Friday, September 2, 2016

On The Road To Recovery - MD H.E.A.T. Race Report

August 27, 2016

Not even a month ago the waters rose so fast that without warning the tragedy now known as the Ellicott City Flood ripped through the historic Main Street destroying properties, tossing cars, and mounding up silt. The truly tragic result of the raging Patapsco River was the loss of two lives. Two people out enjoying a nice evening with loved ones. It's reported that the waters came as if a dam had burst, many were able to narrowly escape the surprise attack, but two were not and their lives were taken.

Janice and I needed to eat dinner and we attempted to eat in Ellicott City, but it was impossible. We were turned away by police. Main Street was still blocked and the one restaurant we did see was packed. Hopefully no seats at The Judges Bench is a sign that the city is making strides toward recovery. The Ellicott Mills Brewery was having a fund raiser and that's where we were trying to go. Thankfully I read on Facebook that the brewery fund raiser was a success.

I found this info online:

•Donations for merchants and residents:
•More information can be found at

This old backstop near the start/finish tells the tale.
Those leaves stuck to the chain link show the high water mark.
Flood debris was all around.

That same Patapsco River formed the spine of the body that was the MD HEAT Race course. The race wandered the network of trails lacing up, around and across the Patapsco Valley State Park near Elk Ridge Maryland. I met Nick Yeates, the race director, 5 years ago at The Megatransect and we ran into each other again at The Tussey Mountainback 50 miler just three weeks later. Nick was a huge fan of the Megatransect and his hope was to create his own version near his home in Maryland. This was the 5th running of the MD HEAT Race. The course is a 16ish mile loop, twice for the 50K runners and one lap for the 25K crew. Terrain of all kinds to include a slippery boulder scramble through a stream and one climb that was kinda' nuts (I wonder if anyone was able to run it). There were three aid stations out on the loop and for the 50K, the start/finish was also an aid station. (Aid Station #1 wasn't in place for the 50K, so the first 8 miles you were biggy)

I had the luxury of having Janice with me as crew for this run. Due to parking restrictions at the park, runners and others were asked to park remotely at a nearby Park & Ride and use a shuttle bus to and from the race. Janice and I decided that dropping me off at the start and her meeting me at Aid Station #2 was our best plan of attack. It was a good plan until we found out how far into the park the start line was and we were greeted by a Ranger blocking the gate. He was quite nice though and he let us pass when I assured him that I was being dropped off and Janice would be on her way.

The start area was buzzing as the first shuttle bus had just dropped off a load of 50Kers. Volunteers were setting up as Nick and his Dad circulated ensuring everything was in place (with the awesome hats they were wearing, they were easy to pick spot - sorry I don't have photos to share)  I stashed a drop bag at the pavilion as we'd pass through there to start lap 2. Janice sat in the Jeep toiling over maps. Trying to make sense of a map of the park compared to the map of the race course. We weren't real sure where the aid stations were and if they were even accessible by car, so as Nick said "Ready, Set, Go!" I was just hoping I'd see Janice somewhere around the course. I really wasn't concerned, she's a pro at this crewing thing, I'm no longer amazed when I see her pop up in the remotest of spots. Besides, if she couldn't  find me, cell signal was good here so I'm sure she would've just practiced her Pokémon hunting skills playing Pokémon Go.

Through this tunnel the first climb awaits.

The race rolls out through some easy park grounds and on a park road before making an abrupt right turn through a cool little tunnel and into the forest. The short stretch on the road was funny (for me), I had a guy running right on my heels breathing forcibly...kinda' like an old locomotive. I moved to the other side of the road and he matched my steps and stayed right behind me breathing like a Heifer next in line at the slaughter house. Annoyed, I stepped off the road into the weeds and stopped. It was fun to watch the twisted look on his face go by, seemingly wondering what I was doing. Not sure what that was all about...maybe he thought he was drafting...I just have to laugh at some people's running habits.

Hills came early and often, but the majority of the trail was runnable and shaded. The trail does pop out onto power line clearings where the sun was brutal, especially as the day went on. Numerous stream crossings became welcome allies as I was carrying an old bandanna and dipping it in the cold water and squeezing it over my head became the day's air conditioning. It did get hot, I believe we ventured into the 90's and the humidity wasn't far behind.

The trail dumped us out onto this paved path for a
short distance till we reached the Swinging Bridge Aid Station.

Crossing the swinging bridge.
Dirt + Sweat = Mud

In my last few trail events, I've been doing a fine job of finding things to trip over and this day was no different. I heard someone approaching fast behind me on single track. I looked over my shoulder to see if they needed to pass and in no time I was tripping and rolling on the forest floor. That was around mile 7 so when Janice met me at the swinging bridge/the 8 mile aid station, I was covered in dirt adhered by sweat. She was quick to tell me I stunk more than normal leaving me wondering what it was I actually rolled in. The road to that aid station was actually closed and Janice whispered to me that she had "sweet talked" her way past the road block and drove in. Janice got me quickly back on the trail, climbing the hill behind the aid station.

The swinging bridge through the trees.

For me, the swinging bridge leading to the aid station was a highlight of the course. The Orange Grove Flour Mill operated along the Patapsco River from 1856 until it was destroyed by fire and effectively put out of business in 1905. The factory was then crushed by Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 (I'm old enough to remember it's rage when it passed through my hometown of Harrisburg). Today the one cool remnant remaining is a swinging bridge over the river very near where the factory operated. The factory workers' homes were on the opposite side of the river and the original bridge was constructed by the company to make it easier for them to get to work. The current restored bridge was constructed by the Maryland DNR in 2006. It's certainly worth seeing and crossing. It's a suspension bridge with a wooden plank deck hanging from thick steel cables and couplings. Janice met me on the factory side and we bounced across to the aid station together.

The second half of the loop seemed to have less climbing and around mile 13 there was another aid station staffed by colorful volunteers. Their theme was from the movie Cast Away complete with inflated Palm Trees and Tom Hanks' buddy Wilson keeping watch on the goings on. Janice met me there as well, she said it was an easy park and walk into the forest. I swapped out my hydration bladder and had some yummy frozen Mango concoction at the aid station and I was on my way again.

Just a cool tunnel.

My nutrition had been going quite well until now, fueling with ClifBar Gels and ShotBloks and washing them down with Tailwind, but at this point I made a huge mistake. The bladder Janice gave me was right out of our cooler and the Tailwind in it was ice cold. It was now pretty hot and I was like an addict, I couldn't get enough of this ice cold drug. About 3 1/2 miles later I was at the start finish where I had stashed 2 frozen bottles of Tailwind. By now they were cold liquid and I chugged one, downed a ClifBar Organic Energy Food pack and a Mama Chia Squeeze and stashed the other bottle in my vest and started lap two. Janice wasn't there and I soon saw why, the road to the pavilion was now blocked and only those with reservations were allowed entry. The course pops out of the woods into a small parking lot and I saw our orange Jeep and Janice was there reading the map, what else? I'm not sure what I was thinking, but I decided to finish that second bottle and threw it in the Jeep. That's about 40 ounces of Tailwind I drank in just a matter of minutes. It was hot and it felt good, but now my stomach felt like a fish bowl and I couldn't make myself run. The discomfort from the bloat was immense and I ended up walking much of the next mile or more. I started OD'ing on cold liquid around mile 13 and I was a wreck until about mile 18 or so. Aid Station 1 (mile 20ish) was in place for our second visit and I actually felt like I could actually run again. I drank far more than my body could process, I didn't drive myself to Hypernatremia, but that stupid rookie mistake took a major chunk out of the middle of the my run.

Applause for the "Trail Banditos" - excellent course markings!
Didn't go off course once.

The second lap was a quiet adventure as I found myself leap frogging with a young guy and gal for much of the remaining mileage, but the trail otherwise seemed empty.(I learned later that 21 of the 50K starters decided to call it a day after the first hot hilly lap.)

My second visit to the Swinging Bridge Aid Station,
that injured runner shuttle wasn't there for me.

Janice met me again at the aid station at the swinging bridge and this time she had figured out the trails and had walked. I gobbled another ClifBar Organic Energy Food pack and a Mama Chia Squeeze as an injured runner was picked up by the Race Director. Janice and I agreed that she should go to the finish area as I'd be ok with the ClifBar food and Tailwind I was carrying and the support from the Cast Away Aid Station at mile 30. The Cast Away crew did me a solid and refilled my bladder enough to get me to the finish and it felt good to know the day in the heat was over as I crossed the line (It didn't hurt that the "coolest" volunteer of all was there waiting with a freeze pop).

I've forgotten to mention "The Wall". No, not the Pink Floyd album, but an actual stone wall that stood between you and the finish line. With a bout a tenth of a mile to go the course settled right in close to the river and I haven't learned why it's there, but there's this ancient stone wall that seemed between 10 and 12 feet high. It runs perpendicular to the river from a rock outcrop so my guess is that it was built to manage rising waters. Yes, runners were expected to get over it. On the first lap I crossed it with two other runners who told me it was much easier this year due to the river silt mounded up by the flooding. That fact didn't make it any easier getting down the other side, especially on the second lap on tired legs. I wanted Janice to see the wall, so afterwards we took the short walk there. She not only got to see the wall, two finishing runners appeared as she was snapping photos of the monstrosity. We switched quickly to cheering mode and I think the one woman really appreciated the help getting down off that thing without incident or injury.

The Wall

The fun at the finish line was unrivaled by any other event I've run. It started with a freeze pop, Janice got to hose me down and there was abundant yummy food along with various ice cold craft beers. This is the only race I've ever run that actually has its own Brewmeister. Hat's off to Jeremy Swan and his home brews that worked so well after 32 miles in the heat. If you've been wondering about his race, wonder no more, go run the damn thing! Cheers!

**********MY YEAR SO FAR***********

It's been an interesting year for me. I've crossed a bunch of finish lines and I can't thank Janice enough for putting up with me through everything.

I've joked that for 2016 I bought a membership to the Ultra-A-Month club and it's been a fun challenge to attempt to complete one per month. I'm not fast, in fact some of my finishing times have been laughable, down right embarrassing. Embarrassing or not, I'm proud that I've finished every race I've started this year.

Huge thank you to ClifBar for their amazing nutrition support. I know that no matter how bad it gets, if I just keep eating ClifBar stuff, I'll have the fuel in the tank to survive to the end.

The year hasn't been all happy finish lines. My heart decided to remind me that I'm 55 years old and surgery was required to stop the episodes of SVT that were stopping me in my tracks. A heart rate of 260 bpm is pretty darned scary...glad it's gone. Huge thank you to the doctors and nurses at Hershey Medical Center, I now feel like I've got a brand new heart. Wednesday before this race I had a follow up appointment with the Cardiologist, my BP was 120/80, HR 52 bpm and I had an EKG and an Echo Test that the doctor said showed my ticker was good for at least another 50K.

My heart was a challenge, but the ground shaking event of my year has been losing my Father. At 93 years old Dad passed quietly one night in July. For 55 years I called the most kind supportive man  I've ever known, Dad. He's gone from this planet now, but he's now more present than ever. My Dad's death could've been a setback I guess, but instead I saw it as inspiration to live on as strong as possible knowing he's over my shoulder keeping watch every step of the way.

This year my running has had numerous interruptions and set backs, but I feel my training is getting back on track and I'm well on the road to recovery.

2016 Events:

1/16/16 Phunt 50k Trail Race Elkton, MD 6:26:09
1/23/16 Frozen Snot 13.5 Mile Trail Run McElhattan, PA 5:52:29
2/20/16 Frozen Heart 50k Callaway, MD 6:14:38
3/06/16 Naked Bavarian 40 Mile Leesport, PA 8:11:23
4/30/16 C&O Canal 100 Mile Knoxville, MD 29:03:26
5/14/16 Glacier Ridge 50 Mile Portersville, PA 13:24:26
5/16/16 Cardiac Ablation Hershey Medical Center Hershey, PA
5/25/16 My 55th Birthday
6/18/16 Highlands Sky Trail Run 40 Mile Davis, WV 11:14:36
6/4/16 Colin's 5K Run Central Dauphin HS XC Course Harrisburg, PA 27:05
7/14/16 Daniel Eugene Ligon passed away after an amazing life here on God's Earth.
7/30/16 Allegheny Front Trail Run 50k Philipsburg, PA  8:16:34
8/6/16   5th Annual CD/CDEast High School XCTeam Challenge 5k Harrisburg PA 27:49
8/13/16 Chiques Challenge 4.5 Mile Run/2.5 Mile Kayak Columbia PA 1:22:12
8/27/16 MD HEAT Race 50k Elkridge, MD 7:56:32

Next up:

9/10/16 1st Annual Possum Glory 50k Ebensburg,PA
10/8/16 Oil Creek Trail Runs 100 Mile Titusville, PA
11/12/16 Stone Mill 50 Montgomery Village, MD

One more 50K in preparation for the Oil Creek 100 and a 50 miler after that to round out the year.
I guess my Ultra-A-Month membership was only the 11 month package...

Colorful Patapsco Valley Mushrooms - crewing an old slow
ultra runner can be pretty boring...

1 comment:

  1. I ran MD HEAT last year and thoroughly enjoyed it too. Best after party that I've seen yet. I kept thinking the "Wall" was this huge hill and was rather shocked to see that it was . . . a wall.