Welcome! The intent of Anecdotes from the Trail is to share my experiences while trail running or racing (occasionally on the road too.) And to feature other trail runners and their accomplishments. You may see the occasional gear review or even contest. Please visit from time to time. Happy trails!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hot Pockets: Harbison 50K 1.7.12

Harbison 50K...that's me second in line of this race convoy. The guy in front had a great pace going for the first few miles and we all drafted off of him for a long while. (photo: Ray Krolewicz)
You guys know the comedian, Jim Gaffigan? He's got this comedy routine where he talks about those nasty little microwaveable stuffed crust wrappers called "Hot Pockets". The routine is hilarious and he'll use it as the base of his whole show. Every once in a while he'll just end a bit with a falsetto and meekly sing, "hot pocket". Now, you're probably wondering what the hell does that have anything to do with a 50K in the middle of South Carolina? Well, I'll tell ya, but first let's set up the race a little...

I was going into this race feeling pretty good about it. My 40-miler in December could have been a lot better for various reasons, but for the Harbison 50K, I had the confidence of having a couple of good long runs under my belt. Plus, no screwed up "death" virus a week prior to the race. So, I didn't want to have any expectations, but I have to admit that I was optimistic about what was about to go down on the trails in Harbison Forest.

Dan addressing the crowd.
Rox and I pulled into the start, picked up our numbers, and got ready. There was a bonfire going and folks were gathering around keeping warm next to it. I did get to meet some cool people that I had only known via Twitter or Dailymile, that was Mark and Sam from Grayson, GA and Rob from Atlanta. Great, down to earth guys and I was glad to meet them. While talking to them, Dan, the RD, stood on a stump and gave out some last minute instructions. The course is a two lap run of a 16-ish mile loop. Everyone said the first nine were easy and rolling with the tough part coming on the back six or so. Dan reiterated that same information. Shortly after, we lined up on the jeep road and started off. As expected, Rox took off in front of me. I slipped in with the front part of the middle of the pack and in no time we were on a wide track trail, then a single track trail with everybody falling into place.

Early on, right after the start.
The morning was cool, but the forecast for the day was a high of 70 degrees by 2pm. That was incentive to get done early. Anyway, it was cool for the first lap. I fell behind a guy who had a really nice, steady pace and I stuck with him for the first 6 or 7 miles. At one point I felt bad and even said, "Man, I'm sorry for staying on your heels, but you have a great pace going." He responded with a "That's OK. I just hope I can hold it." So, since he didn't mind that's how we went for a while. Strange thing was that every once in a while, we would run through these odd warm pockets of air. Hot pocket. At first, I didn't think anything of it, but as we kept going through the initial miles, it would keep happening very occasionally. Hot pocket.

Me and Rox before the start.
After we hit the second aid station at mile 5.8, the guy with the steady pace decided to take a nature break. Maybe he was tired of me sticking with him or maybe not, but that was the last of him I saw. I ran with him for about the first 7 miles and I think it would turn out to be one of the key success factors for the day, as my next 20 miles would turn out rather well. As I ran to aid station #3 and then #4, I would again occasionally run into these strange warm pockets of air. Hot pocket.

At this point, I was thinking about the tougher last six miles of the loop. They were coming up, but I felt good and while the trail was easy and rolling, I picked up the pace a bit. Once you hit aid station #4, there's the first significant climb of the route taking a couple of switchbacks up the side of a hill. When I hit it, I was glad to have a change in the terrain and the next few miles would prove to be different from the start for sure. Still, every once in a while...hot pocket. The trail also became more technical with more roots and more rocks. I was slowly catching runners and while they were walking the inclines, I ran them. I would slightly pay for it later, but while it was good, it was good.

Where's the guy in the red
sleeveless going?
A younger runner caught me in this back section and we would rubber band each other for the last miles of the loop. He would pass me on the downhills and I would catch and pass him on the uphills. When we both hit the Spiderwoman Trail section, we both took a slight detour that in the end only added about a quarter of a mile, but which threw me off a bit. Because as soon as I was back on the regular route, there was another runner I had passed earlier in front of me. I didn't understand at first and when I caught him a second time, I asked him, "Did you miss a section back there?" And he was surprised at first, but then he said, "Did you go straight up the rocky section?" Me, "Yes." He said, "You missed a left turn that by passed that part." Me, "Doh!" Atleast I wasn't way of course and a little extra credit doesn't hurt. Meanwhile, I was still dealing with the other guy that was passing me and I was passing him. And you guessed it, every once in a while, we would hit a...hot pocket.

We crossed one last road, climbed up a hill where I passed my "rubberband" friend for the last time, took a couple of turns and with out even realizing it, I was heading into the finish area. First lap in the bag and I felt great! First lap done in 2:33 by my watch. Could it be? Could I, dare say, shoot for a five hour 50K? I stopped at the aid station to refuel and top of my bottle. The cool weather and the strange pockets of occasional warm air, would give way to sunny skies and climbing temperatures. As I ran by Rox's car, I left my arm sleeves. I wasn't going to need them any more.

My friend, Rox
As soon as I hit the single track again, I had caught up to a local runner, Jim, and the two of us would run together for a little while. I thought that maybe the same strategy was playing out as the first lap, where I basically had a pacer, but I would not end up running with Jim as long and he would actually catch me with about two miles to go to the finish. Anyway, we cruised along for a bit and we eventually came up on my friend, Rox. I was surprised to see her and fully expected her to be way in front of me duking it out for first or second female. And although, she was in fourth place, she was not looking like she was having a good day. We caught up to her and I ran with her for a while. I asked if she was alright, and she shook her head. She was having cramps and her stomach was giving her problems too. She was determined to finish the race, but there was not going to be a podium spot for her today. We ran together for a little while and at one point I jumped in front of her and soon dropped her.

After passing Rox, I passed an aid station and was about half way around the second lap. I was feeling good and enjoying the sunshine, but I was starting to feel the heat some what and also my pace was starting to drop. Kind of normal at this point of the race, but I still felt confident. I was still catching runners and I would soon hit the aid station before the beginning of the climbs. I gobbled down some salty potatoes, drank some Coke and tackled the first hill. I managed to jog up it and felt OK. I hit some of the tighter turns and the other climbs and I could feel that it was taking more effort with everyone. By the time I was back on the Spiderwoman Trail, I was paying for my earlier effort and I walked several climbs in this section. No worries, I was still moving fine on the flats and the down hills, so I was mentally OK. After finally reaching the last aid station, I knew that a PR was a done deal. I just had to hang on for the last few miles.

See ya later!
A couple of fresher runners passed me and Jim, who I ran with at the beginning of the second loop, also caught me. I kept them within sight for the last couple of miles, but it was a struggle. I crossed the last road, went up the hill, took the same turns as earlier and recognized that last down hill. I pushed for that last little bit and I could see the blue chute in front of me through the trees. When I came out in the open, I saw there was a log across the beginning of the chute. Is this the finish line? I must have thought that out loud, because a spectator was screaming, "Keep going!" So, I did. I ran to the end of the chute and that was it. Just like that. I looked at my watch and it said, 5:25. Definitely a PR for me! That second lap was slower, but not by that much. A volunteer handed me a pint glass and my medal. You gotta love low-key ultras. No roaring crowds, no PA announcers, no frills at all. Just some nice, decent swag for finishing and off to the gazebo for some freshly grilled cheeseburgers. And no, thankfully they weren't serving any Hot Pockets.

Rox ended up toughing it out and came in about seven or so minutes behind me. She did keep her fourth place female standing.

P.S. Thanks to Dan Hartley and all of the volunteers for making this such a fun event! Check out the Harbison 50K Facebook page for photos of the event or visit the Flickr site. (I stole a few photos from Ray Krolewicz for this blog, I hope he doesn't mind.)

Official 2012 Harbison 50K results.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

2012 Harbison 50K: Race Preview

2011 Start of Harbison 50K (photo by Ray Krolewicz;
taken from Harbison 50K Facebook page.)
We're only five days into the new year and here comes the first race, ready or not. I'm heading to Columbia, SC tomorrow for the Harbison 50K which is on Saturday. I'm looking forward to it. Mainly because it's a new race for me and I always enjoy my first go around with a particular course.
The Harbison 50K takes place in, well, the Harbison Forest State Park, more or less right in Columbia. It's a two loop course. To quote Dan Hartley, the race director...

There are 18 miles of technical single track trails, with the remainder on fire roads, wide trails and stream crossings with plenty of rocks, roots and mud on the beautiful trails of the Harbison State Forest. Although a surprisingly challenging course, with plenty of aid-stations and great volunteers along with lots of hot food at the finish, this is a great 50K for your first ultra! Total elevation change is 4,186 ft.

Compared to recent races, the Pine Mountain 40 and the Stump Jump 50K, it should be an easier one, but you really never know, do you?

Earlier this week, the Southeast was hit with a frigid cold front that I, for one, was hoping would continue through the week. I just do better in the cold. Always have. But checking the forecast for Saturday in Columbia, it's going to be in the mid-40's at the start, but probably in the 60's or maybe the low-70's by the time I finish up. Sounds great, but I wouldn't mind a few degrees cooler for the high.

Anyhow, I feel fit for this race and I had a good long run a couple of weeks ago. One big difference going into this race compared to Pine Mountain last month is I didn't have some freak, death virus hit me with a week to go until race day. That alone is giving me more confidence.

Here's a link to the course map, the course profile and a detailed course description.

Check back after the race for a full race report. Happy trails!