"I have arrived. I am home. In the here. In the now. I am solid. I am free. In the ultimate I dwell." --Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, March 24, 2014

Hat Run 50K or Rollercoaster In The Hills Of Maryland

The sign at the last aid station said “5.3 miles to the finish.” My watch said 5:20 and change, and I knew 6 hour goal was out of the window. 5.3 mile section from last aid station to the end was my second time around, and I knew there was no way I could run that in 40 minutes. Other then my aching quads, I was feeling great and energetic, probably the best I’ve felt in any of my few 50Ks.  Over the last 9.5 miles I have given it a good push, but that was it.  Onto plan B, and finishing strong regardless. As I neared the finish line, I saw Amy and kids, and I took off running. I grabbed Niko’s hand and we crossed the finish line together in 6:42:58. But, let me start at the beginning.

Starting line pavilion
After last year’s running season, I decided to do a 50K in the spring, rather than a road marathon. I felt disappointed with my times in the fall and I just wanted to do something different (read about those here and here). I was looking over ultrasignup.com and saw the Hat Run 50K. Great! Perfect time of the year. I also realized that the last year’s race sold out fast. So like a good IT nerd that I am, I placed a reminder in my calendar to alert me as soon as the registration opened. Boy was I glad I did that. The race sold out in 5 hours and that is only due to some technical difficulties. This was a hot one. Did I realize that this race had 9800ft of climbing? Of course I didn’t until few weeks before the race. Did I realize, it would be hard? Yes I did, and I trained as well as I could have.

Hat Run 50K Elevation Profile
The winter has not been kind to us this time around, as there was snow and ice on the ground and trails for months. This meant most of my training during the week was done on the treadmill. I managed to do all my long runs outside, but again, I only made it to the trail 1-2 times. Race like the Hat demands strong up and down training on steep trails, something that I was not able to do, and my quads paid for it. I managed a decent training with hill repeats and hilly runs, which was great, but still I lacked that technical stuff. But enough about that. 

Ready to go
Hat Run 50K takes place within Susquehanna State Park in Maryland, merely 1.5 hours from Philly. It is a brain child of Phil Anderson, 20-something year veteran of ultra running. This year it took place on Saturday March 22. Here is a course description from their site:

The course is mostly single track trail with a mix of open fields, dirt road and some paved road. The course features nearly 9,800 feet of climbing. There is a starting loop of 3.6 miles followed by two identical loops of 13.7 miles. There are 4 stream crossings that can be challenging depending on the water level - there is always the chance of getting wet feet.

Stretching time
Since the race did not start until 9am, Amy and I packed up kids and left our house around 6 am, to make the trek down to MD. There is nothing better then driving on 95 with no traffic. Pure joy. We got down to the race with plenty of time to spare. I got my swag bag and also picked up few extra items at bargain prices. Amy and Niko also reaped the benefits of bargain deals and picked up few items as well. As it was a bit chilly that morning, we hung out in the car for about 20 minutes. I changed into my racing stuff and we made our way to the starting pavilion to use the facilities and to drop off my bag. Porta-potty lines were not long at all and the drop bag area was fine. It didn’t seem to matter where you put your stuff, so I found an easy access point in the corner and went to do some stretching (dynamic). I decided to start off in a long sleeve shirt and see how that goes for the short loop. Soon enough it was time to go.

Race Start or scene from Braveheart
The race started promptly at 8:59:30 am as someone mistakenly pressed the horn with 30 seconds to go, that started a huge wave of runners running across an open field. This was my first race, where there was no corral to get started. We all just lined up across the width of the field and took off. At first, we make a short loop following couple bikes of about 1.5 miles. This was mostly on a paved bike path and some fields.  As soon as we were done there, we ducked into woods to complete our small loop. That loop was just great, running up and down few hills, thinking about what to drop off at the pavilion with the drop bags, and thinking of the loops to come. I quickly realized that it was getting warm already, so as we got to the pavilion, I changed into a short sleeve shirt for the remainder of the race. Prior to the race, I decided to ditch the hydration pack and just go with a handheld bottle filled with Tailwind. Thankfully, I gave Amy 2 little baggies with extra Tailwind for the lower aid station, which proved to be lifesaving. I also stashed an extra premade bottle with my bag to fill after the first loop. 

Short loop
This was my first time doing the Hat, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the first long loop. It gave you all that you could have asked for, 2 stream crossing, a long long downhill on an unpaved road, followed by constant ups and downs. Few very long and steep hills and only couple small muddy sections. I was amazed that the trail was in such a great condition, considering endless days of snow this winter, especially snow on Tuesday before the race, rain on Thursday and windy Friday. Overall, perfect trail conditions, and temperature that was just right. The first stream crossing was about a mile into the loop and it was fairly easy to navigate across. The 2nd one was a bit bigger and it came towards the end with about 4 miles to go. I was not going to win the race, so I saw no need to run through the water unless I had to. And I was successful. No wet feet for me that day. I lost maybe 20 seconds by doing that. Time well wasted in my opinion. 

See you later - starting the first big loop
The big loops had 2 manned aid stations, not counting the starting line aid station pavilion and 1 unmanned aid station that had water and soda. 2 aid stations were actually in the same spot that you went through 2 times. First time you hit it about 4 miles into the main loop, you did another 4 miles to get to it the second time, and then the final 5.3 miles to the end. The unmanned aid station was 1.8 miles from the finish. All aid station setups were great. Fully stocked, I never felt I needed anything extra. 

At first, I really didn’t know how to feel about the looped course. I am not a big fan of loops, but this time it was great. Am I a convert? Probably not, but I might be more willing to do another looped race again. Amy and kids were able to see me 6-7 times during the race which was awesome. They saw me take off, then I got to see them twice at the start line after mini loop and the short loop. Amy then drove down the lower aid station, where I would see them 4 more times. Twice on each big loop. Kids seemed to have a great time, especially Niko, who was helping hand out water and encourage runners as they came through. Amy is writing a whole post about that so I won’t steal her thunder. I was just happy they were there! Second time running through, I could recognize some sections, but the trail still felt new to me, so being on a loop was a non-factor.

Coming into the lower aid station for the first time
I finished the first big loop in about 3:34 which I thought was good, but not fast enough. Those last 5 miles really took it out of me. The whole section was very tough, and actually the hardest segment of the course. I refueled at bag drop, emptied my shoes of debris, got some water and took off onto the second loop. While during the first loop, I would get stuck in big conga lines, this time around I was alone for periods of time. Being stuck in conga lines has its plusses and minuses. At times I was thinking, “Why are we going so slow? Why are we walking? This is not even a hill. I must go around these people”. But at the same time I was thinking, “This is fine. You don’t need to rush. There is still a long way to go. Have fun.” I don’t know what to think. I am still trying to ponder that through my head. Maybe I could have went faster on that first loop, but maybe then I would be dead on the second. Live and learn. 

Lower aid station - 2nd time around
I tried to run as fast as possible on that second loop, without killing myself. I did decent until I got to the big downhill section. I kind of felt sluggish and had to slow down. At the last aid station, I told Amy that I was still feeling great, just tired, and that I didn’t think I was going to make 6 hour mark. I wasn’t upset about it all. I was giving it my best shot and I was still feeling good and upbeat. The sun decided to come out and play as we started the second loop and the day got a bit warmer after that. Nothing unbearable but definitely the warmest running day so far this year. The last five miles felt never-ending but it was all worth it once I saw that finish line.

All done - angle 1

All done - angle 2
We stayed at the finish line to cheer on other runners and for me to just chill for a while. Niko and Una were both having a blast running up and down the hill and playing with other kids. Overall, they had a wonderful day at the races which made me super happy. Rather then going home, we drove 30 minutes further down south to hang out with Amy’s #teamwickedbonkproof. It was great to meet some new people and of course get some much deserved beer and pizza! Thank you Thomas

Overall, I have no regrets about the Hat 50K. The organization, the volunteers, the swag and runners were all wonderful. Add to that near perfect trail conditions, very nice weather in the 60s and you have yourself a good time. It is a tough race, but also very fun. I will be shocked if I am not there again next year.

My only regret was not being able to get in more training miles on the trail. The weather gods had other plans for us this year, and we must go with what Mother Nature gives us. She can be a cruel mistress sometimes.
Final placement

Gear and Fuel

I am happy to report, my first long race in Altra Olympus was perfect (full review to come). I wasn’t sure if they would be ok on these trails, as I was expecting a lot of mud, so I brought another pair of shoes to change into (Altra Lone Peak). However, I was able to leave the Olympus on all day. No slipping, no blisters and comfort all day long. Towards the end of the race I was thinking, my calves are sore, my quads are killing me, but my feet are feeling great! These bad boys are coming with me to get their next test on the road in Roanoke in a month. Lone Peaks stayed in the bag.

I fueled with Tailwind the entire race. I underestimated how much I was going to drink, so having those extra packets with Amy half way through were a life saver. I grabbed few bites at the aid station as well, but really nothing significant. Tailwind did great. I still need to experiment more with how much to take. I think there is still some room for me to improve. By some I mean a lot. 

I used the Ultraspire handheld that has followed me around for over a year now. It might be time to get a new one soon. Its getting worn out. But I love running with it. It fits so great into my hand. 
My awesome crew

Next Stop

I will be a supporter for next two races. First for Amy while she runs the OD Marathon, and then as a volunteer at a local fat ass, hosted by MLC runners. By the way, it is free and you can still sign up here! My next race is Blue Ridge marathon in Roanoke, which Amy and I will run twice to make it 52.4 miles. Why? Why not. 

Go forth and run.

Ps. If you want to win some free Cocogo hydration drink go on over and read my review and giveaway! 

Some extra photos!

Off we go

Look at him go

See you later daddy

Runners loved him

Entering the last aid station before the finish

Getting there

Niko with the mad hater


  1. Thanks for the great write up. Looks like Niko did a wonderful job. I need to change the website. The 9k elevation was total change in elevation. A further refinement places it at 7000. I wonder if any has a more modern gps reading?

    1. Thanks Jeff. My watch said about 6100ft but I think it may be off. It would be good to check with someone with a Garmin perhaps.

  2. It is really good work. But to avoid small injuries, you need gear up with several walking accessories. You can use walking stick, shoe spikes, and other many walking accessories, that really help you in your ways.


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