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!