the start, then popped out on a road and went right into a trail - so the usual bottleneck/funnel effect took hold.

The forest was fantastic, and the trail was extra-thin. Trail runners talk about single-track... this was more like half-track. Still, there was good footing and a fair amount of rocks. Michael and I settled into the pace the people around us were running - given the thinness of the trail it was pretty much impossible to pass. To be fair, we were moving along about the pace I'd have run anyway. It just felt a little crowded at times - I like a little more space between me and the runners in front of me and behind me.

The first climb was a line of people stretching out of sight:

We marched up a long time... and as I would find out later, this was the small climb. ;) Now the one drawback was the conga line also walked down the other side - I'm not the fastest descender, but usually I can move a little faster than walking down a hill.

This course was well marked, insanely so. Plus, it was uncomplicated as the basic shape was a rectangle so aside from a few small turns (the F1 racing term "chicane" comes to mind) it was basically run straight for a few miles, take a 90 degree turn and repeat. But the course had ribbons all over the place, even after turns when there was no other trail that forked in to get lost on. Anybody concerned about navigation would be fine here as the only way to get lost was to embark on some serious bushwhacking.

The first aid station was around mile 5, and this was an opportunity to leap frog some people in the race line. We had spread out a little bit by this point, but it is always good to be quick through a station. After grabbing some pretzels, cookies, and a bit to drink, we headed off.

Right after this aid station were two bigger climbs, and a few people were stopping to rest midway. I snapped another pic.

This climb, like the previous one and next one, was straight up and straight down. Literally, there was no switchback or anything, just up and then down. Maybe that's one way to keep mountain bikes and horses off the trails!

The next aid station was mile 8, with 2 climbs since mile 5. At this point the trail widened out into a double track with clear ruts for an occasional truck. It was a gradual uphill through the woods and we walked a bit before picking it up again and running. By this point the field had spread out so no more conga line of runners, which was nice. We ran through more pine forest, by a stream; this section was scenic, peaceful, and relatively easy.

After another road section and aid station (or maybe two, I forget) we walked up a road to the big climb on the event: a hill/trail named "Stairway to Heaven". It was a monster climb, twice as big as the previous ones, straight up with no switchbacks, and at the top there was a small boulder field to cross!

The steepness and length of this climb aren't apparent in the picture. ;)

I needed some careful footing over this section!

Once past the boulders, it was a nice downhill back to the finish. The food spread at the finish included some great barbecue, pizza, and birch beer/root beer/cream soda.

We had a great time - the volunteers were great and the course was scenic and challenging. We're already talking about going back next year for the full, which is sure to be tough.

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