Written after Hurt Trail Series Race, Run With A View, May 2011-
Last Saturday I awoke at five a.m. to the sound of a torrential down pour. Seriously, horizontal rain pounding against the window. I booted up the HURT website, assuming that it was going to be cancelled (I was too tired to think about the fact that it was being put on by HURT). No race updates on the site. I drove all the way across the island, through the half-flooded roads, assuming that when I got there it would be cancelled (not to mention the forty minutes I spent lost, having taken down bad directions). It wasn't. Instead there was a group of about a hundred runners, laughing at the rain, already soaked, waiting for the race start.
If I have learned anything about HURT from the few races I’ve participated in, it’s to never, never underestimate the sadistic side of the HURT race directors. Oh, it’s only a six mile run... through multiple stream crossings, ankle-deep mud bogs, and as many hills as they can find. They are extremely talented at finding the most difficult conditions in the most beautiful places. Which is why their races are so ridiculously hard and yet so addicting.
The race started out with about a half-mile uphill run through the suburbs to the Jeep trail at the top of the development. As soon as the pavement ended the mud began. Trails, lots of mud, uphill, downhill, even more mud. At several points the downhills were so steep and slick we were sliding down them on our butts, it was safer.
During an especially steep and slippery hill a piece of advice from my recently acquired "Relentless Forward Progress", by Bryon Powell, popped into my head; how to use your glutes instead of your quads to climb a hill. So, I focused on proper foot placement and I quickly learned that not only was this much easier on my legs but I was much more sure-footed over the extremely slick terrain.
In fact, I was feeling so good about my progress that I got a little caught up in the moment and pushed a bit to pass a fellow racer who wasn’t doing quite as well on the climb. Here’s a piece of advice (maybe add it to the next edition of the book)... unless you are doing extremely well, or the other guy is doing extremely poorly, do NOT try to pass while going uphill. I passed the guy, reached the top, and despite only pushing myself a 'little bit' harder could barely get my feet moving again. The cost to gain ratio is not a good one.
About half way through the serious hills slowly faded and the course became much more runnable. There were still patches, uphill and downhill, that were too steep or too slick to run but it got better.
This is the section where I was running alone. I was just enough faster than the people behind me so that they didn’t catch up but was just enough slower than the guys ahead of me that I couldn’t catch up. There was probably a good forty minutes of the race that I ran without seeing another person. This was a little nerve-racking because before the race the directors had joked about people getting lost. “Follow the green tape out, the orange tape to get back. Pink tape is for the boar hunters and blue is bad, don’t go that way.” The problem was that there were pink and blue tapes everywhere, at every crossing, and the orange/green tape was far and few between. It would feel like ten minutes of running, nervous that I’d taken the wrong direction, before I would see a good marker, then the cycle would repeat. Every time I saw green or orange I would throw my fist in the air. Small victories.
The views were amazing, despite the low cloud coverage and the serious rain, it was obvious that were we running in some of the most beautiful areas of the island. Ridge top to ridge top around these gorgeous valleys. In some areas though there were large telephone or powerline poles that made me nervous. I hadn’t seen any lightning but with the sheer number and proximity of the clouds...
Eventually I reached the end of the loop and reached one of the most painful moments, running down the half mile of pavement back to the finish line. My shoes and socks were full of mud, and the angle of the road was really awkward to run ball-of-foot first.
I reached the finish line of the eight mile run in just over two hours, averaging fifteen minutes a mile. For the conditions though, I was pretty satisfied with that.
There was a nice gentleman who was graciously hosing off the participants at the finish. I walked over and spent five minutes scrubbing my legs and shoes, then walked back to my stuff. A moment later I realized that my legs were completely covered in mud again. It took a minute to figure out there was a river of mud flowing downfrom my still caked shorts and shirt. I had to go back to a much more thorough hosing off before I was close to clean enough to get in the car.
All in all, a great experience and reminder that HURT runners are all crazy.
(A portion of this was sent to Bryon Powell in thanks for his advice on running uphills, check out his book “Relentless Forward Progress”)