Warning: This is a race recap so it’s a little long, as they tend to be. If you’re not into reading, just watch the video I made.
If I were to sum up in one word my experience at the HAT 50K on Saturday, that would be it. Nothing could be more diametrically opposed to the memories of my bone-chilling, twenty-degree, embrace-the-suck first ultramarathon in January than the high I’m still coming down from after HAT Run.
The temperature was in the seventies and the course was tough, way harder than my previous trail ultra. Four stream crossings, 9800 feet of climbing, lots of trail, several fields, and a few miles of road made for the hardest run I’ve ever completed.
Coming into this run, I knew that I wasn’t in the best of shape. I could have done a better job training—hell, I could have done a better job of not drinking three beers the day before while I watched college hoops. But all the snow this winter was too good an excuse to take it easy, to get in the minimal requisite mileage and enjoy the time off.
So I wasn’t expecting much, mostly just looking to not die. And if that requirement were met, I would try to have fun.
From Good to Terrible to Great
I won’t bore you with all the details of my actual run, so I’ll keep this part short. You can watch the video I made to get a three-minute idea of how it went.
I felt how you would imagine running one’s second ultra, on a much harder course, when one is a little out of shape, feels. I tried my best to not go out too fast and relax during the first big loop. During the second, once I knew what to expect, I let myself go all out. But by then, “all out” was kind of a shuffle.
I felt pretty good until about mile 23, at which point it seemed that some sort of large bear jumped on my back. I was feeling so bad that I even took walk breaks on some downhills.
For about forty minutes, I hated running and was never going to do it again as soon as the race was finished. Pretty much the solid mental game that I’ve come to expect.
And then it all got better. I got to a rest stop at mile 26, right before what I considered to be the final leg of the course. A friend and my mom gave me some words of encouragement and I sat and had some out-of-this-world french fries for a few minutes, and after that I was a new man. I felt better than I’ve ever felt at the end of a race, even running up hills that I had walked during the first loop.
I wish I could attribute this finish to something that I could repeat in the future, but I have no idea what it was. The fries? (Allen and my mom had better hope so, if they don’t want to be considered essential race day equipment from now on.)
I finished in 5:41:36, in 66th place and about seven minutes slower than in my first ultra. But that didn’t matter to me at all. Given the difficulty of the course and my uncertainty coming into the race, I feel like I’ve never run better on any day of my life.
What I Mean By Warmth
But when I talk about “warmth,” it isn’t about the weather. While the heat and sunlight were such a welcome change from the winter that kept so many of us indoors (and out of shape for this run), I’m talking about something different. I’m talking about the feeling I got from knowing so many people at the race, from the people who make it happen every year, to so many runners that I’ve gotten to know over the past year, to the volunteers and my family, without whom I don’t think I’d have finished the race.
Everywhere I turned, it seemed I knew someone—I’ve never run a race like that. I’m generally a quiet, keep-to-myself kind of guy. And I haven’t minded that at other races, the only people I know are those who come to support me. But having had this experience this weekend, I don’t think I’ll ever look at other races the same way. If you don’t know from experience, you’ll just have to take it from me what a difference a familiar face makes when you’re a marathon into a race and still have five miles to go.
The course was marked incredibly well. There was a point in my first ultra at which I got lost, and if you want to talk about embracing suckage, that’s it. When you’re tired and counting down the miles until you can do anything at all other that run, the idea that you might be—let alone, actually are—running in the wrong direction is on par with that of gnawing off your foot.
So knowing where I was going was an unanticipated luxury this weekend. Thanks to the race directors, my friends Jeff, Tim, and Mike, who I run with on Thursday nights, for that.
The volunteers were wonderful. My day started with a greeting from a runner in our local club who shocked us all by being there, not two weeks after he suffered a heart attack. (When I saw him early in the race, he kindly reminded me that next year I’ll be running with a papoose.)
I’ve already mentioned my friend Allen, whom I met through this blog. He was such a tremendous help to me when I was feeling unbelievably awful around mile 26, and the three times before that when I saw him. He promised me a homebrewed strong ale at the end, and he made good on that promise.
My wife Erin, my mom, my dad, and my sister all came to cheer me on, like they do whenever they get the chance. As these races get longer (three hours has become six, and six might soon become nine or ten), I appreciate their efforts more and more every time. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves about Erin’s dedication, given her state.
And the company at the end was great, as always. I drank a few beers with the people in my Thursday-night ultra group out of the congratulatory beer stein every finisher received. And then I went over and hung out with a group of people wearing Daily Mile t-shirts, just as they said they would be. I met Jeanne, Andy, Thomas, Steve, Adam, and some others I’m sure I’m forgetting. All very nice people from the area whom I’d have never met if not for this interwebs thing. I even got some baby stroller advice, and a beer! Conclusion: Daily Mile is cool and I need to participate on the site more, instead of just posting my workouts.
A Lesson Learned (Again)
I believe that about sums up the day. Warmth, warmth, and more warmth. And another version of the same lesson I learned during my Boston-qualifier: When you think, even for a few minutes, that you really can’t do something, and then you somehow manage to pull it out of your ass, it changes you in a way that you can’t explain until you experience it. And when you have others to thank for it, it’s even better.