Why didn't I listen to myself? I've preached that expensive races are inadvisable. Yet here I was doing one: the North Face HM for $85.
I remember my thinking when I signed up a week earlier - I had a wicked sore throat and felt like crap. I needed something to feel better. Drugs weren't doing it so I figured a race would. And it was close to where I live so I figured I'd see some friendly faces. On the other hand, it was only a week away so there was a risk I wouldn't be fully recovered.
As the date neared and I learned more about the race, I began feeling more annoyed with it. From mile 2 to mile 8, there were no water stops so I would have to carry water. Well ok but the other stops were just 2 miles apart. Why did they bother with those?
Five days before the race, they finally posted an elevation chart of the first 2.7 miles. Two days later, they posted the remaining miles. But in a different scale that was utterly useless and didn't match the first. And the first 2.7 map wasn't useful either because it was scaled to make the elevations too exaggerated. For $85, they couldn't manage to post one coherent chart?
And the course map showed arrows pointed in both directions as if the course was an out-and-back (which it wasn't). And there were Start icons at both ends. With a finish of 13.3M. How many things could they possible screw up? Here's an actual snapshot of part of their map.
I won't go over all the other confusing stuff on their website. But not surprisingly, they started sending out clarification emails, and then clarifications of the clarifications, and then answering questions on facebook that became progressively more idiotic as it became clear that people had given up trying to understand the website and emails.
Skip ahead to race morning.
One good thing: there was race-morning packet pickup. (Why don't all races offer this?) No expo to do deal with - that was nice, too.
But when I arrived at the race site, I found that the race organizers had hundreds of bottles for people to carry. Huh? Carry bottles? In their hands? Didn't people know to bring their own? Evidently not - despite this race having a 6M water-gap and an expected forecast into the 80s. I could see what was going to happen - sure enough, the length of the trail was soon littered with these bottles. Ironically, one of the race sponsors was Leave No Trace, an organization for cleaning up after yourself on the trails. 😕
I chatted with a few people who had not brought water and they said things like "Oh, I'm good without water for that distance" but I suspect what they were really thinking was "I can run a 10K without water" which is a very different thing. Around mile 8, these same people were miserable. And I was ailing too - despite having water. I was overheated and on two hills, I felt myself hitting max heartrate. I literally had to come to a full stop mid-hill.
After my HR went down, I joined many others and began walking. Probably walked two miles in total. A couple of times, I stepped off the trail to let people go by only to hear "Don't bother, you're walking faster than me." And once when I stepped off, I stepped into a patch of stinging nettle. Grrr. But in comparison to keeping my HR and temp down, the stinging was a minor irritation. (Also irritating was finding out that there were points that could have been used to set up water stops to avoid the 6M gap - I suspect the organizers simply didn't want to pay the extra access cost.)
So the course had its issues. But despite some problems, the course was fun. At several points, it was so overgrown that I could not see more than a foot in front of me. We ran through 6-foot tall grass and simply had to hope there was nothing to run into as our bodies pushed the grass aside.
At the same time, the organizers screwed up a great many things. People with Garmins reported the course was over a mile too long with some reporting 1.5 miles extra. (Several days passed before a press release was issued admitting that the course had been officially measured at 14.6 miles and congratulating runners on their "ultra half".) And there were no mile markers - some runners were pissed about that (particularly given the cost). I was thinking that it would be hard to report accurate locations for runners in distress.
I was also annoyed that upon crossing the finish line, we were dumped into a huge area ringed by sponsor tents but all I (and I suspect most others) wanted was water and ice. It wasn't at the finish. Instead, I had to find the Info booth (unlabeled) where staff directed me *back* to the finish to pick up an empty bottle (!?) and then *again* near the info booth where there was (unlabeled, again) a jug to fill the bottles. Then back again to track down ice and ointment from the medical tent (unlabeled of course). They had no such ointment despite the RD having warned about the nettles at the race start.
I did at least find one great sponsor tent. So Delicious was giving out coconut-based ice cream sandwiches and they tasted amazing. Admittedly, I was desperate for anything cold but I ate 3. And I drank a quart and a half of water as well. I was very dehydrated.
Lesson learned: I seriously underestimated the amount of water I needed. I wasn't ready for the substantial jump in heat. And I should never have attempted to run this at my regular HM race pace. No, no, and no.
Surprisingly, despite having walked several miles in the middle of the race, I just missed placing in my age group. And I made it into the top-third overall - so I was not alone in my suffering. Plenty of people suffered far worse. Nonetheless, I will not be returning to this race - just too much wrong with it. An expensive lesson to learn indeed.