Wednesday, January 20, 2016

No Snow, But Plenty of Mud - 2016 Phunt 50k Race Report

January 16, 2016 Elkton, MD

After taking a year off from ultra running, it felt pretty good to be heading to a start line to go run 50k in a forest. I had heard about the Phunt 50k for years, but never had the desire to run an ultra so early in the year. My plan this year is to return to the two 100 mile events I DNF'd in 2014 and I thought that starting racing early would be a good addition to my training plan* (*loosely used term). The Phunt is held at Fair Hill Nature Reserve near Elkton, Maryland; an absolute beautiful place. The event is known for its cold weather and the challenging trail conditions that come with it. A few years ago (2012) I ran in a North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler in Virginia and the entire night before the event it poured. After a 3" rain fall, 30 miles of that course was nothing but squishy/slick mud and/or standing water. If the mud wasn't pulling at your shoes and caking on the soles, it was slippery and putting you on your butt. I wondered if I'd ever see conditions like that again. Well wonder no longer, welcome to Phunt 2016. I'm not sure how much it rained Friday night, but it was enough and coupled with the unseasonably warm temperatures; much of the course was mud. Squishy, ankle deep, slippery mud.

We found the place easily enough and it was less than a two hour drive from Harrisburg. The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the Jeep was how warm it was, I was definitely over dressed. After a quick change, tights were ditched and shorts were on. My number was pinned on and we were just killing time till the start when Janice asked a passing runner (Bob Gross) if he had a sister Lynne, and oddly at first he said, "no", but with further nudging he remembered he did have a sister named Lynne and to make a long story short Janice told him that she had gone to elementary school with his sister and he was a year or so ahead her - small world. After Janice got to meet Bob's family (two daughters running and Wife keeping order/cheering/crewing), we walked outside to wait for the start. We had no idea where the start line was. After a short wait we saw the majority of  the other runners coming out of the other end of the building we had been in ( I totally forgot/missed Carl's pre-race briefing - woops). So we hustled over and followed the crowd. After a short walk we realized we were walking around the grand stand we had been standing next to. After completing our U-Turn we ended up right back where we had started from and without hearing any sort of warning, an air horn blast sent us on our way. I love starts like that, spare the formality, let's go! Grass roots ultra trail running at it's finest.

Arriving At Aid Station #2 Early In The Race

The course runs primarily on single track through forested hills. It crosses some pretty pastures and numerous streams and at least one real creek. The course is only 15ish miles long so for the 50k you need to complete the lap twice. I started out way too fast, but I felt good and decided not to worry about it and concentrated on slowing down gradually till I was at my 12ish minute mile pace. There are 3 aid stations along the route with the first one at just 3.8 miles so I ran through that one. The next one was at 7.something miles and I saw Janice there, but still had more than half a bottle so I didn't stop there either. Speaking of which, I ran the race carrying my trusty old Nathan Quick Draw Plus with either ClifBar Clif Shot Electrolyte Hydration Drink or Tailwind Nutrition. I should've probably grabbed a full bottle the first time I saw Janice, because I refilled with Hammer Heed at the 10 mile aid station and learned quickly that my gut doesn't like it - no worries, only 5ish miles till I'd be back at the start/finish where Janice would be waiting with my own hydration stuff.

Head For The Hills

Around the 6 mile mark, there was a spot where a guy was taking photos, he had a big white pickup truck playing fun loud music. I was checking out his truck/mobile dance party system when I noticed a woman ahead of me turn left so I followed. We were on a gravel road and we had broken into a hilltop field with a nice view. I was just noticing that there were no runners in front of her when I heard the yelling, "you're going the wrong way!". I looked over my shoulder and noticed runners turning right where she and I had gone left. Being the courteous trail runner I am, I yelled to her that we needed to turn around. I yelled and yelled again until finally she turned and she yelled back rather sharply advising me "I'm not racing, I'm just out for a run". I thought what a sweetheart and then was on my way to get back on track. I only added about 3/4 of a mile. I made sure to thank those who screamed at me to turn around.

I was slowing nicely, getting comfortable averaging an 11 minute mile when I hit a downhill around mile 12 that was a muddy sliding board and I slipped and couldn't recover. I landed nicely on my ass in deep mud. Would've been no big deal, but my legs simultaneously went into massive cramps. I was well hydrated and I had salt tabs in me, but the muscle clench when I tried not to fall seemed to send my legs into excruciating cramps. The cramps in the large muscles in my upper legs passed quickly, as did the cramp in my right calf; my left calf however was a different story. Yes, I ran the last 19 miles with a knot in my left calf that is still there now. No more concentrating on slowing down, I had been slowed down by good ole Mother Nature.

Needing A Refill At The End Of Lap One - only 25k To Go

It was kind of interesting to arrive at the start/finish to see all the 25kers with finisher medals around their necks and partying. It was tempting, but I had come to do the 50k so that temptation was quickly dismissed and after cameling up at the Jeep with Janice; I was back on the trail for lap number two. Janice knew her way around now and decided she needed Fitbit steps so she walked to Aid Station #1 and she swapped out my nearly empty bottle and I was on my way. With my belly swishing like a fish bowl, it felt good to be slightly over-hydrated. She also met me at the next Aid Station for another bottle swap. Yes, she's like an Indy Pit Crew. She's so efficient, I've had other ultra runners point it out to me with quite the jealous tone.

Another Aid Station, Another Refill

A Real Bridge Across The Big Elk Creek
Approaching The Finish Line - Day Is Done

On the 2nd lap I was really feeling the mud's affect on my stabilizer muscles. The extra work simply to stay upright in that slop really had me fatigued. That fatigue seemed to be going around, even as my pace slowed I was reeling in and passing folks in the closing miles. Simply put, that mud made for a tough day. I interchanged some walk breaks and made it back to the finish before the beer was all gone. (although I did miss the Lentil soup - damn it!)

Cool remains of some old structure along the course.

Cool course, completely runnable and while it didn't have any major climbing it seemed we were going up or downhill all day. The trail was very roller coaster-like - my Suunto Ambit3 Peak measured 3978' elevation gain over my 31.9 mi 50k. The version of the Phunt 50k I got was the muddy one, but I heard of plenty of other versions based on the conditions provided by the unpredictable January weather. The aid stations were plenty, nicely stocked and staggered nicely around the course so the furthest stretch between aid was about 5 miles - a handheld with some ClifBar gels on board worked well for me. I did stop a couple of times on the second lap and ate orange slices and drank Coca-Cola. The finish line was just as low key as the start, a couple guys making note of your time and a third guy handing you a cool medal and a Phunt 50k shot glass. After that it was all party with plenty of food and fun. I must say the post-race highlight for me was the wonderful little keg of "Cease and Desist" Brown Eye IPA by Chiques Rock Brewing - stellar stuff - loved it!

A Local Donkey

If you're looking for an event to get  your year kicked off, this is it. Great course and great people! I highly recommend running the Phunt 50k and if you're early season form isn't up for 31 miles you have the option to ditch out at the 25k mark, but if you do that, save some soup for me!

Other stuff I used:

Altra Lone Peak 2.0 - killer trail shoes
Superfeet Insoles
Zensah Ultra Compression Sleeves
Injinji Trail 2.0 - the only socks I trust with the care of my feet
Pearl Izumi Shorts (I like them because they have pockets)
Adidas Climalite Boxers
2XU Long Sleeve Compression Shirt
The North Face Mountain Athletics Short Sleeve Shirt
Boco Gear ClifBar Visor

Next up for me, 13.5 miles at the Frozen Snot in McElhattan Pennsylvania.

Other fun photos Janice took while patiently waiting for me:

Quartz Seemed To Be Everywhere - Cool Pink!
Just A Cool Barn
Janice's Point Of View Much Of Her Day - Watching & Waiting For Me To Arrive
We Ran Across This Covered Bridge Twice
Not Sure What This Stuff Is, But It Looks Cool

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