A few weeks ago my speedy friend Diana asked me if I would be interested in running a trail half marathon with her. I checked my calendar, decided the date worked, asked my hubby Bill if he was interested (yes!) and said I would love to. This race fit into my schedule really well. I have an intimidating 25k in two weeks, and I figured this race could serve as a tune-up.
On a sunny, crisp April morning we set off for Gardners, PA to run Buck Ridge Burn. The race was held in Michaux State Forest in Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Parking was easy, and we walked from the parking lot about a quarter mile to the race start and packet pick up location.
We picked up our bibs and race shirts in a pavilion at the day use area. Registration was quick, efficient and easy! Diana and I were very excited about the V-neck women’s shirt we got as a race premium. It is so colorful and the fit is perfect. Indoor bathrooms next to the pavilion were a plus. The race director gave us our pre-race instructions (follow the pink flags) and we cheered as the 5k runners started exactly at 9:00. The half marathoners started 15 minutes later. Bill and I decided to run together, which is always a good thing. Diana was waaayyyy ahead of us.
We first ran across a parking lot to get to a park road. We started running uphill on the cinder/macadam road for about half a mile, then turned off into the woods. Once we were in the woods, we were running on single track with a moderate amount of roots and rocks, but it was a very run-able stretch of trail. There were a few smaller stream crossings that I managed to hop across without getting wet feet, but at about 1.5 miles, there was a larger stream to ford and my feet (and calves) got wet. The temperatures were still in the 20-degree range, so this was unpleasant for a little while, but my socks wicked the moisture and my feet warmed up before too long.
The trails for the first part of the race consisted of rocky single track and grassy double track through very pretty spring woods. There were several places where the trail was completely covered in water and and mud, so our feet were often wet. Most of the first half of the race was uphill. We took it easy. I kept reminding myself that this was a tune-up race, and enjoyed the early sunny spring day. The aid stations were well stocked with oranges, bananas, home-made Rice Krispie treats (regular and trail mix varieties), candy, cookies, pretzels and chips. Tailwind and water were available for hydration. None of us carried food or water. We didn’t need to.
At about the midpoint of the race, we crossed an ugly clear-cut area, which was quite a jarring contrast to the pretty forest we had been running through. We next entered a lollipop section of the course. The out-and-back section of the lollipop was sort of dicey. The path was only about a foot wide, with low bushes on either side. The trail was uneven with rocks and roots, and you had to watch for runners coming towards you from the opposite direction. There were a few places where I almost went down. When we got to the lollipop, we were rewarded with a beautiful vista next to an impressive rock outcropping.
After the lollipop, we passed through some very pretty pine woods. We brushed little pine trees as we ran by on the path and crunched pine needles underfoot. The smell was amazing! We next turned down a trail called “Ravine Trail”. It’s name warns you, this is a tough section of the course. It was a steep and rocky downhill with lots of water seeps that made the rocks very slippery. We successfully traversed the ravine and were rewarded with some very run-able double track. The end of the race, similar the the beginning, alternated between rocky single track and smooth double track, mostly downhill. The entire trail was very well marked. I am directionally challenged, and even I could follow the flags without any issues.
Nearing the end of the race, Bill and I were both ready to be finished. We laughed about how, at the end of many trail races, the trail seems to meander back and forth in endless loops around the woods when you really just want to run in a straight line to the finish. We crossed more streams and traversed more muddy puddles, so our feet were thoroughly soaked by the end of the race, but we knew we must be nearing the finish line. We ran across a road, down a brick path, and the finish line loomed in front of us. Bill asked if I wanted to hold hands across the line, and I agreed, so we finished laughing and holding hands.
There was plenty of food at the finish (featuring Subway party subs) and each finisher got a small square handmade wooden plaque as a memento of the race. A two-woman band who reminded me of The Cranberries was singing and playing, and there was a fun party atmosphere surrounding the pavillion. It is a shame that it was so cold! I would definitely have hung around longer if the weather was warmer, but I just wanted dry shoes and a warm coat, which I left back in the car. We did stay for the awards ceremony. The picture above is me getting the hand-made first place age group award from the race director. The race director is an amazing young woman. I believe she made the awards and finisher’s plaques herself. She was very concerned that each racer had a good race experience (we certainly did!), and was very excited that the race sold out this year for the first time. I foresee many sell-outs for this race in the future.
I would definitely highly recommend this race. The course is tough, with lots of mud, rocks, stream crossings, roots, and climbs, but not ridiculous. It is a trail race. The vibe is friendly and fun, the volunteers were amazing, encouraging and helpful, and the course was extremely well marked – probably the best marked trail race I have ever run. It would be almost impossible to get lost. The price was very reasonable and the aid stations were well stocked and well-placed. I have no complaints at all. I hope to do the race again next year!
I am linking up with Patty, Erika and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run. Love these running-related blogs! Also linking up with Clean East Fast Feets for her Week in Review. Check it out for some more great reads (including some very yummy recipes!)