I have professed my love for Marine Corp road races in the past and now it is time to do the same with EX2 Adventures and trail races! I ran/walked/sloshed in the mud their inaugural half marathon at Fountainhead Regional Park yesterday and had a great time (what better way to kick off marathon training??)
Registration, Packet Pick Up
The registration fees were very reasonable for this race – early bird is only $60. I used my volunteer coupon that I received for volunteering for the Hemlock Overlook race towards the registration costs. Packet pick up was the morning of the race. After signing a waiver, I quickly moved through the pick-up line for my number (99!) and shirt. The shirt is a cotton shirt so I won’t use it for running but it’s a great royal blue with a gold logo (a nice nod to Boston) that I know I will use a lot during my “normal” life. My only gripe is that the shirts do run very small but I already knew that and sized up. My husband dropped me off at 7 and I was through packet pick up and hit the bathrooms by 7:15.
The pre-race announcements started promptly at 7:50. The race director walked us through the course, made sure we knew which way to go at the trail splits (right!), described the aid stations, and made sure everyone knew the basic rules of trail races – no headphones, pass on the left, let people know you are passing, etc. At 8:00, we started the half mile prologue to place ourselves before entering the trail head.
When I volunteered at Hemlock Overlook, I thought that I was so glad I wasn’t trying to run that! It was very hilly and looked incredibly tough. Well, guess what! Fountainhead is at the other end of the same system! Thankfully, I have trained out there twice, made it 4 miles out the last run, so I sort of knew what was in store for me but the unknown 3 miles were … hmm, challenging.
It is a heavily wooded forest so there was no direct sun, other than one small open area.
We crossed several wooden bridges, a few quagmires of mud, and one larger stream that was we couldn’t jump. The stream was a lot of fun, the very steep and muddy hill right after it was a bit less fun. I was a little worried about that hill because it was a real mess by the time I hit it. I made it up safely but it did kick off my tendonitis in my ankle.
Trail Support and Aid Stations
There were volunteers ALL OVER this trail! I was amazed! They were at all of the spots where we had to split onto a side trail for the loops and there were several that were just out to make sure everything was okay. There were 4 aid tables that we hit a total of 7 times. They had water, Gatorade, and one of the double stops had Gu in a variety of flavors. There was plenty of water, etc., even for those of us bringing up the back. There was even a nice golden retriever that I had to pet a bit to boost my morale. 🙂 It was pretty humid in the woods and I was sweating
like a horse heavily. I decided at the last minute to bring my small bottle of extra concentrated EFX and I’m glad I did. I drank at least one cup of water at every station, all of my handheld, and even refilled it at one of the later stops and still drank most of that! I also used two of my new Huma Chia gels, review coming tomorrow.
The trail was very well marked in the unmanned areas. There were LONG pink streamers that even I could spot and the “wrong” trails were marked off with caution tape. There were several times when I totally lost the pack so I really appreciated the conscientious marking.
I was one of the last runners in. I knew I would be and I’m okay with that. My only goal was to stay ahead of the sweep, and I did! At mile 7, I saw a runner behind me who was wearing a vest and I thought that was the sweep. I panicked a bit because I knew I couldn’t push hard for an extra 6 miles. Turns out that it was just a runner wearing a Nathan’s hydration vest! D’oh!
My final time was something like 3:20. I did a lot of walking at the end. Even with my late finish, there was still plenty of food left including hot egg and cheese wraps! They were perfect for my rebelling stomach! They also had cookies, a variety of crackers, bananas, water, soda, and Papa John’s pizza (much to Little Runner’s delight!).
Overall, I give this race a solid A. I truly hated that muddy hill but I think it would have been a different story if it had been drier. Everyone was super friendly and helpful. I must also comment on my fellow runners – trail runners are not the same as road runners. At my other halves, I hardly get a head nod from the faster runners as they pass me on the way back. At this race, every runner who passed me told me “good job” or the like. One woman even told me that I was stronger than I thought and to keep pushing. I really appreciated those words of encouragement! What a great group of people!
I really hope they keep this course in the rotation and I plan to do it again next year. Maybe I’ll be “middle of the pack” by then!