Why the HAT 50K Was My Favorite Race Yet

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.



Dig this post?
Spread the word!

Keep in touch:

The 7 Foods Worth Eating Every Single Day

wooden signpost near a pathOur 7-Day Kickstart Plan is unique in that it focuses on the highest quality whole foods (including the 7 foods worth eating every day), to make sure you get everything you need on a plant-based diet.

The Kickstart Plan includes:
  • A 7-day meal plan, built around the foods worth eating every single day
  • 14 of our favorite recipes that pack in the nutrition, taste great, and are easy to make
  • Focused on simplicity and speed, to minimize stress and time commitment
It's the best way we know of to get started with a whole-food, plant-based diet, for just 7 bucks. Learn more here!


  1. what an incredible race! i love the pictures of you and your wife at the end…so excited to see the baby soon!

  2. Aww I loved this whole post. And once again, congrats!
    The training was unfairly tough with all of the snow storms; I don’t think you can beat yourself too much there for any out-of-shape feeling those might have caused. The 3 beers on the other hand… 😉
    I love your notion of warmth, and the fact that you’ve made so many friends through an “individual sport” is a claim to what a great community running has
    .-= Evan Thomas´s last blog ..Half & Half =-.

    • Thanks for the encouragement and the links recently, Evan.

      As for the beers; my rationalization was that during my last ultra, I felt my legs fail very early in the race. Therefore, ultras are more about legs than cardio, and I feel like alcohol doesn’t affect muscles like it does lungs and cardio. That’s terrible logic, I know, and wasn’t even true for this race. But the NCAA tourney is too much fun.

  3. Amazing job. Way to get past your difficulties and run a great race. I hope I do as well during my (comparatively measly) half-marathon this weekend.

    • August, dude, a half marathon is not measly, even by comparison. By that logic, my race was even more measly, compared to a 100-miler! It’s about doing what you can, relative to what you know you’ve done before or are capable of right now. For you maybe that’s a half right now, maybe one day it will be a full or much more.

      Thanks for your congrats; getting past difficulties like that is what it’s all about, as much as it sucks in the moment.

  4. Joe Richardson says:

    Sounds like you had a great time. I too follow a plant based lifestyle and was encouraged to read your race report. Did you meet any other vegans at the HAT Run? BTW, I follow you on Twitter. @Rundad4two. All the best.

    • Hi Joe, thanks for your comment. And I know your Twitter name, I must have read your tweets or perhaps even talked to you on there before.

      I met several people who told me they didn’t eat much meat. But not sure if there were any vegetarians (or vegans). I didn’t wear a No Meat Athlete shirt, since I don’t like to go to crazy with the self-promotion bit, so perhaps I’d have met more if I were “advertising.”

  5. That’s amazing yo have such great support! It really does make a difference running with a group of people you know, it’s like it gives you all this running bond. It’s very comforting.

  6. ultrarunnergirl says:

    Stellar race report, Matt! HAT was my first and though a great first ultra it isn’t easy by any measure. Your observations and what you took away from it all are spot-on. It is all about finding out what you are made of when it gets bad. It is also all about your friends when it gets beyond bad! You are a born ultrarunner my friend!

  7. Nice recap Matt, it was great to meet you. I look forward to seeing you at more races. The HAT was awesome I am still on a high from it. Best, Thomas

  8. Such a great recap- enjoyed reading every word 🙂 I think its wonderful that you had so much INCREDIBLE support. And I just love seeing Erin all adorable and preggers 🙂 And I’ll remember the french fry tip 😉
    .-= Erica´s last blog ..Pump 73 & Veggie Enchiladas =-.

  9. Great race recap Matt. Loved the video and really enjoyed reading your review. Well done out there!!

  10. Really enjoying hearing about your ultra marathon experience! I mean, it truly blows me away that someone can run that distance! You are a true champ. Congratulations!!

  11. Warmth. That’s a great way of summarizing a fantastic experience. Congratulations, Matt! Beautiful closing photo there.

  12. I’ll have to turn down the offer to be essential race equipment, but I’ll be out there running with you next time.

    Great recap and the video was amazing.


  13. I really enjoyed reading your race recap and watching your video. Thanks for sharing your experience, you are truly an inspiration!!! =]
    .-= Mary (Food Fit & Fun)´s last blog ..Finally Spring! =-.

  14. That is such a great race report. I’m so with you on doing something you thought you would never be able to do.

    That is why I long to do an ultra and I will!
    .-= AndrewENZ´s last blog ..Weigh-in #12 2010: Red Alert =-.

  15. You may have me almost convinced to try trail running, Matt. It sounds like great fun!!
    .-= Nicki´s last blog ..The Tulips =-.

  16. Congrats, Matt! So inspiring, as always!!
    .-= Rachel´s last blog ..How I Became a Personal Trainer Cheap and Easy =-.

  17. “For about forty minutes, I hated running and was never going to do it again–AS SOON AS THE RACE WAS FINISHED.” I love this, this is so inspiring! You never give up, which is why I know you’ll accomplish all of your goals Matt.

    And Erin looks great!!!
    .-= meatlessmama´s last blog ..Stuffed Collard Greens =-.

  18. Awesome recap! And I love your attitude in the lesson learned. It’s so true! 😀
    .-= Sarah (Running to Slow Things Down)´s last blog ..early morning monday =-.

  19. Wow. Just… wow. What an amazing experience to go through (FOUR STREAMS?!?) and what an awesome post on how all this running that we do is about more than the miles–it’s about the human connections, too. Good stuff to think about next time the five mile loop is biting my behind.

    Can’t wait to see the two of you run after baby NMA soon…
    .-= Laura Georgina´s last blog ..Sicking–Back Tomorrow =-.

  20. Love this post!!! Congrats on a great race! I love your running philosophy, keep up the great work!

  21. Congrats on a great finish Matt! I completed the Pirate’s Cove 50K on Saturday. It was a beautiful course, beautiful day and we just soaked it all in. It was by far the SLOWEST 50K I have ever run but I went in expecting it to be since it was Bryan’s first. We just took it easy and took the opportunity to take in all the sights. 🙂

  22. You. Are. Crazy.

    🙂 And AWESOME. Congratulations. My mind can’t really conceive of that kind of race!
    .-= Sagan´s last blog ..Re-Cap of a Weekend Getaway and Thoughts on Cheese =-.

  23. Hi! I don’t think I’ve ever commented so I wanted to come out of blogstalker mode and say that everything you’ve accomplished is absolutely amazing and so inspiring! This was a beautifully written post about your race and really motivates me to keep up with my training. I’m a new runner and just getting into races (so I need to buy one of your tshirts soon!). What I’m most looking forward to by getting into these races are the sense of community and warmth that you’ve described, I’m so glad you had the chance to experience this! All the runners and healthy athletes I’m met in person and through blogs seem to be really incredible people.
    I also love all your healthy dessert recipes! And your wife is beautiful, congratulations to you both on the upcoming addition to the family!

  24. Great recap, Matt! It was nice meeting you, while getting passed by you! Awesome video too!

Leave a Comment