Monday, September 15, 2014

Dam Half Marathon 2014

The Dam Half Marathon is one of my most favorite races!  I feel like I say that about all the trail races, but maybe that's because they all have so much in common in my area.  The 2014 Dam Half Marathon and Dam Full Marathon were held Sunday, September 14 at R. B. Winter State Park.  The full started at 7am and the half started at 8am.  The race is put on by a phenomenal group called the Mid Penn Trailblazers.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again, this group knows how to host an amazing event!
Pre-race photos
Registration is easy through Integrity Sports (formerly PA Runners) on-line registration.  I received two pre-race email communications to keep me up to date.  Signs will point you in the right direction when you arrive at the park and volunteers will help you find a parking spot.  Packet pick-up is well organized and flows easily (the option to pick up on Saturday evening is available as well.)  Porta-potties are abundant.  A fire roars in the pavilion.  Friendly, familiar faces are all around.  I love this race!

A little about the course itself from the race website-
"We hope that both runners and hikers will continue to enjoy the 13-mile course that takes contestants over single & double track trails with some portions of fire roads.  The contestants will be subjected to rocks, mud, downed trees, stumps, roots, woodland creatures and small stream crossings.  Competitors will scale challenging ascents with scenic vistas before the final downhill to the finish line!  The elevation gains will surely leave legs screaming for mercy. Afterwards, contestants will bask in the camaraderie around the pavilion, complete with a warm fire and delicious food. This race is open to all levels of athletes who share a common love for the adventurous outdoors.  The Dam Half and Dam Full courses are all situated within Bald Eagle State Forest, and you really get the feeling of being far removed from civilization when doing this course! Mostly narrow single track trails with some jeep trails and a little bit of dirt road mixed in to relax your legs (but not too much). The Dam Half has a total elevation gain of 2,500 feet, while the Dam Full has a total elevation gain of 4,600 feet. The courses have several climbs with a few boulder fields mixed in to test your legs (and wits)! In between the climbs though, there are some nice flat and rolling sections winding through beautiful hemlock and pine forests with some stream crossings here and there. Both courses have the toughest climb of the event near the end, the dreaded Stairway to Heaven. Stairway to Heaven is a brutal single track climb with 700 feet of elevation gain within a half mile straight up the side of Naked Mountain. But once you summit, it’s 1.5 miles all downhill to the finish!!!"
Note the "dreaded Stairway to Heaven" near the end!
Starting line announcements are given by Mid Penn Trailblazers leader, Joel Heasley.  Follow the orange flags!!!  Runners on your mark, ready, set, go!  This was the second time I've run this race, so I knew to position myself closer to the front of the pack.  Once you're in the trails, its difficult to impossible to pass other runners because so much of it is single track.  So getting a position out ahead is vital if speed is important to you.  
Starting line action- check out that awesome kiddo next to me!
Last year I finished around 2:34, so this year I wanted to break that 2:30 mark.  I kept that goal in mind when the going got tough.  Because this race does get tough.  As I get tired, I get clumsy.  I rolled my ankles way too many times and did fall on my butt once, but managed to keep free of injury.  There were four aid stations spread out over the half marathon course, stocked full of enthusiastic volunteers and goodies for the runners.  I think my favorite moment (besides finishing, of course) may have been the volunteer stationed at the bottom of the Stairway.  He was there stirring up trouble and totally cracked me up!  

The miles were fairly uneventful for me, which is good!  The weather was perfect and the trails were beautiful.  When I got to the top of the Stairway I glanced at my watch and saw I had about sixteen minutes to get across the boulder field, down the mountain, and to the finish line (1.5 miles away) to make my goal.  That should be no problem when considering the distance, but me and hazardous mountainsides don't get along too well.  However, I made it down and turned on the speed on that final stretch.  My official finish time was 2:28:16, average pace of 11:19/mile.  I placed 6 of 66 in my age group (F30-39) and 72nd overall of 329 partipants.  An improvement compared to last year's stats- AG 6/45, overall 100/343, finishing time 2:34:08, pace 11:46/mile.
Finish Line Action!
Once you've recovered a little bit, you get to help yourself to pizza from Larry's Pizza and/or chicken and fixin's from Ard's.  Plus there is coffee, water, and kegs of soda.  Pull on your hoodie (not t-shirt!) that you get for registering, wear your hand-crafted wooden medal made by Elkwood Arts,, and feel proud of what you've accomplished!  I highly recommend this race to everyone!!!  Yes, it is tough, but it is so worth it!  I know some nature lovers who hike instead of run it.  You will feel amazing when you cross that finish line!

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