On Saturday, December 28, 2013, I ran my first official trail race, the Huff 50K. The “Huff” also offers two other events, a 50K relay and a one loop (10.8 mile) race. I’ve wanted to do this race for a couple years now because it’s very close to where I grew up and where my family currently lives, plus it lines up well with the fall trail running which I normally do after the Chicago Marathon. However, I was nervous to take on something so big right before I leave for Disney for the Dopey Challenge. I was thinking about it, and thinking some more, leaning toward the one loop option, not wanting to do the relay and having to wait around all day for a relay team but also considering the 50K. I finally decided on the 50K cuz I was healthy and also hoping it would force me to be a bit more serious about my post Chicago Marathon miles and my Dopey training. Yeah, Dopey didn’t worry me but Huff scared me big time. So in order to be properly trained for Dopey, I decided to take the plunge on Huff. I realized this sounds insane but I always downcyle after the CHI Marathon and that’s where my brain wants to go in November and December. Dopey starts on January 9th so I didn’t have much time to downcyle. The Huff 50K was essential to put me back in the mental and physical training game and I used it as one massive, slow training run. I was very cautious and kept it very slow and just celebrated one last last hurrah of a training run before Dopey. Insane. I know. I got it.
Prerace with friends, photo on left: Austin B, Mike S (Run Nerds Rock), Adella B, Brandi M & me. Photo on right, a few of the FNRC members who were running: me, Susan M & Nicole F.
One of the biggest things about Huff is the unknown. The trail conditions, the weather, the hills, the weather, the miles, the weather, the ability to fuel for the duration, the weather, proper hydration and yeah, the weather. We totally lucked out because although the Midwest has been hit hard by day after day of sub zero temps this season, Mother Nature brought us a nice warm spell for Huff cuz God NEVER gives you more than you can handle. We had a balmy 30 degrees at the start and the sun worked it’s magic all day to bring temps up to 45 by the finish. Weather crisis averted.
My plan, if you want to call it a “plan” was to focus on the fact that I need to run two loops, use the mantra “just two loops!” and move thru the course without thinking too much about mileage. You know, definitely don’t think about the fact that it was going to be a 31 mile day cuz well that just sounds CRAZY. I don’t consider myself crazy so I certainly wouldn’t consider running 31 miles for fun. However, I’d do just about anything for a training run. 🙂 I also had an ace up my sleeve cuz my friend and fellow Team Tough Chik member, Kasey, was also running the 50K and I was thinking we might be a good match to run together IF she wasn’t looking to race the course. I figured if she wanted to race, then she would just have go without me cuz I couldn’t afford to put too much effort in this event. I didn’t want to trash my legs and I needed a fast recovery for Dopey. Slow and steady was the plan. Walk the hills, run the downs & flats for as long as possible and then just survive. Meet my partner in pain crime, Kasey. First pic is on the first loop about mile 4, right before the first amazing aid station. Second pic is as we started our second loop where were excitedly announced to the world that we ONLY had one loop to run. Third pic is us running toward the bag drop finishing our first loop.
I can’t really say enough about Kasey. She had a great attitude. Promised to be the anchor on my ass me in the beginning when I really just wanted to run fast but knew I couldn’t. Promised to help me thru at the end when I would surely be in tears struggling. She sang, danced, laughed, bitched complained, ran, walked, crawled, and ate sour patch kids ….. all in perfect step with me. When things got rough for one of us, the other person sucked it up, ignored any tears/complaints/profanity and took the lead to keep us moving toward our one and only goal, the finish line.
The first 15.5 mile loop was icy and snowy but the sun was shining. It was rough on the feet because the frozen trail had zero give and our feet, ankles and the stabilizing muscles/tendons were working overtime. But it was beautiful.
The trail was also covered in fallen leaves and hid the roots, rocks and wooden beams that held the trail together on the ups and downs. We were very careful but still stumbled, tripped and slid on multiple occasions. Very typical of trail running, which is why hard soled trail shoes are necessary to protect your feet and toes!
And there were hills. Lots of hills. Some little, some big. Some up, some down.
There were aid stations about every 4 miles but I highly recommend carrying your own water. I didn’t, even though I had a water belt with me in my drop bag, and I really struggled with dehydration in that second loop. The aid stations that were on course were very well stocked with anything and everything a person could want: water, coke, pickle juice, Gatorade, bananas, cookies (store variety and homemade), pb&j sandwiches, pretzels, chips, fishy crackers, licorice, m&ms – plain & peanut, homemade truffles, hamburgers, chicken noodle soup and other things that I can’t even remember.
We both utilized the bag drop at the half way point and after a 20 minute layover to fix our feet, change shoes, readjust/shed clothing, potty, eat, text and Facebook (you know the important things) we headed out for the second 15.5 mile loop. It was pure mud. The 1000 people between the three races, plus the sun and warming temps had done their job to thaw our frozen trail. We slid around this loop and sometimes even had to use bushes on the side of the trail to help pull us up the hills. I was in a total panic, sliding down the hills afraid that I would fall and manage to get hurt and ruin myself for Dopey. Kasey even offered to throw herself in front of me if I started falling/sliding down the hill to coerce me into going faster break my fall. But I was focused on being overly cautious to avoid a fall/slip. The theme of the second loop was mud and survival. I had a very hard time getting thru miles 24-29. I was all done. I was tired of the mud. Angry that we were sloshing and splashing each other. Angry that 31 miles seemed like a good idea. But we just kept moving forward, sometimes at a snails pace but relentlessly moving forward. Mud on the left, me walking down the trail on the right.
You might wonder how I got thru that second loop. I do too. But really it was from tree to tree. We ran to the big tree on the left. Then walked to the multi-trunk birch on the right. Then we ran to the bridge. Then we walked to the tree with the funky arm out over the trail. Then we ran up the hill so we could walk when it was flat and easier. We did a lot of “this is the last damn time we ever have to run up this hill”. We probably said that 20 different times on 20 different hills. We just did it. One foot after the other. One tree at a time. One hill at a time. One mile at a time. One loop at a time. No goals other than to finish. No pressure. No problem.
And finish we did, in just under 7 hours. And we were happy. Really happy. Mike even waited for us even though he had to wait 2.5 hours after he himself had finished (he ran it in 4:33 and placed 4th in his age group. Wow. Great job, Mike & congrats!).
As for the race itself, super organized. Aid stations with potties about every 4 miles. One unmanned/no potty aid station on course. One “pit potty”. One potty stop without an aid station. Amazing volunteers. Amazing trail. Amazing views. Variety of terrain from roads to grass to trail to hills to bridges and from lake to lake to lake. One bag drop at the half way point. Changing tent. Chip timing. Homemade goodies like soups, cookies and candy. This race really has it all, including multiple race options for whatever distance you are willing to tackle. I’d absolutely recommend this race to anyone would is looking for an awesome trail run. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it.
Swag = unisex tech tee, cooler bag and a key chain that is a mini replica of our finisher medals. I love the key chain!
Great race! Maybe I’ll see YOU in 2014!
** I’m an Ultra Marathoner Now!! ** Amanda – TooTallFritz **