The Leave No Trace trail half marathon was one of the most unforgettable races I’ve ever run. From a really challenging course to my first official trail biff, this one will go down in the history books!
Ah, the Leave No Trace trail half marathon… There are so many words I would use to describe it: hard, unexpected, humbling, overbearing, disheartening, amazing, fantastic, impossible, possible… unforgettable.
The Leave No Trace trail half was most definitely unforgettable. It was my first official trail half marathon. I ran farther for leg two of the Burning River relay but LNT wasn’t a group effort. It was me, myself, and I. Sure, I had friends out there on the course. And I thankfully got to run with one for most of the race. But to make it to the finish line I had to rely only on myself and no one else. And admittedly, I almost DNFed.
Leave No Trace Trail Half Marathon Race Recap
The Leave No Trace trail races are part of the Tents and Trails weekend at Camp Manatoc in Peninsula, Ohio. What makes this weekend special is that Camp Manatoc is only opened to the public once per year for the Western Reserve Racing races. That means there’s no training on the course, there’s no course preview — nothin. Unless you’ve run a race here before, you pretty much go in blind. Which in some respects is pretty rad. And in some cases, pretty bad.
Packet pickup was easy and low key. We entered the main lodge at Camp Manatoc and I was instantly transported back to my camp in the north woods from when I was a kid. It didn’t smell the same but it had similar decor and the same vibe. It made me miss camp so much!
I came to Leave No Trace with a very open mind. Since this was my first official trail half, I had zero expectations. My goal was to just have fun and not die. Although, foolishly, I said out loud to a few friends that my goal was to not fall. Seriously? Why do I say stupid stuff like that out loud?
The LNT trail half is two loops and the full marathon is four loops. I was doing the half so two loops for me.
Prior to the race, I had been warned that the trail can be fairly muddy. Thankfully there was no rain leading up to the race otherwise this would have been a definite DNF for me. I was also warned there was a sizable hill just before the finish line. Sadly I had forgotten this piece of advice until I was ascending said hill during the first loop. When I remembered it on the second loop it didn’t seem nearly as bad.
The race began and as we made our way through the first couple miles, all was well. I needed to break away from the pack because I do much better as a runner when I’ve got some space between myself and others. A lot of people prefer running with the pack but it’s not for me. I quickly lost my friends when I did this despite planning on staying with them for the race. Thankfully my friend Carole caught up to me and we stayed together for most of the race.
The course was rooty, rocky, and hilly. The descents were so steep that I would have preferred to walk them. Unfortunately when you’ve got a bunch of runners behind you on single track, walking really isn’t much of an option. Likewise, I would have preferred to run the ascents but was stopped due to others hiking up the hills.
Around mile 5 or so we came to the most chill part of the course. It was fairly even terrain save for some hidden roots here and there. But for the most part, it was easy running. This was my favorite part of the course and I very much looked forward to it on the second loop. It was my reward for all the hard running in the miles before.
Just after that is when things started going downhill… literally. The course started going down again and I knew the farther we went down, the higher we would have to climb up. And wouldn’t you know it, there was that pesky uphill that someone warned me about the day before!
That last mile — all uphill — was torturous. But before we knew it, we were out on the grass cruising into the aid station ready to head out for the second loop. We stopped briefly to grab some snacks and were on our way.
Loop 1 split: 1:19:57
Carole and I started loop two together but as soon as we entered the woods — the middle miles and the toughest part of the course — I found myself alone racing through the trees. I somehow managed to create a huge gap between myself and other runners. This was both a blessing and a curse. When I wanted to walk the descents, I did. And when I wanted to run uphill, I could. But there were times when there was no one in front of me and it made me worry a little bit that I would get off course and get lost in the woods.
At one point, likely around mile 8 or 9, I realized my toes were bearing the brunt of the downs and so was my IT band. My left hamstring was getting a little agitated as well. I started praying for the miles to click by quickly.
I finally entered my favorite part of the course — the flat part where I could zone out and recollect myself. But I was tired and getting sloppy. I wasn’t picking my feet up as high as I should have been and after a few false alarms, I finally tripped and fumbled forward. As I was fumbling I realized there was no way to regain my balance and I was going down. I did my best to tuck and roll and I got back up right away. I didn’t even stop moving. A very sweet woman in front of me stopped to ask if I was okay and I assured her I was and we kept running. I stayed behind her for the rest of the race — continuing to trip every couple of feet, of course.
As we began cresting one of the last major hills, I heard my friend Candice yelling my name through the woods. Finally, a friendly face!
The last mile — the uphill one — didn’t seem nearly as bad as it did during the first loop. Maybe it was because I knew it was coming. Maybe because I was so relieved the race was about to be over. When I got to the top, I encouraged another woman to race me in and she ended up sprinting and kicking major booty to the finish line!
Loop 2 split: 1:24:00
Official finish: 2:43:57
What did I learn?
I learned a few things during this race. First, I learned that while I do so love my Orange Mud HydraQuiver, I think it’s time I invest in the Gear Vest or Endurance Pack. I didn’t hydrate well during the first loop. I was too busy worrying about staying upright and not walking with the pack of runners behind me that I didn’t want to risk taking my bottle out of the vest. Having a hands-free option would have been much better.
I also learned that I love trails but shorter ones. I also prefer hiking to trail running. One of my favorite things is to be out in nature and tree bathing, but I find myself staring at my feet far too often on trails to really enjoy my time out there.
Another thing I learned is that this race was incredibly difficult because of the mental aspect. At no point could I let my guard down and at no point could I just let my mind wander. Because of the challenging terrain and course, my brain was firing on all cylinders for almost three hours straight. Running is already 90% mental for me and I felt like I was in fight or flight mode for the duration of the race.
Oooh, I also learned that I’m a fairly graceful fall-er. It was my first trail biff and I came out almost entirely unscathed!
Will I do it again?
I dunno. Maybe the Minnehaha 5 Miler instead. We’ll see. It was really haaaaaarrrrrrdddd!
The Leave No Trace trail half was one of the hardest races I’ve ever run. It was legit crazy hard. The terrain was unrelenting. Steep descent followed up steep ascent, and back again. The drops were almost vertical in some places. The roots were plentiful. My calves and feet took a beating, and my glutes were fired up in some kind of way! It certainly lived up to all the hype.
LNT was very well organized and I’m glad I finally signed up for it this year. It was incredibly challenging and see that medal? That thing’s gotta weigh at least 85 pounds. No joke. And it was the hardest earned medal in the history of medals.
If you love trails and you’re looking for a challenge, Leave No Trace Trail Marathon and Half Marathon may be just the races you’re looking for!
Do you run trails?
What’s the hardest trail race you’ve run?