On October 16, 2021, I ran my very first “pure” trail race – the Philadelphia Trail Half Marathon! Running a trail race has been on my bucket list for quite some time, and with the return to racing in 2021, I was so excited to add this event to my calendar!
I’m excited to finally share my recap of the Philly Trail Half!
I’m linking up with My First 5K and More, Running With Attitude, Run Laugh Eat Pie, Runs with Pugs, and Zenaida for Fit Five Friday and Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Mile by Mile, Runs with Pugs, and Laura Norris Running for Runners’ Roundup!Philadelphia Trail Half Marathon Recap Click To Tweet
The Philly Trail Half Marathon is organized by Uberendurance Sports, the same folks that host the 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut Half Marathon, which I have done a few times over the years (check out my recaps from 2015, 2016, and 2019!). So I knew that this would be a well-organized event with good food after the race! This year was the first time that the race would be live since its debut in 2020.
Unfortunately, a few weeks before the race, it was announced that the course would be relocated due to damage from Hurricane Ida. Instead of being held in the Wissahickon (which I was SUPER excited about), it would take place in the trails at Pennypack Park. With all things considered, I’m glad they were able to work it out and they didn’t have to cancel the race!
As always, I followed a customized half marathon training plan from Coach Laura. I was really looking forward to stepping things up after the Blue-Gray Half Marathon in April and I was working on building up my mileage and gradually getting some time on the trails. However, in late July, I started having knee pain that was reminiscent of Runner’s Knee, and sure enough, that’s what it was. So I had to step back, commit to physical therapy, and make the most of things. By the end of September, I was done with PT, so I did my best to get back to training mode and get ready for the big day.
I was really focused on HAVING FUN for my first trail race. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t feel a ton of pressure. So when my neighbor had a surprise birthday party, I figured why not go and enjoy myself? Most of the time was spent outside (because COVID), and I only had one glass of wine and came back home by 10. It was great getting to hang out with old and new neighbors.
Unfortunately, in the middle of the night, Baby E woke up…I think it was about 3 or 4 am. The race didn’t start until 9, but Bret had to take one for the team and stay up with her until she settled down. I was thankful for that!
Wakeup was around 6:30 or 7 am. The half marathon started at 9, but I would need to arrive a little early to pick up my bib. Traveling with a toddler in the morning can have its challenges, and sometimes I’m a little frantic in the morning before a race, so it was a bit stressful getting everything together, plus Bret’s sleep deprivation didn’t help matters. Thankfully we had no traffic on the way to Pennypack Park and we were able to easily find street parking on Pine Road. Did I forget to mention that this race also has a full marathon component? They started their race at 8:00.
It was really exciting to see all of the runners decked out in their trail running attire and fancy trail shoes. I definitely felt like a n00b in my non-trail bright orange Pumas! But I do love the running community, especially in Philly, and it almost felt like things were back to “normal”. The race instructions said that there would be waves at the start. I headed to the back, gave Bret and E a kiss goodbye, and got ready to roll!
Unfortunately, the wave system was not implemented at all. A sea of runners headed to the start of the course, all at once, and we were quickly bottlenecked before even running a tenth of a mile. So while we stood around and/or walked in the beginning, a few folks joked about trail half marathons not being so hard! After what felt like an eternity, I was finally able to get moving, but it was frustrating. The trail was windy and narrow, and you just couldn’t get any momentum going since there were so many people.
Once we got out of that “tight” portion of the course, things opened up and I was able to enjoy my surroundings a bit more. The trail wasn’t too technical, but you definitely had to be careful with your steps. Luckily, we didn’t have any recent rainfall and with the autumn leaves starting to fall, you never know if you’ll be at risk of slipping! And thankfully, the course was never too treacherous. It was, however, pretty humid and 70 degrees at this start! Fortunately, I am very well-versed in running in that type of weather so that wasn’t a problem!
So the first 5 miles were mentally tough! You had to keep an eye out on the trail for flags or arrows on the ground to make sure you were going in the right direction since you were frequently changing directions. There were no mile markers, which did surprise me since they have used them at the 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut, which does share a portion of this course. I do remember thinking that I wish they had a 10K version of this race since it felt like I was endlessly running in circles!
Splits: 16:50, 13:56, 13:44, 12:36, 16:17.
I didn’t really pay attention to my pace. I listened to Lovecraft Country on audiobook and that was really enjoyable. I usually kept my eye on the people ahead of me and tried to keep up with them. There was a bit of leapfrogging, but there was also a section where I got completely STUCK behind a runner. The trail was so narrow and I just couldn’t speak up and pass him – coughing loudly didn’t work, haha!
Since the course was like a figure-8, there was a section where you need up running towards other runners coming from the opposite direction. They may have been marathoners, half marathoners, I have no idea. This was by far the worst part of the course. There was hardly any space to move and I was worried about getting slapped by a tree or bumped by a runner.
What I did like about running on the trail was that there was no pressure to go fast – I literally had the option taken away from me. There were a few steep hills that I happily walked up. We even got to run across a creek, so cool! And my knees held up really well for the first 9 miles, which was a blessing!
Splits: 14:00, 16:35, 14:50, 15:21, 15:50.
I had no idea what my true mileage was thanks to the lack of signs, but apparently, the last aid station was at mile 11, and I have to say that I really appreciated the stop! I took a sip of some Coca-Cola that was surprisingly refreshing and headed down and back into the trail. This was my absolute favorite portion of the course. I had the trail ALL to myself! It was actually a little bit intimidating because I didn’t have anyone to rely on in case I went the wrong way. This was how I imagined trail racing to be – I finally had the opportunity to appreciate the sights around me.
Before I knew it, it seemed like I was coming to the end of the race – but that couldn’t be right, I had barely hit 12 miles on my watch! I was freaking out that I missed some section of the course. But all I could do was move forward, and so I did. And then in the distance, I saw my little girl waiting for me near the finish. She waved and jumped up and down. What a feeling! I ran towards her and waved, but then continued on to the finish. I remember high-fiving a guy that was at the finish line, and that was that! My first trail half marathon was complete!
Splits: 14:30, 14:43, 11:18 (last 0.22).
My official finish time was 3:01:31, but my Garmin only clocked 12.22 miles! I didn’t realize that trail races often have a discrepancy in their distance – that would have been good to know LOL, because I kept thinking that I was so far behind in the race! My original, not even mathematically calculated goal, was to finish in 3 hours, so I was very satisfied!
After the race, I headed over for my victory meal which included a grilled cheese sandwich and a hot dog. I dropped my first grilled cheese so thankfully they let me get another one. The volunteers were so friendly! I also grabbed a few pieces of candy that they offered, which I think was in honor of Halloween coming up. E ended up eating my hot dog, lol. Then we headed back home!
The Philadelphia Trail Half Marathon is a great time! It didn’t go exactly as I expected, but I had a positive experience and was really proud to achieve this milestone as I continue on my postpartum journey. I will always recommend checking out races hosted by Uberdendurance Sports. They really do take care of their runners!
As always, I am so thankful for everyone who supported me in my training journey. Thank you to Bret for entertaining E for 3 hours while I ran my race, lol. Thank you to Coach Laura for being amazing as always. And to the organizers and volunteers of the race, thank you so much! This was a memorable event and I hope to do more trail races, though I will probably be looking for shorter distances in the immediate future!
Have you ever run a trail race? How was your experience? Ever think you got lost on a race course?