My lungs were fine for the entire run, but my legs were, and still are screaming at me for the hills I forced them to carry me over. I felt a little woozy for about a half an hour beginning around twenty miles. My feet were soaked most of the race and my left shoe was so water-logged that it made a squishing noise with every stride for the last, oh, twenty-six miles or so. Am I ready to sign up and do it all over again? Hell yeah!
The 21st Annual HAT Run began on a calm, clear, yet chilly morning with temperatures in the twenties. Once underway, it warmed up to near fifty degrees – perfect weather for running. I started out slow, knowing that the hills on the trails would demand a lot of energy as the run progressed. The trails concerned me, as none of my training runs were on trails. I was looking almost straight down during the first several miles of single track trails while I concentrated on avoiding tripping over tree roots, rocks, and the many other runners I was around early in the race. There were more stream crossings than I can remember, but only four of them required getting really wet feet. Some runners were good at skipping dryly across the rocks. I know if I tried that stunt I would have ended up swimming, and the water was cold, so I walked through the water.
Not being a trail running, I learned that my current fitness threshold of comfortable road running (or running over fairly benign terrain) for well over four hours is roughly equivalent to three hours and fifteen minutes of hilly trail running. At the 3:15 mark, I began to get very hungry, woozy, and thirsty all at the same time. I was eating GU every half hour, but at this point, the thought of another GU was revolting. I kept slow yet steady progress to the next aid station, which was about twenty minutes away. The volunteers at this event were wonderful. While they took my CamelBak and filled it up with water, I devoured some M&M’s, drank a cup of Gatorade, and grabbed a couple of pretzel sticks to go. Once I got going again I began to feel better, er, not to the point of running fast, but at least I had some calories to fuel me to the next aid station. Running between these two aid stations is probably the easiest part of the course. There is about a mile of trail and then roughly three miles of mostly downhill roads (some paved, some packed dirt). At the next aid station it was more M&M’s, and this time two chocolate chip cookies. Now there was only five miles to go and all but the slightest inclines looked daunting. My legs were complaining – and I was hearing them, but I told them to stop complaining and get me to the finish line. And they did. It took me nearly five hours and fifty-three minutes, but I finished. The post race food was great. The hot dogs and chili didn’t sound as appealing to me as the chocolate brownies and a nice glass of Coke.
Despite the minor physical discomfort, I enjoyed running through the forest, and chatting with other runners along the way. I also think that trail running is much more laid back than a road marathon. Oh, there is still a lot of competition, for sure, but I also sensed camaraderie amongst runners. Many of the fastest runners, some of whom finished nearly two hours before I did, were still on-hand, clapping and cheering, even as I crossed the line. You likely won’t see that at a road marathon, where the winners are whisked away as soon as they cross the finish line. So yes, I’ll be back again – probably next year!