Race Recap: Bluff Tuff Trail Half Marathon

Bluff Tuff Half

Bluff Tuff Trail Half Marathon

While home in Minnesota visiting family, I decided to find a local trail race so I’d stay in training mode while traveling. I found the Bluff Tuff Trail Half Marathon in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Sure, why not?

Bluff Tuff Half

The Course: Pre-Race Expectations

The Bluff Tuff course, when I registered, was a point to point course. Fantastic! I like point-to-point courses and since my parents would be with me as drivers and race sherpas, I wouldn’t have to deal with parking and shuttles.


I got an email a few weeks before the event saying there was a major course re-route due to severe course erosion. Apparently, the only way to get us to the other side of a highway was totally closed to pedestrians. There is no way to get to the other side.

There is a ‘why did the chicken cross the road’ joke in there somewhere…

So, the course is now a big loop.

Pre-Race Goal


I view this race more as a training run than an actual race.

I’m not sure what to expect from the course anyway, so I can’t figure a goal time. The website calls the course ‘challenging,’ but there is no elevation chart and no one at packet pickup knew the elevation gain.

I wonder how it will compare to the ‘challenging’ courses I’m used to in my current home in the Bay Area. I think my sense of ‘challenging’ has gotten a little out of whack.

Weather: Pre-Race Forecast

It’s August in Minnesota, so I was planning on a hot and super humid race, but the forecast is for highs in the 60s and rainy. That’s Bay Area temps, not Minnesota temps!

I didn’t really pack for that.

The rain in the forecast makes me a little nervous. I’m not used to running in the rain. I blame the recent California droughts – I have very little practice in the rain.

Weather: The Reality

The night before the race, it was pouring rain, lightning, and thundering pretty much all night (we got 2.5 inches of rain.)

I was awake much of the night worrying about if the race would happen, if it would be delayed, if the course would be shortened or what.

The Race Organizers did a good job of communicating to us about the weather and the potential for delays or cancellations.

Bluff Tuff Trail Half Marathon

It is very Minnesotan of me to focus so much on the weather. It’s usually a non-issue in the Bay Area, but in the Twin Cities, they actually have weather!

Getting There

Minnesota in summer is infamous for road construction.

This outing was no exception. The main route for us to get to the start was under construction and had a detour. Then we came across a detour to the detour. Then another race in the area caused the detoured detour route to be closed.

My dad was driving and he knows every single back road and side street in the cities and even he had no idea what was happening.

I’m so glad I wasn’t driving, I would have been so lost.

The Course: The Reality

I was expecting the course to be a muddy mess after all our rain overnight. It actually wasn’t too bad. Only one or two areas were sloppy, most areas were barely damp.

There was a light mist for a big chunk of the run, but the dense tree cover kept us (mostly) dry. Ironically, the slipperiest part of the run was a half mile section done on a paved trail.

Excuse the typo in the Relive video – it’s a pesky little app
that does not allow for editing of auto-correct typos after the fact.

It turns out the elevation gain was around 1300 feet. More than I expected.

Bluff Tuff Trail Half Marathon
The view from the bluff

I feel like a much stronger trail runner when I compare myself to Minnesota trail runners (where I was solidly middle of the pack) than I do in the Bay Area (where I am near the back of the trail running pack on super hilly courses).

Gotta like that.

The Course: Part 2

The course was really well-marked. Good thing too, since there are a crazy number of trails in this park.

Battle Creek Park is big with cross-country skiers in the winter and it’s a maze of trails. It was rare that we went more than 100 feet without an intersection.

If it hadn’t been so well-marked, I would have been totally lost.

A course map would have been useless – there are just too many trails going here and there.

What I’m Glad I Packed

When I was packing for this run, I seriously debated if I should bring my trail shoes or if I should just wear my regular road shoes for this race.

After all – what’s the worst that could happen if I wore my regular shoes on the trail?

I had some extra room in my bag, so I threw them in at the last-minute. Sooo glad I decided to pack them. Several people around me wore road shoes and were constantly losing their footing and starting to slip.

Bluff Tuff Half
Slightly muddy uphills

I didn’t see anyone fall (or see anyone covered in mud at the finish) so they eventually all caught themselves, but it was stressing me out every time they started to slip – I have this odd visceral reaction to the noise and motion of runners slipping.

Other’s Music (Again!?)

I guess this is the summer of other runners blaring loud music. Just like the Bear Creek Half a few weeks ago, I again was leap frogging a guy with a music vest blasting music.

However, unlike the last time: 1) his wasn’t nearly as loud, and 2) it was much better music – or at least more race appropriate music.

He passed me as his vest was playing Eye Of The Tiger. I passed him later and it was playing I Will Survive.

Biggest Surprise

No finisher’s swag.

While the last thing I need is another race medal (not that it stops me from taking them), it feels weird to finish a half with nothing.

I think the race missed the marketing opportunity of having race-branded buffs. The race is called the ‘Bluff Tuff Half.’ How great would a ‘Bluff Tuff Buff’ have been?

I do love my race puns and alliteration.


I had a great time at this race.

I felt strong and the weather turned out to be perfect for running. All of my overnight worrying was for nothing (as is so often the case).

I’m not sure if my Garmin was off or if the course markings were off, but my Garmin came out showing about 12 miles (not 13.1). I can’t say I really care that much. Whatever the distance, I enjoyed myself.

I’m glad that my pre-race diet of fried cheese curds and mini-donuts from the Minnesota State Fair didn’t impact my running.

I don’t think eating five pounds of fried cheese should become my standard pre-race fare, but I wasn’t about to pass up classic fair food while in town.

Fried Cheese Curd Booth
pre-race cheese curds.



Sara is a runner, running coach, writer, blogger, and a lover of all things written.

2 thoughts on “Race Recap: Bluff Tuff Trail Half Marathon

  1. Great recap Sara! Sounds like there were some new adventures for you on this run. Love that you didn’t let a race keep you from enjoying State Fair cheese curds! That’s the spirit!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge