Hashawha Hills 50k Trail Run
Saturday February 25, 2012
I arrived with a smile on my face in Westminster, Maryland after a little family drama delayed my arrival by about 3 hours. Checking into my hotel at midnight is not exactly how I like to stack the deck in my favor the night before a race however, reminding myself that the number one goal for the Hashawha Hills Trail Run was steady time on my feet I went about the routine of prepping for a smooth departure in the morning.
I set out two options for clothes to wear with the weather forecast a bit questionable. But no matter which option I went with I knew I might via for the title of the flashiest runner on the course thanks to YMX by Yellow Man. They seriously should offer me a sponsorship!
Tune in tomorrow for my thoughts on how my gear handled the day.
After about 4 unrestful hours of sleep I could hear the wind had done nothing but pick up through the night so I opted for a base layer and a long sleeve on top and Relax Reflect full tights on the bottom. Do I really have to say that I was also squeezed into my new CEP Compression shorts? Because I don't run without them anymore, it's a given!
After the morning routine with no one to get ready but myself since I was flying solo for this run, I packed up the car and headed to the Bear Branch Nature Center.
Race Director Alan Gowen could not have picked a better location to serve as the start and finish for this event. Prior to the race we received requests to carpool and be courtesy of park users as space was limited for parking. If I hadn't gotten that email I would never have know it could have been an issue because in my experience it went flawlessly. Thanks to those who carpooled and those who helped point us to the right places to accommodate everyone.
After parking and a short walk to the center, I was quickly checked in and happy to see that we were able to wait inside until mere moments before the race began. Even though this was to only be a "training" run I was still suffering with a few nerves about my poor preparation, i.e., I hadn't brought anything to eat prior to the race. So my last meal was at 6:30 the night before. I did enjoy a honey straw that my daughter gave me but that aside I was going to start this event on empty.
I enjoyed sitting back and watching the wide array of participates as they mingled through the conference room. The young ladies who helped at registration couldn't have been nicer as was everyone who I briefly spoke with while we wait for final instructions.
Our pre-race brief was just that brief and to the point and filled with a bit of nerve-loosening humor. Alan reminded us to be courtesy of our behavior while on the trails and to leave nothing behind. He also instructed us that we would be running a bit on the honor system due to an out-and-back section where we would need to collect first a thick and then on the second loop and thin gum band. I absolutely loved this element of the run. It guess it simply plays to my child-like love of this sport. With a few more reminders we were sent off to the start line aka pavilion down the hill.
We gathered in front of a pavilion huddled to block the wind and it was a simple "GO" that sent us down a short hill through the trees and to a brief road section. With a goal to try and hold a steadier pace I had worn my Garmin although it did not pick up signal until we were well into the road section so I missed a bit of distance however in the end that didn't matter due to the tight winding curves of the trail the Garmin didn't read very accurately (as we had been told it would do). The course was previously 'wheeled' so I was told and believe that it is at least 31 miles.
I already know that I can not wait to run this course again. With the changes in registration next year I hope I am lucky enough to get to repeat my visit. This course was the nicest mix of country roads, single and double trails, creek crossings, mud and hills. We passed through woods, hay fields, corn fields, little rural residential areas and even enjoyed seeing the raptor aviary.
During my first loop I often ran alone. I had forgotten that the first aid station wasn't until about 8 miles. Those early miles I struggled with keeping my pace under control and remembering that I needed my legs to last all day. Since I hadn't eaten anything that morning I remembered to drink often and even brought gummies (yes, the little kiddo kind) since Gus have been giving me issues on these long runs.
Sadly the first challenge came early in the form of mud on the out-and-back to retrieve my first gum band. This section had a nice downhill grade on the way out and then of course the reverse was an uphill. Since I struggle with stringing all the sections of the race together correctly, I will say that somewhere here came the first creek crossing which I think was only a two-stepper kind of creek but the water was frigidly cold. There would several two and three-stepper kind of crossings and then one long deep creek crossing through the course which we got to repeat on the second loop.
During the first 8 miles I eat about 3 gummies and ran right by the first aid station feeling like I didn't need to stop. After doing the section from the first aid station and back again, I stopped at the aid station and drank a half cup of broth and then drank a half cup of ginger ale. Every aid station should have ginger ale. Worked like a charm to keep my stomach quiet.
I chatted with many interesting runners along the way. A young lady and her boyfriend. She was doing her first trail race. They would end up finishing just minutes behind us. A "smart ass" inside joke in a bright orange windbreaker who didn't know anything about local history. Another DMer, Matthew who like to run a lot of miles the week of races. He is just my kind of crazy runner.
During the last quarter of the first loop Larry H, a fellow Daily Miler (who provided the wonderful course and finishing shots. Thanks Larry!) caught up to me. This came as a surprise since He had been in front of me earlier. It seems my lack of aid station stopping had allowed me to get in front of him. Little did I know that this would be the biggest blessing of my day.
I spent some time considering whether or not I was going to call it a one lap day. My left hamstring and glute was talking. They were getting rather loud on the hills. When I fell in beside Larry again I questioned whether I would do the second loop fearing that I would not be able to ease up.
We finished the first lap close together. I topped off my camelbak with orange Gatorade, ate a section of banana at the fabulous volunteer's insistence and realized that the clock said 2:52.
I was doing the second loop.
The high from seeing that I had hit the halfway mark well in front of 3 hours gave me a boost to push through the second loop. I quickly caught up with Larry and excited told him I was going to do it. Sub-6 or not I was going to try and be smart and finish strong. Come on now you didn't really think I could DNF, did you? There were gorgeous handmade mugs on the line.
The second loop was more of the first but with a strange new element. Company. I have never run with any one person that long. Although we ever not always side by side and not always talking, Larry's presence and my confidence in his ability to run a smarter-than-me race kept me with him.
I sure hope I didn't wear out my welcome.
He would lead the hills which would force me to walk when I might have tried to "run" them. I would push on the downhills which felt easier thanks to walking the climbs. I tired to keep my walking pace up but there were hills that were simply too steep for a 15 minute mile.
I was having so much fun that I forgot all about my left leg. I paused at the "8 mile" aid station for soup and ginger ale again. I didn't have a single nature call or GI issue.
Before I knew it we were circling the pavilion area again. Larry had began to put on a push to the finish only to turn back as he headed up the finishing hill and that is when I saw the clock.
It was counting down to 6 hours. I yelled for Larry to keep going and I sprinted to that finish clock.
On a day when I didn't think I might finish. I set a new 50k PR.
The race director was there handing out the fabulous finishers mugs. I was so over the top excited I'm not sure I even shook his hand. Had that clock read 7 hours instead this would still be the kind of race that makes me want to do this crazy thing. If I ever have the opportunity to put on an event, something I think later in life I would love to do, this is the example that I would follow. Maybe it's not every one's version of the perfect event. Many runners need a bag full of goodies, bands and cheering crowds, booze and parties but for me this was the dream version of why I love to do this.
After cheering a few runners in to the finish line, I headed back into the Bear Branch Center to get on dry clothes and enjoy some warm food. There was a big tarp for us to take off our muddy shoes, inside. I gathered my bag which had not been bothered while I ran and changed into dry clothes. There was regular and veggie chili. Oh Yeah! I must admit that I indulged in two cups of coffee to warm up too. Probably not the best idea after running that far. I ended up a bit dehydrated till I got home.
The atmosphere was welcoming as runners sat around and chatted. Everyone cheered as new runners came into the building. I got to talk with the HAT Run RD and was so wide-eyed with questions (and maybe a little trail brained) that I didn't even ask his name. He and a group of men were all talking. I was like a kid in a candy store eavesdropping on their racing plans, past and future. I think they were a bit amused by my naive enthusiasm. Being surrounded by such experienced ultra runners it was very hard to pull myself away but my cellphone battery had died and I needed to check in with the family back home. Although I knew that none of my waiting messages would top the text that Larry got from his wife after finishing, I still was eager to share my news with the family who puts up with my daily obsession.
The drive home did little to dull my giddiness over such a wonderful day even the skies seems to share my celebration. With over 2 hours to drive I thought about the many things that had gone right for me and all the things I learned from this event. I can only hope that I am able to use what I learned and apply it to my efforts this coming Saturday when I get to run the