|Susquehanna State Park|
Kym and I left the house at about 5:45am for the hour and 45 minute drive. When we were about 3 miles from the park it first started raining. The rain steadily fell until just before the race started.
|Beautiful day for a run|
Going into the event, I was unclear of how many hills there were. The elevation chart on the website is very dramatic, so I did as many hills as possible during my long training trail runs. I set a stretch goal of 5 hours, thinking I'd be happy around 5:15. With the amount of rain that fell, I added about another 15 minutes to that in my mind.
The course starts on an open field, and this year it looped past the start at 1.5 miles, then again at 3.6 before going out to two 13.7 mile loops. The first 1.5 mile loop was almost all open fields and while the terrain wasn't ideal, the hills were minimal.
|a blur in the rain|
I clicked the 1st mile off at 7:57, and the second, when we hit the first downhill trails was an 8:17. Way ahead of where I wanted to be. A little dangerous, but I felt it was ok to get some quick miles in while the trails allowed it. Going up a steep incline in mile three, everyone around me was walking. I didn't feel I needed to, but I figured I may as well join the crowd. About 15 seconds later I could see the top of the hill, so I went right back to running. The hills I trained on at French Creek state park are technical, and very long. A good hill there will go up for over a mile straight. The hills at the HAT run are mostly 1/4 milers. There's a ton of them, but I always felt like I could see the top, so I could make it running. All ultra advice, especially to first timers is to walk the hills. But, I figured if I were to be walking the hills later in the race, I wanted to be running them early. So, I attacked the hills, doing all of my passing of people there. Around mile 7 there's a mile long stretch across fields where people can open it up. Rolling hills instead of climbs. I got passed by several people here, even though mile 7 was a 7:48. Hitting the trails over the next few miles and I did some passing on the hills again. Miles 11 and 12 are on roads, mostly downhill. Quad killers. I didn't train for this type of terrain at all, did a 7:24 12th mile, and still got passed by about 5 guys. After the mile 12.5 aid station, there are a series of the most steep inclines. This is where I did the most of my 1st loop walking. It wasn't much, and it was less than a lot of people around me. At mile 18 I hit the aid station and set back out for the next loop on what I knew would be brutally muddy trails.
|before the "muddy" parts|
I read someones description that it was like running in pancake batter for the 2nd loop, and that's pretty much right. Shoe sucking mud. I feel bad for the runners toward the back who dealt with these conditions for the entire race when 400 people in front of them tore the trails up before they even got to them. My mostly running strategy kept up for much of the 2nd loop. From miles 18-26 I was basically alone. I had just passed someone and there was no one in front of me or behind me for 8 miles. It made running the uphills harder since I had no competition. I did a little more walking here. After the road section the 1st overall female passed me at the aid station. I stayed with her for about a mile of so, but in the 27th mile my wheels really started to fall off. The hardest hills the first time around were brutal the 2nd time. I'd push myself to run 10-20 feet at a time. Around the 26 mile marker my overall pace was a 9:20. By mile 30 it dropped to 9:40. When I was walking up some of the last hills I figured my shot at a sub 5 was now out the door and just wanted to finish with as much running as possible. As I approached the finish I saw my Garmin was wrong. 4:57:10 for my first ultra. Not too shabby for this course in this condition.
|note the change in the field trail. Now imagine the ones that started as dirt.|
Lastly, I'll note that the websites 9000 feet of elevation gain info is dead wrong. Don't get me wrong, there's hills and a lot of them, but nowhere near that. My Gramin showed 3454' of gain: