On 6/1 (this post is a little delayed, I know), I ran in the Decker’s Creek Trail Half Marathon in Morgantown, West Virginia. This was my THIRD half marathon of 2013, all three held in different states!! That’s more half marathons than I’ve ever ran in one year, and I’m still planning to do at least one or two more before 2014 arrives.
If you’re not familiar with the Decker’s Creek Trail Half Marathon, it’s a smaller one– the field is limited to a maximum of 600 participants. I found out about this half marathon when I was searching for a replacement race for the Rock ‘n Roll Pittsburgh half, which I had signed up to run in August before it was cancelled unexpectedly. I was drawn to the Decker’s Creek half for several reasons. The first was its location– one of my best friends grew up in Morgantown, and I’ve grown fond of the town over the years from my visits to see her. I hadn’t been there in a few years and was intrigued at the thought of returning there to run a race. Plus, the half was on a wooded trail, and WV has some of the most beautiful scenery around (I’m a total country girl at heart). I was also drawn to the race because of the price– $50 isn’t bad at all for a 13.1 race distance. The deal-sealing factor was the course description– a 13.1 mile downhill descent into Morgantown. The word “downhill” sure sounded a lot like “PR” to me. Plus, the course was not out-and-back on the trail (we were bussed from the finish line to the start line to begin) as most trail races are. I prefer that as opposed to a 6.55 mile out, 6.55 mile back course. Needless to say, I didn’t hesitate to sign up for the race right away. I was able to talk my bestest running friend Emily into signing up, too!
Since I don’t live too far from Morgantown, we decided to make the morning commute to the race instead of splurging on a hotel room the night before. Emily arrived at my house bright-and-early, around 5:30 a.m. We made a pit stop at Sheetz for coffee and ate our Panera bagels (with peanut butter, of course) on the way. Since we had a long drive, packet pickup, and a bus trip to the start line before we actually started the race, we didn’t want to eat too early and run out of fuel early on.
We found the race easily and packet pickup was held near a parking garage, so arriving and parking went very smoothly. One thing I dread about any new race is finding my way around and worrying about where to park– there were no issues here!
Since the race is smaller, there was no pre-race expo or packet pickup. Everything had to be done the morning of the race. The lines for packet pickup were very long, and when I first saw them I didn’t think there was any way we would make it to the start line on time. However, packet pickup was well-organized, so the lines moved along quickly and we had no issues arriving to the shuttle bus on time. Kudos to the race organizers for that!
We were shuttled to the start line area, where we found a decent lineup of portable toilets. Wahoo! (it’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference in distance running). There was only one portable toilet stop along the course at MILE 7!! That’s terrifying to me, the girl who has-to-go by mile 3 if she’s going-to-go at all. So I made sure to pay a visit to the portable toilets before heading down the trail to the start line. We arrived just in time for our 8:45 a.m. gun to go off.
The race, although a smaller field, had two waves of start times. Even with the staggered start, there was still a lot of congestion for the first few miles of the course. The trail was more narrow than I expected, but it was stunningly beautiful! I didn’t mind the slower start at all because it gave me a chance to warm up as well as the chance to look around at the creek, rock formations, and greenery around me. Beautiful.
The sun was shining that day and the temperature was relatively warm, but the trees kept the trail shaded and a comfortable temperature for running (for the first 10 miles at least… more on that final-3.1-mile shocker later).
The outfit that I chose (my super-cheap, super cute tank from Wal-Mart and my Brooks Infiniti Tight shorts) was very comfortable– I’m so pleased and impressed with those cheap tanks I found at Wal-Mart!
My iFitness belt, which I wore to carry water, gels, and my car keys, was NOT cooperating that day, though. I’m not sure why– I’ve worn it in other races with no issues. For some reason, it kept riding up, and I was continually adjusting it.
Even though we tried to eat our breakfast later than usual, I still feel like I ate too early. By mile 6, my legs were feeling tired and I was starting to hit a wall. I decided I needed to eat my first gel at the next water stop along the course, a few miles earlier than usual. I had packed three gels– two in the handy loops on the outside of my belt, and one in the zippered pouch. When I saw a water station approaching, I reached for a gel from the loops of my belt. Guess what! NO GELS TO BE FOUND! They must have fallen off my belt at some point from my constant tugging and adjusting, and I hadn’t noticed. I panicked. I wasn’t even halfway done with the race and I only had the one gel in my zippered pouch to last me. And I was already tired. I had no idea what to expect for the last half of the race.
I decided to hold off until mile 8 to eat HALF of my one-and-only gel, then save the other half for whenever I needed it in the last 5 miles of the race. I was very fortunate that there were water stops approximately every 2 miles, and every other water stop had Gatorade as well (good job race organizers!). I had never drank anything but water & gels during a race before, but I knew it’d be in my best interest to take advantage of the Gatorade every chance I could get. So that’s what I did.
I didn’t feel great using this technique, but I felt “okay” up until mile 10. At this point, the shaded, crushed limestone trail transformed into an exposed, sun-soaking asphalt trail through town. It was 84 degrees outside and sunny. I knew right away that these last three miles were going to be HOT and going to be DIFFICULT. I was already half-loopy (you distance runners know exactly what I’m talking about) at this point from lack of fuel. I expected nothing but to be completely-loopy by the time I saw the finish line.
And completely-loopy pretty much sums up the last three miles of the race for me. I walked more than I ever have during a half marathon because I just had to. I was so tired! And the heat was really getting to me. I’m not sure if everyone was having the same last-3.1 experience as me, or if my experience was primarily caused by lack of carbohydrates. The last 3 miles seemed like an eternity to me; I lost track of time. When I found some energy, I’d run as long as I could, then I’d walk again. I finished my last half-of-a-gel and kept my water bottle in my hand, drinking frequently. I was still enjoying myself– I was running, after all– but I was struggling. I knew I had to be mentally tough enough to get to the finish line, and I knew I’d only be tougher than before once I did. So I did all that I could to keep moving. I was running purely on willpower and faith at that point. And when I crossed that finish line, I felt so many different emotions– joy, sadness, relief, defeat, victory, accomplishment… I almost teared up for no particular reason. And that’s why I love running– that inexplicable feeling you get when you conquer obstacles that you never thought you could conquer. If you are a runner, you know the feeling I’m talking about.
My finish time was 2:07:07.8, 39 of 101 in my age group and 298 of 591 overall. I was about 7 minutes away from my sought-after PR, but I was beyond thrilled with my time! That was my second fastest half marathon time ever. No disappointment at all considering the conditions.
Will I do this half marathon again? ABSOLUTELY. Even though I didn’t feel well, the half marathon itself was great. Here’s why I liked it so much:
- The race was very well-organized. Kudos to the race directors for such great planning– everything from the parking to the packet to the shuttle buses to the start line to the water stations to the finish line was amazing. Great job!
- The scenery was beautiful and the trail was well-maintained. There are some beautiful wooded areas where I live, and I must say this trail was right-up-there with some of the most beautiful areas I’ve seen. Decker’s Creek was always visible off to the right, rocky cliffs and lush green areas were always visible to the left, and the trail was shaded by abundant trees. I’m sure the fact that the sun was shining only enhanced the beauty of the scenery.
- Volunteers were handing out water bottles as soon as you crossed the finish line. I seriously could have hugged the lady that handed me a cold bottle of water!!
- The shirts were amazing. And you know how important that is!
- Live results were posted immediately. I knew my official time as soon as I could get to my smartphone browser. To me, that’s a highly desirable quality in a race.
- There’s a finish line festival. Although I wasn’t able to stick around for the festival, it looked like a lot of fun! I’m pretty sure there were free drinks (ahem, beer) afterwards for runners. That’s my kind of post-race party!
If you enjoy smaller half marathons or half marathons of all sizes, you should definitely consider the Decker’s Creek Trail Half! I’ll see you there next year! =)