Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Day At The Beach - My Algonquin 50K Race Report

February 11, 2017

"We pride ourselves on being the longest
50K on the east coast", Trent Swanson, Race Dictator.

I believe it was November when I stumbled on this new race in the Pocomoke City Maryland area. There wasn't much of a web site, but it was listed on Ultrasignup so I thought it must be legit. Janice and I had never visited this corner of Maryland, so it was an easy decision to go check out the Algonquin Cross County Trail 50K. I registered and I think the next time I checked their web site, the race was already sold out. Yeah, it filled up quickly.

I never have high expectations when entering a first-year event, but with that said; I do like to be part of their maiden endeavor. As the race date was nearing, the buzz of activity on the race Facebook page grew. It became quickly obvious to me that Trent Swanson, the Race Dictator (no, that's not a typo), and his merry band of runners from the area were a close knit bunch with fun being their primary focus. I've been to events that have strong support from local running clubs and the race and pre and post race activities can end up being dominated by clicks and runners from out of the area end up feeling alienated. That definitely didn't happen with this bunch.

(Thanks to Michael Perry for the photo.)

Packet pick up was at a brew pub in Salisbury. I had overestimated our travel time from Harrisburg and we ended up being early, but shortly after our arrival; volunteers appeared carrying boxes of supplies and swag. Janice and I jumped in to help carry boxes and she even helped to hand out hats until a volunteer showed up.

A Natural Volunteer

Hopper's Tap House is a pretty cool set up. Hoppers is a pub with a pretty diverse selection of craft beer mostly from the region, but they don't have food.

That's not an issue though as their surrounded by restaurants:
  • DaNizza Pizza - Janice got the Classic Margarita - awesome!
  • Wingin' It - Wings with Signature Flavors, Share-ables & Soon-To-Be Famous Fries
  • Smokin' BBQ Grille - I got an Angus Burger & Fries - pretty damned good!
  • Melted - gourmet grilled cheese bar serving soups, salads and cold pressed juices to accompany your grilled cheese sandwich. Breakfast daily, too!
They share an open area with tables (complete with corn hole). Get a beer, get some food and find a table. Pretty chill place for a pre-race packet pick up. Being early didn't suck either, the first 10 runners to pick up their packet got a free beer. Packet pickup turned into a well attended social event...this first-year race had nailed a great kick-off.

The race offered some pretty fun swag, a trucker hat, a long sleeve race shirt, stickers and a very cool mug for finishers under the eight hour cut off. (Those finishing after the cut off were threatened to have their mugs smashed.) The course logistics were pretty well dialed too. Trent had volunteers and park staff everywhere. On horse back and on ATVs, course marshals were everywhere, you were not going to get lost or in trouble too far from support. Hell there were even a couple of drones in the air. One of the coolest things was the course map. A local volunteer had it digitized (I make that sound so easy, I'm sure it wasn't) and with a phone app called Avenza Maps, exact coordinates could be tracked to locations on the course. With that app I was able to give Janice pretty accurate coordinates for each of the aid stations and unlike some other ultras, she didn't get lost once.

Race Day - We had a hotel room in Pocomoke City about 10 minutes from the start line. After a winding foggy drive we were at a very dark Pocomoke River State Park. I was hoping daylight would start to peak through the fog as I hadn't brought a headlamp for running. Daylight did eventually make an appearance and after race announcements we were off. We rolled out on a short section of road before hitting the Algonquin Cross County Trail.

Pocomoke River State Park is located in the 15,000 acre Pocomoke State Forest between Pocomoke City and Snow Hill Maryland; about a 45 minute drive south of Ocean City. The park is located on the Pocomoke River and the race started and finished at the Milburn Landing area. Started in 2014, The Algonquin Cross County Trail is relatively new as I was told some finishing touches were just put on it last year. The forest is typical of the seashore forests of the mid-Atlantic with scrubby Pine trees, White Dogwood and Pink Laurel, but Pocomoke is known mostly for its stand of Loblolly Pine and for its cypress swamps. Everybody talked about the fishing here, but we were also told visiting in the winter was wise as the Chiggers and Ticks in the summer can land you in the hospital. Assateague, Chincoteague and NASA’s Wallops Island are right nearby and Janice discovered historic Furnace Town even though it was closed for the season.

Game Time

The course was an out and back with a bulge in the middle, as in the mid-section of the course was different coming and going. Early on I heard runners joking about a little bump in the terrain, saying, "yep, there was the hill". Another runner then asked if there was any climbing at all and the answer was "nope", this course was board flat. That doesn't mean it was boring, but it does mean it was fast. I had the sense that on this course, one of those fast guys (not me) would finish under four hours and sure if the winner didn't come in at 3:59:44. The trail was quite runnable and perfect for first time trail ultra runners. The changing environment is what kept it interesting (for me anyway). We rolled from forest trail, to forestry road and we even ran on an actual road briefly. The biggest obstacles on the day were pretty sizable mud puddles. I'm not one to try to skirt mud puddles as you usually end up in some other trouble, so I typically plow right through them. I didn't expect the depth of the mud though and in the first small pond I ran through, I lost a shoe. The mud sucked it right off my foot and it seemed to take forever to get the damned thing back on. At the next big puddle I attempted to get around it and that's when I learned about the Pocomoke River briars, those razor sharp thorns quickly had me sliced and bleeding. From then on when I saw water, I slowed to a walk and went through it. I didn't lose my shoes and I didn't lose anymore skin. The biggest surprise on the day for me was the sand, I'm not sure where it began, but it was legit sand and it seemed to make up much of the "top" of the course. I quickly took to trying to find the most packed sand to get the best traction. It didn't make up for hills but it was a challenge just the same.

I learned a long time ago that the challenges the course presents are only part of the challenge of ultra running. The outside, non-race affects are there too and they're often tougher to overcome than a hill or a water crossing. This race's non-race affect was Bronchitis. A few years ago I learned that I could finish a 50K with Bronchitis, I tried to drop out of the HAT Run; but Janice and the Race Director talked me out of it. So on this day I knew that no matter how bad the coughing, weezing, gagging, spitting, retching and gurgling got; I could still make it to the finish line. The coughing started around mile 7 and considering I had had it for weeks (yes, I took the anti-biotics) I already knew some things to avoid that could ruin my day. The biggest thing was that drinking anything that was syrupy, like Coca-Cola would induce coughing, so drinking soda at aid stations (which I usually do) was out. I was carrying Tailwind in a bottle and ClifBar Gels and Bloks Chews. The ClifBar Organic Meals I had for breakfast went down fine with no induced coughing, but after I ate my first gel; it started. Runners around me had to be extremely annoyed and/or grossed out by my ongoing hacking and coughing and spitting. I apologized often. Shortly after the turn around at mile 16, Janice gave me a shot of cough medicine and I thought that would be the silver bullet, but instead it hit my belly like a lead balloon and I had a stomach ache for the next 2 or 3 miles and all the while still coughing.

Sucking Down A ClifBar Gel

Enough on that flemmy subject, I still enjoyed the day. I did my best to hang onto a sustainable pace and considering my split at 16 miles was 3:02 and I finished 3:08 later, I think I was successful. This was my first event as a Zensah Brand Ambassador and that added some zip to my step. My nutrition was definitely screwed up because I was afraid any intake, food or drink, would induce coughing. The aid stations looked awesome, they were staffed by local run clubs and they all looked to be having a ball, but I completely skipped them to avoid the temptation of eating something that would induce that day-ending coughing/barfing fit. I did stop at the last two aid stations, but only to drink clear water. I feel bad because skipping those aid stations meant I didn't really get to thank those volunteers. Hopefully they'll see this, Thank you!

At Least I'm Smiling

This photo says it all, Janice waiting for me & ready to swap out handhelds.
(Thanks to Michael Perry for the photo.)
Loaded down and having to listen to my nonsense,
Janice should write a book on ultra crewing.
(Thanks to Michael Perry for the photo.)

Janice kept me stocked with a full handheld restocked with gels. Over the six hours of running, along with about 4 bottles of Tailwind, I only ate 4 or 5 ClifBar gels and half a pack of ClifBar Blok chews. I could feel that imminent bonk all day as I typically eat much more calories than that.

Thanks ClifBar
Hey Look, Here Comes The Guy With The Bloody Knee

The Finish - I can't say we weren't warned, but 50K came and went and the finish line was nowhere around. I had hoped to finish under 6 hours and I did achieve that for a 50K, but this course is proudly "the longest 50K on the east coast".

(Thanks to Michael Perry for the photo.)
My Mug - All In One Piece

My watch measured 32.7 miles when I crossed. Trent was there, I thanked him for not charging extra for the bonus miles and others piled on and heckled him and his jovial response was, "hey, you guys ran it". He was right, if you crossed that line, it was all your fault, but at the same time; the party was on him. I got my mug (unsmashed), took a shower (yes there was a shower in a bath house next to the finish - that was freaking awesome!) and then we joined the party. Home made pulled pork and some delicious IPA on draft (there was a bunch of other food too), I knew I ran 32.7 miles for some reason and this was my affirmation.

Group Shot

After a bight to eat, it was a true trail event with previous finishers crowding around the finish line to cheer on the rest. I over heard a woman explaining to another that this was her first trail event and first ultra. She said she had asked her sister-in-law, who was a trail runner, what she could expect from her first. She said she told her, you've now joined a whole new family, a will not understand it until you've run with these people...she told her friend, "now I understand". With that said, back in one of my first ever trail events the race director told the group at the start, "if you see someone fall or somebody who needs help, help them",..."unless of course they're in your age group". I had fallen on one of the sandy forest roads, a tree root jumped up and grabbed my foot. A guy running behind me asked if I was ok as I was walking to get myself back together. I told him I was ok and he asked if I had any salt or pickle juice as he was cramping badly. I quickly offered up salt tablets. I finished my day chasing him to the finish...yep he was in my age group...

Known Hazards

The Road Trip - We eventually had to say goodbye to Pocomoke River State Park and we headed north as we planned to stay the night in Rehoboth Beach Delaware. After a brief detour through Ocean City looking at rental properties we made it to Rehoboth. I've always wanted to visit the Dogfish Head Brewery, but we missed a turn and wound up at our new favorite place in the area, The Crooked Hammock Brewery(we first visited there last June). We gorged ourselves to live music and then called it a night.

Sunday we enjoyed more of the mild February weather and strolled around Rehoboth, having lunch at the original Dogfish Head and making some purchases at The North Face Outlet Store.

Before hitting the road home we stopped in Milton Delaware to see the current/new Dogfish Head Brewery, had some tasty samples, filled a growler and we were on our way.

We got lucky with the weather, this could've been a tough weekend and really it was quite enjoyable. Go run the Algonquin 50K and pray for that same weather, as I can see this flat fast course turning ugly if it was covered in ice and snow along with frigid temperatures. Travel time from Harrisburg was under 4 hours, so it's not too far, but a perfect distance for the excuse to have a mini vacation in February.

A Very Cool Truck

Some fun stats posted by Trent Swanson, Race Dictator:
  • 68 of the 113 finishers were first time ultramarathoners (That's 60%)
  • Alexander McRae was the first ultra virgin to cross the finish line in 4:53:05 for tenth place 
  • The difference between first and second place was 20 minutes and 42 seconds. 
  • Grizzly Adams was the first person to sign up for the race at 6:15am on the day registration open... Aug 1st ...
  • Six other people signed up the first day (Melissa M Wilson, Jason T Chance, Larry Watson II, Mark Swift, Vanessa Junkin and Matt Jones)
  • Amy Noonan was the last person to sign up. She signed up at the packet pickup after asking "Can I pace for 15 miles"... in which I responded "Why don't you just run the whole thing"... And she did. It was her first ultra and her longest run (her previous longest was 18 miles) - signed up at 6:31 pm and a little over 12 hours later she was running. 
  • The runner who lives the closest to the race is Larry Watson II. He loves less than a 10k away and still decided to drive to the event. 
  • The runner who lives the furthest away is Jason Swanson.. who lives 2784 miles away in California. He had a good reason to join us. 
  • The largest age group was 30-39 (38%) followed by 40-49 (36%), 50-59 (12%), 20-29 (15%), 60-69 (2%) and under 20 (2%). 
  • The youngest runner was Tori Fears completing the course at the young at of 17.
  • The oldest runner to complete the course was Eddy Godfrey, who is 63 and finished in 35th place.
  • Mean Finish Times
  • Overall: 6:25:38
  • Women: 6:54:36
  • Men: 6:10:10
Historic Furnace Town (apparently closed for the season):

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Next Up The Naked Bavarian 40 Miler, Blue Marsh Lake, Leesport, PA


  1. Nice post! I enjoyed reading your recap. :) If you come back, you should visit Evolution Craft Brewing Co. in Salisbury - my boyfriend brews there and the beer is great!

    1. Thanks so much Vanessa! Love Evo Brews, we'll be sure to visit. We'll be in OCMMD in June. :-)

  2. Great write up! May have to link to this report when I finish the new website for The Race Dictator.

    1. Thanks Jeff and I'd be honored if you used my blog on the site!

  3. Perry, enjoyed reading your post!! I hope to see you next year!! Jason

  4. Thanks Jason, we had a blast...this race may need to be repeated :-)

  5. Thanks for your writeup Perry. Glad you enjoyed the race!

  6. Thanks Brett...had a great time!!!