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.