Drag-N-Fly Trail Half Marathon: Race Recap


I’ve now written about Drag-n-Fly several times. First was a post about the lessons learned from it as the hardest half I’ve ever done. More recently, I considered my thought process on if I ever would want to try it again.

These posts made Drag-n-Fly a bigger thing in my mind than it ever should have been. It is a hard course, no doubt about that, but I think my ruminating made it a bigger boogie man than it needed to be.

Me? Overthink something into being harder than it needs to be?

The heck you say…


The Return To Drag-N-Fly

Drag-n-Fly is so named because you ‘drag on the uphills and fly on the downs’.

I find it poorly named. I drag on the uphills, most definitely, but most of the downhills are fairly steep and rocky and therefore require concentration and focus.

There is very little flying on this course.

Not much running happening through this.

I first ran Drag-n-Fly in 2011, not long after I started trail running.

I had no idea what to expect.

The course is relentlessly hilly. It is largely exposed with no shade and usually has temps in the mid-90s.

My 2011 running of Drag-n-Fly remains the closest I’ve ever come to dropping out of a race.

The first major hill of Drag-N-Fly. I get a little bit of vertigo standing at the bottom looking up it.

My Pre-Race Goal

I didn’t set a specific pre-race goal other than to survive.

My finish time for my first attempt was 3:36. It would be nice if I could beat that, but if it’s not to be, so be it.

Twas The Night Before Racing…

I usually don’t get too nervous before races.

I don’t consider race performances as terribly relevant to anything, so I don’t get too worked up over what may happen. Maybe a few stress twinges if I’m doing a big race with a mega-expo, but those are pretty rare on my racing calendar.

For the most part, I just show up on race day and do my thing.

This was an exception.

This was the most nervous I’ve been pre-race in a really long time. Could I do it? Was I silly to even try? What was I trying to prove?

These nerves were entirely my own doing, I made Drag-n-Fly a big thing in my mind. Let that be a lesson: keep it all in perspective!

The Course

Drag-n-Fly is a lollipop loop course (a bit out, then a big loop, then back on the same bit you run out on). We started and ended in the same place so, because of geographic realities, there needs to be equal uphills and downhills.

I do not understand how that is possible on this course. The uphills are steep and endless. There are some noticeable downhills, but there is no way the downhills equal the ups.

There is a musical effect called a Shepard tone, a sonic illusion that makes it sound like the notes are climbing and climbing (if you’ve heard the music from the movie Dunkirk, you’ve heard the sound). I think this course is somehow is the topographical equivalent of the Shepard tone, an endless climb that doesn’t lead you anywhere but to more climbing.

My Greatest Fear

During the pre-race announcements, they let us know that the course cut-off was at aid station 4 (at about mile 10) at 11 am.

I can’t begin to tell you how much time I spent in the first few miles of the run doing the math on what pace I would have to run to beat the cut-off and how it compared to the timing the last time this course (spoiler: I made to Aid 4 at about 10:30 – half hour to spare.)

It doesn’t help that the start of this course (especially about mile 2 to about mile 3.5) is one, big super steep uphill.

Any hope of keeping to any given pace went to hell by mile 3. I was nearly 4 miles into the race and had been walking most of the way.

My Favorite Treat

The later aid stations had OtterPops!

While it wasn’t as hot as my latest outing (it was ‘only’ in the 80s, compared to the mid-90s last time), the frozen treats still tasted soooo good.

I couldn’t decide between grape and orange, so the volunteer gave me both.

If you insist.

Mere steps away from Otter Pops

Biggest Surprise

I know running, especially trail running and endurance events, tend to draw a fairly affluent crowd. Professional people who have the means and the time to do these kinds of events.

For reasons I can’t figure out, the parking lot for this particular event was the most absurdly Bay Area parking lot ever. There was the usual assortment of Teslas and BMWs, but today every other car seemed to be something absurdly expensive: several Jaguar SUVs (I didn’t know Jaguar made an SUV), a few Bentleys, a Maserati, a Fiskar.

Who drives a Fiskar to park in a dusty lot at a regional park?

So… Was It As Bad I Remembered?

No. It was easier than I remembered, but by no means easy.

It helped that this year:

  • I knew more what to expect from course
  • The temperatures were a bit cooler
  • I’ve done some hikes in the area in the intervening years, so I knew the area a little better
Can you see the combination of happiness and exhaustion on my face?

Did I Meet Goal?

I’m still alive, so yes!

I also feel like I slayed the demon along with a few of my doubts.

While a 3:18 half marathon isn’t exactly a land speed record, I did beat my previous course record.

Besides, I’m proud of myself for even starting.

Slow Sign
Even the road signs are mocking my slow pace

Would I Do This Race Again?

Maybe, maybe not.

However, If I don’t ever do Drag-n-Fly again, I know it’s not out of fear, or a concern that I couldn’t do it.

Now it’s just another possible race on the calendar that I could do (or not).

Yeah! I’m still alive about a half mile to the finish

What’s Next

The only race left on the calendar is the biggie for the year: the Skyline To The Sea Trail Marathon – in only a few weeks!




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