Difference in the Dirt Half

Fall foliage, falls on the trail, a bloody knee, amazing views, making new friends, an Age Group award, and time spent with family! That just about sums up the race today.  Perfect temps of 60*  and a beautiful course made this first year race a success.

The race was put on by my local running store, Appalachian Running Company. About 150 runners came out to Caledonia State Park to run and support the A-T Children’s Project in honor of one of ARC’s employees, Doug, who has A-T, a very unfortunate degenerative disease.  You can read about the race here!

I was excited for this race because I got to meet up with my cousin Chris, and his cousin Dan (see picture above, except it goes Dan, Chris, and then me).  Hahah!  I was also excited to get a long run in on the trails today!

After a heartfelt speech from Doug’s Mom about A-T, and a logistics speech from race director, Josh Beck, we were off.  5K and half marathon runners started together but quickly split up by heading different directions.

The first mile or two felt hard because my right quad was burning on any little uphill, but thankful it loosened up!  (I should have done a mile to warm up.)   We meandered through the woods and crossed over route 233 around mile 2 where I saw my husband, boys, and dog. There were a few areas where family could cheer runners on which is not often possible during a trail race, so that was nice!  Somewhere before that (I think!?)  was a water crossing.  It was hard to tell how deep it was before plunging in, but it came up about knee high on me.   Around mile 5 we had a very steep hill leading up to the reservoir.  I ran the parts that I could but had to hike the steepest sections.  Quads burning again!  (Note to self…more hill repeats and cycling on hills are in order!).   All the volunteers were awesome, cheering us on and letting us know our position in the race.  At this point I was 5th woman!

Once at the top we had to run along the stone road to a box.   The views at the top were amazing!  It was also so windy I almost got blown into the path of a runner coming the other direction.  We turned around at the box, back on the stone road, and then headed left on the trail that took us around the reservoir. The footing was a little easier here;  subtract rocks and add soft pine needles.  I didn’t see anyone ahead of me anymore, and didn’t see any race ribbons or trail markings for a good mile or two, but thankful a set of pink ribbons greeted me near the end of this section letting me know I was going the right way!  You would think that less rocks would mean less chance for falling, but that is where I took a tumble.  I tripped over a root or something under the pine needles and earned my bloody knee, but it was all good.

Soon after that I caught up to the group that had been in front of me up to this point.  I picked off a couple of guys and the #4 woman when she stopped at an aide station for water. (Felt bad about this!)  I had my hydration vest so I didn’t need to stop.  I also picked off #3 woman soon after but #4 woman caught up to me.  The trail at that point was a stone road, mostly flat or downhill, and I figured if she was going to pass me, I’d at least make it challenging, so I sped up! Looking at my splits later, I saw we did an 8 minute mile trying to figure out who was going to break through.  We ended up running the last 3 miles together and talking about races, teaching, families, etc.  This is something I love about the trail racing community.  I strictly ran road races for four years and never made one friend or had one really good conversation with any of my competitors during a race. Trail running, however, has brought me just the opposite!  I guess it’s a different mentality and I like that.

Anyway, so we settled into a more comfortable pace and ran in together.  At mile 11 you pass through where the finish is to do part of the 5K course.  It wasn’t my favorite part of the race because it wasn’t technical and it was kind of twisty and there were some steps and little bridges to go over, and I was feeling ready to be done, but it was nice to not be alone!

I finished with my best trail half time, 2:12 and was 1st in my AG, 3rd female (but not by much!), and 19th overall.  I earned a cool medal!


We had pizza waiting for us at the finish, along with cookies, brownies, and some fruit.  I can’t say enough how great the volunteers were!  For a first year race, I’d say it was a success.  Josh’s words at the beginning really summed up the experience for me.  He said, “remember that whatever you are experiencing at the time, it won’t last long” (since this race had such a mix of different terrain).  It’s a great trail philosophy and, and so true, right up there with “take what the trail gives you”.

Dan, with a sub 2:00, was already finished by the time I got there, and probably getting the salt licked off of his legs by my dog well before I arrived!  Chris did awesome, coming in around 3:15 and my favorite part of the race was jumping in with Chris for his last two miles and chatting with him.  Shout out also to my teaching partner, Christy who finished her first half today at Difference in the Dirt, and her husband Jeremy who ran with her.  We are gearing up for Ironmaster’s in April again!

Thanks, Appalachian Running Company for a great race today!





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