Monday, December 28, 2015

Race Report: HUFF 50K Trail Run 2015

Results:  50km, 5:59:51, 11:35/mile, R/W 4/1.  PR

What a fun day in the woods.  On December 19, I finished my fifth consecutive HUFF 50K Trail Run, a race that never ceases to amaze.  This one went very well, with a 19 minute PR, negative split and under six hours.

The Gory Details:

The HUFF holds a special place in my running history. I first participated on December 16, 2004, running a single 10 mile loop just seven months after the start of this era of running.  Until that day, I had never run trails at all.  It's funny to read now my race report of that day.  Dan Quayle, where are you now??

I've written about all four prior HUFFs since the organizers had to move it to its current location at Chain O' Lakes State Park.  Weather conditions in late December in Indiana give each year its own character . 

2011:  The Deep Water Year.  The most philosophical I've ever been on my blog.  The lessons of that wet, cold, muddy day still hold, remarkably.  link  It was fascinating to me this year how the 2011 race and the "aura" surrounding it has grown.   

2012:  A very runnable race day:   link

2013: Another nice HUFF race with more snow pack, but I ran in shorts anyway:   link

2014:  A good day and my prior 50K PR  link  

For this year's race, the forecast was for temps in the 20s all day. So I knew I'd need to put screws in my shoes once again to have traction on cold, frozen trail.  On Thursday night before the race, I pulled my least-old running shoes and added eight #6, hex head, 3/8" self-tapping sheet metal screws to each shoe, six on the forefoot and two at the heel.  Total cost of 32 cents and I had traction.  They worked great!  It was interesting, after the race, so see I actually dropped three screws somewhere along the course.  I guess you could say this confirms what many have known about me for some time; I do have a few loose screws. 

Put the screws where the shoe wears.

Have I ever mentioned my pre-race checklist?  I use this to help me pack.  It's saved me numerous times.  I checked this off on Friday night as well and went to bed home.

I like checklists

For numerous reasons, I varied the logistics for the HUFF this year.  Rather than driving up the night before, I was up at 3:50am for the 2+ hour drive.  Work colleague Michelle accompanied me for this race, as she started (and completed) her first Ultramarathon.

The day was nice (in a Midwestern winter sense...)...sunny, which was visibly pleasant in the woods, about 20F at the start at 8:15am and only 28F at the end at 2:15.  There was wind but for the most part the woods broke it up.  A few open areas were breezy but they were short areas. My layering was right and I adjusted the total temperatures via my hands.  I started with gloves, mittens and chemical handwarmers.  By mile 8, I pulled the handwarmers and stuck them in my windbreaker pocket.  I then left bare hands in the mittens around mile 17.  Then stowed the mittens on my water belt and wore just the gloves from mile 23 to the end.  I wore tights, a polypropylene base layer, a heavy-tech quarter zip turtle neck, a windbreaker, wind cap and balaclava.  I was comfortable.

I chose to use a 4/1 run/walk ratio and held that for the entire race.  I was surprised at how fluid the run sections felt to me.  We did not have to contend with snow, ice or mud this year and much of the trail looked like this.

Typical Trail conditions 2015

The first 8-ish miles of the course were with minor rolling hills.  I found I could open up and cover ground.  It hit me just what the training this summer and fall has done.   It felt great.


The HUFF has offered free race photos now for several years and here's a fun wrinkle.  Just before the first aid station, we ran up a steep park road.  That's me on the right.

Up close and personal with Joe's traction control
I look more bundled than my fellow runners....

Zooming in on my feet, you can see the photographer caught the bottom of my old Brooks Adrenalines, providing evidence I really did run with screw shoes.

The HUFF is a two lap course and I was just over 3 hours the first time through...officially 3:01:30.  I've done that before; lap one was 3:00:09 a year ago and 3:01:58 two years ago.   But would I slow on lap two, as was my pattern at HUFF?   As I headed out, though, I found the early part of lap two to feel even better than lap one and, looking back at my Garmin mile splits later, the times told me the feelings weren't phony.

But right about mile 18, I felt a fade.  Not unusual, I've often felt this 18 miles or so into a race.  I focused on drinking more water plus a couple of extra tugs on the JoeGel I had on my belt.  Soon, the fade faded, comfort returning.

I went through the Aid Station at mile 23, the one which supplied my Very Necessary Cheeseburger a year ago.  I pulled in and looked and, YES, they had them again!  I was excited, told the lady how much it helped a year ago, could I have another one?  She laughed, laid on an extra slice of cheese, cut it in half and off I went, the burger slathered in ketchup.  I also refilled my water bottles and headed back on the course, anxious to keep moving.

This cheeseburger ultimately proved less miraculous than the one I had a year ago but, then again, my needs were fewer.  The run still felt smooth and I hit the marathon mark on my Garmin at a time of 5:07.   I couldn't remember a comparison but, hey, it was fine and it was a marathon done.

But I then hit a second low spot, just beyond the marathon mark.  I was surprised at that, having worked through the 18 mile mark slump.  It was perhaps my legs saying "Hey, Joe, isn't this when we go off duty??  Why are you still making me work?  Do I get overtime pay??  Can I go on strike???"   It went on longer than the 18 mile slump.  I kept hydrating and downing JoeGel but I found I was mostly just focusing on each four minute run section, counting down the miles to the end.

Gradually this time, the energy came back.  By the time I got to mile 28  (note...all miles were on my Garmin, there were no mile markers in the woods) I noted with surprise I was comfortable again.

And, it hit me at 28 that I only had a 5K to go.  Hmmmm...I wondered what my total time would be.  Looking at my watch, I was at 5:30:00.  I wondered with the 3:01 first lap how close I might end up to 6 hours.  Hmmm...I just needed a 30 minute 5K to break 6 hours.  But I'm also on some rugged trails.  I just didn't know.  So, I kept running and working the 5 minute cycles.  I figured I had a PR in the bag, since my previous best was 6:19.  But a sub 6 seemed unlikely.    I simply couldn't be precise as to just where I was...I didn't have confidence my Garmin distance was right, being in the woods and all.

But then I popped out of the woods and could see the finish line.  Visually, think of it like this...on a clock, the finish line was at 2 o'clock, I was at 10 o'clock, the lake was the middle, so I could now see the finish line across the lake and had to run from 10, clockwise to 2.  It looked like a five minute watch said 5:55:00...could I do it in five minutes??  I knew it would be close and decided to go for it.

I  ignored any further walk cycles and ran continuously, with whatever I had left.  I knew it would be close.  I kept checking my watch, taking every tangent offered.  I got near the finish but still had a half trip around the parking lot, my screws clacking on the asphalt...I had 30 seconds to was still going to be close.  I pushed it as hard as I could and was thrilled to hit stop at the timing mat and see 5:59:53.  Marathon/Ultra #61 was complete.

Michelle and me after the race

Shortly after I finished, I saw Michelle cross the finish line.  It was great to celebrate her first ultra.  We grabbed some soup and headed home.  A long but good day.

A subsequent review of Garmin data showed the final "sprint" around the top of the lake-centered clock to be at a 9:17/mile pace...I was thrilled to be able to do a 9:17 pace after 30 miles of trail running.

Final official numbers on the race:

Lap one:  3:01:30  (11:41/mile)
Lap two:  2:58:21   (11:24/mile)
total:   5:59:51  (11:35/mile)

Prior lap twos:  2013, 3:30:03; 2014, 3:19:17

Other stats were also encouraging.  Overall, I was 166th of 377 finishers, 131st of 253 men and 8th of 19 men 60-64.  Way better than average for me all around and by far the best I've done in the HUFF.  I was also encouraged in that I had raced a 1/2 marathon a week earlier and ran 20 mile and 10 mile training runs the weekend before that.  No "taper" for the HUFF, yet it went well.

Why no fade this year, unlike prior HUFFs?  I think the biggest reason is simply the higher mileage I've done since last June.  The other reason, I realized later I made three pit stops on lap one but I didn't need to "go" on the second lap.  Worse, on lap one around mile 11 or so, I discovered my tights had slid halfway down my rear, underneath my shorts..had to stop and get rearranged before something bad happened!   Thus, the second lap, even with its downs at 18 and 26.2, was still 3 minutes quicker.  Evidently, I ran at about the same pace when I was running.  I just ran more.  Even splits for a 50K??  That's a good day.

So that's the HUFF for 2015.  Thanks for listening.  Persevere.


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