Saturday, April 21

Race report: Blackwater Trail 10k

The Blackwater Trail 10 Mile and 10k Challenge is the first event in a series of three trail races in northwest Florida in 2012. I volunteered at the inaugural event, a trail half marathon, last year. Finishers' reactions to the race were so positive that I decided to run this year.

The start:
The race director asked participants to park at the finish line and take a shuttle bus to the start. Pre-race email instructions were clear on this point and the school bus shuttle system was efficient.
Shuttles to the start.
PS - The guy with the bandaid was our starting line official.
He earned the scratches while marking our trail.

Image source
Two buses disgorged 50 or 60 runners at the end of a dirt road, where a race official was waiting (standing on the bed of his pickup truck).

The official gave runners a course talk, explaining trail markings (orange blazes and yellow tape = good, pink tape = bad trail), hazards (snakes! slick log crossings over swamps!), and the location of aid stations. He also warned runners to be very careful at the course's road crossings, as the locals don't take kindly to hippie trail runner types. (I'm paraphrasing, but you get the point.)

There were no banners. No photographers.

The race started with the honk of a deer call (we're in hunting country, after all). At that point, one runner asked, with a note of... concern: "Will there be shooting in the woods today?" Fortunately, at this race, no. Deer hunting season is over. But at last fall's trail half I definitely heard gunshots.

Welcome to trail racing in Florida.

The bad:
Honestly, any criticisms I have of this race would be minor quibbles in an attempt to find something "bad" to say. Road-runners should not expect chip-timing. The finish chute confused a few people, who ran off to the left instead of going through the chute.
Finish chute at the Blackwater Trail 10 mile and 10k Challenge
Oh, and there was a swarm of bees.
(Hubby would probably like me to mention that he got stung three times, powered through it, and paced me to a strong finish. Rockstar.)
But knocking a trail race for bugs would be like knocking Badwater for high temperatures.

So let's just get on with the good...

The good:
The facilities were excellent, including one of my favorite race amenities: running water and flush toilets at the pre-race parking area. Shuttles were on-time and full, but not overcrowded. (Why can't every race be like this???)

The course was exceptionally well-marked and included 2 aid stations on the 10k course and 3 or 4 on the 10-mile route.

The finish line had a plentiful supply of water, sports drink, cookies, and bananas.

The scenery was gorgeous. We had cool, overcast weather and the park was virtually empty except for runners. The forest in northwest Florida is always green, but as an added bonus, the mountain laurel was in bloom. I even saw a few pitcher plants on the trail (yes, folks - in Florida even the plants will try to eat you).
The carnivorous pitcher plant
Image source
After the race, runners hung around comparing bee-sting stories and congratulating one another for a race well-run.

The entire atmosphere of the race was prompt and organized while still being casual and very relaxed. (Essentially the race organizers worked their butts off to make sure runners could just run and then rest.)

The finish:
In addition to finish-line food, there was a post-race feast in the form of a good, old-fashioned cookout overlooking the Blackwater River. Hot dogs and hamburgers might not have been the most vegetarian-friendly of foods, but my cheeseburger-with-a-side-of-scenery tasted fantastic.
Cheeseburger, coleslaw, and beans - breakfast of champions!
What is your favorite race-day amenity, the thing you can't do without?

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