Maryland Trail Running Festival Race Report

Well, I ran a trail half marathon yesterday and I’m sore in places I normally don’t feel after even a full marathon on the road. Trail running really does give you a full body work out. Scot and I participated in the inaugural Maryland Trail Running Festival in Germantown MD, which was local to us in the Washington DC area. He ran the full while I ran the half.

 
Scot and I before he got on the marathon bus; I had to wait another hour for the half marathon bus
 
Half marathoners waiting for the start in Seneca Creek State Park

This was almost my slowest half marathon ever (Groundhog Day 2013 tops it by a few minutes), but considering it was my first trail half marathon, I’m OK with that. My goal was to keep running anytime I was going downhill or on flat sections, and to feel free to walk anytime I needed to on the ascents or on particularly rocky or rooty sections. There were lots of those. The course elevation map didn’t prepare me for how much the trails would be going uphill. The course was physically challenging because I’m not used to trails and I don’t do a lot of strength training or agility drills that would have better prepared me for the bobbing and weaving and hopping and skipping that you need to do on a single-track trail through the woods. But I had fun and enjoyed the peacefulness of the woods. This was a less-challenging course than my last trail race (the Wildcat Ridge Romp in NJ, where I was supposed to run the 50K but stopped at 10 miles).

There were a couple hundred half marathoners and I started out somewhere in the middle of the pack. It was crowded when we first entered the trail, as we were all bunched together and had to run single-file. Eventually, the pack thinned out and I was passed by several runners. That was fine; I was just doing my own thing.

 
A bottleneck as the runners enter the trail at the start of the race

And now the runners are thinned out

My experience was good at this race, but there were several logistical issues that need to be addressed for next year, because they either were issues for other runners, or posed a safety hazard:

Provide more and better directional signage. On a trail run, I assume some responsibility for being able to follow the blazed trail. We were told at the beginning of the half marathon to follow Red markings, then Blue, then Red again, then White. Mostly, this was fine, but there were some spots where I had to choose a direction without seeing any markings. I went the wrong way once, but only for a few yards before I realized my mistake. Other people had worse experiences with taking the wrong turn. The race put up several directional arrows for us in addition to the trail markings, but they were lacking in some areas. And the half marathon had absolutely zero mile markers. Again, I accept that as the case for a trail race, but apparently the full marathon DID have markings up to Mile 16. Why did they then disappear?

 
We ran over many wooden bridges on the trail

Provide more aid stations. Per the course map, there were supposed to be four aid stations for the half marathon, but there were only three. There was a long stretch without any water. I was fine because I had filled my Camelbak, but other runners were counting on that missing aid station. There could have been some real issues with dehydration. It’s OK to have the aid stations spaced out and expect runners to take care of themselves, but when you publish a list of aid stations and then skip one, that’s a big FAIL on the part of the race management.

 
One of several water crossings; the water was low but my feet did get wet

Provide volunteers on the course for reasons of safety. None of the aid stations were staffed, but they were at major road crossings. They were vehicle accessible. So why weren’t there any volunteers there to tend to the supplies (water was running low at the aid station directly following the “missing” aid station) and to check on the runners? What if someone had needed medical attention? What if someone had gotten lost? There was no way the race management knew who was on the course or where they were. There should have been volunteers at each station checking in the runners who passed through. There also should have been a volunteer at the end of the trail as we headed out into a parking lot of cars and then up a gravel road. I was unsure that was part of the course; it confused me to be running through a parking lot. A volunteer could have parked in that lot and directed runners who were coming out of the woods.

 
Interesting fungi on this fallen tree

Provide additional race details on the website. There were course maps, but there was insufficient description of what the trails were like. There should have been language that described that they were single-track trails and that there was a degree of difficulty. Offer a little bit of information for first-time trail runners (there were MANY first-timers) to explain how a trail race is different from a road race and provide some tips for navigating, fueling and hydrating. Experienced trail runners know these things, but newbies don’t, and since the course wasn’t adequately described (some might have thought it was a rail trail), people may have registered without realizing what they were getting into.

 
We ran along a corn field for awhile; I resisted the urge to pick an ear

Even with these issues, they did get some things right. There were distances for everyone (full marathon, half marathon, 5 miler, 5K, and 1 mile kids race). The medal and t-shirt were pretty nice for a trail race; yes, that’s important to some folks. There was chip timing. The finish festival was fun. There was a DJ and there were vendors with booths set up; I got to try on a new pair of Altra shoes. The food was plentiful and there was a good selection. There was food and drink available for all the runners, even the last ones to finish. There were tents to protect runners from the sun, with plenty of tables and chairs. There was lots of parking (though it was a long walk from the finish area back to the cars). There was medical staff at the finish (even if there wasn’t medical staff at the aid stations).

I would run the race again, because I enjoyed these trails. I would also like to see that they make several of these improvements for next year. I’m not sure if Scot will want to run this next year. His experience was not as good as mine. Running the full, he had more opportunities to be thrown off by the inadequate course markings. He also was very upset about the missing aid station and the fact that the aid stations were not staffed. Personally, he was fine; he had his Camelbak with plenty of water and food. But he was aware of other runners who experienced troubles or could have experienced troubles. He thought that the race was potentially unsafe. I think we are going to write an email to the race director detailing our recommendations. I hope that they listen, because this event really does have the potential to be an awesome annual festival.

Question: Are you a trail runner? Have you done runs with poor course markings and unsupported aid stations?

Comments

  1. I've done runs with self-service aid stations, but we were told what to expect.

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    Replies
    1. The race website said there would be medical staff at the aid stations. There was no one at the aid stations. Medical staff were at the finish line only.

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