Yes, I tackled my first trail race in the Mud & Chocolate Half Marathon. It sucked (mud, that is) but didn’t suck (as in I didn’t hate the race).
I wrote about being a traiblazer for my last half recap just a month ago (read about it here) — well, now I can actually claim that title, because I’m no longer a trail race virgin!
Packet pickup was simple: day of the race. So I didn’t have to have my SIL drive us around two days in a row, as she was kind enough to get up early on a Sunday and hang around with Mr. Judy while I was running (not at the race; they went out for breakfast) and then had to get up early to drive us to the airport on Tuesday, too.
We got there super early because parking is limited. The upside was that I purchased a sweatshirt which I totally love. I could’ve bought it before the race and had it waiting for me, but I just wasn’t ready to pull the trigger then.
There is no bag and no swag at all, and that’s fine. And if you want a tee, you have to buy it too — and I actually like that. I like that it’s an option, but I have plenty of race tees already.
You got an email with a little scan-thingie, but they just wanted my last name.
There are real bathrooms (but only three). Since it’s a small race, I had time to use them a couple of times and never had to wait for a stall. Because it was raining, most people waited in their cars (us, too). It also gave me a place to get out of my wet clothes immediately after the race (after eating some chocolate, naturally).
My Race Plan
Rachel @ Runningonhappy asked me if I wanted a race plan, since we were treating it as a training run, and I said yes please. Of course, we also didn’t have a course map or elevation chart, and in the end — nope, I didn’t even come close to the plan. Not even for a mile. And that’s okay.
You would think that having done three loops you’d be able to remember what you did, but no — in fact, I think it got even more jumbled than usual and I’m really not quite sure with some of my notes where what happened.
The interesting thing is that the trails I trained on were actually a lot steeper — but they weren’t muddy. The photo I took of the muddy trail? Seriously, that part wasn’t bad. There were puddles that spanned the entire narrow trail, multiple times, sometimes multiple times in a short span.
I had zero problem treating this as a training run in the end. I knew in the last few miles I was tired, and that I’m more likely to trip when I’m tired, and I really didn’t want to so I took it easy and walked a lot. I never came close to falling so I don’t regret that. At all.
I’m going to put in my actual lap times with the race plan times below (so it will be 11:30 AP, which stands for average pace/11:20 RP – which stands for race plan). I know probably no one but me will read it, but if you’re a real masochist, go for it.
So how’d that work for me?
- Mile 1: 15:10 AP/14:00 RP. It was raining at the start and you start off with a hill.
- Mile 2: 14:09 AP/14:00 RP. You can always tell when I come downhill.
- Mile 3: 14:42 AP/14:00 RP. A somewhat flat mile.
- Mile 4: 15:31 AP/13:30 RP. Big hill that pretty much goes on the whole mile. I ran/walked. Although it shows up as mile 5 on the splits; weird.
- Mile 5: 15:22 AP/13:30 RP. Lots of rocks.
- Mile 6: 14:26 AP/13:30 RP. Downhill.
- Mile 7: 15:20 AP/13:30 RP. Must’ve been another hill.
- Mile 8: 16:21 AP/13:30 RP. Big hill second time. I walked.
- Mile 9: 15:49 AP/13:30 RP. This may have been where I had to get off the trail and wait for a couple of horses to go by. Not kidding.
- Mile 10: 15:18 AP/13 -14 RP. My “good” knee started to tighten up. WTF? Thankfully I’d taped them both. My guess is I’m always going to tape both knees. I felt perfectly fine after the race.
- Mile 11: 15:38 AP/13 -14 RP. By now I’ve realized I will make the time limit (4 hours) without a problem. I took it easy the last few miles — I was tired and didn’t want to trip; it was only a training run, after all!
- Mile 12: 16:29 AP/13 -14 RP. Walked up the hill, one last time. So over this hill.
- Mile 13: 15:43 AP/13 -14 RP. I’m “running” along when I feel something under my foot. I’m thinking a gaiter fell down or something, but no, the sole came half off of one of my shoes. Again, WTF? I just stopped and said seriously? I was afraid it would catch on something and trip me, but it didn’t — it was just massively annoying.
3:15:22 — Official Time
15:22 Average Pace
The weather & dressing
The weather forecasters did their normal thing, which is to say the forecast changed every hour. Trying to decide what to wear to race in was a challenge. I knew there would be lots of shade, and therefore even if it was a dry day it would feel cooler. And it wasn’t dry. At all.
In the end, Mother Nature threw at us weather that is pretty typical for the Seattle area: cold and light rain at the beginning — sometimes harder, sometimes just a drizzle, occasional sun breaks.
Did I mention that the previous days were nice and dry? However, somehow I managed to dress just right.
I wore a Skirtsports Cascade skirt, Liberty tee and a Tough Chick top (use code SPRINGCPT20 for 20% off anything). New Balance Vazee Summits. Mudgear compression socks — these dried out well between puddles.
I worried I’d be too warm with a short sleeve top under the long sleeve top, but it was just perfect for me. And because the Tough Chick is a quarter zip, I just unzipped it when I got warm. Although it’s not a rain jacket, I never felt as though I was sopping wet despite the fact that it rained for most of the race — it repels water well.
Was the race well run?
Yes, absolutely. NRG is completely organized and communicates everything well.
- Incredibly well marked race.
- Plenty of food even for the very BOTP like me.
- Real bathrooms before the start.
- Enthusiastic volunteers, despite the cold rain.
- Meeting up with two other Skirtsports sisters.
- A chocolate medal.
- And a Seattle Chocolate Bar!
This was a very well run race — although that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few negatives.
- A very hilly course.
- A very muddy course.
- An open course — I did have to wait for a couple of horses to pass by at one point.
- Minuscule spectator support.
- Was there any portapotties? No idea; thankfully I didn’t need one, but I’m pretty sure if you needed a pitstop, you’d either have to venture into the dense vegetation or go off course back to the real bathrooms. Maybe there was one by the aid station, but I didn’t notice it.
- For some reason the chocolate spread didn’t seem as epic as it’s made out to be on the website — and I don’t know why, since they certainly had a wide variety and everything I had was really good. I would have liked to see some brownies and chocolate covered pretzels, too — but there were mini cupcakes, donuts, mini peanut butter cups, truffles, and cookies. Considering the small size of the race it really was a great spread! Maybe it was just that it was on one small table? Or that no one wanted to hang around in the rain?
- Three loops. It wasn’t that scenic.
- Was the course short? From the website: We have measured the course with a wheel, as well as other tools, and it truly measures 13.1 miles. Many Garmins, or other GPS watches, lose satellite contact in the woods. When they drop you, they then draw a straight line to where you are from where you were, this makes them come up short. We almost never see two people with the same GPS distance at the end of our races! My Garmin did come in with a short course, obviously, but I also know that I lost signal occasionally. I’ll take their word for it. Which just means my average pace was only very slow instead of glacial.
What I learned
Again I first have to thank Coach Rachel @ Runningonhappy for her coaching, her belief in me, and all the encouragement! If you’re looking for a coach, I highly recommend Rachel.
A hydration vest is definitely comfortable for me — at least with a high neck top (which I am unlikely to wear in my next half). I enjoy having my hands free and not having to stop at the aid stations.
I can run a trail race.
Dirty Girl Gaiters rock and so do Mudgear Compression socks.
Garlic cheese sticks are still working for me as a prerace meal.
And Molly Moon’s in Redmond was the perfect place to share a postrace sundae.
Mud & Chocolate is a very well organized and very small trail race, capped at 100 runners — it did, in fact sell out, but I also signed up just a few weeks before the race. They squeezed in someone after the race closed (she was just in the area on business, apparently).
Most likely it will live up to its name, both in chocolate and mud. The trails are narrow, but being at the very BOTP, I was running by myself most of the time. The trails also aren’t closed, and there was one guy walking them the entire time I was racing. It seemed a little creepy to me, actually, this guy walking the opposite way but also looping three times for three hours????
The race website says that this is a beginner friendly trail race. Keep in mind it’s also the only trail race I’ve ever run. But with the hills, the wet rocks, and the mud, it definitely didn’t feel easy to me. With the exception of one very hot long run, all my long runs were quite a bit faster — but I was also cautious, not wanting an injury taking me out of UT.
I enjoyed the race (if not the weather), and while I wouldn’t actively look for another trail half, if I found one that really called to me I wouldn’t hesitate to do it. Of course, first I’ve got to get me some new trail shoes!