I should start by saying that there is NO way to summarize this race in such a way that will convey the true level of challenge and resulting euphoria that was experienced by the participants, but I will try. You can read other recaps from random participants HERE and HERE and from my “Victorious Secret” teammate Kimberly HERE. You can also check out the HUFF’s facebook page HERE which has a lot more pictures and stories. Warning: this is going to be a LONG post (sorry).
The HUFF 50K trail race is one of the largest ultras in North America – over 700 participants took part in one of 3 races yesterday (1 loop “fun” run, 3 person 50K relay, or 50K ultra). Kimberly from Healthy Strides, “C” and I reunited our relay team “Victorious Secret” and we tackled the 50K distance by each doing one 10.5ish mile loop.
I made a peanut butter bagel and left my house at 5:45 a.m. when it was super dark . . . and quiet. . .what had I gotten myself (and my friends) into????
The long and lonely 75 minute drive to the park was an exercise in calming my mind (unlike “C’s” drive to the race which included a panic filled spin off into the median due to the slippery snow covered roads . . . and a reckless passer byer) and summoning positive self-talk. I arrived at 7:00 a.m. and since the race was at a state park in the woods IT.WAS.DARK! AND.COLD! AND SNOWING. (that’s a picture of the snow against the darkness – that’s DARK)
I followed the masses but it was SO dark (mental note for the future: carry a flashlight) I just hoped that I wouldn’t fall and that I would not get lost. I had no idea where I was or where I was going or how to get back to my car after I picked up my packet. I arrived and picked up my chip and made arrangements for my teammates to check in and pick up theirs when they arrived later in the day. I saw the porta john line was short so I waited (there were only 6 porta johns for the 700 participants – big FAIL - and the lines moved SLOWLY). After about 20 minutes of waiting in line, I got my turn and then headed back to the car to drop off my shirt and to text my teammates the plan. I warned them of the snow and also that I was warm wearing a vest walking up a gigantic hill (yes, just walking up the hill to my car made me sweat despite it being 25*).
Between my quad pain, my respiratory virus, and hearing about the CRAZY course conditions that included flooding up to thigh deep for 30-100’ at a time and 6-12” of mud akin to sludge I revised my goal time from 3 hours to 3.5 hours. The race started 20 minutes late and was awfully chaotic – to be expected, I guess, at a new venue.
Here’s how the race went for me -
0-.25 Miles: OMG – that’s a HUGE HUGE HUGE hill and OMG my legs are like cement pillars and OMG I can’t breath . . . WTF was I thinking!!! I cannot do this! I seriously can’t do this!
Miles .25-mile 1.5: Hmmm, settling into my 1:1 interval. I met 2 people, Korey and another lady (sorry I can’t remember her name). We talked and that made things go like a “normal” race – we were on a road for much of this time and then the trail we turned onto was nice and easy and exactly like the trails we have raced and trained on before.
Mile 1.5-2: The other lady went ahead and Korey remained with me. I wasn’t able to run up the big hills – I just couldn’t breath and my quad hurt so I just walked through an interval. Korey said she didn’t mind hanging with me for a little while and she would take off when she felt ready to do so.
Mile 2-5: Unexplainable! The trail – the path – the route – the course - was completely undetectable. The water had flooded it so thoroughly that it looked like a lake. The hard core folks went right through the knee-thigh deep water. The rest of us less hard core folks blazed a new trail around the water through the sticker bushes – more than once I got caught in the bushes and couldn’t get free. The best part about this section was that it was a mental break as you were busy trying to figure out where to go and how to get around that you weren’t focused on the mileage, the pain, the distance, or the time. I got to the 5 mile mark in an hour and 30 minutes so I thought “Wow, I’ll get that 3 hour time after all – woot!”.
Mile 6: It was less water –so we went back to the 1:1 interval. It was beautiful and even stopped for a photo. That’s Korey (my HUFF bestie)on the right.
Mile 7: Oh holy hell (sorry for the cursing – I assure you it’s warranted). MUD – no wait, M.U.D.! MUD MUD MUD – no, I’m not doing it justice – MMMMMUUUUUUUUUDDDDDDDDDD above the ankle deep. The entire mile – step and slide 6”, pick up your foot and hope your shoe is still on, repeat. We slowed WAY down trying to avoid the worst of it, but sticker bushes were our trade off. It was like trudging through a sewer of sludge!!! Sloppy, thick, wet, mud – a plague of mud is what mile 7 brought.
Mile 8: I hit a wall without warning – BAM. I had packed fuel, but the course required my full and unyielding attention and fueling while trekking was impossible. There was a fantastic aid station and I got a handful of peanut M&M’s, pretzels, and several cups of water, Gatorade, and even a swallow of cola. Feeling refreshed we headed off for the final few miles. Korey remaining with me which was a Godsend for sure!!!
Mile 8.3: OH NO! There was NO way around this BODY of water – so in we step (like pansies) EEK it’s sooo cold. I felt it flow into my toe box, then into the rest of my shoe and then above my ankle – OMG step, slop, step, slop, step, slop. Just then a hard core ultra runner just leaped across it like it was nothing at all – ultra marathoners are remarkable individuals – awe inspiring for sure!
Miles 8.3-9.5: felt.like.they.lasted.forever!!!!!!
Mile 9.5: There was a huge amount of water so we opted to go around which started off fine, but resulted in us having to go down a steep and deep ravine followed by ascending the other side. At the bottom of the ravine – icy water! I slid down on my bum and crawled up the other side using a tree trunk to help. It left me muddy and wet and cold.
Miles 9.5-10.5: Felt.like.they.lasted.forever!!!!! We could see the tent at the finish line, but it was ALL the way across the lake – would have been oh so much quicker to just swim across the lake (not unlike we had to do at various points along the course). Finally, finally, we make the final turn and I see the clock and better yet, I see “C” in her bright yellow jacket (mental note: bright colored clothing is essential when doing this type of race so you can be seen by your teammates) – OHHH my goodness – had I really done it? OH yes
I we had! I am beyond thankful to Korey – she totally didn’t have to stay with me, but she did – and that made ALL the difference. I know my time would have been 5 hours or worse, maybe a DNF, without her! I love her for her selflessness! She’s a doll! Thanks, Korey!
I parted with Korey and turned my attention to “C”. I gave her some suggestions for navigating the course and wished her luck. She was off and then I saw Kimberly who ran across the parking lot and asked “Do you need a hug?” YES YES YES I do! I had just done battle with nature AND WON! These are pix taken inside the heated tent and I don’t remember being quite that chipper but perhaps . . . I love that you can see the mud on my pants in the photo on the left –yeah, mud baby!
While “C” was running I changed clothes and talked with Kimberly about this and that. We saw many of the other relay teams come in and get warmed up. Everyone was muddy and everyone was telling their war story! Because the race had gotten started late, and because I took 40 minutes longer than I had hoped, Kimberly was stuck waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. I felt so badly for her because both the cold and the time were really getting to her. Her lips were blue and the anxiety of what lie ahead was mounting (who could blame her – all she heard for 5 hours was how hard it was). My heart aches to see these 2 pictures – I suspect the level of misery was deeper than even the pictures show.
While I was doing everything I could to help Kimberly stay warm and remain positive, I couldn’t help but worry about “C” who had been out on the course more than 2.5 hours. The challenge of the course and the cold temperatures are not things that she prefers and I had just hoped she was alright and not hating me too much for signing us up for this race. At the 3 hour mark, “C” rounded the corner and we were screaming for her like it was the homecoming of the ages!!!! How did she just do that in 3 hours? Holy Moly “C” is a machine!!! WOO HOO! “C” had done it! She had run 10.5ish miles through muddy wet hell and survived . . .and she was smiling (woot woot!).
Kimberly started off on her journey just before 3:00 p.m. I had no doubts in her ability to kick a** and take names, but I couldn’t help but worry that she didn’t have a head lamp and that it would be dark in 2.25 hours. She had hoped to finish in 2 hours, but the conditions surely would prevent that. “C” and I kept the race director and other officials informed that our teammate was still out there and they couldn’t shut up shop just yet. We were comforted with knowing there were several other ultra runners still running as well. While Kimberly ran, “C” changed into dry clothes – check out her MUD!
I like to say that bottom right picture is the “carnage” – it’s her pile of dirty clothes. That’s what this race left us with – DIRTY clothes! With “C” in her dry clothes and ready to eat, we headed back to the warm tent to wait on Kimberly.
The time seemed to pass too quickly (for us, probably not so much for Kimberly) – I worried like a mother watching her child go to Kindergarten for the first time. I worried that the sun was setting and that she was out there – OUT THERE (I remembered how DARK it was and feared for my friend) . . .
The snow had finally stopped but the sun was setting and temperatures were dropping, but almost with perfect timing, Kimberly rounds the final corner. “C” and I run toward her screaming like it’s a Christmas miracle. She completed that HUGELY challenging course in 2:11 – who does that? Kimberly did!!!! Quite possibly one of the fastest times all day – incredible! SMOKIN’ fast! A picture is worth 1,000 words – check out that look of relief!
We hugged and hugged and hugged and posed for a quick team photo. Oh yeah baby, Team Victorious Secret has crossed the line!!!!
We rushed Kimberly into the warm tent and got her some hot chocolate and helped her change into warmer clothes – so totally wished I would have taken a picture of her wearing my coat – it was hilarious – like a big red tomato, but I’m hoping it warmed her at least a little!
What a tremendous challenge we had all endured and triumphed over! Yes – on this day, we finished an ultra marathon relay! WE.ARE.THAT.HARD.CORE!
(p.s. Kimberly posted 3 youtube videos of the course, you so totally have to check them out HERE)