HAT Run - 50 kilometer Trail Run
Susquehanna State Park, Harford County, Maryland
Saturday, March 25, 2006
The mud, the blood, and the beer
Fortunately the weather forecast was wrong and the expected showers never materialized so there really wasnít any mud. I fell once, but not severely, so there wasnít any blood. (On me, anyway. A few competitors had a bit of extra color on their legs.) But, there was beer, or Guinness Stout, as it were, when I finished my little 4+ hour adventure along the trails of Susquehanna State Park.
Some of you may recall that I did this event last year as my very first ultra run and went out like a bat out of hell, heckbent on setting the ultra world on fire. (If you didnít read about last yearís adventure, or want to refresh your memory, here's a link to the report.) I finished with a time of 4:50:58, but the second loop of the two loop run was slow and painful. My modest goal for this year was to break 4:50, but to do it in a much more comfortable manner. My unspoken goal was 4:30. (That became more of a target to shoot at after checking in at the run site. We were handed the March issue of Ultrarunning magazine and, with lots of spare time before the run, I was thumbing through it while sitting in the car. I noticed several of what were called the ď2005 North American Ultra Lists.Ē Basically the top performances at the standard ultra distances of 50 Km, 50 Miles, 100 Km, 100 Miles, and 24 Hours. I saw that the cutoff for men in the 50 Km distance was four hours and thirty minutes. I figured, what the heck, if I was close enough towards the end I may as well push to get my name in the magazine next year.)
But, since I use these things as much for reference as for memories, let me start further away from the beginning.
As I am wont to do, I was obsessed with the weather forecast, looking at it frequently starting the week before the run. Iím not sure when it turned up to be ďfew showersĒ starting about 9 am Saturday morning, but I wasnít necessarily looking forward to that. I dutifully packed foul weather gear in my bag. I donít think I packed as much in the way of clothing as I did last year, but I still filled up my bag with options.
Saturday wake up was dark and early. I stayed up later than I probably should have Friday night, watching Villanova beat Boston College in overtime, but I still managed to wake up a few minutes before the 4:22 am alarm. I putzed around, moving slowly, and got everything done and Renate and I were in her Jeep and heading south right around 5:30 am. Punch in my normal pre-race CD (I really should work on a new one). A bit of traffic, but not bad. Overcast, smelling like rain, and a bit cool, but not a bad morning.
The Jeep GPS wasnít very friendly with directions until Renate told it we wanted the shortest route, not the quickest route, preferring to stay on more of the smaller roads as opposed to getting on I-95. The new directions had us going into the Steppingstone Museum by the back way, which was perfect. That took us first to the Picnic Area where the main aid station would be set up. And, as I knew from last year, there would be facilities available for my pre-race peace and quiet meditation sit down session. I love it when a plan works out.
By 7:15 am, we were at the Steppingstone Museum. Renate and I wandered over to pick up my number and I got a nice red backpack baggie and a red t-shirt along with my number and the aforementioned Ultrarunning magazine. That took maybe five minutes. Now there was about an hour and a half until the run started. I had another Pop Tart, my fourth of the morning, and thumbed through the magazine. Another five minutes gone. I donít think I have enough five minute things to do. Might as well start fretting about what to wear.
On the last part of the drive down, there had been hints of the existence of a sun through the overcast, but it still looked and felt like eventual rain. And it was a bit on the cool side. I had already decided that I was going to wear a long sleeve shirt with a sleeveless shirt on top (yellow on top of black, for all you color-conscious folk), so I pinned my number to the sleeveless shirt. Hey, look at that . . . another five minutes used up. I was still up in the air as to whether I was wearing tights or just shorts. But, I decided to defer that decision while I took my bag over to the pavilion where Iíd be able to get to it after the first loop.
Last year I did the run wearing my normal road training shoes. They worked out mostly fine, but I wanted to go with trail shoes this time. I wanted the extra bit of protection at the front (for all the rocks I would be kicking) and on the bottom (for all the pointy rocks I would be stepping on). Plus, Iím planning a few more trail runs this year so I might as well be properly equipped. I had picked up several different shoe flavors early this year and had been wearing them on my six to seven mile training runs in Marsh Creek State Park. I was comfortable doubling up the mileage on a pair, going from seven to fifteen, but I didnít want to do the entire 50k (31 miles for the metrically challenged). So, I knew I was going to change shoes after the first loop. I had the second pair in my transition bag, along with a change of socks and my second loop nutrition (a bottle of perpetuem and a flask of hammer gel).
I found a good spot to put my bag, one I was fairly certain I could find again after 2+ hours of running, and headed back to the car. That might have taken ten minutes.
(First time readers of one of my reports are starting to wonder if Iím going to go through my entire day in five to ten minute increments. Experienced readers know that it is entirely possible that I will, but will continue reading anyway because theyíre probably at work and this is a good way to kill time at the office. Thereís that time-killing thing again. I promise to pick up the pace shortly.)
I have decided that Iím going to wear tights, at least for the first loop. I can get rid of them when I change shoes if they turn out to be too warm. So, I start my final dressing for the run. I tape up my left Achilles (which has been a minor issue for a while, now) and I tape my right foot from the bottom to the top criss-crossing the second toe (because of a metatarsal problem Iíve had since last year). A couple pairs of socks and Iím about ready. Itís now 8:30 am and Renate and I head over to the starting pavilion for the pre-run festivities.
Like last year, Jeff or Phil Ė I think the next time I do this run Iím going to have to figure out who is who (Or is that whom is whom? Who is whom? Whom is who? Which is which?) Ė gave out hats. Eighteen this year since it was the 18th HAT run. Like last year, I didnít get one. Not a problem, I think I probably picked up five or so others during the course of the year. And I can only wear one at a time. Plus the finishing hat is all the hat I need for this occasion.
Then it was time to wander over to the starting line which, as near as I could tell, was just an imaginary line. On the way over I chatted with Gerard, whose daughter Helen I coached for a bit when I was at Bishop Shanahan. I moved closer to the front and he went further back. As a group, we started counting down from ten and collectively said go. I recognized the countdown at about six. The guy next to me never did and was surprised when we all started running.
Now it was time to see how well I actually implemented my pre-race plan of a comfortable and conservative first loop.
Though, the beginning mile or so wasnít the place to worry about the pace. I knew I still wanted to run the first out and back road mile in the 7:00 to 7:30 range and get ahead of most of the 400+ runners that were entered. Once into the woods I hoped to settle into a comfortable rut.
Punching the split button on my watch where I guessed the mile to be gave me a time of 7:14. Perfect. And Iíd guess there were 30 to 40 runners ahead of me. That was fine. I wasnít going to worry about anybody else.
Through the pavilion, into some meadow, through a hole in the stone wall, into some more meadow, and, finally, into the woods. Things had settled down to single file running. There was a handful of passing, but it was pretty pointless.
This is going through the hole in the stone wall.
Iím in the white hat right behind the guy in the yellow jacket.
Weíve gone through the stone wall and the second meadow section
and weíre about to head into the woods.
Believe it or not, Iím at the very front of this line.
Until we got to the first stream crossing. Things were stacking up a bit as people gingerly hopped from rock to rock in an effort to keep their feet dry. I followed a couple of other guys and just plunged right in. I know it was about 20 minutes into a long day, and wet feet werenít necessarily the best option, but it was an easy way to pass about ten people.
Immediately after the stream crossing was a road crossing. Renate was parked here waiting for all runners to go by so she could head out to the Picnic Area. (The picture to the right is from that spot. Iím in the yellow shirt and long pants.)
Immediately after the road crossing was the first significant climb of the day, a short stair-step climb up the embankment on the other side of the road. I surprised myself by immediately breaking into a walk. A couple of the guys I had passed in the water re-passed me, but I didnít care. Last year I ran up this set of stairs and it set a bad tone for the rest of the day. There was not a whole lot to be gained by overexerting myself this early in the day.
Things mostly stayed stable for awhile. Some uphills. Some downhills. I was a bit quicker than the fellows in front of me on the downhill sections so they let me go by. But, for the most part, there wasnít much of a change in position during this section. We crossed over Wilkinson Road and then into some more meadow.
There were a few people that might have started out a bit aggressively because they were passed by bunch of us at the start of the meadow, pretty much as soon as there were two lanes for running.
This meadow section was quite long, with a couple of turns and twists. It was entertaining to see all the runners strung out, single file, like a bunch of ants. Kind of similar to the earlier picture. (I mentioned it to the guy behind me and he said it was an even more entertaining sight when it happened at night and all you could see were the headlights of runners bobbing along the trail. I guess I might get to deal with that in October.)
And, then, soon enough we were at the first aid stop, maybe five miles into the day. Renate was there helping fill up water bottles and/or cups, and I got a quick smooch. I also gave her my gloves. And, just like that, I was gone and back into the woods.
From what I can recall, the gnarliest part of the loop was somewhere in here. It wasnít all that bad, just trees to climb over or duck under. A fair number of twists and turns. A semi-dry stream that had a very steep two step climb up on the other side. And, then, presto, we were out in the open again. And it was time for a bit of running on Craigs Corner Road. Pretty much all downhill on gravel and chewed up asphalt, though it was real road to start. I passed several people here, reverting back to my road running roots. (I vaguely remember timing the ďpavedĒ section on the second loop and came up with 18 or so minutes. That would make it somewhere in the 2.25 to 2.5 mile range. But, thatís all subject to verification by the authorities.)
Then itís the turn into the Picnic Area and the aid station from this direction, not quite ten miles into the run. Another quick smooch and Iím off. As can be seen from the picture, at least Iím not in last place.
(I was doing well with hydration and nutrition. I used the same system as last year, drinking from my bottle of perpetuem on the 15 and 45 minutes and taking a slug of gel from my flask on the half hour and the hour washed down with some perpetuem. So, for me on the first loop, there was no need to stop at the aid station to sample the goodies.)
Renate said, as I was leaving her, that she was going for her walk and she would see me at the stream crossing when I was on my second loop.
It was roughly six miles of trails and such from the Picnic Area back to the pavilion. I knew there was an unmanned aid station about halfway there, not that it mattered a whole lot.
Somewhere during the first loop, I donít remember exactly where so Iíll put it here, I had my first ever trail splat. But it wasnít my fault. Really. (After all, isnít this the age of not accepting personal responsibility?) I was just trotting along, minding my own business when some trail-gremlin threw a stick between my feet. Just to make me fall. And then I heard snickering and ďDrop. And give me one.Ē So, I landed in perfect pushup position. Back straight, arms bent, nothing touching the ground but my toes and my hands. And then I pushed myself back upright and continued running. And, I swear, I heard more snickering. Of course, that could have just been the couple of guys right behind me.
Other than that, thereís not a whole heck of a lot going on, just one foot in front of the other. Walking the ups, running the downs and flats. Paying attention to how Iím feeling. Trying not to get lost. There was one point on the loop where I stopped dead in my tracks because I wasnít sure I was where I was supposed to be. It would have been next to impossible to have gotten lost, but that makes it more likely for me. It was kind of surprising to be in an area so devoid of runners on the first loop, but there was nobody around. I stopped and looked behind me. It took a few seconds before the chase pack of a couple of guys came into view and I regained comfort in my position in the woods. At least as far as the course was concerned. Back to one foot in front of the other. There had been a few additional stream crossings, only one of which really involved concentrating as I hopped from rock to rock. The others were just a hop to a rock in the middle and then onto the opposite shore. Well, bank. I guess streams have banks, seas have shores.
Once again Iím out of the woods and into some meadow. I know the unmanned aid station is near, which means I have roughly three miles to finish the loop. I glance at my watch, just about 1:50, so that I can get a rough idea of how long this section takes. I also want to pay attention to the running terrain. I want to store this information so that, if push comes to shove, Iíll be able to use it at the tail end of the second loop.
I get to the unmanned aid station and I know, from the opening mile as well as from last year, that a right turn and the main pavilion is a half mile away. But, I have to make a left turn and run 2+ miles to get back. Itís a bit of a mix between easy woods and meadow. Then across Quaker Bottom Road and some pretty technical running. Lots of rocks. Doesnít do a whole lot for the pace. And it requires a bit of concentration. I keep waiting for the meadow that, more or less, denotes the end of the first loop. Finally it appears and itís roughly a half mile back to the pavilion. I end up running the last paved section to the pavilion with a couple of other guys. I punch the button on my watch and get a split of just over 2:05 for the loop itself and a total of 2:12 and change for the first 16 miles. Last year I was at 2:05 for first 16 miles. I was kind of surprised to be only seven minutes slower than last year. I was, I thought, fairly conservative and I was mildly concerned that maybe I wasnít quite conservative enough. I guess only time will tell.
There seems to be a smattering of folks going through some sort of transition for the second loop. The volunteers have a nice spread of goodies laid out, but I make a beeline over to my bag. I had been debating back and forth (I guess thatís a bit redundant. A debate is ďback and forth.Ē) about keeping my tights on for the second loop. It still looked as if rain might show up, and I wasnít too warm. I decided that Iíd keep them on. So, I just changed shoes. I didnít even change socks even though the ones I had on were wet and I did have a dry pair in the bag. I figured Iíd be trotting through the stream early in the second loop and there was no real need. I was also a little curious as to how my feet would hold up with wet socks.
I did take the rain jacket I had been hauling around out of my bottle pack. I replaced my empty perpetuem bottle with a full one as well as getting a full gel flask. I also popped a couple of electrolyte capsules. I had been doing a good job of taking my nutrition every fifteen minutes, so I was pretty sure I was in good shape as far as the electrolytes went, but I remembered how I thought the same thing last year and ended up suffering with cramping issues towards the end of the second loop.
A little over three minutes total, and I re-entered the fray. If I had to guess, Iíd guess I was somewhere around 25th place. There were a couple of guys visible. Iíd either catch them or I wouldnít.
I ended up ďstalkingĒ one of the guys pretty much all the way to the stream crossing. I didnít feel like I wanted to run hard enough that passing him was necessary. I was probably being a little too conservative. When we got to the stream and he slowed to hop, skip, and jump on the rocks I opted to use my plunge right in method of crossing. Renate was there and I heard her say that it was possible to cross using the rocks. And I heard the other runner say it was still too far from the finish to be dealing with wet shoes. Heck, I had wet shoes and socks since this point on the first loop and I survived. Plus, there was a better than even chance that I would have mis-hopped, mis-skipped, or mis-jumped and ended up in the stream, anyway.
(Let me quickly rewind to last year when, at this stream the second time, I managed to slip a little and had both hands submerged. Renate didnít catch the picture. This year she was ready. In fact she had mentioned to an earlier runner that she was waiting for her husband because he would probably fall and get wet.)
The stalking through the woods.
Safely crossing the stream.
I was mildly concerned that I came across a bit rude and that this guy would sprint by me on the road and/or on the stair-step climb that followed. Not so concerned that I wasnít going to walk up the stairs. But, I never saw the guy again.
In fact, there didnít appear to be many others out. I could catch a glimpse of people in front of me, but it didnít seem like I was getting any nearer them. When I got out to the next meadow section, I could only see a few runners along the trail. Not sure if that was good or bad. I didnít feel any great urge to sprint to catch them. I donít remember if I did, but I probably did, glance behind me once or twice to see if I was being chased. No one that I recall was really ever in the picture.
Heading north through the Picnic Area aid station.
(about 20 miles into the run)
Heading South through the Picnic Area aid station.
(about 25 miles into the run)
Mostly, I just ran. Renate was waiting back at the aid station area when I got there. She wasnít ready with her camera, though, so I did some slow-motion running so she would have the opportunity to take my picture. Then I stop for another smooch. (I canít imagine running a road marathon and stopping for kisses every time I see Renate.)
Not a whole heck of a lot happened between the aid station and the road section, so Iíll spare you the step by step analysis.
I was kind of surprised at the number of folks visible on the road ahead of me. I just started gradually picking people off, improving my place in the overall standings. (There was a guy on the side of the road with two dogs. One was nice and peaceful, just sitting and watching. The other was a handful. Barking and carrying on. He definitely wanted some runner meat for lunch. It was all the guy could do to hold onto it.) And then, pretty near the turnoff for the Picnic Area, I see, what I figure to be, the lead girl. I keep my pace and she keeps hers. Mine is faster and I comment to her that sheís having a good run as I go by. One guy passes me right about the same time. Heís an older looking guy. My age-group? Donít know, donít really care. At this point, anyway.
I pull into the aid station. Renate has walked down the incline and is waiting, camera ready. She had been chatting with another spectator and mentioned to me that the fellow had read my report from last year. And, noted how long it was. What can I say. Long runs require long reports. Anyway, I stop to re-tie my shoes (something I had to do with both pair during the day). I also decide that Iím getting kind of tired of perpetuem and hammer gel. I ask the volunteer if they have any Coke and he points out the cups in front of me. He also points out the Mt. Dew. I briefly contemplate a cup of that, but decide to go with the Coke. I pick up a couple of cups, thank the volunteer, and start walking towards the trail.
Some people, including the lead girl, pass me before I resume running. No worries. I fall in behind the girl and a guy. (The one guy that passed me on the road section has stopped right about here and is trying to remove some cramps. Weíre all supportive and tell him to take his time, heíll get there.) I think Iím faster than the girl and guy in front of me, but Iím just biding my time. I had pulled into the aid station at about the same 3.5 hour mark of the run as last year. Thereís a big difference this year though. Iím running and feeling great. Last year, after leaving the Picnic Area, I was counting down to see if I could break five hours. This year, I knew with some consistent running, I had a shot at 4.5 hours.
The guy in front of me slows a bit, so I pass him on the left. Not long after that, I pass the girl. Let me tell you, itís a whole lot more fun passing people at this point of the run, than it is being continuously passed as I was last year.
I donít know at what point I hook up with a different fellow, I guess it was about 15 minutes after the aid stop. Weíre having a bit of a conversation as we run along, single file. Now, my hearing is not the greatest under normal circumstances. But, to try to hear and understand someone running in front of me took more concentration than I really wanted. The subject of goal times comes up and I mention that all I want to do is beat last yearís 4:50. He seems to think thatís a definite for today. His best time, I think he said, was around 4:45. I think we were on progress to break that, as well.
Weíre just repeating the normal woods running Ė walk the ups, run the downs and flats Ė covering ground. I know thereís a good shot at 4:30. I try to encourage Bob (We introduced ourselves after the run and I promptly forgot his name. Looking at the results, Robert finished right in front of me, so Iím assuming he goes by Bob.) without being too rah-rah. First I asked if he was in my age group. Iím just hoping to make the meadow section before the unmanned aid station as close to the four hour mark as possible.
Bob takes a pretty hard fall right before the meadow, but bounces right up. I glare at the offending rock as I pass, giving it as much room as possible. Obviously, itís a people-eating rock and itís hungry. Either that or another trail-gremlin is under the rock making it go up and down.
Then weíre out of the woods, just under four hours on my watch. Iím sure itís three miles at the most at this point, so 4:30 is going to happen, baring any unforeseen mishaps. Bob has been running 15 to 20 feet in front of me for a while, now, and he gets to the unmanned aid station first. He offers to pour some Coke so I grab a cup and he fills it up. Then weíre off. Iíve consumed my Coke too quickly and I have to slow a bit to allow various gasses to escape various orifices.
Soon weíre done with this meadow and back into the woods. Then across Quaker Bottom Road. I remember how technical the running is in this section and ramp up the concentration level just a tad. Bob has pulled away a bit and I just catch random glimpses of him. Iím going through all the twists and turns, waiting for the final batch of meadow to appear which means about a half mile to the finish.
And, soon enough, it arrives. A quick glance at my watch shows right around 4:20 has elapsed since I first started moving with purpose at 9 oíclock this morning. 4:30 is in the bag. 4:25 is more likely. Iím going to get my name in Ultrarunning magazine (if form holds true). I glance behind me a couple of times. Bob is far enough away, and it makes no sense to sprint the last bit to catch him, but I donít want to have to sprint to beat somebody trailing me. Nobody back there. So, I just keep it in gear and chug on. I make it up the last little hill, paved, to a smattering of applause. Renate is there. And, so is the finish line.
Bob leading me up the hill.
Almost to the top.
4:24 and change. That beats last yearís 4:50:58 by almost 27 minutes. I have a choice of red hat or white. Since Iím wearing a white one, I opt for the red. As I mentioned earlier, Bob and I introduce ourselves and congratulate each other on the run. Iím feeling pretty good. We chat for a few minutes then I head over for a couple cups of Coke. There is lots and lots and lots of food. Unfortunately, I donít really feel like shoving any of it down my throat.
Renate has my change of clothes so I wander over and change my clothes. I sit down on the ground to try and put on my socks and shoes and immediately start to cramp up. My beautiful wife puts my socks and shoes on my feet. I quickly stand up and get just a twinge of cramps.
Some more results have been posted so we wander over. When I first finished, only the top eight were listed. Some guy said he thought Bob was 11th and I was 12th. And, indeed, that was the case. I was 12th overall, and sixth in my age group (M40-49), with a finishing time of 4:24:07.
We started to wander over to the Jeep. I had a hankering for a pint or two of Guinness. Along the way, Renate introduces me to the guy she had been chatting with at the Picnic Area aid station. Heís Dave Bursler, a name I know from the ultralist. Heís very friendly and we chat for a few minutes about my upcoming plans. Renate had mentioned to him that I was doing the Arkansas Traveller in October and Dave agreed that it would be a good first 100 mile run. But, now, I really need that Guinness so we end our meeting.
Ah, Guinness. The first sip goes down real well. Followed quickly by a couple more. Renate is always thinking and she suggested I relax a bit at the Jeep and drink my first one. I can take a second over to the awards. And thatís what we do. I donít expect anything, but what the heck. We chat a few minutes with Gerard who had just finished. I donít get anything. I finish my second pint of Guinness. We head on home.
And, that's the end of this adventure. Next up, the Bull Run Run, a 50 mile run in Virginia on April 8th.
For those that care, my split times were as follows:
First Mile: 7:14
First 15 Mile Loop: 2:05:18 2:04:34
Second 15 Mile Loop: 2:08:19 2:46:24
Last year I didnít separately record the first mile, nor the time I spent in transition.
Some final observations and notes:
I didnít have any foot issues. Massive knocking on wood. The two pairs of socks, thin ones on first, seemed to work well. Even when wet. I didnít bother changing them between loops. The Inov8ís (Terroc 330) for the first loop were fine, as were the Brooks (Cascadia) for the second.
There were a couple of spots where runners going in one direction could see those going in the other. I was always pleased that the front-runners werenít heading back while I was heading out. Not that they really would be. I did see a few people heading in the out direction while I was heading in the in direction on my second loop.
Right around the three hour mark, or so, I really had to Ė Iíll use the phrase ďforce myself,Ē but thatís a little stronger than reality Ė make sure I was nutritioning properly. It might be wise to experiment a little with some aid station samplings at the upcoming 50 mile run.
Thanks, everybody, for reading. Hope you had a good time.
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