Xterra Harbison Half Marathon Race Review

Jul 11, 2011 by

Xterra Harbison Half Marathon Race Review



Editors Note: This is a review of the 2011 race. I did not run the 2012 race.

This is my first race review.  The Xterra Harbison Half also had a lot of firsts:

  • The first Xterra Half Marathon at Harbison State Forest
  • My first trail race
  • The first time I’d used my New Balance trail shoes for a race
  • The first time I’d used a hydration back pack to carry water
  • The first time I ran off course in a race

As it can be with first-times, rookie mistakes were made by both me and the race organizers.  Here’s my summary.


The weather was just as expected for the start of the race – about 75 degrees and very humid, but mostly cloudy.   The dew point was around 75 as well.  There was fog on Lake Murray as I crossed the dam on the way to Harbison.  This made for very uncomfortable conditions.  The map showed we’d have 5 aid stations along the way, but an email from the race director advised runners to also carry their own water.  I was already planning this, having received a Camelbak hydration pack for Father’s Day to use on my longer training runs.  As an added heat precaution, I had tested Nuun electrolyte tablets with my pack in training, and decided to use those as well.  I also carried my own Gu Roctane gels.

Entrance Sign to Harbison State Forest

The Race: 2:30 Goal

The course seemed pretty tough for me, the novice trail runner.  The starting line was on a two lane gravel road, and we ran about 1/4 mile uphill before hitting the woods.  I knew the first 4-5 miles were “2 lane” trails, so I was hoping by the time we hit the woods, the field would have settled into its natural order, so much passing would not be needed.  This actually seemed to happen pretty well.  I didn’t have to pass too many people on the trail, and I don’t think I held up too many. So these first 4-5 miles went OK but seemed too fast a pace.  My GPS watch was not tracking properly due to the tree cover and terrain.  What I thought were 10:00 mile splits early were actually closer to 9:00.   By the time we got to the Spider Woman II “one lane” trail, somewhere between miles 4 and 5, we had a small group that was making good progress, but really not needing to pass.  This was good since this section was basically single file.  And, as expected, this 3 mile section was the toughest.  Being in a small group here seemed to push the pace, and I think we covered that section around a 10:00 pace.  At the end of that section, I was wishing the race was a 10K, but I still had 5+ miles to go.  At this point, the running got pretty lonely.  The pack that had stayed together through the tough section  started to spread out.  Occasionally, I’d come up on another runner, and we’d hang together for a bit, talking about humidity, GPS watches or hydration packs.  One man that I ran with a bit fell twice.  He seemed OK, but I eventually moved on past him.  About mile 11, we hit the last aid station, and I was looking forward to  finishing.  The station here gave us a cold wet rag for our faces and it felt great. I dumped ice water on my head and soaked my Buff head cover.  I knew my GPS had been acting up, but at this point, I knew I could make my goal of 2:30, if I just kept steady.

Bonus Miles

By now, I was occasionally (OK, almost always) walking up hills. I didn’t think this last section was  going to be  too difficult, terrain-wise, but my feet were developing  hot spots so I was ready to get this over with.  Unfortunately, this is where the day turn a wrong turn – or rather a missed turn.  Around mile 11.5 or so, we were supposed to hang a right to go back toward the start/finish line. At this point there were a couple of red arrow signs, one seemed to be pointing right, and the other seemed to be pointing straight.  The group of 5 or so that I was tailing went straight, and I followed.  Unfortunately, we were supposed to turn right.  After a mile, I realized the mistake and turned around. I met others who had done the same thing as our group, and they turned around.  When we made it back to the turn, there was a race official there.  Too bad he was not there 30 minutes before hand!  At this point, my feet and I just wanted to get this behind us.  I did a walk/run the last 1.5 miles and made it to the finish about the 2:48 mark.  I’m not sure of my official time because as of Monday night, I cannot find any official results posted.  At the end of the day,  I had run an extra 2 miles. My overall pace per mile was about 11:20, which means I would have been in the 2:25 neighborhood for the official 13.1.

Post Race

As I crossed the line, someone handed me a bottle of water. I’m glad he did.  The previous finishers and/or 5K finishers seemed to have completely drained all the water and Gatorade from the gazebo refreshment area.  One poor guy was not doing well and in need of water, but he could find any.  I didn’t see any one ready to offer first-aid, either.  There were some bagel quarters and cookies, but any fruit was gone.  I saw lots of orange peels but no oranges.  Not the best post-race spread.

One of the guys in the pack that missed the turn (and did not turn around with me) saw me, and said he eventually saw a truck and hitched a ride back to the finish once they realized how off course they had become.

Final Thoughts

I made a few mistakes, as mentioned. I probably ran too fast the first half of the race (as usual).  I also should have had the course map with me.  This being my first trail race, I did not know what to expect for course markings. On the positive side, my hydration pack with electrolytes was a smart move.  I did not get terribly dehydrated, despite the humid conditions.  Also, this was the longest run in the New Balance trail shoes and they did very well.

I’m sure the race organizers will get a lot of negative feedback, so I’m not going to slam them too bad here.  After all, I did not volunteer to help.   Thanks to Marathon Majic and Xterra for putting this on. This was the first time for this event, and there is always room for improvement. I am glad people are organizing events.  Organizing races is a tough endeavor, and trail run logistics look even worse than road races.  So, I expected some first time miscues.  Here are my suggestions for next time:

1. Work out something with the park to include the parking fee in the registration fee.  It is only $5.  The big problem with this was the car line it created at the drop box.  Many people did not heed the advice to have the slip filled out before hand.  The organizers did advise to fill this out before hand, but some did not listen.  Just try to eliminate this part.

2. Better course markings. Again, trail logistics are extremely tough, and I don’t know how others do it, but the small signs for 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 were too small.  I don’t remember seeing 5 or 9, actually.  Also, many of the white markers hanging from the trees fell.  Not sure if runners were pulling or they fell on their own.  Also, a couple of place could have benefited from an arrow instead of or in addition to the small landscaping flags.

3. Make sure enough post race refreshments are available. Already commented on this above.

4.  Different Color t-shirt for different length race.  The technical tees were a nice touch.  I liked the volunteer’s bright yellow color.  The other was white for both 5K and Half.  Do something to distinguish half shirts from 5K shirts.

I can’t say for sure I’ll be back next year.  If I don’t, it will be heat related, not organizer related.  Maybe I’ll volunteer.

The Author After the Race










  1. Bravo..Greg!! Very well said…. I have to say you addressed all the important issues and did so in kind, respectful and constructive way… Many a cynical critic could learn a thing or two from you about making comments and suggestions without complaints, insults and degrading others. Im honored to share your 2011 Xterra Harbison State Forest Half Marathon Trail Run review on my Facebook page. Well done…with both.

    The Wesite listed above is actually a link to my Garmin GPS from the Harbison Race

    • Greg Fowler

      Thanks, Drew. Looks like we had a similar pace until I took the bonus route!

  2. My friends and I spoke with your at the starting line-up. Thank you so much for posting this. My sentiments exactly. Glad to hear it from a male participant. My goal went from 2:30 to “just finsih”. Finished 2:50:11 – hills started gettig to me, and did get turned around briefly at one point – walked last 2 miles. Hope to participate with you and others like you in the future.

    • Greg Fowler


      Congratulations on the finish. That was a tough race. Thanks for visiting my site. I look forward to seeing you at other runs.

      PS – were you wearing the Five Fingers?


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