Sunday, October 14, 2012

Nerstrand Big Woods Half Marathon

I just finished a half-marathon in Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park. This was a delightful event starting at a small country church (complete with old church ladies and a bake sale) winding through the park, and finishing back at the church. This race has been around for quite a while and was very well organized.

They day itself was cloudy and drizzly, but the temperature was perfect. Check-in was well organized, and my packet even had a little orange tag on it indicating I had won a door prize, some wild raspberry jam. With ample port-a-potties present I made use of them and stashed my gear in the car. It was cool enough out that a warm up jog was necessary, besides the fact that I wanted to be able to start pretty hard. Just prior to the 9AM start we all sang the national anthem in our quiet shy Minnesota voices, with a trumpet accompaniment. Then all the 10Kers and half marathoners lined up.

There was a quick 3-2-1 then go and we all started off for the first 1.5 miles of road before getting to the park. The start felt great and over the first mile I picked it up and started really moving. Of course it was slightly down hill with a strong wind at our backs. I'm glad I didn't think about what the return trip was going to be like (very unpleasant). I moved pretty far up the field on the way to the park as I realized a lot of folks were not taking advantage of the hill and wind. After about 10-minutes we hit the dirt of Nerstrand and started the fun trail running. I quickly linked up with Jonah, a triathlete from the south west corner of the state. We ran pretty much the entire park section together, sometimes separating one way or the other, but never out of site, and chatting for much of the first half, until we both stated feeling the effort.

It was fun winding around and after we separated from the 10K field it was pretty quiet, but there were a few points where we linked back up again and there was some company. The course was impossible to get lost on, with well flagged corners and marshals out at all the confusing turns. And with 4 aid stations, plenty of opportunity for re-hydration. It was really motivating linking up with the 10K the first time and really passing them easily. It's fun to have rabbits out in front of you.

The trail itself dished up some delightfully steep up and down hills interspersed with mostly wide runnable trail. All in all, it was not very technical, but the steep downhilling provided ample opportunity for a good crash (which I managed to avoid). Shortly after the midpoint there was a lollypop section, and on the way back there was a lot of half-marathoners outbound. Another good pick-me-up section where we all cheered each-other on.

Around 10-miles I gapped Jonah at an aid station, which I ran through, and I think he grabbed a drink. And I managed to keep him behind me the rest of the way. After some more fast trail I hit the road, and started beating it towards the church. As soon as I turned the corner for the mile long straightaway I could see the steeple, and all of a sudden felt like I was standing still. The headwind was nothing short of abusive. I was beating it for all I was worth and probably running a minute per mile slower than without the wind and hill. I managed to get it done, though in 1:29:52 and 3rd place. I was pretty pleased for not having really trained hard for it.

The post race was excellent, with the aforementioned little old church ladies serving soup, cookies, bread and coffee. A perfect warm up on a chilly day.

Props to Amy Clark, whom I headed down there with, and who pulled a fine age group victory in 1:49:29.