Dahlgren Trail Half Marathon Race Report

Nick and I had the perfect Valentine’s Day date for two active people– we ran a half marathon! For me the Dahlgren Trail Half Marathon was my 8th half marathon and my first race of 2015. You might be wondering why anyone would want to run a race in early February in an area where it’s cold and there’s always the potential of snow. It seemed like a good idea 🙂 the race is on Valentine’s Day, which sounded like the perfect date; and I’ve been itching to get out and put myself to the test since I haven’t had a lot of great runs so far this year. 

Dahlgren Trail Half Marathon

I had been watching the weather a few days out. I knew it was going to be cold, and I was slightly dreading the temperature. I do not like the cold. We ended up doing a short 2.5-miler yesterday because the temperature was similar to what the weather guessers were predicting for race morning, and I wanted to try out my clothes to make sure I would be warm enough. I ended up changing my mind several times on what I was going to wear. I just really didn’t want to be 6 miles out and freezing my butt off. Temperatures during the time I was running ended up being 28-32 deg. Surprisingly I didn’t feel cold at all while I was running (thank you Under Armour!). And there was a big fire pit at the start/finish area for runners to gather at while waiting for the race to start. 

I really didn’t do much extra to prep for this race than my normal workout routine. Half marathon distance is comfortable for me and I didn’t sign up for this race with the intent to PR– I just wanted to run and have fun. I did eat my traditional Chipotle burrito bowl for lunch the day before the race, and made sure to drink a lot of water the days leading up to the race. 

Having said that, I went into this race with the perfect mental running attitude. There was zero pressure for me to do anything other than enjoy being out in nature, get good workout in, and do something fun with Nick. 

From the moment we signed up for the race I told Nick that he needed to win his age group. He’s normally the one with the high expectations, so the tables were turned 🙂 As we were hanging out at the start area he made the decision to race in the elite wave. Only runners in the elite wave were eligible for cash prizes. He said the most perfect thing when he made the decision: “Why would I give it anything other than my best? I’m going for it.” Isn’t my boyfriend awesome and inspirational? 

The race is run on the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail and the first mile or so still has old railroad ties on the trail. In order to avoid over crowding the trail, the race is started in waves– elite, men under 30, men 30-39, men 40-49, men 50-59, women under 30, women 30-39, women 40-49, women 50-59, anyone over 60. The waves started exactly 2 min apart. 

I ran in my age group wave. There were 9 of us, and we stood around chatting (and probably sizing each other up) as we waited for the gun to go off. Within the first half mile I was in 5th place. I was ok with that. I thought the girl directly ahead of me looked like she went out too fast, and I had high hopes that I would catch her at some point (spoiler alert: I did). The other girls were way fast. But I was happy. The trail was absolutely beautiful and the cold temperatures actually made for great running conditions. 

The trail had mile post markers every 0.5 miles which was helpful. The aid stations were located at mile 1.5, 4, and the turnaround, and because the race was out-and-back you hit the mile 4 and 1.5 aid stations again on the way back.

You know how some days you just know that your run will be good? I knew that from the first mile. I felt great. Strong. Typically an indicator of how I’m feeling is how often I look at my watch– watching, waiting, counting down to the next walk break. As I passed the first mile marker I saw my watch flicker showing that it recorded the first mile; I glanced down and saw 9:21. “Ok”, I thought. “This is a great pace. Just hold steady.” I made the decision right then and there that I was going to forego my 9 min run/1 min walk plan that I typically follow. I was going to listen to my body. 

Since it was below freezing I didn’t carry my water pack. I planned to rely solely on the aid stations which I’ve never done before. Since it was cold outside I didn’t think I would need quite as much water, so I wasn’t too concerned. 

When I passed the 1.5 mile aid station I drank a cup of gatorade and kept running. I didn’t take a walk break. I ended up walking for ~40 seconds at the 4 mile aid station while I drank some water. Then I made it the rest of the way to the turnaround without a walk break. I didn’t feel like my pace changed at all. I was still feeling great. I could tell my effort rate was increasing, and the race was getting tougher; but I kept telling myself that nothing that’s worth the work ever comes easily. 

Sometime between mile 4 and 5 I started seeing the elite runners on their way back. Nick was in 3rd place! I was really excited when I saw him. Up until this point I was mostly gloriously alone on my little section of the trail. I could see people ahead of me, and I’m sure their were people behind me who could see me; but I wasn’t running next to anyone (except when someone fast from a later wave would pass me), and there wasn’t anyone close enough to me that I could hear labored breathing, plodding feet, or heart rate monitor beeps. It was so peaceful. 

Oh, and I did pass a few people myself 🙂 On the outbound leg I passed 5 men. Yep, me– the slightly slow runner passed 5 men who started in waves ahead of me. I won’t lie– this was  huge confidence booster. I also finally caught up to the 4th place girl in my age group between mile 5.5 and the turnaround. And once I turned around, I passed one more man within the next mile. At this point I had no one pass me on the rest of the course. Again, I was running mostly alone. I smiled at the outbound runners, but I was on a mission and didn’t really say anything to anyone unless they said something first. This isn’t typically like me. But when I hit the turnaround in 1 hr and 4 minutes I knew I was staring down a half marathon PR.

And then I realized that the next few miles of the trail were just slightly uphill. Ugh. I was already getting tired. I had never run this much without regular walk breaks. On the inbound leg I ended up taking a walk break somewhere between mile 8 and 8.5, then again at the 9 mile aid station, mile 10.5, and the 11.5 mile aid station. With around 2.5 miles remaining my IT band started to scream at me. Nothing that I couldn’t run through, but it slowed me down. I was also feeling the effects of not drinking as much gatorade as I typically do during races since I was using only the aid stations. I’m pretty sure my blood sugar was getting low. 

this makes me look fast

Nick came to meet back up with me just before I hit the last aid station. He took some pictures of me with his fancy camera and ran then last 1.5 miles in with me. It was great to have the extra motivation. I didn’t take any walk breaks during that last stretch. And I was able to kick it in at the end. I could hear a few runners behind me, and I was not letting someone pass me this close to the end. 

coming through the finish shoot
I crossed the finish line in 2:13:57! Just over a minute slower than my half marathon PR last October at the Wineglass Half Marathon. And on a trail none the less 🙂 I was super speedy! Nick won 5th overall with 1:23:55 and walked away with a cash prize and a gift card. It was a good race for both of us. 

5th place overall finish!

a shiny new medal to add to the collection

The post-race food was pretty good too. Trail runners know how to do it right! There was Panera bagels, Krispy Kreme donuts, chicken noodle soup, Oreos and other cookies, some fruit, hot chocolate, and plenty of water and gatorade. 

Overall it was a great race and we will most likely return next year. If you’re looking for a low key, well-run, trail event to get yourself moving during the dark winter days, I highly recommend this race.

Did you (or do you plan to) race this weekend? I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below 🙂


Happy Valentine’s Day!

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