This race was the perfect storm for danger. Beat the Blerch attracted a more casual runner, which is great. The more people running and being active, the better. That’s a good thing. I am a proponent of this. However, when you have more laid back runners attracted to a race, race organizers better be clear about what runners are getting themselves into.

This was a technically challenging trail race. If it is a difficult trail race, you very well better label it as such. The following is the course description on the website:

All participants will run on stunning trails that meander through the 1,000 acre park and along Whippany River. The half and full marathoners will continue on country roads and loop back through Lewis Morris Park.

When I registered for the Half, I knew there would be some trail (as there is in other races I’ve done…St. Luke’s Half, Steamtown Marathon, etc). Yes, some trails, but clearly road races. Beat the Blerch was a trail race, which is fine, but again, please label it as such, especially when it is a challenging course that is rocky, full of tree roots, ruts, constant elevation changes and switchbacks. The safety of those registering for such a race depends on accurate information.

In an email a few days prior to the race, we were told the following:

There are “some sections” that are legit trail running, some roads, some packed gravel and some couches.  Hey, it’s an adventure!

Oh, and for the love of all runners, please put a course map with elevation chart on the website so the mystery can be digested ahead of time. A map of the state park was on the website, but not an actual course map.  We email requested a course map, and finally got one the day before the race.

I truly felt bad for the runners who clearly did not expect the level of difficulty of the terrain. My wife witnessed at least one broken wrist.

Fellow runner and friend, Jen Miller, offered to help a woman who cut open her finger.

When somebody falls during a trail race, there is a distinctive and disturbing “thud” that makes one shudder, but yes, that is part of trail racing. I understand.

The danger was magnified when the half marathon merged with the 10K on the most difficult part of the terrain. Some runners were not aware of trail rules and got annoyed at people trying to pass.

As far as the logistics, parking was easy, and there were plenty of buses which took runners to the start. Our bus driver got lost, so we arrived to the start area around 8am. Fortunately, the Half Marathon started at 9am, but I felt bad for any runners on the bus that had the 8am Marathon start time (maybe that’s why the marathon started at 8:10 instead).

Second, bag check took longer for 1,000 runners than it did for 40,000 runners for the NYC Marathon.  The volunteers were great, but clearly the system was slow.  Since this was the first time the race was put on in New Jersey, I can forgive this.

What is less forgivable is a poorly marked course. Just after Mile 10, I came to a T in the trail. No volunteer there, no arrows, no ribbons or spray paint on any trees. I had a 50/50 chance of guessing correctly. Up until this race, I’d done one trail race: The Half Wit Half which was more challenging, and had more varied terrain and direction changes, yet was better marked. I decided to wait for a runner that was behind me. I asked him “Which way do you think, left or right?”

“Hmmm, let’s go left” he replied. We ran a good half mile before we realized we went the wrong way. Fortunately, the volunteers at a water stop for the 10K corrected our direction. Ok, fine, we did some bonus distance (I think the race was shorter than advertised anyway); however, at this point, I was ready to be out of the woods: “Get me the f**k out of here” I said to myself out loud hoping nobody heard me.

Also, what I didn’t know at the time was that I was in the beginning stages of the stomach flu. Maybe this is why my belly was bothering me pre-race and why I was so cranky. Initially, I chalked it up to nerves, but it wasn’t the case. Let’s just say the last couple of days haven’t been fun. I was supposed see the Pope yesterday, but had to stay home to recover.

Anyway, on the bright side, I managed a 12th place finish (1st in Age Group), but I was upset with myself for not having fun during the race. Despite my competitive nature, I still manage to have fun in just about every race; however, in this race, I had trouble adjusting to the thought of doing a fairly technical trail race vs. other races I typically run.

I do love to run on trails, but I don’t like to “race” on trails. When I race, my body and mind want to go fast. Trails slow me down, which I do like to do on many training days. Yes, I do like to take in the beauty that is around me on runs, but during a race, it’s harder to appreciate nature when my main concern is not falling on my ass. The level of concentration required is mentally exhausting. Yes, I probably need to lighten up more during some races. I could learn a thing or two from the more laid back runners.

The post-race amenities and food were what you’d expect if you know anything about The Oatmeal’s comic about running. There was cake and several couches upon which to sit.  You could pose with the Blerch or have a marshmallow bacon chocolate snack. It was a festive and pretty setting for a race.

I was thankful everyone I knew at the race finished safely. If this race is held again next year, I’d rename it to Beat the Blerch Trail Marathon/Half Marathon/10k.  The pre-race email included a clever and hysterical comic on the Do’s and Don’t of Running Your First Marathon. Here is the link:

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/marathon_do

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The Blerch tempts us to slack off. 

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Several F Bombs later

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