Xterra Harbison Half Marathon Preview

Jun 30, 2011 by

Since taking up running, I’ve rarely run off pavement. This summer, I decided to hit the trails as a way to get away from the direct sun. I have been doing a good bit of running around the trails that surround my neighborhood. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across a new event in my area – the Xterra Harbison Half Marathon and 5K, scheduled for July 10 at Harbison State Forest (HSF). My first thought was ‘Who in the world would run in a half marathon in Columbia, SC in July?’ Day time high temperatures regularly push 100 degrees most days in July and it is not a dry heat. I saw the race started at 7am, so the temperature at race start will only be about 72 degrees with the usual July early-morning humidity near 100%. By finish time, the temp should still be below 90. Hmmmm….maybe I would be one of these people who’d do such a thing. I had never having entered a trail race before. Before committing,  I wanted to check out the course.

Despite living in the area for 18 years, I had never ventured to Harbison State Forest. I knew mountain bikers used it. I knew the local cross country kids trained there some. I knew where it was but that was about it. I couldn’t find a course map on the race website, so I emailed the race organizers. Victoria Seahorn returned my email pretty quickly and said the course maps were now on the site. I wasn’t interested in the 5K, so I printed out the map for the Half. The organizers had taken the map from the Harbison State Forest official site and marked the route on it. Since this made a bit of the detail of the original map hard for me to see, I printed off the non-marked map as well and put them in a plastic notebook page protector. I then headed out to the site with the idea of checking out at least half of the course. I did 10+ miles that first day, and I went back the next weekend to cover the final 3 or so.

After checking it out, I decided to enter.

Here are my thoughts about the course and how I’m going to approach my first trail event.

Thought 1:Course is pretty tough.

The HSF consists of 9 trails of various terrain and difficulties. For this race, the organizers have created a course the utilizes parts of several of these trails. You will encounter compact sand, some clay, gravel, small wooden bridges, pine straw, some rocky spots, and a lots of roots. Roots seem to be the biggest hazard. On the days I ran, it was very dry, and mud or slick spots were not a factor. If there were to be significant rain for a few days before the race, then there could be some slick spots. This is unlikely for Columbia. I don’t know how trails are rated for technical difficulty, but most of it seemed mild, especially the Firebreak Trails. I ran in my New Balance Minimus Trails and did not have any problems. There is a 3 mile section called Spider Woman II that is rated the most difficult in the HSF guide. It is very winding and narrow. Looks like it starts between mile 4 and 5. It was tough. It has over 300 ft of climb during this stretch. According to my GPS watch, total elevation gain over the course is 4000+ feet. Columbia generally a pretty flat place, but this course has plenty of hills. I was disappointed that there is not a great view of the Broad River along the way. There is a part of the Spider Woman II with a view through the trees.

For some additional information on the  HSF and similar routed run, check out the information at the Harbison 50K site.

Thought 2: Heat may be as big a factor as the course

Heat does a number of most runner’s speed and endurance, and I’m no exception. In the cooler months, my road half-marathon pace is 8:15-8:30/mile. On the days I ran HSF, it was mid morning with temperatures in the 80’s and very humid. My pace on the trails was over 12:00/mile.  The 10 mile day was the toughest workout I’d had in a long time. I’ve done 4 road half marathons, all in the fall months and all under 80 degrees. This will be the toughest half I’ve encountered. I have a goal of 2:30. Maybe my goal should be just to take it easy and just finish.

Thought 3: Caution
If you have not done half or full marathons or have not been training for 10+ miles in the heat, be careful about entering the half. Stick to the 5K. Also, if you have not been doing trail running, be careful. Your muscles will get worked much different than the road. As a mentioned before, this is one heckuva workout.

Final Thought: Logistics
The entrance to HSF is easy enough to find. It is not far from I-26. Once you turn into the park, there is some immediate parking to the left. I don’t think you want to park there. If you follow the main road in about .6 miles, you hang a left to get to the start/finish area. I’m hoping they’ll allow parking in this area. I don’t want to add any more distance than I have to that day!

Come join me!




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