Thursday, April 2, 2015

Race Report : The Hat 50K Mud Slide

So of course it snowed six inches in Southeastern Pa the night before. I was really looking forward to this run and had signed up a while ago. Drudging thirty one miles in snow was not something I was looking forward to. However the race was about two hours south of my house and they only received a coating of snow followed by rain. With temperatures expecting to hit sixty, mud was almost sure to crash the party.

So off I went barreling down interstate 95 at five in the morning. I arrived at Susquehanna State Park on Saturday morning March 21st, parked, picked up my bib, bought a pint glass and a hat and went back and sat in my car to eat my peanut butter and nutella sandwich. After about 20 minutes I got restless and got out and fiddled with my shoes, attached my bib and fiddled a bunch more. Little did I realize that most of the runners I wanted to go meet and greet were at the pavilion area and not fiddling in the parking lot like I was. It was then Katie Eshlemen came jogging up and gave me a quick hug. I had met Katie last October at the Blues Cruise 50K. She was in a hurry and we wished each other a great run so we didn't get a chance to chat. That's the true secret of these races, the friends you make along the way.

I made my way towards the Pavillion and met up with a few of the TrailWhippass crew Brian and Ryan, Mel and Dylan as well as Emir and Amy Dedic and Casey Fisher a friend I met through Instagram. It's so great to see and talk to the same folks from race to race. When people say Trail Running or Ultra Community, it's very true.

Before I knew it I was walking down into the field for the mass start. Lined up and off we went up the crusty snow covered field.

I chose to wear my new Brooks Cascadia’s with sheet metal screws in the bottom. This was a wise move as the first half of the race was packed down snow covered trails. The first four miles are a small loop that spread the runners out and brought us back to the start pavilion area to the first aid station. I shared a few of these miles with Mel, whom I just officially met and we discussed his upcoming run at the Boston Marathon and various other races we have done. The first 4 miles were gone in a blink of an eye as I pulled into the pavilion area aid station. After that first aid station you made your way out to the first big loop of 13 miles and repeated this loop a second time to get the 50 kilometers. I am not keen on looped courses however my target race for the year, Oil Creek 100, is a looped course so many of the races I choose to sign up for in 2015 are loop courses on purpose to force myself to learn to enjoy them. It’s all a mental thing I think.

3 miles in and still smiling

I was feeling good entering the first loop and just chugged along. The trails were nice and rolling, the air was cool and the sun was dodging in and out of the clouds. This is when you settle in that groove. Almost auto pilot like. I remember smiling looking off into the Maryland woods. Then all of sudden a creek crossing. Just like that wet feet. Man that water was cold as hell! No big deal. My shoe choice was smart and they drained well. This is also great ultra training. Learning to deal with wet feet. I embraced it and didn’t complain about it. It’s like running in the rain. You have to do it and learn to enjoy it because at some point you will be forced to run in the rain.

After the wet feet the climbing insued. The climbs were not bad really but they just seemed constant. They would become grinding later on. After about mile 6 or so I had trouble finding my rhythm. I could not get a groove going because every time I would start we hit a hill and I hiked. Not a complaint of the race just my own shortcomings as a runner. I enjoy hiking the hills and often try to get several thousands of vertical gain in a week in training.  This after all is just another long training run really and trying to stay in that mental frame of mind and keep my heart rate low was proving difficult midway through the first big loop. Nice and easy I kept telling myself.

Single Track for days

Mile after mile ticked off. Another wet creek crossing, another stone covered park road, more rolling fields and hills. I was enjoying myself. It didn’t really matter how bad or good I was running. I was out here running in the woods in a park I had never been with like minded folks. Somewhere around mile 13 or so as we climbed another steep hill I looked off to the left and got a fantastic view of the mighty Susquehanna River. It was massive. I never realized how wide and powerful it really was. It was beautiful. The trail followed this view for several miles. It was narrow with an actual drop off that if you were clumsy could fall and get hurt. Up and down and around we went and across a field then out on Quaker Bottom Road. I decided to bomb this downhill road portion on blacktop to try and get a little time back. Then back in the woods up a hill and across the finish for the completion of the first big loop. My watch read around 3:40 with about 18 miles ticked off.

I sat down to change my socks, shirt, and shoes. Then realized I left my socks in my car and not my drop bag. I was a little irritated to say the least. I was not about to run back to my car. So I changed into my Pearl Izumi M2 trail shoes which in hindsight was a mistake. The grip and traction was nowhere near that of my Cascadia’s with the screws and this really cost me time I think in the end. I was grumbling to myself and complaining a little saying I really didn’t feel like going back out. That’s when Casey bluntly told me that I didn’t want a DNF. People were dropping like crazy due to the muddy conditions that were developing. Dropping was not an option. I can’t drop cause of mud, that would be ridiculous. My mindsight is always that dropping during a race is only acceptable if your injured. I was not injured. I was a little beaten down and tired but nothing was wrong. So I grabbed some aid at the pavilion and back out I went.

As soon as I went back out I ran into another Instagram friend, @sowhatirun. We ran together for maybe a mile or so, snapped a selfie of course, and chatted a bit. Gotta love social media. Without it I certainly wouldn’t know half of these great runners. She ran ahead and it this point I decided to plug in the music. I had ran the first 18 miles without it on purpose so I could converse with others and just take everything in. But now I was needing a boost. My quads were starting to take a hit due to the mud. I was sliding all over the place and was using muscles in my legs to balance myself I’m sure I rarely used. My pace was taking a hit as well. This last loop was going to hurt a little.

Rush piped through my ear buds. Lots of Rush. Neil Peart really gets my legs moving. What a drummer. I started to feel half way decent now. Cross the creek again, up the hills again, across the wide open field again. Mud and more mud. It got deeper and deeper. It was a mess and then I realized I pretty much sucked down the last bit of my Tailwind I had brought. I needed calories. Lucky for me the next aid station had Mountain Dew, salted potatoes, and PB&J quarters. I stuffed several potatoes in my face and took a sandwich quarter. The potatoes were fantastic by the way. Lucky for me I always can take Mt Dew. They filled up my handheld and off I went. Mountain Dew tastes so good late in a race. I’m not sure why. I never drink it outside of races though. I discovered my love of it during Phunt 50K back in January. It must be the super high jolt of sugar and caffeine. Onward I went back into the woods.

Me and Mr. HAT

Less then 6 miles to go said the sign as I entered the woods. The mud was really bad at this point. Close to 60 degree temperatures and hundreds of runners trampling the trail. It was a slog fest. But like they say embrace that suck and put one foot in front of the other. When I came to the hill climbs at the river I was pretty much toast. The miles of mud and slipping and shoe sucking mentally got to me. I was cursing under my breath. I wanted to be done. My body was done. My mind was done. So I ran when I could and slowly hiked the hills. Keep moving you stupid jerk. Self deprecation sometimes works for me. I was at a low point here and I was so close to being done. I tried to text my wife but could not get a signal for some reason. That’s when the “F” bombs started. I can laugh about it now, but wasn’t at that point. Then we popped out at Quaker Bottom Road again! Almost there I kept murmuring to myself. I managed to run a 9:08 mile down the road which was amazing. Back into the woods up a hill and back across the mud filled field and across the finish. I was happy to be done. I suffered way more then I really thought I would coming into this race. The mud was much worse then I ever imagined. BUT..I got it done in 7 hours 9 minutes. I’ll be back next year to make amends.

Finishing Strong...sorta

Great race and swag. Great course markings and aid stations. Awesome friends and awesome time on the trails. A must do race in the Mid Atlantic/Northeast part of the country.

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