As expected the Trail Hawks put on a top-notch event. The volunteers were fantastic, the course was well marked and the aid stations were well stocked. It was one of those races that you just kind of show up to, knowing that everything you need (besides the will to finish) will be there for you. Well, almost. Big thanks to Julie "PAL Hawk" for saving my butt with those S-Caps on the 2nd loop - I should have brought some but I wasn't thinking at 5am.
The course was 2 23-mile loops with an additional 4-ish mile loop at the end to cap off the 50. We started at the Corps of Engineers trailhead and headed out on the white trail then back on the blue trail with a short (and painful) diversion to the red shoreline trail. The white trail is the more technical of the two with significantly more climbing and rocks and roots to deal with. There were also 2 hill summits per loop that I thought I'd hate but really came to love. The first was Bunker Hill, which really has a bunker on top of it (which is really strange). The second was Sanders Mound. The only bad part about the 2 hills was that it was a windy day, so coming out of the woods, which essentially blocked all the wind, you were slammed with a 15 or-so mph wind. Nice if it's 90 out, not so nice when it's 55 and you're wearing a wet shirt.
There were 12 50-mile runners and 12 marathoners. The 50's started at 7am. About 8 of us ran the first 5-7 miles of the course together with Adam Monaghan setting a nice 11-ish pace for us (clearly the marathon pacing thing is working out for him). He's a way stronger runner than I am so I figured he'd take off in a bit and leave us all in the dust.
|Adam and I about to head towards Bunker Hill.|
Photo by Chris Wristen.
Adam and I ran the rest of the loop together. It was a nice relaxing run. A little faster than I thought I'd be going, but good nonetheless.
At the turnaround I took off by myself. Adam decided to call it a marathon at that point. Eric came in right behind me, so I figured he'd catch me at some point during that second loop. I also saw Brian when I was coming back from Sanders Mound, I figured there was a decent chance he'd get me also. I wasn't too worried about the pace, I was just kind of enjoying the day.
Right before I got to Lands End, about 6 miles into the loop, I started thinking about what place I was in. I knew there were 2 runners ahead of me, which meant I was in third place. Hmm, that had never happened to me before. It was a weird and not altogether wonderful feeling. It felt nice and stressful at the same time. So, naturally, it made me run a little faster. I knew there was still about 20 miles to go, so a lot could happen, but I wanted to really try for that 3rd place finish.
So, I made it a point to get through the aid stations as quickly as I could. I ran a little more of each hill than I normally would. I also looked back a few times, expecting to see someone coming up on me.
By the time I hit mile 40 I was still running with good form and with no pain. I couldn't run the steep hills, I could manage the small ones. The worst part was probably navigating the red shoreline trail - it's extremely technical. It basically involves jumping from rock to rock along the lake with a little bit of dirt trail between sections of rocks. It's runnable, but barely. I maintained this style of running the rest of the race.
My last trip up Sanders was when I knew I had the 3rd place finish in the bag. It's approx 1 mile out and back, so you can see anyone running up on you. I didn't see Eric, or anyone else for that matter, when I was coming back. So I knew I had at least a mile on the next closest person. Unless I handstand-walked the last 4 mile loop there was little chance of someone catching me.
I ran in at just over 9:45 to hoots and hollers from the assembled spectators. Gary gave me a nice finishers mug with "3rd place male" forever plastered across it. Nice feeling, for sure.
This was my fourth official 50-mile finish and my best by far. My time was 4 minutes better than the 9:49 I clocked at the Croom 50-miler many moons ago (that was my first ultra). The observant reader will note that the times aren't that far apart but the courses were completely different. Croom had no real climbs to speak of - the Hawk 50 gave you about 7,500 feet per 23 mile loop. Also, the rocks and roots on the trails at Clinton Lake are, like most of my dates, nothing short of awkward.
Now, compare the 9:45 at the Hawk to my 10:03 I did at the Blue Springs 50/50 (to qualify for Western) and you'll see how far my training has come over the past 6 months. The Blue Springs race is as easy as it gets. There are no hills on that course - and I STRUGGLED to get through that race. Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly the Blue Springs 50 is no longer a Western qualifier.
I also want to mention that I ran the whole race with a single handheld. I also did this at Brew to Brew this year and it worked really well for me. I don't know if I can pull it off at Western, but we'll see.
Lastly, the total elevation gain at the hawk was 16,700 over 50 miles. Western is 18,000 gain over 100 miles. Doing the math on that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.