Long Lonely Road: The Huff 50K 2013

I signed up for this race when the idea of ultramarathons first popped into my head. Local race, months away, plenty of time to train, and a chance to see where I stand before committing to the longer races planned for next year.

It never for a moment seemed odd that someone who hates running should sign up to run 31 miles.

3 weeks before race day I was in a panic. My running progress had absolutely fallen apart. I couldn’t seem to keep any sort of pace, and my ankles kept giving out around 16 miles.

I went back to basics, started doing MAF runs and aqua jogging, and somehow things came together. A week and a half before race day I managed to keep a steady pace without walking breaks for 5 miles, something I had never been able to do before. Faith in my abilities restored, just in time.

And the truly odd thing was that I found I was enjoying it, where I had always before simply tolerated it.

Arrived at the course, every preparation I could think of made. Lined up at the start line, joking with teammates, and we realized that the starting horn had sounded and we had not heard it. “Umm, every body else is going… I guess we go!”

The weather was much better than expected, but the cold air did slow a few of us down at the start. I at least managed to make it out of sight of the starting line before taking a walking break.

The first few miles was much like any of the trail or road races I have run, setting a pace, joking with others as you pass each other, etc. About mile 9 the difference with runs of this length became apparent: with so much course to be spread over, there are some long lonely stretches of trail with no others in sight, and nothing to keep pace with.

Aide stations at this race are famous for the quality and quantity of food. Always hit the caramel turtles at mile 4. I soon found that while I was much slower than many of the competitors, I didn’t stop nearly as long at aide stations, so we ended up passing back and forth every few miles.

The first loop was not bad. Trail conditions were good, my spirits were up, and I was still in the class of distance that I am used to. I stopped at the bag drop to re-apply body glide and change footwear, then back out for another 25 clicks.

It had gotten warmer, enough so that the trails thawed, and the runners before me had tracked through to stir it into a slick mess. I was also realizing that trail races will send you up hills that a road race would never even consider.

By mile 22 I could feel that my feet were blistering badly. Somewhere around mile 27 I felt a sharp pain that I thought was a blister breaking. I would find out later that that was the moment my toenail detached. Do your best, keep moving, and offer a smile and encouragement to others you see. Not much else you can do at that point.

I remember passing one of the one-loop runners (running half the distance I was going for) and giving a shout of encouragement. She yelled back, “I’m just doing one loop. YOU are AMAZING!” I smiled and replied, “But you are running it, I’m just hobbling!”

Some of the last of my teammates caught up to me just as I was starting to doubt if I could carry on. They encouraged me on and I got to the final stretch to the finish line about 100 yards behind them.

That last stretch showed me why I will always truly love my fellow athletes. Yes, they cheer for the winner. But there is no describing how they cheer for the newbie who can barely make it.

I was doing all I could to shuffle along, and moving at a pace about equal to an unhurried walk. The pain had to have been visible in my face. As I came past the last screen of trees and the cheers from the sidelines started, I found it in me to move a little faster, and a bit faster yet when I turned the corner into the last straightaway to the finish.

As soon as I was through the timing mats, I had to drop to a knee to regroup. The course official, obviously concerned, walked over, shook my hand and congratulated me on my finish.

It turned out that they had under-estimated how many would finish and were out of medals, but took our info and will send them to us when more are made. The group I had finished with formed up for a finish-line picture.

HUFF finish

While not the same type of difficult as a Spartan Beast or a Goruck, it is difficult for me to not call this one of the toughest things I have done. I think one of my teammates summed it up best:

“You know, I was excited about this race. Hated it a lot while doing it. I seriously need a walker for the next couple of days. And…. All my friends and I can talk about is doing it again next year!”

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