For those not familiar with Matthew Inman’s Web Comic, The Oatmeal, if you’re a runner or like funny things, you should acquaint yourself with it. His character of the Blerch, essentially his inner demon that tells him it’s ok not to run, has become a cult figure in running circles. Last year he started a half marathon in his native Seattle, but this year, he expanded to Sacramento and to the East Coast in Morristown, NJ.
This was a strange race with an incredibly difficult trail course, but also lots of costumes, cake, nutella sandwiches, and even couches at the rest stops. Read on to see how I coped.
Pre-Race: Packet Pickup
Since the race was only 30 minutes from our house, there was no hotel or special food arrangements, which was probably for the best. A good home-cooked meal always seems to result in a better race.
Packet pickup was at the Road Runner sports store in Paramus, convenient for us. Packet pickup was nice and fast though registering for a parking spot took a while. It was apparently worth the wait though as people who didn’t get a spot and used the shuttle had lots of issues and arrived late in some cases. The merchandise was great with a nice long sleeved tech shirt, a head band, stickers, magnet, and temporary tattoos. The store was also doing some promotional give aways and we won two bottles. The longest line was for autographs from Matthew Inman himself. I had his book which I brought and had no problem getting signed. He was a little disappointing as he seemed a bit grumpy and wouldn’t let us get a photo with him even though he let those right in front of us do so. Apparently he has a bit of a reputation for this.
Still, the store itself was nice and we spent some time perusing the shelves and I ended up stocking up on some cliff bars and talking to other runners.
Race Day: The Start
With the parking pass, parking was fairly easy and close by to the start. We had walked in the park several times so knew it fairly well which also helped. The race was advertised as having some trail parts, so we assumed it would mostly be on the roadways and larger trails which are fairly flat.
The start line wasn’t super organized as there were no corrals or pace markers. The full marathon, half, and 10k all started at the same line, but were separated. They did do a good job of breaking up groups so that there was space between groups, but it could have been much better. They also had a comedy singer at the start line which worked well with the atmosphere. I knew from the expo that the 10k would have a lot of people who weren’t super serious but hadn’t expected the huge range of costumes. And many of these were serious runners in the half and full!
The race was a full on trail run with a few brief spots of paved road. This was a serious trail run though. Luckily I had a run through the state forest behind our house a few times so was fairly well prepared, but it did feel a little dangerous for people who weren’t prepared. I saw more than a few people trip up and lot of people at the end with dirt and even some blood. Luckily my only casualty was my shoes which will probably never be the same color again from the dirt.
I started off great and actually loved the challenge. Some of the hills were intense but I was motivated to power my way up them. Passing on the narrow trails was very difficult so I had to strategize which kept me mentally occupied for the first several miles. Around mile three I caught up to and passed Mr. Oatmeal himself and grabbed this running selfie. He had started first but I think wind resistance may have been against him.
Around mile 7 though, there was a big problem that I won’t forgive the race organizers for. This was a very basic mistake that ruined the race for me. They had the half marathon and full marathon runners converge onto the same path that the 10k-ers were on, and because of the timing, the front group of the longer distance runners hit the back of the 10k-ers, who were all walking. Because of the trails, there was no room to pass. I went from just above a 8:00 per mile pace (on track for a PR), to over a 10:00 one while trying to scoot past people. I ended up just giving in and walking as it was too dangerous to try to pass. I saw several runners try to use the sides of the trails or go off the trails to get past and trip and fall as a result. Getting a PR wasn’t worth an injury to me. Eventually around mile 11 we split back off and I got a mile or so of running back in but had ruined my pace at this point. I also caught up to a slow group on the trails again and couldn’t get past. I’ve seen lots of criticism online for the under advertised trail aspects of the race, but to me mixing in vastly different speeds of runners on a narrow path is far more heinous. This makes it so neither party has a good time. Runners are frustrated because of the congestion and walkers are too worried about being taken out by runners to enjoy the hike. I’m glad it got people of all kinds of abilities out an into the trails which I love, but it could have been organized much better.
The Blerch runs always give out great stuff. Last year I participated in the “virtual” half where you get all the swag and can run wherever you want. Don’t judge, I did actually run 16 miles on the day of the race. The medal is substantial and unique. I liked that each distance got its own medal. They also had tons of snacks at the end. It felt a bit like a bake sale with cake, nutella sandwiches, and cupcakes. Unfortunately there was no where near enough water. They had three total water coolers for the entire race which meant some ran out, and the others had insanely long lines. Luckily I found a park water fountain a little way down one of the paths.
The sugar in cake seems like something your body craves after a long race, but without water, it isn’t a great idea.
Hershey enjoys the spoils of victory.
Post Race: The Eats
Since we live nearby, the race gave us a chance to try out a place we would normally not make it to. We hit up the locally popular Arthur’s Tavern in Morristown. It’s a NJ institution where you may run into Chris Christie on any given night. The decor feels like TGIF with stuff everywhere. The beer menu was pretty tame with nothing more exciting than Sam Adams which was disappointing for me since I crave craft beer after a run. For some reason, probably because I am a glutton for punishment, I ordered the ghost burger which is not only topped with insanely hot ghost peppers, but also has very spicy pepper cheese to add insult to injury. Don’t worry, there’s some avocado on it too. Surprisingly, the peppers didn’t overwhelm the burger as much as expected, though the burger wasn’t amazing in my opinion. When covering a burger in peppers, you need some fairly strong seasoning to make it stand out, and it didn’t have this. Still, a burger was just what was called for, though the spice may not have been the best idea after a challenging run.
If the organizers can regroup and figure out a better course that doesn’t involve running into walkers next year, I would consider the race again, but as it stands, I might be looking for another race for this weekend next year.