Harmon Lake Trail Marathon Race Report

Small races = friendly faces!

This weekend Sara and I flew to North Dakota to meet my parents and run races associated with the Harmon Lake Trail Festival. This small festival is only a few years old and entry fee was CHEAP – we each paid $10 for our half- and marathon race entries because we were among the first few registrants. My mom actually had to pay more ($35!) to run the 15K 🙂

We weren’t quite sure what to expect from this race: last year there were only 7 marathon finishers. The single woman who ran completed it in 4:52. But looking at the course profile it didn’t seem like anything we couldn’t handle.


We arrived in Bismarck Thursday night and met my parents, who’d driven down from Canada. We were pleasantly surprised by the food in Bismarck, and not-so-pleasantly surprised at the wind!


The race was about a half hour from our Airbnb, and we just waited until race day morning to pick up our packets. It was a pretty low-key affair, which was cool. My race started at 7:45 and we were able to pull up at 7:20 and pick up everything right away. Snapped a couple pictures and it was time to go!

The marathon course was two loops of the half-marathon course, with two unmanned aid stations and one manned aid station along each loop. I carried my Nathan vest with Tailwind (caffeinated) and a huma gel. I also brought along Advil and chapstick. The wind wasnt too bad when we started, so I just wore a tank top, lululemon shorts (of course!) my compression socks, hokas and a buff. I didn’t want to risk a hat blowing away in the wind! I brought my phone and new headphones as well, but didn’t think I’d want to use them. I was looking forward to the beauty of the trail!

As we lined up to start, you could tell people were sizing up the competition. There were 6 ladies at the start, one of whom was crowing about recently having won a local half marathon.. trying to psych us out? Not sure. The organizer asked which states people were from, and when I said Colorado, another guy cheered a bit.

The course was well-done; we started out a bit on the road before we hit the single-track trail, which let the small field spread out a bit. I ended up hitting the trail about 4th or 5th overall, and soon a voice behind me asked “where in Colorado?”. It turned out Ezra was from the Springs, here to knock off another state as he was trying to get 40 of the 50 states by the time he was 40. He was 37 and had completed 30, which made me question my priorities 🙂 We ran together for the entire first loop, which was great because the group was incredibly spread out. We chatted about which courses we’d run, what we had left, etc. It was really pleasant to have someone to run with! I could tell he was a a bit stronger than I was, which also made it great for me to follow behind him and just hold on.

The first few miles of the loop were relatively flat, if more technical. The second half went out away from the lake and were may switchbacks on exposed trail. There was some wind, but it’s wasn’t too bad. In all the surface was pretty gentle on the legs, which was great. Not too rocky and technical, with some steady rollers. There were admittedly a few spots where we talked about how it may be less than pleasant on the second loop (hills, etc).

The marathoners started a half hour before the half marathoners and 15K runners, and we had one runner come tearing by us around mile 12. Oof!

I was pleasantly surprised when we crossed the halfway point around 1:57. Was a sub-4 really in the cards??

Ha. Hahahahah. No.

I mean, it wasn’t a real surprise, I already felt I was working a bit hard, but it seemed immediate. We started the second loop by careening down a steep incline towards the path (where in loop 1 we’d followed the road, this time we went cross-country). Ezra made decent time down the hill but I basically stopped to walk and opened my gu.

Tailwind markets itself as complete nutrition: you don’t need Gus or gels. I dont think I should have trusted it that much; I definitely felt a bit light-headed and “out-of-it” and think I needed other nutrition.

I caught up with Ezra (who also seemed to have slowed his pace a bit) and felt ok, then he stopped at the unmanned aid station (2.5 miles into the second lap). I kept going, and eventually he caught me and I let him pass. He’d also taken a rest stop and he was looking strong. I let him take the lead.. and lead he did. I felt like I was basically in maintenance mode.

We had passed the half at an 8:54 pace, and we had never seen any women anywhere behind us (the course wasn’t great for spotting others, but you got glances back now and then). I told myself that if I could maintain a 9:15 pace, that’d be great and I’d be sure to maintain the W (the win).

Then I told myself that really, 9:20 would be a fine pace too…

I cant quite explain what happened: I guess just that I didn’t feel like I had any gas. Well, and my left hip flexor was giving me some trouble. I stopped and grabbed some coca-cola and an Oreo at the manned aid station (6.5 miles in). I did feel mentally ok: the miles were clicking off. “Only 10 miles to go!” “Only 8 miles to go” “Five left!” I just wasnt moving as quickly as the first loop!

I did let myself stop to take a couple pictures: it was a gorgeous course, and the wind had picked up and was definitely a factor the second loop. I’d get a peak at Ezra now and then ahead of me, but other than that I was on my own for most of the second half.

I knew I wasnt going to make 4 hours (which was fine, I had never seriously set that as a goal), but I knew there was no way I wanted a woman to pass me! So I kept willing myself to keep going. I knew that if a woman passed me, there would be no way I could keep with her, so I didn’t want to let that happen! I just kept focusing on what lay ahead.

The nice thing about a loop course is that you have some idea what lays ahead, so I knew as I was approaching the finish. I took a small walk break in the last half mile (!) before running into the finish. My watch said 4:08:38, but the timekeepers said 4:07:37, so I guess I’ll take that!

As a small race where most of the runners of the shorter distances had been finished for more than an hour, there was a pretty small crowd at the end. But that was great, because my finish line (where, yes, I came in first woman, fourth overall in the marathon) was high-fiving my dad while my wife and mom took pictures 😀

I was presented with my award, grabbed some homemade cookies and watermelon and heard how the other #hillwomen had done. Mom got 2nd in her AG in the 15K and Sara got 3rd in the 39-and-under AG for the half! Nice!


By this time it was around noon so we jumped in the car and headed for lunch. My hip flexor was SO SORE and my fingers were incredibly swollen – my ring almost looked like it was cutting off my circulation?!?

The rest of the day we relaxed, and I had some trouble sleeping. I cant believe my hip – definitely need to do something about it when I get home. But in terms of feet and legs and everything else, I feel ok.

The race was pretty fun: definitely challenging but it was a really pretty course. It felt like a race organized by runners (which it was), with great email updates in advance, etc.

I am disappointed with how I felt like I bonked the second loop, and I honestly think nutrition played a big role. I’d never had caffeinated tailwind before and I felt like I was taking in air when I sipped it. It wasn’t too hot so I dont think I drank as much as I could/should have, and I still should have carried gels.

I don’t know if it was smart to run with Ezra the first time since it may have pooped me out for the second loop, but it was definitely nice to have that buffer of time and not be running all by myself for the whole race! That’s part of the joy of smaller races like this: I think people are more social and often have similar goals (50 states, etc).

There were some other Denverites running different distances, and we were barely done racing when Val sent out a link to a race she’s doing next month. I think I’ll pass and focus my training on the Jack and Jill – I’d love not to board the struggle bus on one of these races sometime! 🙂

Man, I love Strava

Man, I love Strava

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