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Xterra Oak Mountain Trail Half Marathon - Run

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Pelham, Alabama
United States
55F / 13C
Total Time = 2h 05m 1s
Overall Rank = 54/164
Age Group = 45-49
Age Group Rank = 4/14
Pre-race routine:

Was a bit rusty at what to do pre-race but fell in to the old ways: oatmeal + coffee, bathroom, hydrate. Go to the race site, register and get the bib number …forgot to bring a race belt but instead just safety-pinned it to my Fuel Belt.
Event warmup:

None …it is a long enough race and didn't want to add to the mileage
  • 2h 05m 1s
  • 13.1 miles
  • 09m 32s  min/mile

This was the first event back since doing Ironman Coeur d'Alene in June 2010 …so there was more than a little trepidation leading up to the race and then trying to tackle the longest distance run since then. (Training runs have topped out at 11 miles.)

I know enough to temper expectations and even to put a race goal in mind given that I have only been back to training since August 4th. Still, though, in the back of my mind I was hoping that I could break 2 hours by running >9:15/mi average.


Training on smooth roads, even with some mommajamma hills thrown in, is not comparable to trail running as the terrain is imminently different. In addition to the constant up and down of any trail the fact that it is held on, around, up, over, down Oak Mountain - and back again adds a certain amount of added difficulty.

And this does not factor in the technical aspects of some of the climbs and, more importantly, the descents - some of which were tricky (see course comments).

So, this being my first real trail run, I threw those false expectations out of my head after the first mile and instead just allowed myself to run by RPE. This is the first race where I did not constantly look down at my watch to let my HR be regulated by some number and instead ran by the feel of my legs.

Racing came back to quicker than I thought. The race jitters left by the first two miles an dI settled in to a pace. As usual in road races, I seeded myself towards the back so that I could get my legs under me and not get caught chasing rabbits.

Passing in trail running is a little different in that you are in single track that is often carved in to the side of a hill or another. As such it can be narrow in a number of places making passing often difficult. It is for this reason that you communicate more with one another on the course …and another reason why wearing earphones is frowned upon.

There were 3 or 4 different water stops during the course, which were much appreciated. The race director gave out a gel prior to the race in case you wanted to pack it along as well as a gel at mile 7 or so. I had Powerade Zero in my 2 @ 8 oz run bottles for electrolyte replenishment and took a Powerbar gel then.

I did use the HR monitor to check pace every once in a while as well as to ensure that I stayed below LT (particularly on that relentless 1.35 mi ascent @ 6.5%) but by no means was a slave to the number.

The descent down Jeckyll & Hyde was tricky at best. Definitely something to keep your eyes on, knees up and feet placed. Running this section is not for the faint of heart …but trying to pick your way down saps not only additional time but leg strength as it takes a lot to 'brake' your body weight against the inertia of the downhill grade.

Downhill to me is 'free speed'; instead of fighting it I go with it by elongating my stride and quicken my foot turnover. I must have passed a couple dozen people this way, even a few down the Jeckyll & Hyde portion.

While I finished 5 minutes pass my goal I did manage to surprise myself with a 9:33/mi average pace …and could not be happier with it. Having only been back at this for a short period I was surprised to find that I was >1 min/mile off the podium for my AG.

Definitely hooked on trail running.

What would you do differently?:

Wear trail running shoes … roots and rocks hidden under leaves will cause you to roll an ankle (I did so twice - hard enough that I yelped and wad to walk/shake it off).

Be more mindful of my pace in the first mile or two so that I am not sandbagging time.

Post race
Warm down:

Towards the final 2/10th of mile leading up the finish line I heard footsteps quicken behind me …and took off trying to beat them to the finish line. I didn't look, just ran.

Turns out it was a high school kids racing a friend …but glad I at least kept one at bay!

After that, I was dead. Sat down at a picnic table and drank copious amounts of Gatorade and water while eating a PowerBar (for the post-workout protein).

As a bonus they had vats of homemade red beans and rice. While bland it was perfect comfort food to replenish some of what was expended - and an excellent additional source of protein.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

Seed myself closer to the front as I believe they start with 'gun time' instead of a starting mat.

Strength training - make a complete difference, even the upper body exercises as it take more oomph to deal with the hills, technical placement of your feet and so forth. (My shoulders were sore at the end the day.) Core conditioning is huge here too.

Took my son to the big Alabama vs. LSU football game and ending up standing all day at a tailgate and then during the game. Didn't get home from Tuscaloosa until midnight - but it was worth it.

Event comments:

Got to tell you, Dirty Spokes Productions puts on a good race. As a triathlete we do not get many opportunities to do the off-road stuff …but it is an absolute blast - and makes you faster, better, stronger for the road racing.

Dirty Spokes puts on a quality, well organized race that has a real good "feel" to it. I plan to look for their races in the future when filling out my race calendar.

Last updated: 2013-11-04 12:00 AM
02:05:01 | 13.1 miles | 09m 32s  min/mile
Age Group: 4/14
Overall: 56/164
Performance: Good
The GPS' have difficulty keeping up with an accurate distance due to tree cover, switchbacks and the attenuation associated with the ascents/descents …but trust the race director's measurement as he wheeled the course on a mountain bike.
Course: Trail run that starts off on pavement so that they can adequately space out participants. Mostly flat for the first 5-6 miles and pleasant through the woods on a course that is apparent. It gets progressively harder from there with mile 8.75-10.1 having an average 6.5% climb. The descent down from there is on Jeckyll & Hyde - pretty technical and not for the faint of heart. The last couple of miles have some steep ascents and descents that will cause you to walk up for >:60-:90 seconds and take care on the downhill …but nothing too technical.
Keeping cool Average Drinking Just right
Post race
Weight change: %
Overall: Good
Mental exertion [1-5] 3
Physical exertion [1-5] 5
Good race? Yes
Course challenge Just right
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities: Good
Race evaluation [1-5] 5

2013-11-10 6:33 PM

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Vestavia Hills
Subject: Xterra Oak Mountain Trail Half Marathon

2013-11-15 8:45 AM
in reply to: #4896124

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Atlanta, Georgia
Bronze member
Subject: RE: Xterra Oak Mountain Trail Half Marathon
It's official now...the kid is back!

I know nothing about trail running and can only imagine how much tougher than a regular road-race it must be..My knees are hurting just thinking about it.

And still - you just missed some hardware! Next one, next one.. Congrats again.
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