Sunday, August 08, 2004

When Poor Directing Kills A Good Run - Mtn Man 1/2 Marathon, Aug, 2004

You know what really makes you appreciate a well-organized trail race? Going to one that sucks. And I don't mean suck as in "the snacks weren't good", I mean sucks as in "trail marked so poorly that every single runner got lost", "took your money and didn't give t-shirts", as well as "the snacks weren't good". That's what we found at XDogEvents Mountain Man Half Marathon in Hood River, OR, on August 8th, the 9th race in my Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series ( pursuit.

The race aside, a trip to Hood River is a fine thing. We spent a night at the Columbia Gorge Inn, which was romantic and scenic and had a five course breakfast that was to die for. They even helped us with a snafu in our reservation - when we checked in, we didn't have enough nights reserved and the hotel was full. They arranged a great room for us at the Hood River Inn, and even stopped by to drop off more breakfast coupons and snacks! The Hood River Inn is also a great place, and about half the price. You get a great big room, complete with a 1950's neon sign just outside your window for the whole "Old Town" vibe. Every lunch and dinner we had was great, and Christi enjoyed cruising the shops in downtown.

The race was out in the boondocks at a remote reservoir, so we had to rent a car to get out there. XDogEvents prides themselves in small, community events and this one was probably about right for them. An off-road triathlon hosted about forty racers, and the half marathon had about 30 more. My dad came from Eugene to join us on this one and signed up for the full 13.1 miles. It looked like it was going to be an epic race with a small group of fun people.

Epic it was, but not in a good way. In retrospect, I should have seen the signs. First sign of a problem - no maps were issued, and none were available. Second sign - "there are some areas that aren't necessarily trails, and you'll have to go cross-country without volunteers to guide you". Third bad sign - "trails were marked late last night with pink ribbon"...only later to find out it's the same pink ribbon the Forest Service uses to mark their trails. It's a lot easier to see that mistake in daylight. Lastly, "the last aid station doesn't have any people so don't drink all the water". The smiles slowly waned from the starting line...

Within the first 1000 yards, everyone was lost (and I mean EVERYONE) and we had to stop the race and backtrack to the beginning. The second start wasn't much better, as people started losing trail markers within the first couple of miles. At about mile 4, the course started going along more recognizable trails so I took the opportunity to pull from the front of the pack. Big mistake. My dad was smart - he hung back with the others.

About an hour later, I was stopped by some hikers who said, "unless you're planning on swimming across the Columbia Gorge, I think you took a wrong turn". I pointed out the pink ribbons and they said those ribbons are what the Forest Service uses to mark dead trees that need to be cut (uh, oh). They helped me assess my whereabouts, and I was about five miles off course, that is, if we could figure out where the course was. One young hiker ran up to the top of a hill with his binoculars to look for other runners and quickly relplied "they are all over the place...and going in every direction". We studied the map and found a quick two mile connection back, so I would only be 6-7 miles off overall. At this point I was less worried about my finishing time, and more about if I was ever going to find the rental car again. They filled my water bottle and handed me some trail mix (aren't hikers great?), and I was back on the road.

About 20 minutes later, I passed another runner who said she thought she was about 25th place. She said "some people have passed me two or three times and aren't real happy about it". I looked at my watch - 1:55:20 - and understood their frustration. I passed the last aid station (which was empty) and just followed the most trampled trail I could. After a mile or so, I followed the smell of the BBQ. Miraculously, I crossed the finish line in 2:12:30, and into the arms of a very worried Christi. Then they said I got third place...excusez-moi?

My dad had crossed the finish line nearly 40 minutes earlier ("my fastest 1/2 marathon ever! Hmmm...maybe I didn't do the full distance"), and we learned an important lesson. If you're going to get lost, do so in a way that you CUT mileage, not ADD mileage. ;oP

So I asked if my dad got first or second, and they said "Who is he? We don't have record of him". Later when they posted the results ( they had me down for fifth, and my dad for first. I sent a dozen e-mails about the wrong award, the missing t-shirt they charged me for, and getting results to Trail Runner Magazine, but they never were responded to.

If you ever wonder why you have to sign those liability forms, it's for hacks like Kevin at xDogEvents that can't get their act together. This race was beyond embarassing - it was life-threatening. If you're ever going to race in a new area, try to at least bring your own map to avoid a scenario like this. Race directors, take note.


  1. This is crazy. You're lucky you made it out alive...

  2. Getting lost is all part of the fun. But not sending a t-shirt is INEXCUSEABLE!!! It sounds like the folks at XDog need to get their act together/.


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