Most people that know me know that I'm addicted to races. So the minute I realized I was going home to attend the Firefly Music Fest I started searching for races in the area. Half Marathon was my favorite distance and I was excited to find Exterra Big Elk Half Marathon. Of course it took me awhile to commit to running when I looked at the course elevation chart!
That's pretty scary for this city girl that lives in Chicago! About half of the runners were doing the loop twice in order to complete a full marathon. I had briefly considered doing that but I hate loops. *spoiler alert a GREAT decision on my part to only do the half!!
Here I am all smiles this was right before the course pep talk. The race was sponsored by Power Bar and they explained that there would be at EVERY age station just about every 2.5 miles. OK at a lot of races you are lucky to get a SINGLE energy gel. And usually these are located at around the mile 9 marker. But I was about to get them offered to me at 6 different spots?? That's a lil bit weird??
Here I am starting the race all smiles! I told my mom to come back in 3 hours. She hadn't even actually showered yet when she dropped me off!
The course starts off with only a little bit of time before we switched into single trail. A few people in the race commented that they were surprised we didn't have a longer wide trail to help it thin out. I'm not sure how these people ended up finishing the race that I was so slow at points I was running on my own with no one else around!
The trail was really windy and luckily we were downhill for the first few miles. Those were my favorite miles as there is nothing more exhilirating than running downhill and having to concentrate on nothing but the person's foot in front of you. It's like a total roller coaster and you have to be careful and dodge mud, roots, bushes etc.
But still I looked at my watch and noticed that close to 35 minute had passed and I hadn't even gotten to my first aid station yet?! Suddenly I realized why they were giving gels out at EVERY station. We were going to need them!
Side note: hot gels in the summer taste WAY better than frozen gels in the winter.
Garmin says the rest of my mile were at a pretty steady 13 min mile pace. There were A LOT of hills that were just basically like stairs because of the tree roots that we had to climb. There were a few spots where we were out in an open field trying to get to the other side and the trail that was waiting for us. Those spots were the worst because we were out in the heat and not the shade. Towards the end of the race I'm pretty sure the temps got close to 80.
Well right around mile 7ish me and a group of people came upon what we thought was a repeat aid station. Actually it wasn't we'd made a wrong turn and gone the wrong way. So now not only had I been out on the course for over and hour and a half but I was back at mile 5! Luckily instead of having to continue on the course again at mile 5 the aid station lady called and got us a short. It still added at least a 1-1.5 miles to our course. Garmin says I ran 14.25 miles. Is that an ULTRA half marathon?
By the end I was pretty delirious. It was hot. I'd gone through my water bottles 4 times. But at least every aid station let me refill! The last station had Swedish Fish (my favorite!) so that was a nice surprise. Also one of the stations had pickles my EVEN MORE favorite. If you haven't ever had a pickle on a hard long sweaty run, please try it out!!!
At the race they had tons of snacks and even jars of Biscoff. I have no idea what Biscoff is so I gave that to my mom. They had piles and piles of Power Bar gels to give out too! I love trail running because there are ALWAYS yummy snacks!!
Would I do it again? YES! I mean it would be nice if I could train for the terrain but I liked the change of pace even if I was really really slow. Also the medal was really sweet AND we got a Tshirt AND a hydration backpack! How cool is that??? Definitely well run race. Can't wait for next year!