I’ve always been in love with endurance events and it takes almost nothing to get me to do them. I say almost nothing, because often I think about doing a race/distance, but don’t pull the trigger until given a nudge. That was the case with my first 50k, a friend (Mark) said he was doing The Huff (Huntington Ultra Frigid Fifty) 50k, and asked me to do it too. That was back in 2000, and I of course gave it all of 2 seconds of thought and signed up. I went on to complete the race despite about 2 feet of snow that fell just before the race (they still refer to it as the snow year), and my friend bailed and ran 1 loop fun race (though in all fairness he did run a 2nd loop for total of 20 miles).
I ran The Huff again the following year, but that was my last time there. I looked at it several times, but the date and timing for it never worked for me. I didn’t run another 50k until I did the Hat Run in 2011. That was another adventure, but not the one for this post.
Then back in September a friend of mine, whom I refer to as Jr (His name is Doug as well and to avoid confusion and since he’s younger…), had recovered from his first Ironman and was looking for his next big adventure. He decided upon doing an ultra and decided I would be a good person to talk into doing his first with him. We looked at several and couldn’t find a match in both of our schedules. We ended up attempting our own, but that didn’t work out well.
In the process of trying to find a race for the two of us I got curious about the Huff and when it was scheduled for this year. Last several times I’d looked it was just before Christmas and there was no way I could get there for it. But to my pleasant surprise it was between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, which was when I was going to be in the area visiting family. AND, it was on a new course which looked more challenging. I immediately signed up! I tried to enlist Jr, but no go there. Work and family weren’t going to allow it, so I was on my own.
I slowly started upping my miles in preparation for it, and then about a month before the race Jr found us a 100k in April that we could both do. This was now added incentive for training for The Huff, because it would be a stepping stone to my first 100k at Lake Waramaug. I was pumped up and ready to go!
The day before The Huff nature decided to welcome me back and dumped a layer of snow on the course. Fortunately it wasn’t a couple feet this time, but it was a good 5”-6” which would make the run more challenging.
Race morning I woke up, grabbed a couple slices of cold pizza (pepperoni, sausage, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and jalapenos), which is great race morning eating, filled my mug with coffee and out the door I went. It was about 1 ½ hour drive from my parents to the race and the roads were still snowy and slick. I was anxious to get there and get checked in, but kept my speed down for safety.
I finally arrived and found my way to the parking lot. From there it was a mile hike through the dark, snowy trails to race registration and starting area. They had lined the trail with glow sticks to helps us find our way there. It made for an interesting, yet very pretty walk. The fresh snow was crunching under my feet, breath misting in front of my face, sliding occasionally, but enjoying the whole way.
After getting my race packet I slowly began gearing up for the race. Pinned my number to my hydration belt, loaded up my water bottle, and stuffed my nutrition bars (1 Pure blueberry bar, 1 Pure chocolate bar, and 1 Lara Bar banana nut) into the pouch. Double checked that my electrolytes were there just in case and added in a few FRS chews.
It wasn’t long before start time arrived. The 10 mile, 1 loop fun runners went off first and then it was our turn. Gun went off and we all took off lead by Ringo, a large malamute who had run the entire race the previous year and was featured on this year’s finisher medals. Ringo and his owner quickly pulled away from me with the rest of the leaders and I settled into my pace. The snow made things a bit slippery in spots, but overall it was nice to run in. I love the crunch of stepping in fresh snow, and there was plenty of it to keep me happy. However, it had me concerned for the 2nd loop of the 2 loop course. I still remembered what the 2nd, and then 3rd loop of the original Huff course were like “the snow year” and knew that the snow would likely be well packed down and very slippery. It made me wish I had brought some kind of spike or traction for the bottom of my Runamocs. I normally run in Vibram Five Fingers, but my toes can get kind of cold, especially in the snow, so I bought the Runamocs about a month before the race not knowing what weather would be like and wanting a warmer option just in case. It turned out to be a wise decision because my feet were nice and toasty warm.
About the 3 mile mark I caught Ringo. His owner couldn’t hold the pace and forced him to slow. You could tell he wanted to keep going, but had to restrain himself. I ran behind and with them for a couple miles before passing them. I was running well and comfortably. Trail was starting to get slick because we were running behind the 1 loopers (they actually ran a slightly different loop, but the two merged in places) and they had packed things down a bit. Fortunately I was able to get off to the side a bit and find some fresh snow and get decent footing.
The first loop was really uneventful. I chatted with some of the other runners in passing,saw a couple more dogs out there, at least one of which would also, along with Ringo, finish the whole course. It was a really beautiful, scenic course, especially with the fresh snow, and I just settled into my pace and enjoyed it.
Somewhere around the hour mark I ate my first Pure bar. My game plan was to eat nutrition bar every hour and keep sucking down fluids. I would top off my water bottle each aid station and keep chugging it between. I knew 3 bars wouldn’t make whole run, but I figured I’d start eating food at aid stations after that.
2 hours and 17 minutes into the race I reached the end of the first loop and started into the second. My right hip which I’d been having problems with most of the triathlon season, and which I thought was healed, was starting to complain a bit because of the slipping, but it wasn’t anything to be concerned with. As I started into the second loop my fears were quickly realized as the trail had now become like an ice skating rink. Enough runners had been through the trail that it was now all hard packed, rough snow that was extremely slippery. I was forced to slow my pace some, but I kept plugging away. Around the 2 ½ hour mark I finally remembered to eat another bar, this time opting for the Lara Bar.
I maintained a slightly slower pace through most of the second lap, and despite the continual slipping my hip got no worse. The course of still very scenic and I was enjoying myself. I sort of got used to the sliding around and just accepted it as part of the experience. I was joking with people as I passed them or on the rare occasion that they passed me. My goal time of 4:30 was slipping away, but I didn’t care because I was still going to have a respectable time on a tough course.
Unfortunately, the fun slowly disappeared during the second half of the loop. The hills were rather small by my standards, but they were enough that going down them started to become somewhat treacherous. I really started regretting my not having brought some form of traction to put on my Runamocs as each downhill became major challenge. I started slipping and sliding down them, sometimes forwards, sometimes sideways, and the occasional alarming backwards. I was flipping and spinning and twirling everywhere, but somehow I was staying on my feet. Including one downhill where I slipped and performed some kind of spin and slid backwards down the hill about 20 feet until my heels caught on an erosion control plank which almost caused me to do a back flip, but instead I spun again and slid another 10 feet. It was quite an adventure.
Finally about the 25 mile mark the odds caught up with me and my feet slid out from under me and I hit solidly on my bum hip. There were two runners, a man and a woman, right behind me, both of whom stopped to make sure I was ok. I told them I was fine, but the man made it clear he wasn’t moving on until I was back on my feet and moving again. He gave me his hand and helped me to my feet and they both waited for me to start running before the continued on. They kept encouraging me over next ½ mile before I feel back a bit too far to talk to. The impact of the fall had hurt, but I think it overwhelmed my sensory nerves because my hip actually felt better afterwards. Despite the decreased discomfort in my hip the fall caused me to finally reduce my pace even further. I’m sure fatigue played a factor in my not keeping my feet under me, and to continue at the pace I was going would just mean more falls.
About a mile farther on I was going down a very slight downgrade, not even enough to call a hill, with a sharp turn at the end of it. I slid right past the turn and into the woods. Fortunately as soon as I left the trail I regained traction and stopped well before I was in danger of hitting a tree. That was enough for me though, I was done ‘racing’ and it was now about getting to the finish in one piece. I backed down the pace another notch and kept plugging away.
Shortly after my ‘missed’ turn my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t been sticking to my planned food schedule and I ate my final Pure bar. I had been doing well maintaining my hydration, actually having to rid myself of excess fluids three times during the race, but totally neglected my calories. I’m sure it had some affect on my race, but it didn’t seem like it was a big one other than for a hungry belly.
The last few miles were not fast, but I was still having a good time. I had chosen to wear a Santa hat, red jacket and white gloves for the race and was having a good time with each of the volunteers that I passed. Comments like “I’m sick of these fricking reindeer games. Damn things abandoned me in the middle of nowhere” and “anyone see a sleigh go by?” It helped the miles go by and I got a few laughs. Before I knew it the finish area was in sight. Most of the last mile was on pavement that was relatively clear and I took it home strong.
Despite the snow, the hip, the falls and everything else I still managed to finish in 4:54:52 which was good enough for 34th overall, and 3rd in the old guy, 45-49, age group. And to top it off, I beat all canine finishers (Ringo and at least one other made the whole distance, with Ringo finishing a distant 2nd, but he also looked fresh, strong and ready to do the whole thing again…).
Post race I warmed myself and filled my belly with a wonderful selection of their famous soups. I made sure to sample everyone of them: sweet Russian cabbage and sausage, spicy corn chowder, spelt mushroom pasta, chicken noodle, and chili. All were delicious! And homemade!
Overall I have to say this was a great race. It was a beautiful, and, if it wasn’t for the snow, fast course. I know some of my co-racers would disagree, but despite it being a more challenging course than the old Huff course, I found it to still be fairly flat (compared to what I run on in Westchester NY). The race was well organized, the staff and volunteers fantastic and the food and bling awesome. I heard that the food at the aid stations was great as well, and regret not having availed myself to some of it. The course may have been slippery, but it’s a trail race in December, it’s my own fault for not being better prepared. If you’re looking for a great first 50k or a PR, I highly recommend giving this one a try.
*** Don’t forget, March is National Athletic Training Month: Every Body Needs an Athletic Trainer. #NATM2013 More info coming soon!