Race Report: Mud & Chocolate Half Marathon

Mud & Chocolate Half Marathon, Sammamish, WA – August 19, 2012

I made a mistake back in July. I was excited by Alida’s running progress, and projected that her training plan would probably have her ready to for her first half marathon long before the planned “first race” (end of October). Plus, we were both having lots of fun running on trails while I got ready for Bridger. And hey, you know, CHOCOLATE.

When I stumbled on the M & C and suggested it to her, she accepted. What I hadn’t factored in, due to my own ignorance and inexperience with trail running, is how much more physically demanding trails are compared to concrete. Despite her rapid progress, she was still recovering from a hamstring injury, and all the trail fun kept re-injuring it. A couple weeks before the M & C, we headed out to Sammamish for a test run on the actual course. And then, disaster. Her hamstring finally decided it had had enough. It needed more time to heal, and there was no way she was going to be able to run in M & C.


So it was just going to be me running for chocolate, but then I found one of my Ragnar friends to take Alida’s place (for a $10 registration transfer fee). Alida still wanted to go and root for me, because she’s a bad-ass sherpa like that.

Jessica (the friend) picked us up in the morning and we all headed over to Sammamish. Upon arriving, we did the usual wait-in-line, sign-your-name, here’s your bib number thing. I experimented this time with pinning the number to my shorts instead of using the race belt from my triathlons, which I’d finally realized was annoying and unnecessary for a single sport activity.

One of the organizers was handing out chocolate bars for random things like “Is it anyone’s birthday today? How about this month? Here you go!” and “Anyone wearing a shirt from out of town?” There was also a Naked Juice van giving out samples of their latest batch of flavored coconut waters (which were pretty tasty, I have to say).

Jessica remarked that the M & C events attract more female runners than male, and as we neared the start time it seemed she was right, as there was a clear feminine majority. In fact, the results list shows that the half marathon (there was also a 4.5 mile race) was just 34 males to 60 females. Interesting. Is the chocolate theme attracting more women, or repelling men because they think it’s un-manly, in which case, WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU IT’S CHOCOLATE?!?

Anyway… the course director gave us a run down of the course markings. 3 neon pink flags on the right mean turn right, if they’re on the left, turn left. Two flags on the other side of a 4 way intersection mean go straight. They also had “confidence streamers” throughout the course, assuring you that you were on the right path. Apparently this race attracts a lot of first time trail runners, so they wanted everything to be really really easy to follow, and it was! Each intersection took hardly any thought at all, which is good since it took a lot of concentration just to keep from tripping! This was quite the welcome change from the intentionally un-marked “trail” at Bridger.

Although my legs felt pretty good, it had only been a week since Bridger, and I’d also trained the day before (50mi bike and 1.8mi swim). My ankles felt alright, but I was a little nervous they’d flip out on the trails and I’d end up walking. Jessica’s a bit faster than I am, so my initial goal was just to try to keep up with her. And then it was go time:

We set out onto the trail, and of course it was just a big cluster at first as 170+ people tried to cram onto a car-wide pipeline trail. About a hundred feet in a girl was too far to the side of the trail and plunged her foot into a drainage ditch. She seemed OK but was limping and embarrassed. I made a mental note to watch for more ditches.

As the trail narrowed, Jessica ended up about 10 people ahead of me in a different, faster moving pack, and I quickly lost sight of her in all the twists and turns. My group was moving at a pretty good clip, but I felt I could go faster, especially on the slight uphill sections, so eventually I had to start passing, which was scary. I’m really uncomfortable passing people on narrow trails, so I would wait until wider sections to make my move, which was maddening due to the not-quite-as-fast-as-I-could-be-going pace.

Once I finally got in front of my pack’s leader I took off at a pace much faster than I could maintain for the whole race, and in a couple minutes caught up to Jessica’s group. I hung in the back of that group for a while, recovering from my catch-up pace, and then decided this was still too slow (though only just). I made my move, passing 3 people at once by running on the side of the trail, which included a hop over a suddenly appearing drainage ditch (shit!), and Jessica followed suit.

It seemed we were out there by ourselves for quite a while, but every now and then I’d catch a glimpse of someone up ahead, and we would slowly reel them in. At some point she commented that I was holding a good pace, and I remarked, “Thanks, I’m dying!” I was really pushing myself, but having a blast doing so. The ups, downs, lefts, rights, hops over logs, ducks under branches, trips and near-faceplants… it’s all awesome, and I love it. My ankles started chirping after the second mile, but didn’t progress past an all-over ache. Towards the end of the second lap Jessica finally passed me, and I didn’t see her again until after I finished.

I did the first lap in about 42 minutes, the second in about 40. Then the “wheels came off,” as they say, and my speed dropped considerably, taking 47 minutes for lap 3. After Jessica passed me some dude took her place and stayed with me for most of the third lap, tossing out a few comments like “nice job, man, keep it up” as we got up each hill. I was clearly suffering at this point and that definitely helped keep me going. Towards the end of that last lap he also passed me by, and by then I was just trying to keep from walking. My lap pace averages ended up as 10:23, 9:56, and 11:22, but the end of that last lap was more like 13:30. I was tiiiiiirrrrreeedd.

I finally reached the wide pipeline trail again, and knew it was an easy half mile to go, so I burned up the rest of what I had in the tank and finished strong. This was only my second ever half marathon, my first being in Miami back in January. I was 5 minutes slower here, but given that it was on trails instead of roads, I’d say that’s pretty good. Of course, in Miami I was nursing a knee injury and I was slowed by the 25,000 people in my way, but whatever. It’s a trail PR, and I can’t wait to try to beat it!

Oh, and then there was chocolate:


13.1 miles in 2:11:27

16th  out of 34 men

4th of men aged 30-39 (holy crap I was fourth in something! that’s almost third!)

35th out of 92 overall

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