Thursday, March 8, 2012

B&A Trail Half Marathon Recap

As mentioned Monday, I managed to meet one of my top 3 racing goals for 2012 on Sunday at the B&A Trail Half Marathon when I crossed the finish line in 1:59:04 – just under two hours. But what’s a race without in-depth overanalysis afterwards?

Nothing. So let’s start from the (early) beginning.

With the race an hour away in Severna Park, MD, we had to leave no later than 5:30 am. Doug, who wanted to come be top cheerleader at the race, was not exactly happy about this but didn’t complain one bit.

He did complain after I took this surprise picture in the elevator down to my car.

“That’s not going on the blog, is it?”

After driving up I-95 for a while, we found our way to Severna Park High School for packet pickup and ran into Sarah and Carly.

We camped out in the warmth of the school, made use of the plentiful restroom facilities throughout the school, got our gear/hydration/etc set for the race, and then made our way to the start line while our support team - Doug and Jason - got in position to cheer us on.

Incomprehensible chatter from the announcer that was hopefully not important.

Starting horn for the race. Super fast people at the front take off.

Shuffle towards the starting line with the rest of the field.

And go.

We took off through some neighborhood streets for the first mile or so, which helped thin out the field before we hit the relatively narrow B&A Trail. I was going at what felt like a strong and sustainable – but not really easy - pace, and figured I was a little below goal pace of 9:00/mile.

Mile 1: 8:56


Now off to the trail itself – the flat part.

Mile 2: 9:02

It’s worth noting here that while I was racing with my Garmin, I used the same approach I did at the New Year’s Day 5k – set the screen to read “sunrise time” so that I had no temptation to constantly look at it during the race, set up auto-lap by mile to help collect data, and only glanced at the mile splits for information. Cristina, who I may or may not have a running-related crush on, already explained the benefits of this approach for those of us who want data for evaluation after the race, but don’t want to be constantly freaking out about our pace, time, and distance covered during the race.

However, it turns out that it is far easier to maintain discipline on keeping that screen set to sunrise time during a 5k when pacing strategy is less of a factor than it is in a half marathon. With a simple press of one button being all I needed to do to see my average pace for the race, I foolishly started checking it out after mile 2.

Mile 3: 9:05

So much for maintaining that sub 9:00/mile pace. Can I get back there? Let’s obsessively click over to “average pace” every 30 seconds. At least it kept my mind off my nausea – which I almost never, ever develop during running.

Mile 4: 9:14

Screw it, I’m just going to relax and run. I’ll probably vomit in the next few miles anyway.

Mile 5: 8:59

Maybe checking average pace over and over actually wasn’t helpful.

Mile 6: 8:55

Yep. Stupid. Leave the screen alone.

Mile 7: 9:03

Check the average pace just after the halfway point – just one more time, just a check in, really – and see a 9:03 average. Still on target for that sub 2 hour finish with a bit of a cushion, even with this upcoming hill.

Mile 8: 9:27

Hill done. Time to settle back into the strong, sustainable pace and then start stepping it up.

Mile 9: 9:12

That pace settling took a little longer than it should have. Hey, since checking my average pace was so helpful earlier in this race, let’s look again!

(9:05. Sub 2 hours can still happen, but seriously, leave that dumb screen alone already.)

Mile 10: 8:57

Time to kick it up and run a solid 5k.

Mile 11: 8:51

Nausea returning. Probably sped up too early. Whatever.

Mile 12: 9:06

I will not look at my average pace will not will not will not…Oh look it’s now fast enough that I could go just under 10:00/mile pace and still finish under 2 hours.

Mile 13: 9:02

The race clock reads 1:59:20 something. GO.

(Mile 13-13.1): 8:26 pace

Finish time: 1:59:04

Cue controlled collapse just past the finish line. No I do not need a medic, I need to lie down. But thanks for asking.

Final official time: 1:59:04. Goal met.

So that’s how the race went. I enjoyed the race, but rather than wholesale recommending it, I’ll just lay out the facts and let you make the call for yourself in 2013, 2014…2083…
  • This race is all about the running. There's no fancy entertainment, no professional DJ, no band, no gigantic expo with race merchandise. You line up, the race starts, and you run. No distractions. I really liked this, because I was there with the sole mission of breaking 2 hours, but if you like the extras that come along with some races, this might not be for you.
  • The amenities that are associated with this race are runner-centric and extremely helpful. A school right at the start to minimize exposure to colder weather while waiting for the race to start. Plentiful indoor bathrooms at said school. Salty and glycogen-replenishing post-race snacks inside the school. Aid stations with readily available water and Gatorade, with volunteers clearly calling out which cups had which. Accurate mile markers. Impressive organization every step of the way.
  • It’s a fairly flat course that can help you achieve a PR, but do be aware that there are some gentle inclines and declines that will affect your mile splits.
  • There are some swinging bridges on the trail, which make for unstable and sometimes painful footstrikes as several runners attack them at once. I think the jostling associated with the first bridge crossing might have been what instigated the surprising nausea towards the beginning of the race.
  • Since most of this race is on a trail, and since the entire field is capped at 1050 runners, there is little crowd support. That’s fine with me. I enjoyed the relative silence and liked being able to focus on my running (save the Garmin-induced overthinking). But if you need a lot of crowd support or a high-energy atmosphere, find another race.
  • It’s a small race that might seem lonely to you if you don’t train alone very much.
  • It’s a small race that makes for an uncomplicated race day and no need to weave in between runners.
  • Also, I love it because I met my time goal. So that’s enough for me.


  1. Congrats again on the PR! This sounds like an ideal race for when you are focused and ready to race for a time (rather than have a race experience). I definitely prefer the no frills smaller races.

    I know that I need to try the "blank" watch while running (though minus the flipping to average pace, which is totally something I would do). My mind is definitely holding me back.

  2. Congrats!
    That sounds like a race I'd like.

  3. Congrats again on the PR. I loved the race as well (well minus those stupid bridges). Also Doug and Jason made such good cheerleaders :)

  4. Hurrah for trails and PRs! They don't often go together, so you officially rock.

    Also, thanks for the comment you left on SwimBikeRunDC's blog about NEVER hitting the snooze button. I've been bad about it lately, but that got me out of bed and to 6 am Bikram yoga this morning.

  5. Congrats!! I love that last pic. You look spent :)

    I never have a screen available that says average pace. Instead I have the time/current pace/distance and then spend the entire race trying to do run math. The fact that I can barely count makes this both entertaining and time consuming.

  6. That is so me, I get so obsessed with the Garmin and can't stop checking and either being elated or devastated over my pace every 10 seconds. I still haven't decided if it's helpful or hurtful. Amazing job on the PR! The swinging bridge thing would totally freak me out. I would love to do this race, sounds very similar to the NCR or Cloud half marathon.

  7. ". Cristina, who I may or may not have a running-related crush on, "

    Heh. It's mutual. In part (but not entirely) because I find synchro fascinating, and watching the practices got me through a lot of pool-running.

  8. congrats on the PB, I am yet to run a half marathon. need to recoverfrom this bloudly stress fracture.

  9. Thanks for posting this! I am def considering doing the race this year!