When last you visited...
The spy and I had just arrived at our hotel at 1 a.m.
It's going to be an interesting race was my final thoughts before falling to sleep.
After an inadequate night of sleep, I was happy I greeted the morning eager to race. Quickly I got ready and we headed to the Steppingstone Museum and the start line. I stuck to my plan of limiting my race morning fuel intake and only had a few bites of plain bagel, a little honey and a few sips of grape G2. While we drove the weather that had been deteriorating completely dissolved into a downpour. What had been ideal trail conditions were quickly being replaced with the makings for yet another shoe-sucking mudfest.
Packet pickup was a breeze as usual. I got my bag and bib and headed back to the truck to grab my drop bag and wait until final instructions. With the rain diminishing slightly we made our way to the pavilion. I dropped my bag and huddled with the spy to keep warm.
The course consisted of a short 4ish mile loop and then two just shy of 14 mile loops. Although the start was in an open field we were quickly on a short paved road section before looping through open fields, returning the the start pavilion aid station and entering the trails over sections of trail that would be crossed three times. By 900 feet. Which means a fair amount of mud. We would return through the start pavilion aid station again for each of the identical longer loops.
The running surface consisted of open fields, a brief paved road section, single trails, a roughly 1.5 mile paved section with hills and rollers throughout. For me it would be the last 5 miles on each of the two big loops that would prove the most challenging.
After the final instructions I found myself again gathered in a field with 450 other runners but this time we were standing in the rain.
After what I can only imagine were words of encouragement or an invitation to sanely decide to stay put, we were sent on our way through the wet grass and into the gray day.
I had placed myself rather close to the front. Well, honestly since the "front" was a wide expanse of field, I was at the front. Sorry to all the fasty-fast runners who don't like when middle-of-the-packers do that. I didn't allow myself to be a road block to anyone though. There was plenty of road for passing at the very start. I didn't want to get too far back and then have to deal with lots of passing when we hit the trails which I remembered to be rather technical in the very beginning of the course.
My plan paid off well. I ran strong paces those first few miles without going out too fast. I finished the first mini loop in around 36 minutes. At what I thought was between 4 - 5 miles I was happy with my pace and effort that early in the race. I did not stop at the pavilion aid station but ran straight through.
The big loops had their highlights. The trails are a challenging series of hills and near constant rollers broken up with open fields and a short 1.5 mile section of paved road. During the first loop I ran mostly by myself using the chatter of those I fell in with to distract me from the effort of those early miles. Although there was plenty of mud the conditions were not as bad as they would become during the second loop. The creek crossings were a refreshing sight.
Since I was running with the main goal of training for the Massanutten Mountain 100, I decided that I was going to run a little differently at this race. I wanted to run on constant effort instead of looking at my Garmin and attempting to average a certain pace. I knew that this tactic might result in me having a finishing time that was outside the goals I had set but I felt that I needed to see under these harder conditions if I could force myself to keep pushing on perceived effort alone. As I hit the "upper" picnic area aid station for the first time I got to see Jennifer who was volunteering for the day. I had met Jennifer during the HAT Run in 2011 when she went on the beat in by 3 minutes in her first 50k ever! I paused briefly to say hello but was quickly on my way. I knew the speedy road section was coming.
For fueling I was sipping on grape G2 and gummies. Yep, little kid gummies again. Thanks to the bladder issues with the camelbak I was using a new bladder that I had never tried. It kinda sucked. I could only get tiny sips out at a time and I had to step off the trail early in the race after a clip broke due to the large hose and readjust everything. But I was making due and with everything in it's place I reached the road section and flew. I clock a 7:40-something on this section. Yeah, I'm smart like that. What middle-of-the-packer runs a 7:40-something during a 50k?
This year, that's be me.
As a result of my brilliance I did stop at the lower picnic aid station when I got there. I joked around with the volunteers about how the runners should have to limbo under the hitching post as we approach the aid station. I salted up on olives, grabbed some ginger ale every ultra should have it and took 2 fig cookies for the next 5 miles of hills and mud. After thanking the awesome volunteers I headed back into the woods.
The next five miles were challenging. The hills seem steeper, longer, constant and often accompanied with thick mud. My effort remained but I know my paces fell. I think somewhere in the first big loop final five I found another runner. Joel.
Joel is from New York. He is a talker. If I haven't mentioned it before and very few have run with me, I should say that at the start of a race I mostly like to be quiet and be left alone. I focus on finding a groove and getting stuck in it.
But somewhere along the miles I get giddy. I get into that Oh-my-gosh-I'm-busting-with-happiness-irate-those-around-me-sickeningly-cheerful mode. I had already been driving others crazy from about the first road section with my chatter and cheerfulness but when I came upon Joel he didn't fall back or speed away, he joined in the chatter. Let me tell you we had a blast! I really can't say what we talked about but it was fairly non-stop and cheerfully irritating to those runners who's scales of running joy and running misery had tipped in an unfavorable direction.
We ran the entire second loop within ear shot of each other. I lead mostly and again loved every creek crossing, splashed in every mud puddle and mockingly rejoiced at every hill. I cheered as we entered the upper picnic area aid station and reported my tally for trash picked up on the course.
I still don't know who won that little contest, Joel?
I flew down the road section at a little over an 8 minute mile this time losing Joel for a short while. The lower aid station was a welcomed refueling spot. This time I indulged in more olives, a few hot french fries come on it's HAT you gotta eat the fries!, ginger ale and 2 fig cookies for the hills. As I left the aid station Joel had caught up with me. A fellow New Yorker, Charles had caught up with him and joined us for the remainder of the race.
For the second time these last five miles took their toll on my average pace even though my effort remained constant. Quickly dubbed the pink energizer bunny by my running mates because I didn't want to be reduced to walking hills, I lead the way. I would pull ahead of my running mates and grow quiet by myself for a distance. It was in those moments that I gave thanks for being so blessed to be doing this thing that fills me with such joy. So much joy that the discomfort it creates in my physical body is outweighed to such a degree that I can continue on for miles and miles with a smile on my face.
The rain had been falling off and on throughout the day and a lite sprinkle had resumed as we climbed the final hill to that old stone wall that marked the end of our trails and the last open fields before the finish line. Joel and I cheered and yelled as we raced across the now muddy fields towards the finish line. As we crossed a road to the final field we were greeted by a honking horn from the super secret spy who was just driving back into the park. Fueled by knowing that my husband was watching I pushed up the last hill.
And we crossed the finish line together, new friends.
Charles would finish a mere 30 seconds behind us.
2012 HAT Run 50k ~ Day # 685
7/49 AG ~ 179/391
Many thanks to the race directors who greeted us at the finish; the volunteers who put up with my crazy cheerfulness; the family and friends of all the runners who cheered all day for the strangers who ran by and to my wonderful husband for being there in the rain and mud while I played like a child.