"How do you want to feel Tuesday?"
This may be the best piece of trail racing advice I have ever gotten. Those words were just a part of the wisdom that trail master and legendary ultra trail runner Gary shared with me as we laughed over and exaggerated about our day on the ice and mud covered trails.
But that thought hadn't entered my mind as the super secret spy and I finished what had been more than six hours of driving and arrived at our hotel. The excitement of another day on the trails and the spy's first ultra was enough to carry me through the ritual of setting up our gear and ensure we wouldn't get too much sleep.
Bright and early we awoke to a nicely ice coated world and I'm sure we were both wondering what the day might hold. We quickly got ready and happily followed another runner to the Bear Branch Nature Center where we scored some sweet parking spots again this year. It seemed as though luck might just be on our side.
We met up with Diane who will be pacing me at MMT and several other trail friends and chatted in the warm comfortable center. Getting to stage the race out of the center makes it much nicer when conditions are bad. We didn't have to stand out in the ice and rain but were able to be inside for final instructions which included the gum band explanation; fat first, skinny second. Which meant we had a short out and back on which we had to first pick up a fat gum band on the first loop and then a skinny gum band on the second loop. This is always one of my favorite elements of this race. We also got the usual don't litter, don't cheat, help others kind of advice then we gathered outside at a pavilion which would serve as the start, half way aid station and finish line then with a quick "Go" we were off.
Right from the start the super secret spy took off ahead and Diane and I ran loosely together. I knew that the spy wanted to finish the first loop in about 3 hours so he would be able to have a cushion as conditions deteriorated through the day. I fell into running with a group of runners who helped to pull me along a bit faster than Diane wanted to go and I drifted ahead. Frequently I would make sure that I wasn't getting too far ahead. But I ended up running several miles solo.
I was enjoying the solitude and surroundings. It was surprising how much of the course I remembered from last year's running. The mix of fields, single track trails, fire roads and even a short asphalt section gives every runner a bit of what they like most. The amazing surroundings combine with that unique feeling of being enveloped in a cocoon of my own warmth to fill me with such happiness. The first creek crossing - only a short 2 or 3 step creek - was a refreshing blast on my feet. The miles flew by and before I knew it I was at the 8.5 mile aid station. With the cold rain coming down I opted for a small cup of warm broth, a cup of ginger ale and a quarter of a pbj. Then off I went for the next 2.3 miles before returning to this same aid station. On the return visit I topped my pack, had more broth and ginger ale and headed out again. Along the way I saw Diane across a hay field so I waited and we fell back into running together and before I knew it we were heading into the halfway aid station.
As we entered the aid station I asked when the super secret spy had been there but before they could answer I saw he was still there. He was working on changing shoes and had developed some cramps. After a quick massage and assistance with his shoe change he was ready to go. I was so proud of him! It would have been so easy to stop at half way. He would have beaten me! He could have gotten cleaned up and been warm inside the nature center but even without training he wanted to push through. We all ran together for several miles before the super secret spy said he was cramping and would need to go his own pace. It was so amazing to share the trail time together and having that time be during a race made it even more special.
Diane and I went off and the gap grew as we drew ahead making our way along the now increasingly muddy trails. What had been frozen hard with ice earlier was now iced with several inches of slick sticky mud. The out and back to retrieve our skinny gum band was a slippery mess and several runners took a spill. Each time I got caked with mud another opportunity to wash it off would appear. Then no longer would my issue be having heavy feet but frozen ones.
Diane and I would take turns leading which helped to break up the miles and allow me to enjoy the scenery a little bit more. Even though the decision had been made to run a steady safe race due to the conditions I didn't want to get too lost in the surroundings and end up finishing in too leisurely a pace. When I would pause to take pictures Diane would keep going making sure I had to move it to stay on track. I am feeling very confident in our ability to run together this May at MMT. I know she will be more than able to make sure I push through the inevitable discomfort and only focus on the joy and privilege that running is.
As we neared the end of our second loop we could hear the trail chatter from Bob and his crew. His motivating banter had kept smiles on our faces throughout the day.
A brief gratitude pause.
Bob was just one of many trail friends we shared the journey with that day; Gary, Kirstin Cherry, Mark, Al, Bobby and his fiance, Sima who was after her first ultra finish line were just a few of the many friends who played in the woods with us. Of course our day couldn't happen without all the hard work the Alan, the RD and his crew of volunteers put in to make this race happen. You know it's something special when your race director is out on the course, at an aid station, standing at the finish line to shake your hand and give you your finisher's mug! A huge thank you to all the aid station workers, trail sweepers, cooks, bakers and general volunteers would made Hashwaha Hills amazing!
As we neared those final hills I was reminded again how blessed I am to do this thing I love and I used that thought to push those final challenges and cross another finish line.
After a brief celebratory pause at the finish line I quickly went to the nature center to change into some warm dry clothes before returning to cheer the super secret spy into his first ultra finish. I was rushing so much that I took my first fall of the day as I ran down the hill to the finish pavilion. Luckily I had enough time to quickly clean up as the spy rounded the turn at the bottom of the final hill. We all cheered as he pushed up the hill and crossed the finish line.
I couldn't have been happier for him. He was so proud of what he had accomplished. After a few quick photos we gathered our things and returned to the nature center one last time.
We enjoyed the warmth of some amazing chili as we chatted with our trail brethren sharing our tales from the day and for some a bit of liquid pain relief.
The day was full of firsts as I got to met online friend, Dora. She finished her second 50k and set a new PR! She is completely full of positive energy. I have no doubt that she will set another PR as she races Seneca this coming Saturday.
My trail family was so warm and welcoming to Mark as we lingered and laughed with the party crowd. I know that the super secret spy has even more understanding about why I love this seemingly crazy, hard, often painful, time consuming thing. This May as we take on 100 miles I know that even if he never takes on another ultra, he will be my biggest encourager and greatest supporter. I also know that with his help I can cross any finish line out there.
Hashawha Hills 50k 2013