Wednesday, March 26, 2014

HAT Run 50k - My (D)DNF Race Report

(D)DNF - dēˈ·dēˈ·en·ef
1. the act of not DNF'ing [DNF - abbrev. 'Did Not Finish']
2. to continue to the finish when you think you shouldn't
3. the opposite of DNF'ing 

It's been a challenging winter here in Central PA with weather tougher than we've seen in years. We had very cold temperatures which aren't a real big deal, but the frigid temps allowed the snow to stick around for what seemed like forever. Trails were clogged with snow and ice and road running was difficult and dangerous too. Those challenges weren't enough for me so two weeks prior to the HAT Run, I came down with a nasty cold which seemed to cycle from my head to my chest and back ,over and over again.  It might've been Bronchitis, I don't know, never went to the doc. What I do know is the accompanying coughing fits were unrelenting and nearly impossible to run through. So with all that said, it should be funny to note that a few years ago when a friend told me about the HAT Run, he said, "yeah, the thing about The HAT Run is that you have to be sure to stay in shape through the winter" (thanks Kyle). Considering the crappy preparation I had, I stepped up to the start line with a few hundred others with congested lungs and the absolute bare minimum winter training miles in my legs.

The HAT Run is one of those events where the venue doesn't have enough trail mileage so runners are required to do a couple laps to complete the 50k distance. No, that isn't my favorite format, but I needed a tune up event so I entered. This was the 26th running of the event and it's extremely popular. If you didn't sign up the day registration opened, you missed it. The race filled to capacity in no time. So because I registered that meant someone else didn't get in. I wasn't going to let a chest cold make me miss the start and waste a spot in the race. 

Janice and I had never been to Susquehanna State Park before. It's quite the pretty place, just north of Havre de Grace Maryland along The Susquehanna River near the mouth of The Chesapeake Bay. Coming down from Harrisburg Pennsylvania we entered Maryland via Lancaster County and crossed the river on The Conowingo Dam which is something else neither of us had ever seen. The park is full of hiking trails and seems a popular spot for mountain and road biking. Considering its position along the river, I'm sure it's a good spot for fishing and boating as well. There's some cool historical stuff there too, the Rock Run Historic Area with a working grist mill, the Carter-Archer Mansion, Jersey Toll House and the curious ruins of the Susquehanna Tidewater Canal. The start/finish was located adjacent to the Steppingstone Museum. Janice captured some great photos while waiting for me to appear out of the woods.

Those stairs are part of the course.
Grist Mill

Remnants Of The Abandoned Susquehanna Tidewater Canal
Ruins of The Port Deposit Bridge Piers

It was chilly in the 30's when we arrived with a steady breeze that made it feel a good bit cooler. With the promise that the temperature would climb above 60, dressing in layers was key. The start format was interesting, set up like the typical cross country start with runners basically standing shoulder to shoulder and running to a chute to funnel everyone onto the course.

Fun Start
There's a short 3.6 mile starting lap using a park road then into an open field and eventually leading into the forest on single track. After that parade lap we returned back to the start/finish area to begin the first of two 13.7 mile laps. The course was mostly single track through the woods, but we also broke out into some wide open fields and I was surprised by the amount of actual paved park road that we used(one stretch was 2 miles).
Plenty of climbing, the course description said 9800';
my watch recorded 7128', but who's arguing?

A 200 Year Old Wall & A Wide Open Field Of Runners

After the wet winter, the water crossings were flowing strong and one of them was about knee deep. My feet were wet most of the day. Each lap had two well stocked aid stations which were essentially at the same location making it very easy for Janice to intercept me.

I started the race with a long sleeve shirt over a sleeveless shirt with arm warmers and light weight gloves. After the first out and back on the road, I tossed the long sleeve and later in the day the temperature came up so I ditched the arm warmers and gloves as well. I was carrying a single handheld Nathan bottle with GU Gels and GU Chomps in the pouch and I had salt tablets and GU Roctane Electrolyte Capsules in the pockets of my shorts. I started the race drinking GU Brew and switched to GU Roctane for the later mileage. Janice swapped out my empty bottle each time she saw me and had a supply of replacement gels as needed. I ate peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and drank Coke and Mountain Dew from the aid stations.

Still Smiling With The Susquehanna River In The Distance

Arriving At The Second Aid Station

Heading into the second aid station on the first lap, I was feeling good and I was holding my mile time just under 12 minutes (comfortable for me for this distance and terrain). Things seemed to be going well in spite of my occasional coughing spells. I left that aid station eating peanut butter & jelly and everything seemed fine until I got about 200' around the corner and I started to cough. This coughing fit was over the top, it was aggravating my gag reflex and I couldn't get it under control so I pulled off the trail out of the way. Unfortunately it didn't end till I barfed and now I felt like hell and the next mileage had some considerable climbs waiting for me and I couldn't stop coughing and gagging. I had now slowed to a crawl and now heading into the start/finish area to start lap #2 I knew I needed to drop out. I was honestly afraid that attempting a second lap would do some damage. I got to the chute and told Janice I couldn't keep going and the timers told me I needed to speak to the guy in the red jacket. I started to unpin my number and Janice said, "no, you can finish, you're beyond half way". I know my face had to show a look of horror. This wasn't just some, "I'm feeling sorry for myself" pity-party act, I sincerely felt like death. Just then the "guy in the red coat" asked, "are you sure? you know it's mostly down hill to the next aid station, why don't you run there and rethink this?" I had heard those, "it's all down hill from here" jokes before. At the Laurel Highlands there's a sign that says "You've reached the highest point of The Laurel Highlands HikingTrail, it's all down hill from here". He wasn't joking though, I could tell his encouragement was genuine. I guess he had seen runners who really needed to drop and somehow didn't class me in that same group. For some reason, his advice and Janice's loving encouragement was enough for me to pin my number back on and give it a shot. Janice also handed me my next bottle, which now had GU Roctane in it versus the mellower GU Brew I had been carrying.

It wasn't a lie, a lot of the mileage to the next aid station was downhill and I did start to feel better. I reached the aid station and I sat down a minute and ate an orange and it stayed down. I got another bottle from Janice and continued on. The pain and discomfort caused by all that coughing and the irritation it brought seemed to be gone or at least at a manageable minimum. There was a mellow two mile stretch of trail across open fields and two more easy miles of park road through the family camping area that seemed to allow me to really regroup. I was beginning to actually believe I could finish. I was actually believing that I was about to (D)DNF! Aside from the fear that those guys may have written down my number as having dropped, I was feeling ok.
A Run In The Woods

The opening lap was intended to string us out, but the event allows 500 runners and much of the early mileage was like running in a conga line at a crowded shopping mall. It was nice that now that I was officially a straggler, my last miles were run mostly alone. That's my preference, especially when I'm struggling. I made a climb with a couple others and I felt like I had to continually apologize for my constant hacking and coughing. I was a real snot machine and now alone I could hack, cough and spit without encouraging anyone else's gag reflex.

I got to the last aid station and managed/survived the climbing after that and reached the fields leading to the finish with regained confidence. Janice of course was waiting for me and I met up with the "guy in the red coat" again who turned out to be Co-Race Director Tim Gavin. I'm forever thankful for their words that kept me going. Whether I had done damage or not, I had finished and it was because of the chemistry they created when trying to talk me out of sitting down and quitting. 
Now I Can Stop...

I had come to the HAT Run with two goals:
1. To finish
2. To not get lapped by the winners/leaders

While I'm not a huge fan of running laps, this is a top notch event bolstered by a rich community of area trail runners. I'm not fast so I'm used to finishing after awards ceremonies when most everyone has already packed up and gone. Sure I missed the awards this time too, but the party was still buzzing. Plenty of runners still mingled and the post race food and live music was killer. Crossing the finish line got you a sweet Hat Run running cap, pint glass, bottle opener and a cool embroidered towel. All that on top of the long sleeved Under Armour race shirt you got with your registration. If race stuff is your thing, these guys don't disappoint. I'll take a pint glass over another useless medal any day.

If you're looking for a tough little 50k, in an absolute beautiful place, run by true professionals, then this race is for you! 
The Muscle Milk Jeep

Our Jeep

Love This Photo


***Along with all the stuff listed below, I also ran with:
- Zensah Ankle Support (for my useless left ankle)
- A favorite old pair of Asics running shorts (with pockets)

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