The start was a gathering of runners across an open field followed by a 3.9 mile loop and two identical 13.7 mile loops. The first loop began with an out and back on a paved park road. A narrow road. I had a little trouble finding a steady pace until we returned to the field and passing was more of an option. We passed through the finish line and pavilion to run across a large hay field before entering the single track trails.
photo courtesy Jeff Hinte
During my first small loop through the trails, I realized that this race would be the best marked course I had yet run one. The course was marked with small bright yellow plates with arrows on them. It was nice to have the worry of getting lost removed from my mind. The next issue would be the creek crossings and there was to be a lot of them. This early in the race there were still a lot of runners bunched together but passing was possible and I quickly found myself running to two veteran ultra runners. Steve (who happened to be the driver of the car I had followed to the race site) one of the veterans said that the first creek crossing was coming up quickly and jokingly offered to carry me across. Knowing I had quite a few more opportunities to get wet I figured I might as well just charge across and cool my feet. Turns out the cold water was a welcomed relief each time I got the opportunity to get wet.
photo courtesy Jeff Hinte
My plan for pacing (what little pacing I attempt to do during these events) was to simply keep my 5 mile blocks between 45 minutes to an hour. After running the first small loop that gave me a taste of what the trail was like I felt that a lot of this race might be runnable, if I was smart about my paces.
Which we all know I am rarely smart.
Before I knew it we were headed back up the hill to the "finish" aid pavilion to start the first of two 13.7 mile loops. I grabbed a small cup of water and a few pretzels, pulled out a GU, snapped a few photos you know the ones I don't have to add yet and headed out across the hay field.
During the first loop I felt extremely confident in my running aka I ran too fast and I ran a lot. In previous trail races I have been hesitate on downhills. This course allowed me to run all the downhills. With the 9800 feet of elevation change I was constantly using different muscle in my body, I know that played a big part in allow me to run as much as I did.
I rarely stopped for longer than a minute at aid stations on this loop. I was relying on GU, my hydration pack and a few pretzels that I'd grabbed. At the second creek crossing during the second big loop I made a mistake. I didn't pause to look at the creek at all I simply charged across only to end up hip deep in water with my feet sunk in a sediment pile.
A brief run through at an aid station with Christopher McDougall
I'm in the pink in the background.
A section of the 13.7 loop was on trail roads and briefly on paved road. While the majority of a trail run is not ran at a consistent pace, this section I ran at a very fast pace. I heard the warnings from other runners that I was running too fast. Of course, I knew that it was a calculated risk to push during this section not knowing how long I would be on the road and knowing that I have trouble scaling my pace back once I am provided with a easy road to run on. Luckily the road didn't last too long and I quickly found myself at an awesome aid station located at a community park. The funny thing was this aid station was maybe 25 yards through the woods from the aid station pictured above. I didn't like knowing that during the second loop.
I filled my pack and continued to loosely follow my plan of taking a GU about every 45 minutes to an hour. I took a few ibuprofen at this aid station too. There were port-a-potties here and I debated about stopping since there were few times when I was running alone but decided to risk having to coop a squat along the trail if necessary.
I wish I had my photos to share the beauty of this course. It was almost perfect running. There were only a few muddy spots in drainage areas. The weather was ideal and surprisingly I hadn't over dressed. I don't know when I fell in running with a young lady, Jenn and her boyfriend. I honestly can't recall if it was during the first or second loop. It seemed like I was with them for a long time. Long enough for me to think they were tired of my chatter. But I have to mention them and thank Jenn especially for the company on the trail. She told me that the HAT was her first 50k.
Jenn went on to finish in 6:14
Even though I knew she was a bit younger than myself, that competitive nature kept me from letting her get ahead of me until late in the second lap when sanity finally found me at the end of the road section after I ran it too fast for the second time. So a big THANKS to Jenn and her boyfriend for helping me enjoy my own HAT experience a little bit more!
Facing the finish line to start the second loop was not at all difficult for me. I had listen to many veterans say that seeing the finish line and knowing you still had to keep running was an issue but it really didn't bother me. I enjoyed having the race not only broken up by aid stations but also by the loops. I knew I only had one more loop to go and I was done. Mentally it actually helped me manage the distance.
I paused at the aid station only briefly. Again I was relying on myself for fueling and only indulged in a few pretzels and water. During the race I only topped off my pack once.
But there was the hay field again. I don't enjoy running cross country and hay fields are not very smooth. I was so happy to hit the tree line and go back into the woods. My second go round with this loop was for the most part identical to the first. I felt strong the majority of the way and enjoyed the scenery a little more the second time. Stopping at a giant white oak tree to take photos of fellow runners. The view around the lake from within the trees was amazing. By this point as my body tired I noticed more aches and pains. One of which I had ignored to this point.