Hat Run 50K Race Report: Friends, Woods, Water, and Hills = Perfection

Hat Run StartAt 9:00 AM last Saturday morning I stood at the starting line of the Hat Run 50K in a grassy field in Susquehanna Sate Park, MD (photo at left by Jeff Hinte, HAT Race Director). I was contemplating the fact that I was about to run 31 miles on hilly trails that would take me over some 9,800 feet of elevation gain (see elevation profile below), and I knew that pain was coming. Some might think that doing such a thing is crazy, but at that moment, I couldn’t have been in a more perfect place. I was completely relaxed – the butterflies and pre-race jitters that normally hit me just before the starting gun fires were nowhere to be found. I relished the challenge that lay ahead.

HAT Run 50K 3-19-2011, Elevation - Distance

Over the next 5 hours, 52 minutes, and 48 seconds I ran through fields, along gravel roads and forest trails, through streams, and up and down hills. Endless hills. I ran fast, I ran slow, I walked, I hobbled, and at one point I even sat down and took off my shoes (they were filled with sand). I had moments where I felt like I was flying, and I had moments where seemingly all of the muscles between my knees and my hips were screaming at me in unison. At one point my quads, groin, and hamstrings were on the verge of cramping all at the same time, so I stood in a cold stream until the pain subsided. I ate boiled potatoes dipped in a bowl of salt (pure heaven!). I ate peanut M&M’s on the run and had to use my hydration pack to get the rainbow of color off my hands after I scarfed them down. I ate multiple bananas. In the final mile much of this food almost came back up, but I fought the waves of nausea and held it down. And through it all, I had fun. Scratch that, I had an absolute blast!

dailymile Crew

dailymile Crew: Me, Steve, Thomas, Jenny, Andy, and Brodie

The details of the race are not so much the important part of the experience. What made this day so special was the people. I had so much fun because I was able to share the experience of running the HAT Run 50K with good friends, none of whom I had ever met before in person, but several of whom I feel like I have known my whole life. The reason I had decided to come to Maryland in the first place was to meet up with friends from the dailymile social training network (see photo above). They had done the HAT the previous year, and the stories they’d told of the experience in the Maryland woods had become legendary. A bigger group was in attendance this time around, and it was great to finally meet my friends Andy (thanks for the Panera breakfast!), Steve, Ally, Thomas, Brodie, Jenny, Jeanne, Smitty, as well as several others. I saw many of them out on the course, and we hung out both before and after the race.

Me and Chris

Me and Christopher McDougall

I also was looking forward to meeting up with Chris McDougall (see photo above). We’ve exchanged emails off and on for awhile, and as I was mulling doing HAT last Fall I got an email from him saying “If you’re in, I’m in.” Hard to turn down an offer like that! Chris was gracious enough to put me up at his house the evening after the race, and I discovered that we have more in common than our fascination with running form and footwear (or lack thereof). Let’s just say it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only father who thinks the Barbie Princess and the Pauper soundtrack is a musical masterpiece worthy of being belted out when alone in the car. Chris’ family was eminently hospitable, and I owe his wife a huge debt of gratitude for allowing me to fill his house with running talk for a day.

My honest plan for the race was that I really had no plan. After the starting gun went off I settled into a comfortable pace alongside Chris and a few others. Being an Ultra newbie I followed everyone else’s lead and walked the uphills and ran the flats and downs. The pace was more than manageable, and I felt like I could go all day. I had a nice time chatting with Chris about running, shoes, etc., and we had some nice conversations with surrounding runners. I remember the topic of hashing in Laos coming up at one point – funny the topics that come up when on the run.

photo by Jeff Hinte) Around the five mile mark (guessing) there was a stream crossing (photo at right by Jeff Hinte) and I intended to rock hop to the other side so I wouldn’t soak my shoes (I had decided to go with the New Balance Minimus Trail). I wound up slipping on a wet rock and mashed my opposite forefoot onto another rock in an attempt to prevent myself from falling into the water. The pain was instant and piercing, and my immediate thought was that I had broken something – not sure if a shoe with a rock plate would have helped or not, but the Minimus Trails were marvelous aside from this one moment. I kept running, and eventually the pain subsided to a dull ache. A few miles later I kicked a root and collided with the ground. It’s funny how trail spills seem to occur in slow motion, and I could feel my legs giving way as my body slowly plunged to the earth. I managed to bruise my hand badly by using it to brace my fall, but thankfully my legs escaped unscathed. I managed to stay on my feet for the rest of the race.

single fileOne of the things about trail running on single track that is different than road racing is that passing can be a challenge. On trails you often run single file (see photo at left by Jeff Hinte), so it’s easy to get separated from people you are running with as you try to maintain a comfortable pace. Around mile 9-10 I got ahead of Chris a bit as we mingled with a bigger crowd of runners, and at one point I looked back and I could no longer see him. The crowd in front of me was sparse at that point so I decided to keep running at the pace that felt most natural at the time. We entered a section on crushed rock road for several miles, and I was feeling really good so I turned on the jets for a bit (ran a 7:00 mile here, which in retrospect probably was a mistake). I passed my friends Thomas and Jenny and said a quick hello, then continued on through the aid station, grabbing a snack as I passed through.

Thomas Jenny

Thomas and Jenny on the trail – photo by Jeff Hinte

From about mile 13 onward I pretty much ran solo. This worked out well for me since I tend to turn inward into my own head as I start to focus on a race once the initial excitement wears down. I passed a lot of people over the next 5 or so miles, and made it through the first big loop at mile 18 feeling phenomenal. As I started the second loop I felt like flying, and I started racing down the downhills a bit too fast. This set up my inevitable crash around mile 25, when my quads started to tell me that they had had enough. I stopped to stretch them out, only to find that the moment I flexed my knee my hamstrings rebelled and started to knot up in cramps. There would be no quad stretching for me. From that point on it was a constant battle to prevent my quads, groin, and hamstrings from locking up completely, but I fought through with a bit of help from a cold leg soak in a stream.

Every hill seemed twice as steep on the second loop, and the roads that I cruised down on loop one didn’t provide nearly the same degree of respite on loop two. Around mile 29.5 I saw my friend Andy up ahead – he was hard to miss with his bright orange du-rag covering his bald head. I set my crosshairs on the du-rag and managed to catch up with him. It was clear that he was hurting, and I wasn’t doing so well myself, so we marched the final mile in with only very short spurts of running. As we approached the finish line we saw Steve and Ally shooting pictures (Steve is an amazing runner and had finished in third place!), which gave us a much needed lift, and we ran the final stretch across a field to the finish line together, crossing in 5:52:48.

HAT Run 50K 3-19-2011

Hat Run 50K Course Map

I was mentally lucid for the entire race, but once I stopped running I started to fall apart a bit. I needed food, and I needed it badly. I remember several people trying to talk with me as I trudged into the aid station, but I have a hard time recalling much from those few minutes. After a hot dog and several cups of Coke I began to bounce back, and the celebration ensued. I hung out and had a beer with the dailymile crew, shared some war stories from the race, and had an all around great time – just an amazingly fun and genuinely caring group of people. I caught up with Chris when he crossed the line – he’d also had cramping issues in his thigh adductors (seemed to be a theme for the day from many people), but he finished happy too. The common sentiment was that the race was tough, but well worth the effort. There are truly few better ways to spend a sunny spring day than running trails with friends.

Several people asked me afterward if I would do another Ultra. I kept thinking to myself as I ran that I couldn’t imagine how people manage to run 50 and 100 mile races – I had nothing left after 31. I’ve learned never to say never, and I’ve definitely been bitten by the Ultra bug. Ultras are a totally different beast than big road marathons – much more laid back and they test you in different ways. For me, HAT wasn’t about speed so much as it was about enjoying the moment and ensuring that I had enough left in the tank to finish. I flew when I felt like it, walked when I needed to, and never felt guilty about it. My pace ranged from sub-7:00/mile on a few downhill road sections to near 20:00 on Pete in Westiesome of the steeper uphills, and I never ran a steady pace for any length of time. That, however, is what made it fun – the terrain and strategy were constantly changing, and the repetitive nature of a road race was nowhere to be found.

Along with the Smuttynose Marathon last Fall, the HAT Run 50K ranks right up there as one of my most cherished running experiences. Though they were very different races, one a road marathon and the other a trail Ultra, they were special because I was able to struggle through and celebrate with friends. Running is a joy and a gift, and it is a gift that is at its best when shared. I love solitary moments on the run, but there’s nothing quite like crossing a finish line and knowing you can share the experience with others. Above is a happy runner, and one who has a feeling he will be doing this again…

For more about this race, check out the following:
-HAT Run Race Report by Thomas Neuberger
-HAT Run Race Report by Steve Speirs (3rd place finisher)

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Jennefer says:

    Sounds like you had an amazing time! Congrats and recover well!

  2. I had to smile at your willingness to sacrifice your hand while falling to protect your leg, and at your sub 7 mile, as I’d had the same experiences at my first 50K in Huntsville, TX. As you noted, Ultra’s are a different beast that road races, and are far more enjoyable – especially as was the case for you in doing the event with friends. I suspect that you’ll be astounded to see just how much more quickly you recover from a 50K vs. a marathon, which I believe results from the softer running surface, the much slower pace, and the far greater diversity of muscles that are required. Hope to read more about other trail adventures in the future.

  3. Derscott says:

    Great report, Pete! Almost (almost!) makes me want to attempt an ultra.

  4. Thomas Neuberger says:

    Great recap of the HAT Pete. See you there next year?

  5. Mark Kennedy says:

    Well done Pete! Loved the recap. Recover well and get ready for Boston.

  6. Rwalker88 says:

    Chris seem like a pretty cool guy

  7. RunningPT12 says:

    Great job, Pete!

  8. Robert Osfield says:

    Great write up Pete, congrats to yourself and all the rest of the runners that took part.

    The total ascent of nearly 10,000ft is huge, three times as much as I’ve did on my first ultra (the Loch Alsh Dirty 30 and ~3000ft ascent/descent), and my quads were screaming at me in the last five miles, can’t think how I’d have coped with 3 times more hills!

    Your description of finishing with a fellow runner exactly mirrors how I finished both the ultras I have done so far. For both the Dirty 30 and the 41 mile River Ayr Way Callenenge (RAW), rather than get competitive in the last few miles it was about all about mutual support and comradary. We were all suffering, and goodwill and homour just washed this all away.

  9. Ashwyn Gray says:

    Congrats, again, Pete! That race looks challenging and awesome. Nice lookin” water crossing, too!

  10. Looks like a nice run and I love th MD woods. But the elevation profile for this race has about 4500(+-) ft of accent and I guess about the same descending. I calculated it from the sites elevation profile (link to hatrun.com….. The site says 9800 ft climbing ( I guess they mean up and down). The race is not 19,600 of elevation change.
    Here is the first lap KMZ file shown and calculated, the second is about the same +- 500 ft. link to gpsies.com

  11. Whotrustedus says:

    OK, what’s up with the leg warmers? Warmth? Compression? Scratch guards? (I presume the answer is obvious to most but i’m having a brain cloud on this one!)

    • Pete Larson says:

      Compression – helps with recovery and feels good.

      Pete

      • Whotrustedus says:

        OK Pete, so you extol the virtues of less mechanical intervention with our feet but yet are prepared to intervene with your calves? Do the members of the Tarahumara tribe wear leg compression sleeves? <big grin!=””>

        Seriously, what’s the science here? How do compression sleeves help? </big>

        • Pete Larson says:

          Quite honestly, I don’t do what I do because of what the Tarahumara do. I do
          what I do because I feel it works best for me. I’m not anti-technology, if I
          was I wouldn’t wear a Garmin either or use my iPod on some of my training
          runs. I wouldn’t use energy gels or a fancy hydration pack. I extol the
          virtues of less intervention with our feet because I think that it makes
          biomechanical sense, but at the end of the day each runner needs to decide
          for themselves what is right for them and allows them to run happy and
          injury free. I’m more than happy to use technology where I think it is
          appropriate.

          Science: http://www.scienceofrunning.co….
          It’s also worth noting that use of compression socks is common practice in
          hospitals as a way of improving blood flow.

          Pete

          • Whotrustedus says:

            oh c**p! I had intended to add “big grin!” to make sure everyone knew i was goofing. i screwed up my post. Sorry.

            yep, i’ll never run without my gps phone & mp3 player (and the electronic collar on my dog so i don’t have to use a leash!)

          • Pete Larson says:

            No sweat – hard to interpret the written word sometimes :) I should have
            known you were joking! My apologies for my response as well, but there are
            far too many people who genuinely take that attitude about things these
            days.

            Pete

          • Whotrustedus says:

            I had originally bracketed “Big Grin” with the greater than & equal than symbols (above the , and . keys on a US Windows keyboard). I think Disqus might interpreted those symbols as HTML something and dropped some text. i guess i should know that those symbols should be avoided on a web page!

  12. Brittany Z says:

    Sounds like you had a great first ultra!! The VHTRC gang put on a ton of really low-key races and, like you said, it’s about enjoying the moment and the trail. They are a whole other beast from road running. I’m glad you had fun!

  13. Greg Strosaker says:

    Nice summary of an amazing event Pete, from the company you kept to the race experiences. I appreciate you taking the time to share it.

  14. Steve Speirs says:

    Loved the race recap, Peter and congratulations on a very solid debut ultra. Your experience reminds me of my first HAT last year, and I know for sure you’ll be back one day for more.

    Recover well, and great to finally meet you.

    –Steve

  15. Jarobertson_9 says:

    50 milers are more of the same. I’ve adopted a run/walk strategy from Kevin Setnes that has worked well. Also, running more than 3 hours you would want to plan on electrolyte supplements (s-caps) every 1/2 – 2 hours depending on temperature. Great job on your 1st ultra and I’ll be looking for a shoe report…mine are getting trashed after about 150 miles.

  16. Misszippy1 says:

    Nice work out there! I know several folks who have done this race and all give it solid reviews. You did a great job on your maiden voyage into ultras!

  17. Rachel Piotraschke says:

    Sounds awesome!!! And it looks like the weather was perfect! Also love that you talked about hashing :)

  18. Jason Fitzgerald says:

    Loved the race report Pete, thanks for posting. All this HAT talk makes me want to test the waters next year! How’d you like the NB Minimus Trails for the run?

  19. Pete great review. My wife and I are running the HAT50k on the 24th. Sounds like a fun run. I also plan on wearing the NB Minimus. I have the new 110′s but I love running in the Minimus. If my feet need something different I will switch into my trusty MT 101′s or the 110′s.

    J.Mack

  20. Jeffmccullough says:

    I totally agree with running being a gift, My IT band stole it from me about 2 years ago and i still havent came back from it 100%. Im so glad you enjoyed the race. @gfro1

  21. Nathan Sanel says:

    Great report. Your cramping was caused (or at the least compounded) by lack of electrolites. I don’t see any mention of you taking salt tablets. Potatoes dipped in salt usually aren’t enough. Did you take scaps or ecaps?

    • Pete Larson says:

      You could be right – no scaps or ecaps for me. Is there a rule of thumb for
      how often to take those? The salted potatoes, gels, and Gatorade at aid
      stations was all I took. My quads were also just beat down from lack of
      sufficient hill training.

  22. Awesome job Pete…the Boston hills will be nothing after this. You are correct about the spirit of local events and trail runs. We invite you to WV for the Freedom’s Run series…low cost, National Parks, non profit, all volunteer, and beer.
    http://www.freedomsrun.org

    Half Marathon, 4m trail, kids run through historic Harpers Ferry May 14, Freedoms Run Marathon, Half, 10k, 5k, kids run Oct 1

    Mark Cucuzzella MD
    owner Two Rivers Treads and RD of Freedom’s Run series

  23. Shellyrm says:

    Wonderful recap! Congratulations on your experience at the HAT. It is a race worth repeating.

  24. Davethecanuck says:

    Nicely done! I wanted to do this race, but thought it too close to Boston. Apparently you saw no such problem… Chris is a fascinating guy, and I had the pleasure of running with and talking to him last spring. He’s certainly not fast, but sure seems to enjoy himself when out running (barefoot on this occasion).

    Unsolicited advice for Boston: You’ll be in the staging are for 2-3 hours before the race starts, so bring extra warm clothes and something to sit/lie on (I’ve got an inflatable pool mattress). You can put all your gear in the drop bag 20 minutes before the gun goes off, so no worries about leaving stuff behind.

  25. Thanks for the great recap of the race. Sounds like it was a lot of fun (as it should be).

    I was wondering if you could satisfy the running shoe nerd in me and discuss your thought process in deciding to go with the NB Minimus Trails.

    Thanks!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Aaron and others – there will be a post on that soon. Didn’t want to clutter
      the recap with shoe talk!

      Pete

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