"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

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Hat 50K - Muddy, Mud, Mud

I have been in a terrible writer slump lately, hence the lack of posts on this blog since January. I don't even know why. Whenever I go out for a run I get all these great ideas, and then they just dissipate or I don't feel like they are worthy anymore. Finally some motivation has returned. No promises about future writing, but I will try. Last weekend I did the Hat 50K run for the 2nd year in a row, and now almost a week later I am still struggling to write about it.

For some reason,  I always find if somewhat difficult to start writing about races that I have done before and wrote about before. Even though the results and the conditions are usually different, I feel that people get bored reading about the same thing over and over again. I will however do my best to describe the Hat 2015 to the best of my abilities, as it was a race with many firsts for me.
Off we go
Training this winter has been very strange. While I was able to get on the trail decent amount of times, I spent almost the entire month of February on the treadmill. I know many people hate the treadmill, but I actually don't mind it all, especially when I am working toward the specific goal. While we didn't have the snowiest winter, it was cold and icy for a lot of it leading up to the Hat. I really didn't feel the need to train on snowy, icy trails as I was hoping for a nice melted out trails in Maryland mid March. All signs were pointing that way, until 10 days out when the forecast called for snow day before. Great! On a positive note, the Saturday forecast looked very good with temperatures in 40s and going up to 50 something. I had no idea what to expect especially since we got close to 6 inches at our house. What will the trails be like at the Hat?
Into the first aid station
Amy and I decided few days prior that the weather on Saturday would be nice enough for her and kids to come out and support, same as they did last year. Our kids love running and get super excited to go to all the races. In fact, they get very sad when we tell them they can't come. We prepared everything Friday night for both them and me for the whole day on Saturday. Thankfully, the car access at the Hat is very good so we were not concerned about taking too much stuff for the kids. By the time everyone was up and ready, we were on the road a bit before 7am. Starting time of 9am at the Hat gave us plenty of time to get there on time with some time to spare. As we got closer to the race it was obvious that they did not get as much as snow as us, which meant with the heat up, the trails would turn muddy.
Number 1 fans!
I wrote about the wonderful start experience last year, and this year it was more of the same. The good folks at the Hat know how to put together a well organized event, with a great location, amazing swag, and super friendly volunteers. As I progress more and more into the ultra running scene, I am beginning to build a bigger friend base, and a lot of these races turn into gatherings of like minded souls. If feels good to chat with people you know at the start. It takes away some of that nervousness. I was actually feeling pretty good going into the races. Sure, I was annoyed at the not perfect weather (I know, I am that annoying person), but I didn't have the usual taper craziness. Or did I? I don't know, ask Amy.
Into the 2nd aid station
Unlike last year's race that started 30 seconds too soon, this year the race kicked off right on time at 9 am. The Hat is very unique in that there is no starting line. Everyone just lines up across this huge field and takes off running. I wanted to improve my time from last year, so I started off faster than usual to avoid all the crowds I got stuck behind last year. The first part of the race is a short 4 mile loop that takes you back to the start line pavilion before you are sent onto two big 13.5 mile loops. I decided not to carry a bottle for that short loop, but in retrospect, I should have just carried it as for some reason I took way too long getting out of the aid station. I was just fumbling with stuff. By the end I lost about 20 min at aid stations. Need to work on that. Annoying. While last year the temperature warmed up rapidly and I had to take off a layer at the end of that short loop, this year I kept everything on. It was still chilly. I did swap my beanie for a regular hat. At this point the trails were still covered with a small coating of snow.

Going out on the first big loop I was feeling pretty good. My strategy was to keep it easy and save some energy for the 2nd loop. Shortly we came upon the first of 4 stream crossings. While last year I was able to hop over the rocks and not get my feet wet at all, this year the crossing was somewhat roped off and there was no choice but to go through calf deep water. Holy ice buckets. My feet were freezing for probably 5 minutes after that first crossing. Shortly I realized that my feet were fine and I would not have any problems with wet feet. My feet would stay wet for the next 26 miles. I did have spare socks in my starting line drop bag, but since the crossing is less than a mile from there, it made it pointless to even attempt to change the socks.

All the love
The course is a combination of ups and downs, fields and some road thrown in. First 4 miles after the starting line pavillion are a combination of wooded terrain, some hills and few miles of fields, ending with a half or so mile of downhill to the first aid station. From there you are in for about 2 miles of up and down hills through the woods finally to emerge at the camping ground on top of a hill. This is where you pick up the paved/gravel road all the way to the last manned aid station. This road is mostly downhill. There are 5 miles to go from that last aid station. You will go up some steep climbs and downhills, cross a stream, more up and down hills, short field section that will put you 2 miles away from the finish at the unmanned water station. You can read about the last 2 miles later. Overall, a race with a bit of everything. Of course the best part was that I got to see Amy and the kids 4 times at the lower aid stations through out the race. That is one of the best features of the Hat if you have people watching you. It really is a good spectator race.

As the race progressed, so did the gradual thaw. Terrain became slushy, than muddy, then completely covered in mud water, and finally very clayie (word?) and sucky. After leaving the lower aid station for the second time, there was 5 miles to the start. I remembered these last 5 miles from the year as very hard, and while it wasn't as hard this year, it was still very tough. This section has the longest and steepest climbs, downhills and of course for a good measure another stream crossing. As the terrain got more muddy, I actually looked forward to all the stream crossings as that would let me wash my shoes and legs from mud, just to start out fresh again.
Wet and muddy
Probably the most brutal part of the race are the last 2 miles. You pass by the unmanned aid station where you see the finish line, only to run a mile down a hill (road), turn back onto the trail, and climb your way up for another mile back to the finish line. Mentally and physically this is the tough part. You are so close that you want to speed up, but late in the race, those hills say no for sure. I finished the first big lap (and short one) in 3:20 something. I was happy with my pace and was feeling really good. I still had a lot of energy left in me. I was thinking that I could do that second lap in about 2:30. Alas, that would prove to be wrong. By the time I went out on the 2nd lap, the trail was in horrible condition. That slushy mud had started to dry a bit in some spots which made it that much worse. Every few steps you could feel your shoe starting to lift off. The downhills were crazy muddy slopes where I was glad that I had some skiing practice this winter. It definitely helped. With all of that it took me about 3 hours to do that 2nd lap. I was very excited to be able to run through the finish line with Niko again. That in itself made the trip worth while.
The best!
Lack of experience running in mud really cost me. In retrospect, I should have anticipated the trails being extra hard on the 2nd lap, and should have ran the first lap a bit faster. I am still very happy with my time as I was able to best the time from last year by 20 minutes or so. I was feeling pretty good at the end as well, and even now several days later I am feeling good. At first I was afraid that I aggravated my foot in all that mud due to some upper foot pain, but it is gone now. I decided to run that Hat in my almost brand new Altra Superiors 2 and that was a great choice. The traction and grip was very good for the entire day. I ran the entire day with wet feet and did not experience a single blister or hot spot. Superiors + Injinji + Water crossings + mud + snow = happy feet
Placement this year
The Hat 50K is one of the best organized races around. RD and the volunteers do an amazing job making sure everyone is taken care off. Aid station volunteers are friendly, encouraging and helpful. There is nothing else you can ask for. I would highly recommend this race for anyone. Nothing beats a day of racing, seeing friendly faces, meeting new and old friends and just running.

Next on the menu for Amy and I is the double Blue Ridge Marathon. I will write more about that shortly.

Go forth and run.

And now the finish video:


  1. Great post, got me wanting to run the Hat.


  2. You have to practice more to get into this point of labor. You have o ready for the changes. You should equip with several mobility aids to avoid any accidental incidents. You should ready for any challenges. Good luck.


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