I enjoyed my first DNF (Did Not Finish) at the Laurel Highlands Ultra so much I thought why not do it again two weeks later at the Hell Hath No Hurry 50 miler.  Okay, I didn’t enjoy the DNF, but I did learn very valuable lessons. Lessons that were better learned and corrected now than at my goal race this summer, the Burning River 100 miler.

I went into this race with a clear idea of what I needed to work on:

  1. Proper clothing selection for the conditions and terrain

    At Laurel Highlands (LHHT) I wore very short shorts. A 1″ inseam to be precise. My legs had rubbed together so much that I chafed almost to the point of bleeding. The wounds were large and scab covered and took about a week to heal. Ouch. Also, I chose to wore my Luna sandals. The terrain was just too rocky for my feet to handle that with such minimal protection. I knew I made a mistake by mile 2.

  2. Keeping my pace easy and under control. No going out hard!

    At LHHT I went out too hard. The first 9 miles are the hardest on the course and I took them way too hard coming into the Mile 11 Aid Station with leg cramps and 15 minutes ahead of schedule. I hadn’t realized I as going so hard from the race adrenaline, but it certainly caught up to me on the big climb from mile 6-8.

  3. Nutrition and Hydration intake

    I became dehydrated early in the race at Laurel Highlands. By the time I reached the Aid Station at mile 11,which took over 3 hours, I had consumed only 30 ounces of water.

The Race

I arrived to the race area about 40 minutes early and after speaking briefly with Peter, the RD, I set my area up right by my car. At Hell Hath No Hurry (HHNH) they allow you to set up your own personal aid station/ area if you are running 50k or 50 miles. I had a cooler full of ice, a chair, hiking poles, and a backpack with my nutrition stuff; Hammer Perpetuem, Gels, Endurolytes, and Amino Endurance caps. Each lap I could mix my bottle for the next lap and put it on ice so I’d have an icy cool drink to start the next leg with.  All set up I relaxed and chatted with other runners or just occupied myself.

The Course

HHNH features a number of different race distances. A 10k, 30k, 50k, and 50 miler. It is on a roughly 10k looping course through Settler’s Cabin Park outside of Pittsburgh, PA. Each loop has around 800 feet of gain. This year’s course was run clockwise. The first half was mostly flat and very runnable. The second half of the course had the big climbs, 600 feet of gain in around 3 miles.

The races all start at different times throughout the day with the goal of everyone finishing around the same time in the evening to enjoy beer and BBQ. Ahhhh trail running! The 10k is the exception with it’s 8 AM start. Only the 50 miler runners would be on the course as the 10k people blazed through. Though they finish early they are invited to stay and cheer for the day or return later for BBQ.

Hell Hath No Hurry 2016 50 miler

Almost 50k in. Phot cred: Mike McNeil

50 Miles of Fun and Sun (oh the sun…brutal, brutal sun)

Twenty six runners stood around in a field at the start area. Peter, the Race Director, and John, the trail steward told us a little about the course. The first half would be very runnable and we could not possibly get lost. There was miles of ribbon and flags placed through the course and quite simply if we got lost it was our own doing.  At 6AM Peter said , “Go!” And ,us, the good trailrunning kids did not argue, but went. We made our way across the field and over the road. Here there is a very short stretch of trail letting out into a field. The course takes the low side of the field following it to the Algonquin shelter, which is where the race previously was held. From here it was into the woods for another short stretch and out into the fields by the tennis courts. Soon enough we were on the singletrack trails. A number of us were still together at this early point in the race. The leaders were far ahead already. I heard someone yell and then we heard it again! We were going the wrong way? How? We doubled back and John was there. He directed us to go down to the waterfall. What we came to find out was someone had come in the middle of the night and took down every flag, every piece of ribbon, and scratched out every ground marking until there was no course left for miles. We all wandered slowly and stopped at trail intersections where a few runners would go off in different directions looking for markings. By the time we all had made it to the mile 3 aid station the runners had anywhere between 4 to 8 miles logged dependent upon which route each of us took. There was one more area of confusion after the aid station and by the time we had backtracked the entire course was remarked.  We easily followed it back to the starting point.

I can not say enough for how quickly Peter and John responded to the issue and remarked the course working from opposite ends. They did a phenomenal job. The subsequent loops were very easy to follow with plenty of markings, but that didn’t stop me from missing a turn. More on that later.

I was feeling good out there and the first 30k went off easily.For fuel I went with Hammer Perpetuem, which is mixed in water. I split each packet into two bottles; one to take with me and one to put on ice for the next loop.  Each bottle supplied around 130 calories. The loops were taking roughly an hour and a half so I was aiming for 300 calories per loop. The remaining calories came from Hammer ultra gels and aid station goodies. Both hammer fuels supply a small amount of protein and fat for the long grunts with most of the calories coming from maltodextrin, a complex carbohydrate.

By 40k I was starting to feel the distance a bit on the climbs, but things were going fairly well. By the 5th loop I wasn’t feeling so spry.  The heat had really got to me. Coming down from the waterfall the trail crosses a stream. I stopped here like I had each time.  I took my buff and used it to wash my face and pour water down my head and neck.  This time that wasn’t enough. I took my pack off and laid down in the stream letting the cool water wash over me.  I found it odd that the water didn’t feel that cool. It was better than nothing though. A woman passing by was concerned and stopped to ask if I was okay. Yes, I replied. Just cooling off. She laughed and said it was a good idea and tempting.  Soon I was moving again. At the mid-point aid station I splashed a few cups of water over my head and filled the inside of my shirt with ice and tucked it in. It was slow going, and when I made it to the main aid station I considered dropping. Even after cooling off with ice the damage was done.  My legs felt good…really good. But every time I tried to run I could only go a short distance. As soon as my body started heating up again I got dizzy and felt a bit disassociated and had to return to walking. I decided to go for another loop and see if things improved. It would be tight, but I still had time if things got better.

The 6th loop didn’t get better and I walked most of it. A short way from the mid point aid station I missed the turn. Now this was an exceptionally well marked turn. Streamers, flags, and ground paint. I was very hazy and just went right on by it all. By the time I realized I hadn’t seen a marking or another runner in a while and made my way back I had added nearly 2 more miles on. So this time when I made it back around to the main aid station I calculated what it would take to finish.  I needed two 1:15 minute loops. I wasn’t running that at the beginning of the race and knew I wouldn’t do so now.  I had time for one more loop , but called the race there.  The heat had won. I ran 60k on the course, about 37 miles. What I actually ran with the mishaps of the first loop and my error on loop 6 was closer to 42 miles. If I had only needed 8 more miles I had plenty of time to finish the job, but that was not the case.

What Went Right

  • I learned from the major mistakes at Laurel Highlands and ran a smart race. Pace, fueling, and hydration were on point.

What Went Wrong

  • With almost each 10k loop as I stopped to refill my bottles I chatted with friends.  I hadn’t realized just how much time I spent doing so.  Between the mishaps of the first loop and my poor use of time at aid stations I cost myself the finish.
  • Heat! Management! This was an issue at Laurel Highlands also.  My body is not fully acclimated to the heat as I took off a good bit of time before Laurel for EHL tendinitis. This coupled with an entire lack of any plan aside from washing my face off in streams compounded into what could have been a serious problem.

Going Forward

Two DNFs. My first DNFs just two weeks apart from each other. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t rattle me a bit and put some doubts in my head about the Burning River 100. Laurel Highlands put more doubts there than Hell Hath No Hurry. HHNH actually helped me alleviate many concerns. I learned from mistakes and finished with legs still feeling good. Not bad for a 42 mile run.And I found other weaknesses in my game.Areas to improve.  These DNFs may have given me the knowledge I need to finish Burning River.

Since the race I have been crosstraining, and have started heat training and reading up on heat management techniques. After the race a guy heard me talking about needing ice bandanas and he gave me his from the race. I didn’t turn down such a kindness even though it was dripping in sweat.  I’ll be sewing some of my own ice bandanas in the coming weeks and getting back out for a few more big runs. I have 5 weeks to pull it all together and you know what? I feel like I can do it!