Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the tag “MD H.E.A.T. 50K”

MD H.E.A.T. 50k Race Report

The race may have occurred several weeks ago, but make no mistake…the heat is very much still a factor in Delaware. Of even more consequence is the consistent 80-95% humidity, which leaves me wondering if it’s about to rain every day! I was talking with a friend this past weekend about the need for rain because the ground was so dry locally, and it occurred to me that I didn’t even realize it had been so long since a solid rain. The humidity leaves me feeling like it’s always damp and sticky outside. This feeling was the backdrop for my second consecutive running of the MD H.E.A.T. 50k on August 27th.

Last year, this race was my first stab at an east coast trail race, and the 6,000 ft. of vertical gain served as quite the wake-up call. It may not sound like much, but it was quite a bit for this Midwestern transplant. Oh, what a difference a year makes! The course was virtually the same this year, aside from a few adjustments for washed out trails, but running it felt entirely different this year. It was a nice reminder that I’ve been putting in a lot of work over the past year to increase my leg strength and climbing ability.

This year, I was lucky enough to have a friend from Iowa fly out to join me for the race. Ben has been training for the Twin Cities Marathon in October, and naturally saw his first attempt at the 50K distance as a perfect training run to test his endurance. It’s always nice to know I’m not the only one with a backwards logic 🙂 As I did last year, I woke up around 3:30am on Saturday morning, and hopped in the car for the quick drive down to Patapsco State Park in Maryland, where we loaded onto the bus around 5:45 for the short drive into the closed park.

I found Ben on the bus, we exchanged our groggy greetings, and we got settled near the start. The RD called everyone together a few minutes before 7:00AM for some quick announcements, and then we made our loop around the start/finish area and onto the trail for the start of the race. We fell into a comfortable pace/rhythm pretty quick during the first of two loops, and the small group of entrants spread out enough that we weren’t tripping over each other on the mostly single-track course.  I had a very visceral memory of the course from last year, and went in prepared for the hilly, technical nature. However, before I knew it, we were 5 miles in and moving along really well. The well-stocked and enthusiastically-staffed aid stations came up quickly, and we focused on moving quickly between them, while still maintaining a comfortable, conversational pace.

My recap of the race and the course itself last year provides plenty more detail regarding the various twists and turns, stream crossings, and steep climbs that awaited us. The memorable Grist Mill climb (all 47% grade of it) was waiting for us around mile 5.8 again, and I relished the experience in a much different way this year. I’m pretty sure Ben cursed my name for celebrating the climbing opportunity, but it was much more fun this year!

We hit the giant stone wall around mile 15 feeling pretty good, and gingerly tackled the climb and descent, managing not to face plant in the soft, muddy ground near the Patapsco River, which was an accomplishment in and of itself. We paused for a few moments at the start/finish to re-hydrate and take in some more calories. Ben’s shoes happened to be water proof, which might make the stream crossings more manageable, but also did a lovely job of keeping in all the sweat on this warm, 90& humidity morning. He was able to ring out his socks before putting them back on, while I pulled out a dry pair of socks and was never more happy to have remembered to pack them! I was much more familiar with the course this year, so I skipped my larger hydration vest, and opted for a bottle and smaller waist pack, which definitely contributed to my not overheating as much.

The second loop was, as expected, a bit more crowed due to the 25K race that had started around 9AM. We completed the first loop in a little under 3 hours and were feeling pretty good, so we kept the pace going. I had been worried about my pace prior to the start of the race, knowing that Ben is considerably faster than I am, but it would seem I have indeed developed a bit more speed myself in the past year. We were both running comfortably, and still able to carry on a conversation, which is exactly what I wanted out of the race as a solid long training run. I excitedly pointed out to Ben at the 26.3 mile mark that we had now run longer than he had previously gone, and it was fun to think back to my first 50K in D.C. at the Northface Endurance Challenge in 2011. We kept pushing along, and were both happy to get through the halfway point of the second loop, since the climbing was definitely front-loaded.

The time continued to tick by, and we moved along, enjoying the beautiful morning. I was once again reminded of how lucky I am to be able to venture out into the woods like this and explore so freely, and it served as a good reminder of my desire to keep my running sustainable. As we ran the final few miles, the reality of the distance caught up to Ben a bit, but he pushed on very well, and we were greeted by children with water guns as we crossed the finish line. At that point, we were both soaked through anyway, so washing off a bit with clean water was a welcome relief!

The post-race spread was impressive as always, and a cold beer tasted quite good after running 31 miles! We lingered and filled up a bit on the excellent spread, before deciding to call it a day and head back to the cars. The epicurean and Looper had stayed home this year, so I was on my own. Based on how I probably smelled after the race, I’m guessing she was happy she didn’t spend a few hours in the car with me afterwards as well. I ended up finishing almost 30 minutes faster than last year, and more importantly, felt much stronger the entire time. It was once again a great race, and certainly nice to see a familiar race and be a part of his first 50K experience. I have no doubt he is going to kill it at the TC Marathon this year, and I’m definitely feeling much more confident about Grindstone as well. All told, it was a great way to spend a Saturday, running the trails, and living the dream. Keep #chasing42 everyone!

 

Maryland H.E.A.T. 50K Race Recap

Our east coast move has been a bit of a whirlwind and my head still hasn’t entirely stopped spinning. There has been quite a bit of “new” in our lives in the past three months, and that including plenty of new running locations and opportunities for me! I held off on setting my fall race schedule until we moved out here and am just now getting things squared away. This meant that I haven’t had anything coming up, which has been a bit of a struggle. I always feel better when I am focusing my training on a particular race, and I’ve been itching to get back to race almost from the moment I arrived in Delaware. So, last week, on a bit of a whim, I signed up for a 50K trail race in Maryland. The MD H.E.A.T. (High Endurance Adventure Test) race was held on August 8th at Patapsco State Park, just outside Baltimore. This meant it was easily within driving range, and I could head down the morning of the race and avoid any need for sleeping accommodations. The epicurean, along with Looper, decided to join me and we made an adventure of it. The result was an immensely challenging and satisfying day!

There’s really only one reason I will ever set my alarm for 3:30AM, and that’s for a race day wake-up. Google told us it would be a 75 minute drive, and the race started at 7AM, so we wanted to be on the road by 5:30 to ensure we had a decent buffer for any directional miscues. I made sure to organize my clothes, shoes, and pack the night before to make the morning as easy as possible, but the alarm was still a painful siren call that I found myself compelled to answer. Looper, our Vizsla, loves the outdoors so we brought her along for the ride. Luckily, she is a wonderful traveler and relatively comfortable in new environments. The race bused folks into the park from a nearby park-and-ride due to the limited amount of parking available on site. We had received permission to drive directly to the park because we had Looper with us, but ended up driving to the park-and-ride first. I arrived at packet pickup around 6:50, which gave me just enough time to pin my bib on, take care of business, and rush to the starting line. This event was technically more of a “run” than a “race”, as they weren’t giving out awards or keeping track of age groups. They offered a 25K and a 50K, with both groups traversing the same 16-mile loop. The 25K didn’t begin until 9AM, so the considerably smaller group of 50K runners (approximately 50) had a solid two hours on the trail before the additional 300 folks started their own trek.

Waiting at the start for the go.

Waiting at the start for the go.

Since the 25K was the main race, the aid stations weren’t going to be fully staffed and set up until the 9AM start. Thus, we had to have enough hydration and nutrition for the first 8 miles with no aid stations to resupply. The park itself runs along 32 miles of the Patapsco River, and encompasses over 16,000 acres. the route took us along beautiful single track, with the occasional access road and paved trail used to connect various points along the way. I mentioned in an earlier post that my legs are still becoming accustomed to the hilly terrain surrounding me, and this race served as my first real test.

Welcome to the east coast hills!

Welcome to the east coast hills!

The first 8 miles of the loop were without a doubt the most difficult, and I became aware very quickly of the elevation gain this race had in store for me. After a fairly calm first mile, several decent hills greeted me over the next few miles as we made our way up and down the river valley, crisscrossing a hilly power line clearing, and navigating switchbacks. We crossed several streams, and the quick splash felt wonderful on a morning where the temps were already in the 70’s and the humidity was approaching 90%. “HEAT” was certainly an appropriate name for the race! It was clear pretty early on that this flatlander wasn’t in Iowa anymore, and my quads were yelling at me for the deception. However, the copious elevation gain I’d been logging over the past few months seemed to have paid off, as I was navigating the highly technical trail pretty well and embracing the climbs. After several sizable climbs, I thought I was well acquainted with the trail and ready to tackle anything that came my way. Then I reached the Grist Mill Trail turn.

Seriously?!

Seriously?!

Around 5.8 miles in, the course took a sharp 90 degree right turn and I ran smack into a rock face. It took me a moment to look up and see the course markers to realize that we were supposed to go up! The 47% grade meant climbing with my hands as much as my feet, and grabbing onto tree roots to pull myself forward. After 100 feet or so, the trail leveled out just enough to stand up again, and I looked up in search of a summit that wasn’t there. The trail seemed to disappear into the woods, and the dense tree canopy nicely shaded the way. This would prove to be the toughest climb of the race, and one of the tougher climbs I’ve tackled in any race, although I’m sure I have more of them ahead of me! At one point, the trail opened up just enough to the left for a scenic outlook and a beautiful view of the valley below. If I had enough oxygen in my brain, I would have snapped a picture but I had to settle for a few of the hill itself. After finally reaching the summit, the trail leveled out and slowly began a calm descent over the course of the next mile, before we eventually ran into a paved bike trail along the river. We took the bike trail for about a mile, and my feet yearned for the rocky, rooty single-track  instead of the smooth asphalt that was guiding me along. We crossed the river on a swinging bridge, and the mile 8 aid station was waiting for us when we got to the other side. I could not have been more happy to see those volunteers!

The roads just don't compare!

The roads just don’t compare!

This was the first race I had run that offered Tailwind at the aid stations, which was a wonderful surprise and convenient supplement to my own supply. I lingered for a few minutes before thanking everyone and heading back out on the course. Almost immediately, the trail made its way up another steep incline but I was feeling much more refreshed after my pit stop and I tackled this hill which considerable ease. After reaching the top, the next 6 miles were relatively easy compared to the first half of the race. The trail continued to offer plenty of rolling hills, stream crossings, and technical switchbacks, but my legs had adapted and I tackled the miles quite comfortably. With less than a mile left, the trail ran straight into a 30 foot stone wall. I initially looked straight up and sighed at the thought of having to scale the enormous wall, which was serving as some sort of barrier along the river. However, I eventually noticed the 8 foot connecting wall situated at a 90 degree angle, and headed over to scale it. Going up was fairly easy, but going back down the other side was a bit more treacherous and I wondered what it would feel like on the second loop. I landed safely on the ground, picked the trail back up, and headed for the clearing and the start/finish area. I finished the first loop a bit faster than I had intended (shocking, I know!) but I was feeling really good. I stopped to chat with the epicurean, rehydrate, and take in some more nutrition, and then I headed back out on the second and final loop.

Heading back out for loop 2!

Heading back out for loop 2!

I knew what awaited me as I ventured out on the second loop, and was encouraged by the fact that I would encounter aid stations every 4 miles for this second loop. My legs were doing an excellent job of reminding me of the first loop as I tackled the early hills on the second loop. My pace slowed some, but I expected that and welcomed it, knowing I had more than enough time in the bank. I was partially dreading and partially looking forward to the Grist Mill climb as I moved along, so everything up until that point seemed more like an opening act before the main attraction. My legs were much more tired the second time around, and I’m sure the climb took me longer, but I relished in the accomplishment, one foot in front of the other. By the time I reached the paved bike path, the popular state park was much busier, and I found myself avoiding walkers, runners, bikers, and other folks wandering down by the river. I was that much more excited when I reached the swinging bridge because I knew I only had 8 miles left and they were quite manageable. A minute or so after I arrived at the mile 8 aid station, another guy came in and promptly called it quits. I tried to talk him out of his DNF and offered to run with him for a bit but he was done. I made sure to maintain my positive attitude as I embarked on the large climb just past the aid station.

Looper enjoyed the river almost as much as I did!

Looper enjoyed the river almost as much as I did!

The final 8 miles flew by pretty quickly, even if I wasn’t moving as fast as the first time around. I had judged my hydration and nutrition well, and my body was feeling good even if my legs were a tad bit tired. Over the next few miles, I began to pass folks running the 25K race, and I did my best to encourage them to keep going. I stopped a few times to offer assistance to folks, but kept myself moving forward. Relentless forward progress was key! The wall climb at the end proved to be much easier than I thought it would be, but I was a bit disoriented when I got to the other side until someone pointed out the exit onto the clearing to me. I emerged from the beautiful, shaded park and ran through the finish line to the sound of ringing cowbells (have I mentioned how much I despise them?), and I had a delightfully exhausted smile on my face. I collected some food at the finish area and headed over to sit down and decompress with the epicurean and Looper. In total, I gained over 5800 feet of elevation, which, considering the distance, made this the hilliest race I’ve run to date. When you throw in the highly technical trails, it became a fantastic test not only of my trail running abilities, but of my hill work as well. My quads were sore, but I was feeling great. It may have been a wicked early morning, but this impromptu race turned into a wonderful mini-getaway. It will no doubt be the first of many in our new east coast home!

Not a bad view on the way home either!

Not a bad view on the way home either!

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: