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Apr 28, 2014

Trail Half Marathon race review....

Short Version
Finished in 2:06:51(official); no new PR
Overall place: 185/687
AG(M40-44): 29/78
Men: 158/419
Overal pace: 9:40/mile

Race #69 and Half marathon #23

I've been trying to get out to run this race for the last several years.  Now I wish I would have made it a priority to try it.  The course, while hilly and technical, is an incredible course.  Running Fit put on an excellent race and I will do this race again.  The area is really beautiful and the pictures I took don't even do it justice.   If you have not run this race, I highly recommend it.


Long Version
Registration/Packet Pickup
Registration was very simple.  Sign up online from their website and you were all set.  I've always had good luck with Running Fit registration.  Probably because they do so many races and know what they are doing.  Easy peasy.

There was two options for packet pickup.  You could pick up packets at Running Fit in Ann Arbor the day before or you could get your packet the day of the race.  Since Ann Arbor is not around the corner for me, we chose to pickup race morning.  This is exactly why all races(except certain marathons) should have race day packet pickup.  Had they not had it, I would have thought twice about running this.  We ended up getting there just as packet pickup opened so it literally took 30 seconds and we had our packets.  It was a bit chilly before the race so we sat in the warm car and waited until it was closer to race time.  Going early made parking very easy since we were about a hundred feet from packet pickup.
Packet pickup on site
Packet pickup - well organized
Start Area
The lake at Pinckney State Recreation area looked great and it was crystal clear outside.  It was a perfect day for a race.  The company and volunteers were getting things set up for the race as we checked out the park.  It was the first time I've been to this park and, wow, what a nice place!
Beautiful Lake/park
Start area
Me by the lake!
The race had plenty of port-o-potties next to the start line.  In addition, the park had their bathrooms open so we were able to use real bathrooms.  Always a bonus.
Runners waiting to race
As we were getting ready to race, Kevin and I saw are running buddy Dave who came to cheer us and others on.  He's registered for the 50k the following day.  It was nice of him to come cheer runners especially since the park is pretty far away!   I took the picture of him just before the race started.  The race had a wave start to keep it from being less congested.  I probably should have gone a little sooner in the corrals since I ended up passing quite a few people but everything worked out just fine.  The start kept me from going too fast right away.  The race also announced the course was a little long as well which it was.
Dave came to cheer us on!
They did the National Anthem with a bugle and, with that, we were ready to race!  Such a nice starting view, don't you think?  It was in the 40's to start things off so a bit chilly for the shorts I had on but perfect as we started running.
Runners in front of me at start
Runners behind me at start
This is the first time I've been out to the Pinckney State Recreation area and the Potawatomi trail and it was fantastic!  I didn't have any goal for the race except to get through it without tripping.  I was successful!  Lol.  From a timing aspect, I thought I would be in the 2:20 range so I was pretty happy to see I came in at 2:06.  The trails have lots of elevation and it really kicked my butt.  Literally - my butt still hurts as I write this!  It's very fitting that you run by Hell, Michigan as that is how I felt sometimes on the course.  Ha! 

The bane of my running existence on half marathons always seems to be mile 12.  What the heck is with that 10+ mile in there.   I was pushing it pretty hard and really had to push to keep the pace near the end.  It was incredible and I look forward to getting out on this trail some more this season for my 50k training.  In regards to my heart rate in the beginning - don't ask! I can't figure it out myself.  This always happens to me at races and then I settle down.  Of course, it could have been that huge hill right at the start that did it to me as well.
Course per Garmin
Splits per Garmin
Pace/elevation/heart rate per Garmin
Note: When I take pictures during the race, I don't change my pace or stop in the interest of safety.  I just keep running and I get what I can get from the pictures.  Some come out better than others but they give you a great idea of what the course is like.   For trail races, I don't even look at the camera and just hope for the best.

The race started right in the park and we had a short run to get to the single track.  The course was 98% single track trails with a short grassy start and finish and a small paved and dirt road section.
Right at the start
Small run to the trails
Coming to the trails
Of course the single track started just as the picture above shows but well before the one mile mark. Since it was in a shaded area, I didn't have once decent picture until after mile one.  Here's one that's really blurry but gives you an idea of the initial amount of runners.
Very blurry but look at all those runners!
Mile 1
Climbing already
Lots of runners at the start
Great day for a run
As you can see, the trail has lots of highly technical parts with lots of tree roots and some rocky areas too.  It is so much fun to run but you need to keep your eyes on the trail at all times.  In fact, all the pictures I took were taken blindly because I was afraid I would trip if I took my eye off the trail.  The trail this time of year also had lots of leaves on it but it was still in great shape and almost no mud which was surprising given the tough Winter we had this year.
technical terrain
Mile 2
Back to climbing
Single track
Mile 3
Climbing - see a theme here?  The hills are relentless!
Runners spread out now
lots of hills
Lake to the right
Lots of downhills
Mile 4
More boardwalks
By the time I got to mile four, I was already tired.  Haha.  I guess the Poto will do that to you with its tough elevation.  It seemed like we were climbing at every corner, and we were, but it was a really fun challenge.  We also passed several lakes on the course so it was quite a scenic course.  I can't wait to run this in summer when it's all green and grown in.  The crowd also thinned out better after this point.  For me, I like to be able to see what's coming on the trail and that's difficult if you are right on top of another runner.  Also, I don't like runners too close to me as I don't want someone falling into me from behind.  While I'm sure there were plenty of falls, I didn't see one person trip.
Back to climbing
Lake on the left
Lake to the left
A little bit of level ground - thank you!
Mile 6
Did I mention there were hills?  Holy cow was it hilly.  We'd go up and down then up again.  Some of the hills were not bad at all but many of them were so long, you were wondering when they were going to stop.  You can see that my heartrate was pretty elevated for the entire race so it's definitely a race you need to push yourself on to keep going.  Not only was the course technical but there were also lots of boardwalks and bridges to run over which make it really fun!
keeping the pace
Mile 7
More hills
A nice boardwalk
End of the boardwalk
Mile 8
Mile 9
Holy hills!
Some relief of hills on a short dirt road section
Back to the park
As you can see below, we were following the pink flags.  I've done several trail races with Running Fit and they do an awesome job placing flags so nobody gets lost.  They always mark the areas of concern with extra flags so there is no question which way to go.
Well marked course with flags
Mile 10
Another Swamp/pond
More boardwalks - I love running these
Downed tree
Wooden bridge
Back to hills
Lots of roots to watch out for too
Hills again mixed with leaves and rocks
Long boardwalk
Almost there - you can see Dave in his hoody to the left
Aid Stations
There were four aid stations that I remember and the volunteers did an awesome job.  The race had water and Gatorade at each station as well as GU gels at some of them.  They also contained the garbage to those areas so we could keep the park clean and leave it the way we left it.
Finish Area
As we came into the finish line, there was a volunteer there to give you a water bottle and another to give you your race medal.  The volunteer I got put the medal over my neck - a very nice touch that makes it feel special rather than just handing it to you.  The wind at the start was nice and calm and it got crazy windy at the end but, being on the trails, you could only notice it when you were near the lakes and at the finish.  From there, there was a tent with food for the runners.  The race offered bananas, bagels, muffins(which were awesome), and cookies - chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and macadamian nut.

The race also had a tent for race merchandise and the prices were very reasonable.  They had mugs for $5 or three for $10 which was a great price so we picked up three.  They also had some nice pullover jackets for running at very reasonable prices($30-40)
Volunteers with medals - see how the wind is kicking the flags?
After race food - you can see the whitecaps on the lake too from the wind
Race merchandise
First Aid
For your race entry(I paid $44+2.50 online fee= $46.60 which is very reasonable), you received a measured and marked course that was chip timed.  They also had numerous aid stations for the runners that included water, Gatorade and GU.  You also received good finishers food(which I presume there was enough for all?), a nice Brooks brand race shirt with a cool design on the shirt.  This one will definitely get used all season and Brooks typically fits true to size as this one did also.  It's an excellent quality shirt.  You also received a nice finishers medal along with Running Fit signature race button that they give you at each of their races.  Running Fit also gives you an electronic finishers certificate with your statistics on it.
Bib (copy all you want - the race is over)
Shirt front - awesome design
Shirt back - I love there are only a few sponsors on it.
Trail button
Medal both sides - that design is the elevation.
Mug I bought for only $5

The race overall was very organized as I would expect from Running Fit who has been organizing races for many years.  From the easy registration, easy packet pick up, and lots of communication from the race management company, it achieved the results of a great event.  The race also has an excellent website that has all the information you need to know what's going on.  While the course did run long, 13.40 on my Garmin, I do cut the race(all trail races actually) some slack because it's just very difficult to measure a course like this with the elevation and switchbacks.  I'm just happy it was not short.  The course was well marked and the start and finish area were well organized.

Overall, this was an excellent trail race and I'm really happy that I did it because I can see what all the hype is for this race now.  The course is one of the best I've been on and the trails were fantastic.  I really wish this park was closer to my home but I will say it's well worth the early rising time to do this race.  The race had options for the half, full and 50k ultra as well as their "No Wimps" challenge running the half Saturday and the full or 50k Sunday.  This is also part of their Serious series, which includes Flirt with Dirt(Novi) and the Legend(Sleepy Hollow State Park)(my review HERE).  If I did not have a conflict with another race for Flirt with Dirt, I'd probably run the entire race series.  For those looking for a hilly, challenging, technical trail course, this is the one to run.  I will be back in future years!
Did you or have you run this race?  Give me your thoughts?

Have a great day and....Keep Running!!!!

Disclosure: I paid for this entry myself. All opinions in this review are my own.


  1. Ran the half last year and while it is definitely the toughest one I've run, it is without doubt my favorite. Had I not been injured this year, I'd have been there too, hopefully next year. Great review.

  2. FYI - that heart rate spike at the beginning is pretty normal. It happens in dry conditions mostly due to static electricity interference (which is made worse by most 'tech' shirts). Once you work up a little sweat it's fine. There are various ways to try to prevent this but I've never had much luck with any of them (e.g. using electrode gel under the strap or licking it). Congrats on your race!

  3. Great race! I ran the half and on Sunday I ran the Road Ends (5 mile) Crooked Lake loop. The 5 mile seemed easy after running the half the day before : ) My calves are sore today.

  4. Love the orange shirt! Most race shirts I hate. Good race report. I'm looking at doing a trail half, so this gives me lots of ideas on what to look for.

  5. Thanks for the recap, I ran the half as well (my first half of any kind) and loved it.

  6. Looks like a fun race and easy running... would love to get to run a couple of races like that they look fun.

  7. Well done! Looks like a really nice race. I would do that any day before a road half. Awesome goodies and shirt!

  8. Great recap! Looks like I race that I will have to try out. I love that your goal was not to trip. lol I did a lot of tripping on my first trail race at the North Country Run. So much so that my race mantra for that race became "Pick up your damn feet."

  9. Game cameras are left attached to a tree, typically near a water hole or game trail, and usually set off by motion and body heat.