My hubby Bill and I got up super early on Saturday and drove to Elkton, MD (about an hour from our house) to run the XTERRA Big Elk Half Marathon. This was part of a running festival that included full and half marathons, as well as a 5k, 10k, and kids’ race. The race is part of the XTERRA Atlantic Trail Run series. This was the final race in the series, but I was unable to run other series races due to prior commitments.
We were able to park close to the registration table, which was set up in a pavilion in the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area. There are 90 miles of trails in this area, and every mile I have run on here is beautiful. I ran this race for the first time last year and this year convinced Bill to run it with me.
We pinned on our bibs, visited the indoor restrooms (nice!), and chatted with a friend while we waited for the race to start. The full and half marathons began at 7:00 a.m. The other races started after this to alleviate congestion. Good planning!
At 6:50, we lined up at the starting line marked on the ground with chalk and listened to the race director’s message, (basically, follow the signs). The race began promptly at 7:00, and we were off, down a gravel road to the trails.
We turned onto wooded single track within a quarter mile. It was a beautiful morning, sunny and bright with low humidity. The sunlight dappled trail was mostly flat at the beginning of the race.
When we had run about half a mile, I placed my left foot on the side of a rock and turned my ankle. Pain shot through my leg. I couldn’t put any weight on my left foot. Bill and I were running together, and we both moved off the trail as best we could so that other runners could pass. He asked me if I thought I would be able to continue the race. I have never DNF’d before, but I thought this might be my first time. I told him that I wanted to try to walk a little bit. I knew if I could put weight on that foot, I could continue.
I walked gingerly at first, then began running slowly. My ankle felt alright. Not 100%, but not too painful. I told Bill I could continue. Unfortunately, about 100 people had passed us. 100 people who were running at a slower pace that we were.
Passing people on single track is a tricky maneuver. Bill ran in front, because he is better at passing than me, and I followed him. We slowly passed small groups of runners. We arrived at the first aid station, which was on a gravel road, and were able to grab drinks quickly and pass more people on the road.
As the race progressed, my ankle felt better and better. I was able to enjoy the course. My favorite kind of trail race is one run on a variety of surfaces, and this course definitely checked that box. While the vast majority of the course was wooded single track with plenty of rocks and roots, there were stretches of double track, gravel road, fields of high grass (tick check after the race!), and dirt single track through low cut fields for variety. There were mile markers at each mile, and the trails were extremely well marked.
Most aid stations, except for the final one, where I saw pretzels, had only water and Gatorade. The volunteers were helpful and enthusiastic, and the aid was adequate (approximately every two miles), but many trail races have more abundant food and drink at the aid stations.
Bill and I found our pace and were running very comfortably. There was usually no one near us. We must have found our place between runners faster than us and those who are slower (as our punny friend would say, we are half-fast). At about 12 miles, Bill picked up the pace. He often does that at the end of a race because he gets into an “I just want to be done” mode. I followed him, and soon saw the reason for his burst of speed – we passed a man who was probably in our age group. We passed several other people too, including a woman who looked to be about our age.
The finish chute came into view, and we crossed the finish line, happy to have finished another half marathon together. We got some water and looked for some food. Last year, there were hamburgers, hot dogs, and picnic fare available after the race. I was a little disappointed to find only watermelon, bananas, pretzels and chips. There was a food truck there where you could purchase food, which we got a $2.00 voucher for in our goodie bags, but many trail races provide more food after a race.
The award ceremony for the 5k, 10k, and half marathon began soon after we finished. I did win my age group, and the woman we passed at mile 12 was second. Awards were pint glasses with an XTERRA logo – nice!
As we walked back to our car, we found ourselves chatting with the woman in my age group. She was friendly and outgoing. We talked about other races we had in common. She did all of the other races in the series and probably won our age group for the series. I asked her if the other races were as nice as Big Elk. She laughed “Yes, but don’t do them next year!” I don’t know. I am not promising anything. I loved this race!
Oh, and my ankle…when we got home, it swelled up like a tennis ball. I could hardly walk on it for the rest of the evening. As I type this, I have it elevated and am icing it. Tomorrow I will give it a short test run unless it is just too painful. It is the only unwelcome reminder of this beautiful race.
I am linking up with Deb Runs for her Wednesday Word. I am joining Running on Happy, Crazy Running Girl, and Coach Debbie Runs for the Coaches’ Corner linkup! Also linking up with Running on Happy and Fairytales and Fitness for their Friday 5. If you like running and fitness blogs, check them out here!