Two days, two half marathons, one weekend. Pretty fun, huh?
Actually, most people thought I was nuts. But, I looked at it as an opportunity to challenge myself. Plus, it’s very difficult to compare road and trail running. It just treats your body so differently. I looked at this trail race, which was hiker friendly, as an active recovery day. I went in with the mindset that I’d run when I could and walk when I needed, and most importantly, I’d do my best to stay safe. I do have other races to run this fall after all :)
I originally found out about the Raven Trail Half through a coworker who is an avid trail runner. We have a ton of great trail races all over the state and he’s probably done a nice chunk of them. Three other coworkers also signed up. I was glad to at least know a few other people at the race, even though I wouldn’t be running with them.
The race took place in nearby Poe Valley State Park. I had only ever driven past it, so this was a great way to explore the many trails in Bald Eagle State Forest. It was both runner and hiker friendly with no time limit, and billed as a challenging race on mostly single track trails.
The race started along the lake, did a short and flat loop to warm you up before taking you to the first major climb.
Early on I found myself with four other women, two in front of me and two behind. We enjoyed casual conversation as we bounded around the ridge line. It was around mile 3 that things took a turn for the worse, albeit briefly. The trail was narrow and lined with mountain laurel, but at one point I felt something that I knew instantly was not a leaf or twig. I looked down in time to see one very angry yellow jacket sting the front of my right shin. I smacked him away and kept running hoping that would be the end of it.
That was wishful thinking. Not even seconds later I heard shrieks from the two girls behind me as they each got nailed as well. As we kept running I got stung again, this time behind my left knee. Then the girl two people ahead of me also shrieked as she was hit in the leg and head. She managed to kill one of the wasps.
We all continued down the trail just wanting to put some space between us and the wasp nest. We checked on one another for the next two miles, and thankfully no one had anything more than mild, local swelling and the obvious pain that comes with a wasp sting. At the aid station around mile 4.5, me and another girl grabbed some motrin.
Later after finishing I found out a number of people had gotten stung through that section. There must have been a ground nest along the trail and the runners unintentionally disturbed them. Wasps are also very sensitive to carbon dioxide so having 60+ trail runners passing the nest and panting heavily only added to the issue.
I almost took my phone with me with the hope that maybe I’d take some photos, but decided to leave it behind in case it started to rain. I did manage to check out the scenery occasionally when I wasn’t staring down at where I was stepping next. It was beautiful. One of my favorite spots was near maybe the 7-mile mark. We were on top of a ridge and the trail brought us past this incredible overlook. It was a beautiful view. Coincidently there was also an aid station there so I was able to take in the view a bit longer than I might have otherwise as I enjoyed some gatorade, water and orange slices.
One of the most memorable climbs was near the end. It felt longer than any of the others, and while it started out mostly dirt it turned technical quickly. You had to pick your steps wisely to keep from sending rocks down toward anyone who was behind you. I’m also glad it was still chilly on Sunday because I’m sure on a warm day there may have actually been snakes to worry about too. Frankly, angry wasps was more than enough for one race. What was hilarious was when I reached the top, I realized I was going to be going right back down the other side. Thankfully, this downhill wasn’t nearly as long.
From there it was only a short bit to the finish. I didn’t realize I was so close to the finish for most of the last mile or so. I could hear cars driving by and couldn’t figure out how that could be. You see, this park really is out in the middle of nowhere accessed via gravel forest roads. It was when I heard the cheers of people as they crossed the finish line that I realized the noise was just cars heading out from the parking lot.
I finished the race in 3:19, but honestly it didn’t feel like I was out there for almost three and a half hours, although I don’t really worry about my time with trails runs. Each one is so different in regards to terrain, weather, how much road running there may be, how many other people are out on the trail, etc. My goal is to do my best and enjoy myself. I managed to do just that.
The race organizers did a great job with the entire race. The course was very well marked, and included signs that said “Wrong Way” to make sure you didn’t end up off course. The aid stations were great with water, gatorade, bars, pb&j, gels, and orange slices, as well as cheery and supportive volunteers. The post race picnic was also well done and boasted meatballs, soup, amish pasta and potato salad and other yummy items. While I haven’t found this to be true of a lot of trail runs, the organizers opted to give out finisher medals this year instead of doing age group awards.
If you haven’t made a foray into trail running, consider checking it out. There are numerous shorter distance races and they’re a great way to get a feel for it. Another thing to note is they are often cheaper than road races. While you may not always get a medal, the camaraderie and race support is always top notch. Everyone I met on the trail was supportive, friendly and often up for a casual conversation as you moved along the course.
Have you tried trail running? What did you think?