I had absolutely no expectations going into this race. The plan was to make it through alongside my friend and veteran trail racer, Laurie Reinhart, who is extremely modest about her achievements. (She has a few 100 milers under her belt as well as all of the ultra distances below that. Her best time at HAT was something like 5hrs38min a couple of years ago.) In an interview I did with Keith Straw, and again when I ran into him at the Philadelphia Marathon expo last year, he told me that this is a great 50k event for first timers. Keith was running HAT this year, too. No pink tutu at this race, he reserves that mostly for road races.
We started off running out and back along the park entrance road to thin out the runners, almost 500 runners showed up for the day’s event. I didn’t wear a Garmin so I had no idea of pace but it felt like everyone was running pretty fast in this first mile of the race. My guess was because people were jockeying for position before we hit the woods and single track trails. Laurie and I stuck together for the first couple of miles but then when I glanced back I could not see her anywhere. Later, I found out that she had stopped to fix her ankle brace when I lost her. I kept tucking in behind certain groups of guys, usually running in packs of two or three. I’d hang for a while and then pass them, later they would pass me again. And so goes a 50 kilometer trail race.
Probably around 6 miles into the race I caught up with my friend, Tim, and we ran the rest of the race together until I told him to go on ahead with 2 more miles to go. He had enough left in his tank to make a great final push and finish under 6 hours with 5:57 (or something like that.) I know he would have stuck with me but I assured him that I’d be back here with the guys we had been running with for the past 10 miles. My finish time was 6hrs4min.
50ks are all different and unique, you cannot compare one 50k to another. This is what I can tell you about this particular 50 kilometer trail race:
It had almost 9800 feet of climbing. Just think about that for a second. 9,800 feet. In the latter stages of the race I was actually happy to see a hill to climb because that meant I could walk. That is a lot of climbing!
There were a few stream crossings, one of which we all got wet. It felt great to cool my feet. I had no issues running in wet socks and sneakers. Oh, I wore my road sneakers. I don’t own trail shoes, except for those trail racers I just bought. I actually saw several people wearing those NB101s in the race.
Aid station food is the best! Potatoes, PB&J sandwiches, bananas, chex mix, M&Ms, soda, the list goes on. And soda tastes GREAT at mile 25.
Trail running is an entirely different beast than road running. This I already knew but my experience at HAT showed it in a different light for me. We all struggled through together, and survived together.
We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather. The cool breeze was constant all day, as was the temperature. It never felt like it warmed up, but hung around low 50s, perfect!
The views were amazing, especially when we circled the lake. The trails were fairly untechnical; no roots, a few rocks scattered about but lots of climbs.
I discovered that I am a downhill runner. When running with Tim I learned that he is a great climber, and I told him that I hate that part but love running down. At the next downhill I took off. I can fly down those trails no problem, but Tim could always catch up to me on the uphill climbs. At the first downhill with Tim he said, “You were right, you flew right down that trail.” There is definitely a trick to doing it and that might be different for different people, but give me a hill and I get giddy.
The course consists of a short loop (3.6 miles) followed by a big loop (13.7 miles) which we run twice. The first time through the loop was great. My pace was good through the first 19 or 20 miles and then I started getting tired. This meant that final big loop was rough. It hurt, and half way through that final lap everything was a struggle. You think a marathon is hard? It is so easy in comparison. I wore my wristwatch and kept track of the time. 17.3 miles in 3 hours. So, the next 13.7 miles took me 3 hours. It’s pure craziness and I really don’t know if I would do it again. I told my friends – who all looked at me as if to say, “been there, done that”, and have heard others say the same thing and come back for me – I told them they would have to twist my arm to make me come out and do this again with them. Don’t get me wrong, the camaraderie is amazing. I can certainly see myself coming out to support my friends and crew for them, but would I want to do this again? I’m not sure. We’ll see.
I kept an eye on my watch; yep, marathons are easy, I’d be done by now, I said to myself as I looked at the time: 12:30 pm. Time ticks by – 1pm, 2pm – all I want to do is finish. I’m moving so that I can get to the finish line and stop. With 4.5 miles to go and a brief refuel at the final aid station I say, “I can do this.” Tim and I set off, back into the woods, and he encourages me along. I barely talk.
When I finally broke out of the woods, the cheers from the finish line are what beckon me. You can’t see it, but you can hear it, and those voices carry me along. It’s not far now, I tell myself. I reach the open field and follow the now worn path across the hay field, across the park road and finally – FINALLY – up the hill to the finish line. The race director hands me my hat and I have tears in my eyes. All I can say to him is, “I’m so tired!”
I walk around a bit aimlessly, food in hand, and finally change into something more comfortable and less stinky. I cheer on my friends as they cross the finish line. I spot Laurie climbing the hill to the finish line and she flips me the bird for losing her, all in jest. She’s almost 50 minutes behind me. My friend Bob finishes in just over 7 hours, a new 50k PR. It’s over 8 hours since the start of the race and our friend Tim isn’t in yet. (Tim owns TRY Chips, see website.) It’s his first 50k also and we’re worried about him. Suddenly I spot him and run down the hill to help him finish. He finished 10 minutes before they shut down the race but he did it. I thought 6 hours was tough. I cannot imagine how he felt after being out there for almost 8½ hours.
Well, that’s done. My legs are slightly sore today. Tomorrow I’m sure they’ll feel a little worse. I finished my first 50k in 6:04:12.
A new course record was broken at HAT this year. The top finisher ran it in 3:41. That, my friends, is purely unfathomable.
I carried my camera along but didn’t end up taking too many pictures. Most are from the earlier stages of the run. Later, it was simply too much effort to take my camera out and try to take pictures.