Tuesday, May 27, 2008

CharlieHorse Trail Half-Marathon: LBRR

I already included some notes on my own performance, but Helen insists that a whole Race Report is in order, so here goes.

As I'd been thinking about trail half-marathons, I'd figured out a couple of things.

One, I think I'm better at trail running than road running. Second, I think that the half-marathon is a good distance for me. Third, unlike Helen, I'm really more of a negative-split guy. And fourth, I think that trail running, more than road running, favors positive splits.

So the first two really make the trail half-marathon my best event. The last two, not so much. The reason I say that positive splitting is important in trail running is because positioning can be so important. You can have something in a trail race like a downed log that takes 5 seconds to cross, but that only one person at a time can go over. So you can get to that log 10 seconds behind another runner, but 5 places behind them. By the time you're on the other side of the log, you're the same 5 places back, but now you're 30 seconds behind them.

Or maybe it's not a downed log. Maybe it's a river crossing. Or two, right at the start of the race. That's what they had on Sunday at Charliehorse.

And actually, when they gave the description of the course, I realized that I could take a more conservative approach than might be in order at Half-Wit. There's the two quick river crossings (one more a bottleneck than the other), then there's a bunch of trail, then miles 9 through 12 were actually an up and down three miles of road. So I picked my strategy: go hard through the water crossings; conservative until the road. Then I'd pass a lot of people running up the hill that started at mile 11.5.

I still think that this is a good strategy. And I stuck with it for more than the first half of the race. I was probably in around 12th-15th place through the first 8 miles or so. I was doing pretty well, too. I was tired, and kinda sore, but overall comfortable. I also realized that compared to some of the other runners I was near, I was more comfortable on the trails, especially on the downhills.

The problem came when, sometime after mile 8, I went off course. My reasons for doing this: first, I was following the guys ahead of me, and trusting them; when we did go off course, it was because we went onto the road, at approximately the right time to have gone onto the road; third, while it wasn't a super confusing spot in the race, there were far less confusing points that had volunteers telling people which way to go. And that's my biggest gripe: a race has to be consistent about the degree of difficulty in determining which direction to go, and the amount of instruction.

So onto the road I went, with 4-5 other guys in front of me. Finally, one guy turned back, realized that we weren't going in the right direction. I didn't know what to do. I think I did 3 180s during this time. Finally, I went back up, found where we'd gotten off, and got back in. Soon I was back on marked trails. But I was beaten. I just didn't have it anymore.

I lost around 3-4 minutes during this time. Ironically, I think that I placed higher than I would have otherwise; there were probably only 2-3 guys in front of me that had times slower than I would have had had I stayed on course, which was fewer than the number of guys who went further off course than I did.

I wound up finishing 11th, which, when I think about it, is pretty impressive. I also got 3rd place in my age group. I'm much more excited about the 11th place overall, though. I guess the real message is to be more ready for adversity; I've done two trail races and gone off course in both, and both times it really got to me. The first time it made me angry; the second was more disheartening, and that's what I've gotta be able to get past.


Huw said...

Hi, great blog, and here in the UK where cross-country is the big thing in winter, we need to get out really quickly to get good position, then hang on for grim death for the rest of the race - negative splitting is rarely a good tactic, maybe on some of the longer races.
Keep it up!
Huw, www.runflux.com, www.runflux.com/blog

Mike said...

I was on of those who went off the trail because as so as we got to the split some racer immediately went left onto the road and me and some other guy followed, we followed for about a half mile or so before we realized it was obviously the wrong way. before we got off i was trailing at 10th place and when i got back on i was at 25th. so the other guy and i were very upset so we both paced each other to get us back as far as we could. when we got to the bottom of the long hill in the development is when I broke off and started kicking it in. i kept pushing and pushing, when we got back in the woods is when i basically sprinted for the rest of the race and at the end i squeezed in to 14th.

juliaipsa said...

Oh, Helen, this is a terribly belated congratulations on your excellent racing results. Keep up the good work!