' Adventures with FitNyx: August 2017

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Olde Girdled Grit Trail Half Race Recap

With only two months left to complete my goal of one half marathon each month for a year, February gave me an opportunity to shake things up a little bit.  Instead of a road race, I attempted my very first trail half marathon by taking on the Olde Girdled Grit course out in Concord, Ohio.

Lake Health Running Series' Olde Girdled Grit is actually an ultramarathon, full marathon, and half marathon.  Full marathoners complete the half course twice, while 50k ultramarathoners complete the full's two laps PLUS an extra section of trail for the extra distance.  I'm definitely not ready for anything more than a half right now, so I stuck to the single loop!  With the early morning chill and snowfall, I was definitely not looking forward to a few hours out in the woods.  The parks along the course, though, were absolutely beautiful under the light dusting of snow, and temperatures warmed rather quickly, making for a surprisingly pleasant winter run.

I won't pretend like I didn't struggle a bit with the steep hills and crazy woodland stairs - but then again, those are the PERKS of trail running, right?  Fighting my way up was a challenge, and the solitude I encountered along some sections of the trail made me wonder if I was even ON the course at a few points, but I persevered.  My favorite obstacle had to be the swaying bridge we crossed twice during the race!  Finding my footing on the icy ground had been hard enough, but putting me on frozen, swaying planks was just the cherry on top of an exciting winter trail run.  Gotta admit, I was pretty thankful for the wire mesh along the bridge, just in case...

By the last couple miles, though, I was feeling pretty spent.  My phone got too cold and died around mile 8, so I had no idea what my time was looking like, nor where I was in the course.  I assumed I only had a mile left, since the route I'd seen was largely out-and-back, and I was on the stretch of paved road on which the race had started, but then the arrows had me bypassing the turn back towards the starting line and I realized there was more left then I had thought.  I struggled with the mental game and worried that I wouldn't make it, but my friend who was also running (and had finished WAY ahead of me, as usual) came back out to run me back in, and that gave me the burst I needed to surge on to the finish!

I crossed the finish line in an unexpectedly good time for a trial half.  Considering the terrain and weather, my initial dismay at the clock display was quickly turned into a smile and point of pride - I'd actually run the trail half faster than I'd completed some road courses in the past!  And to add to my post race happiness, there was a veritable smorgasboard of snacks available: peanut M&Ms, Swedish fish, fruit snacks, trail mix, Nutty Buddys, energy gels...  Plus there was hot soup inside the pavilion!  I filled a couple cups with munchies, but actually went pretty easy on the snacking because we had Waffle House plans afterwards.  A well-earned breakfast after a great first trail half experience, the perfect way to end an exciting morning!

Olde Girdled Grit Trail Half Marathon Breakdown

Organization: This is the third GCXC race I've tried, and it's the third time I've been impressed.  Previously, I've run their Hill Yeah! Half Marathon and the Rock Hall Half Marathon, each of which had a very different atmosphere.  The Olde Girdled Grit race was yet another facet of this company, which seems to have a solid grip on how to offer great running experiences to ANY type of runner.  Some of my friends handled the quick and easy packet pickup on race morning (it was too far away for me to get to early pickup at the local shoe store), the person starting the race was very clear on instructions for the three different course options, aid stations were well placed and manned by friendly cheerers (even though the cold made the water stops a little less necessary), and the finish area was laid out nicely (ie, excellent food access hehe).  There's nothing really to complain about other than the difficulty of the course, and I knew what I was getting myself into anyway!

The Course: Speaking of course difficulty, I've got to admit that I enjoyed the challenges I faced.  For a trail run, it was about as well marked as it could be, though I did have one or two moments at which I wondered if I'd missed a turn.  This was more likely due to the low number of participants (trail runs are limited to preserve the parks) spread out over considerable distance, and not due to poor marking.  Any time you're alone in the middle of the bleak winter woods, you're likely to wonder if you're lost!  The swaying bridge could have caused a problem for some people, since it's single file and is crossed in each direction...  If you're a lead runner trying to come back across, you could be held up by a slower runner who is crossing to head out to the course, or get stuck behind someone who is taking the bridge more cautiously than you might.  I don't believe I hit any particular congestion at this point, but I could definitely understand if someone expressed frustration with it.  Then again, it's a trail race, and single track isn't uncommon!

The Swag: I signed up for this race pretty late, and paid the highest price point at $75 for the half.  Having never run a trail half before, I didn't have much to compare the pricing to, but I do know this organization contributes to the local Metroparks AND to the Lake Health hospitals out of the proceeds, so while I bristled at the high cost I also shrugged some of it off as charity.  Earlier registration rates were much lower, so let's be honest - I did it to myself by waiting for the last minute.  In exchange for my fee, I got a fantastic trail course, all that delicious post race snackage, an awesome finisher medal (it's one of the heaviest I've received, too), and instead of a race shirt, I got a race backpack!  When you've been running for a while, you tend to accumulate waaaaay too many race shirts, and even the nicer tech shirts get old after so many.  It was refreshing to receive a different kind of race swag, and since it's a $40 retail priced Asics bag, I felt even less concerned about the steeper cost of the race.  Overall, I think I got a pretty good value out of this race, though I definitely wish I'd entered at a lower price point.

The Bottom Line: I don't think I could have asked for a better experience for my first trail half!  Originally I thought the February-ness of it would be miserable, but we lucked out and got the pretty side of Ohio's snow-kissed winter without having to suffer the bitter cold that usually accompanies those flurries.  My body faced some new obstacles but overcame them all, and I walked away with some cool new stuff.  Not sure I'd do it again because of winter's unpredictability, but I would definitely recommend this race to other runners, especially trail addicts!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Introducing: Ask A Race Director!

A long time ago, I wanted to start a series here to help answer questions I get frequently from the running community.  Entitled "Ask A Race Director", this series would be a way to help inform runners and racers, especially when it comes to some of the policies that leave participants scratching their heads - or worse, walking away angry.  Finally, it is time to start that series!

Welcome to Ask A Race Director, Volume 1!

My first question comes from Sharla W, who asked a great kickoff query: how did I first get into race directing?  Well, this answer is pretty closely tied in with my personal journey over the past decade or so.  I'll try to keep the backstory brief, if possible, including glossing over 20+ years as an athlete who hated running ("my sport is your sport's punishment" mentality) and years of study towards archaeology/art history that ended up useless, prompting a need to find a new career goal.  Those two items inform the story but aren't focal points.

My first job in the racing industry.

The heart of the story begins when I moved to Chicago after failing to find my calling in Columbus after grad school.  I took a job as an office manager for a research group, and found myself in charge of event planning as part of the many facets of the work.  Despite little experience and no training, I was able to quickly learn some of the tools and tricks of the trade.  Before long I was putting together events and conferences with great success.  When it came time to move on from that position, I started looking for another job that would allow me to keep planning events, including an actual event planning position.  I went through a few more office management type jobs, all the while continuing to build experience in different forms of event planning but constantly unsure if I was really in the "right" line of work.

During this time, my running hobby started to take off.  I was learning that competing against myself was the best way to carry on my athletic spirit, and dove deeper and deeper into the endurance sport world.  As I struggled with other aspects of my life, I found the running community to be the closest feel I had to "home" at the time, and wanted to be a bigger part of it.  Volunteering led to a couple part time paid race work opportunities.  The more I did, the more I loved it.  It became clear that I had found my calling.  When I moved back to my family home in Cleveland, the opportunity to become a full time race manager presented itself.

Not race directing, but the same happy dance I do after orchestrating
a successful event.  I WILL be directing this race NEXT year!

Call it kismet, call it dedication, call it whatever you like - I took to that job like a fish to water.  Spending every day putting together events can be challenging, exciting, hectic, and even boring sometimes, but when you go home saying "I love my job" even after your worst days, you're where you belong.  Event days are just the icing on the cake for me, though I must admit seeing events take shape and watching runners (friends and strangers alike) accomplishing goals, becoming healthier, making new connections, and having a blast is probably the BEST part of the job!

So that's my story, in a nutshell...  It was the right confluence of passions and joys, mixed with good timing and a lot of personal drive, that got me into the position I've enjoyed for the past few years.  I'm so thrilled to have the opportunity to change lives every day, to raise money for charities doing good work, and to have fun while I do it!  There's no better job in the world than being a race director!

My favorite customer ;)

Do YOU have a question to Ask A Race Director?  Want an explanation of a weird rule or procedure?  Curious about the inner workings of the racing industry?  Let me answer for you!  Leave a comment, shoot me an email, message me on social media, whatever works for you works for me.  And, tell me about YOUR dream job, too!