To an average person or even a runner, a marathoner is a crazy person. Why would you spend a couple of hours suffering out there in the sun (or the cold!) running/jogging from point A and point B? Ford invented cheap cars for us so we don’t have to run long distances! However, from the point of a marathoner, he/she thinks he/she isn’t that crazy because there are always crazier people who does ultramarathons, ironman and even trail marathons. I knew that running trail isn’t something I’m good at – partly because I fall down a lot, and also the fact that I’m heavy like a rock, and those rolling hills are going to destroy my knees before I could even finish a race.
With all that said, I decided to partake in Stumpy’s marathon for a couple of reasons. I was planning to use this opportunity as a training run for my marathon in November and that this marathon gives out a really awesome medals – rocks that were cleaned by the race director, a.k.a. Stumpy, and stamped with a sticker over it. It also doesn’t hurt to be free (when was the last time you ran a race that cost a total of $0?), and I want to see what’s so fun about running a trail marathon.
There are a couple of different traditions to this particular race. The misspelled starting and finishing line (apparently they did that years ago or something), Stumpy’s quick story of this race and the fundraising for abolishing death penalty, (I shall insert a link to his webpage someday. Remind me), race course that changed every year, the homemade pasta dinner and more. I hadn’t run many small race marathons, and this is an eye opener to me. I enjoy the human interactions in this race – so much better than big city marathons where all they try to do is suck every single cent out of the exhausted runner. This feels like the marathon spirit!
Speaking of pasta dinner, Eric and I crashed their pasta party the night before. Imagine two strangers walking into your house, eat your food and desserts and left a bottle of unmarked Champagne. That’s going to be my story for a long time to come.
The day before the race, which was yesterday, there was a huge downpour here in Newark. That’s the reason the race course was changed from a roughly 26miles race to two 13 miles loops so that race director and volunteers can mark the trail before we start the race. This change is better for us because we were only planning to do half a marathon – however, i doubt anybody complaint about loops for a trail marathon as you wouldn’t realize the difference even if you run the same area 10 times. The race started promptly at 8am with about 70 people and couple of people who were late jumped in the race at various points. That’s the benefit for not using chip to time!
Most of the runners are veteran trail runners, both young and old, male and female. It is easy to tell that with their muddy shoes, camelpaks and very interesting clothing (designed for trail). Eric and I came unprepared, as we either didn’t know what to bring or we don’t have these equipment. There are a few aid stations during the run, so that gave us some confidence that we don’t need to bring anything. We started out as a pack, but once we hit the narrow trail into Middle run state park, it became a single file line of runners. Soon, the line thin out and there will be a handful in each block, which I name them “trains”. We joined a decent speed train with about 20 people, but by the time we hit the first aid station (at around mile 5), there were only 6 of us left.
Unlike road marathons where the runners will keep their heads high and try to “cut” tangents to reduce the amount of distance to run, I had to focus on staring at the ground to evade roots, stumps and rocks. As I learn after almost trip by countless rocks and roots, uphill is “easier” than downhill – uphill requires a whole lot more effort but since you are going slow, it is much harder to trip; downhill, on the other hand, you are speeding up and one misstep will send you flying down the abyss down under. It is also rather hard to overtake other runners during the race – very unlike a road marathon. Trails are marked with “flour” (I thought they meant flower, maybe daisy means right, orchid means left, and rose means you should do a U-turn) in the shape of arrows on the ground. I could see some of these be missed by runners but we weren’t lost during the entire race.
As the trails were not closed for running, there were other trail bikers riding while we were running. We came across a lot of them but none crashed into us – I can’t speak for any of the other 70 people. Since we were going at a slower pace, we were chatting most of the way through the race. Some parts of this trail were muddy but most turned out to be pretty nice dirt trail. Even though most of the race was in the woods, we came across a couple of corn fields and crossed a few roads. There was also a part where we had to run in a huge plastic tunnel meant for the stream. My shoes were soaked wet because of this – I wonder if there were any other alternatives nearby or it was meant to be a “cruel” joke to make it a real trail run.
Free stuff doesn’t mean it is bad. The 3rd aid station on this race is the best aid station I came to in my short running career. Even though there weren’t 20 volunteers giving me cups of water (which I appreciate but I don’t really care for. I can help myself.), there are a few really friendly volunteers hanging out at the tables ready to provide anything we need. And man, this place is stock full of awesome stuff, I wished I took a photo of the booth. There were cookies, biscuits, M&Ms, Gel Shots, GU gels, water, Gatorade, Ice and even Towels. It helps that the volunteers could afford to provide all these because there were less than a hundred runners. Since Eric and I were only doing half a marathon and this was located near mile 11 (of loop 1), we didn’t want to eat too much – the other runners will need it more than us. However, I do enjoy this aid station – definitely the best in my books.
Eric and I came in at around 30+ place at the half way point (2 hours and 30 minutes). It was a very slow pace but I blamed them on inexperience and rolling hills. I can now conclude that trail marathons are much harder than road marathons, and this is one of the easiest trail marathons out there. I can’t imagine those where you have to bring a knife to defend against bears and poison ivy while running up a cliff. Before we left, we took one of the famous rocks back as souvenir and thanked Stumpy for organizing it. Not going to promise it but I’m actually thinking about doing more trail running and coming back next year. Next time, I will bring a Camelpak so I can try to finish a “real” marathon.