Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Huffing and Puffing: A Race Recap

Dec. 20, 2014.

Standing in a dimly lit tent, my feet ice cold and my fingers numb, I passed out packet after packet to runner after runner. Some nervous, some excited. Some just trying to keep moving.

"Safety pins are in your bag. Shirts at the end of the tent to your right. Race starts at 8. Good luck. Do you have any questions?"

I had said it so many times that morning, volunteering at the table from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., that I almost started to look for my bib and head to the start line. But a good 20 weeks pregnant, I didn't think it was the best thing to do. Head to the start line, that is, and run a trail event. 10.8 miles for some and a 50K for others.

I knew it was smart but it was challenging to see people line up to do some epic shit. I wanted to be out there, and so I told myself I would in 2015.

Of course, I had a few prerequisites. Mark had to agree, first off. I had to be healthy, as well. And the weather had to be decent.

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See, I had done the HUFF 50K once before, as a relay in 2011. AKA the year of epic shit. Knee-deep water crossings, ankle deep mud, frigid temperatures.
The race has gotten a reputation of having unpredictable weather conditions since the 2011 race had thigh-deep standing water and freezing temperatures.  
“They look at that video, which made the reputation of this race as being a tough thing where you could get your bragging rights,” race director Mitch Harper said. “All those people that did that year have their bragging rights. The weather’s great, we have a near-record turnout." {Source}
And that video?

{Read my recap here}

So you can understand my hesitation. But I had been assured that the trails had been modified to prevent such conditions. The weather, too, has been unseasonably warm. I had friends running the race – the 50K and 10.8-mile single loop.

It promised to be an event. One I couldn't resist.

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I volunteered again, from 6 to 8 a.m. at packet pickup, and then met up with BRF Tami to run the one loop.

We had decided ahead of the race that we would run together and we would run it for fun. Now, fun wouldn't be a pass to be slackers but neither of us were going to feel pressure to hit a certain time. At least on my end, I was just excited to run with her ... during the day ... somewhere new ... where there were lots of trees and scenic spaces.

And, let me tell you, the race fulfilled all of those things.

Here are the top 5 highlights:

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1. Aid stations. Cookies, candy, pretzels, soup, soda. To borrow Tami's sentiments, had I known running could involve so many amazing foods, I might have laced up my shoes earlier. We hit two aid stations and both were stocked with anything you could think of and amazing volunteers. At the first, I opted for Mike & Ike candy and an M&M cookie for the road. I went for gummy bears and pretzels at the second. Sadly, the gummy bears were a bit hard from the cold weather but I managed ;)

Note: Another great thing about the aid stations was that both had bathrooms available. I had to pee at the first, and Tami at the second.

2. All the leaves are brown and the sky is pink. The race time coupled with the time of year meant that we got to see the early sun rise through the bare trees and over the distant fields as we climbed the trails of Chain O Lakes State Park in Albion. There were moments where I would catch myself bemoaning the hills and force myself to look up. Whatever the physical challenge, it was truly the beauty of nature that took my breath away. Another section, tall pines reached for the blue sky and brown needles carpeted the path. I would take a deep breath and catch the trees' aroma. Had there been the faintest dusting of snow, it would have been a picture perfect winter scene.

3. Well if the guys with skinny legs are doing it, so should we. Early on, Tami and I decided that we would walk the big hills. The motivation was three part: Hills suck; we haven't been doing serious hill training since our fall races; and the other people were doing it, too. We usually took turns deciding when we would walk, like an unwritten rule. It was like we would reach other's mind in a way only BRFs could do.

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4. Let's stay together. The race got really hard. For me, at least. There were sections when I allowed myself to feel defeated rather than challenged by the course. I hated feeling more weak than bad ass and, on more than one occasion, I urged Tami to go on. But she didn't. Refused. And I'm thankful for it.

5. Do the time. While we were running for fun, I knew that I ran the one-loop in 2011 in 2:09. Given the improved conditions and feeling like I'm in slightly better shape, I had a secret goal of finishing in under two hours. I didn't wear a watch for the race, not having charged it and wanting to reduce the pressure, so I had no idea where we were at. If I were to guess, though, I wouldn't have guessed 2 hours. We walked the hills, we had taken our time at aid stations. Hell, I'm pretty sure I took a solid minute to pee. And I generally felt slow. But as we exited the woods, I was shocked to see that the clock read 1:58. Suddenly, my legs had a little more pep. There was the slightest of kicks. And, maybe, a litany of celebratory curse words.

Mark had joked that it was fitting that I would end my 2015 racing season in December. Even though I've sworn off the 50K, I'm pretty sure that it will end my calendar for 2016, too.


  1. I don't think we can over-emphasize how awesome it is to have REAL food at aid stations. Screw the GU - I'm just going to stock up on peanut M&Ms for my next training cycle. We need to find more trail races!

  2. Yay! Congrats on meeting your time goal! :) And you are total BA for volunteering THEN running! :)

    I love that you have Tami as a BRF!!! It's so fab to have a training partner!

  3. Awesome!! Its fun not to "race" with a watch!! Definitely the way to end a year!!