Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hawthorn Half Day Race Report- The Fighting Tortoise.

I ordered pizza the night before the race in the hotel which I never do. I also skipped packet pick up because I got to Terre Haute late. I wasn't concerned one bit. I'm usually tense the day before a race, however I was nonchalant and carefree before the 12 hour race known as the Hawthorn Half Day.

I rested and recovered in April and didn't run much at all. I had been hitting the trails really hard in May and felt great. I spent a week in New Hampshire and got in some long runs including a 6 hour romp in the Pemi  Wilderness and a 7 hour run above treeline on the Presidential Range. Training was going well and I was sleeping good too. I had only been training heavily for one month prior to this 12 hour endurance run but I knew I was going in to the race rested and ready.

I signed up for the Hawthorn Half Day because this event would be great training for my undertaking in July, the biggest challenge of my running career to date; setting the fastest known time on the Colorado Trail. (running 50 to 60 miles per day at 10,000' - 14,000'. Yeah. It's gonna be tough...)

My goal was to run consistently in the race. Although its purpose was solely as a training run for the Colorado Trail Speed Record attempt, I also wanted to break the Course Record of 71.2 miles. There was prize money for doing so. There was also a prize purse for winning and for breaking 80 miles if anyone could do it. I deemed it too ambitious to try to hit the 80 mile mark as this was a training run, and recovery from that effort would hinder training for the CT. I was shooting for something like 75 miles.

Race day on June 8, 2013 saw cooler than normal summer temps and sunny skies. The course is run on a 5k loop. For those of you unfamiliar with timed events, this is how Hawthorn works:

Hawthorn has a solo division and a popular relay division as well, geared for cross country school teams. The race starts at 7am and runners attempt to run as many loops as possible on the 5k, (3.1 miles), loop course. Once 11 hours and 30 minutes has gone by and only thirty minutes remain runners are funneled off of the 5k loop and they begin running laps on a smaller 800 meter oval, where spectators can check out the finishing action. (Runners are not allowed to begin a final 5k loop after 11:20 adding to the strategy.)

The 5k loop is on gently rolling terrain. It opens up with a half mile shaded section on easy rolling terrain with wide trails large enough to run side-by-side with another runner. The trail then opens up to expose the runner to direct sun as it spans the length of an earthen dam which is almost a mile long. Reeds on the runners left side block a breeze and the water from the small lake help heat the path making it a hot stretch of trail. Exiting the dam runners hit gravel and shaded trails for a few minutes. The footing on the chunky gravel is not exactly fluid and I found myself stepping as lightly as possible to maintain speed over the small rocks. A small hill which is very steep leads runners into a campground where they are greeted with a bathroom and pavement to run on through the campground. This stretch contains the second mile of the loop and is shaded for a bit a respite prior to sending runners out on a dam again to get blasted by the sun. After the second dam, runners are on the home stretch of wooded single track where one small final climb leads them to the start finish line to start all over again for twelve hours!

In the opening laps I found myself running with Traci, Ben, and Jesse. Passing the time talking to Ben and Jesse I learned Jesse was shooting for the 80 mile mark that day which essentially meant he was my biggest competition. He signed up late and so he wasn't on with the other registrants which led me to think 1st place was easily within my grasp prior to meeting him. In talking with Ben and Jesse, I learned Jesse was an Olympic Marathon Trials guy with a 2:17 or 2:18 marathon PR. He didn't have much ultra experience so I was curious to see how his day would turn out. I knew I had the upper hand in regards to experience but with an aerobic engine like he was blessed with, I knew he could pull out a magical day if the cards were played right by him in regards to pacing, nutrition and hydration. I didn't alert him I was also shooting for close to 80 miles...

Jesse was running this race for his friend, a fellow Hoosier with cancer. Jesse was just trying to run as far as possible, he wasn't concerned with placement, but in a timed event, distance is everything, and he had the motivation to earn money for cancer fueling him. His heart was in the right place for the event and he knew what he had to do to make it happen. (This also made him a great contender for the overall win...)

After running with Jesse, Ben, and Traci for an hour or two, I lost them as I had to wait in line for a bathroom! It was so frustrating waiting for a bathroom and losing time to my competition in a race! I'm used to rather empty trails where I can just find a nice spot to go anywhere and I lose no time! After my five minute delay it took me several laps to catch back up to Traci, but when I caught up, I just continued my "catch-up" pace and motored on. I enjoyed the company of the early crew I was running with. In such a long event as it passes time quickly but I was happy to be doing my own thing running my own pace also...

I was watching my watch at the four hour mark as it was my first big mental hurdle/ milestone. I ran 26 miles in the first four hours and that was at a really relaxed pace. It felt good to finally get some miles in the bank. In the opening miles its a little frustrating knowing how much time is ahead and so I was glad to get my first marathon knocked out. I also realized that 80 miles was out of reach. I would have to hold that exact same pace all day just to hit 78 miles! My heart rate was a little higher than I wanted, but I was rested and recovered so I pressed on even though it was pace was very comfy.

Nearing the half way point I eventually roped in everyone who had taken off like a rabbit in this long endurance run. It was Jesse and I out front in first and second.

Coming into the start/ finish line at the halfway point, I noticed Jesse had a towel around his neck and was surrounded by his friends. I thought this amazing runner may have underestimated the 12 hour event and was taking a long break, but sure enough, he caught back up to me later on the next lap right before the steepest little climb of the loop. I always ran the climbs and Jesse walked them, and so began our cat and mouse game. I would always pull away from Jesse on the climb, and it would take him the rest of the lap to catch and pass me, but then at the start finish line I would pass him as he would get aid from his crew.

I would keep my pace all day, and run the dam, and then he would catch me, and I would run the hill, and then he would finally catch and pass me at the end of the lap, only to have me pass him at the start/finish line where I never stopped once all day. This ole tortoise never stopped or walked, I just kept on keepin' on. It was shaping up to be a battle and I was more than enthused to have company out there on a hot Indiana day. Jesse is an affable guy. Considering he's at the top of the sport as a sub 2:20 marathoner he is humble and down to earth. Recently married, he financed his wedding by traveling around and winning marathon prize purses. That's pretty awesome!

Mentally at the eight hour mark I was as strong as ever. My knees, joints, and muscles felt good enough and Kara and I were managing my nutrition and hydration as well as ever. I was taking in a gel once every lap and whenever I would start feeling dizzy and lightheaded in the heat I would grab an electrolyte solution as I ran by the start/finish. I thought about grabbing my iPod as a diversion at the half way point but then decided to push until the 50 mile mark which I hit at 7 hours and some change... I pressed on again once I hit the 50 mile mark and I knew this would be a great race as I needed no diversions or distractions. I was feeling good and in the zone, steady as ever.

I had actually picked up the pace quite a bit running even more miles in my second 4 hour split. I think I ran something like 28 miles from hours 4-8 making my 8 hour total something like 54 miles.

Around and around we went, cat and mouse, but eventually after a shoe swap, Jesse found his rhythm. He gained ground on me and without his prior large variations in pace he managed to command a lead putting a halt to the cat and mouse game near the ten hour mark.

I was starting to really feel the heat and the effort from the day near the ten hour mark. I had run over 65 miles and only had two hours left. I wanted to finish strong and I desperately wanted to hit my goal of 75 miles, and although I knew it would be hard, I had put the miles in the bank and all I had to do was run five miles per hour to hit 75 miles. I knew I could do that.

At this same point, the strategy really begins. Runners are not allowed to begin a new 5k loop after the 11:20 mark on the clock, and the 800 meter loop doesn't open until 11:30. After nearly 10 hours and 15 minutes of racing I figured I could speed it up after taking it easy for a few laps and recovering. I didn't want to finish a lap at 11:20 and be forced to stand around until the 800 meter loop opened at 11:30! I had to keep moving to gain distance! I managed to get in three laps after the ten hour mark as opposed to two since I sped up. This was a huge relief that my recovery laps near the 10 hour mark left me rested enough to knock out three extra miles before the 800 meter loop opened!

On my last lap I saw Jesse out on the dam and I knew I was only a few minutes behind him! What a close race to be only minutes behind after 75 miles of racing! I pressed on and finished my last lap sometime around 11:35 on the clock. I was chasing first and third was chasing me!

I began my first lap right as Jesse completed his, so wouldn't you know, we were once again shoulder to shoulder!

I pressed the pace and Jesse responded well. I was ready to fight. With twenty minutes left in the race, I thought it would be a possibility to lap Jesse thereby putting us even. I forced a very hard acceleration and put some distance on Jesse, maybe a quarter lap, but I couldn't hold the 10 mile per hour pace after 76 miles of racing and Jesse caught up. After Jesse caught me, I accelerated again hoping to exasperate him as he had just pressed hard to catch me, I knew he would have to then fight again to catch me a second time. We were averaging 7 minute miles on these laps with the hard accelerations. I began to feel the effects of these accelerations and I ran shoulder to shoulder with Jesse yet again. With little time left I reached out to shake Jesse's hand in congratulations for responding to my hard fought accelerations and congratulate a very deserving guy. The whole time the third place runner, a female named Stephanie was HOT on our heels! Thank God Jesse and I were fighting it out between us, or else she may have caught us! Stephanie is sure to be one of the best in the sport is she keeps it up!

Jesse and I were shoulder to shoulder with about 3 minutes and 20 or 30 seconds left. Everyone assumed we were done as there was no way we could finish another lap, (but I was not done). I charged like a demon from the gates hoping to gap Jesse and finish one last lap, creating a tied distance! I was holding a 10 mph pace the first half of the lap and Jesse and I choked and gasped. If we couldn't hold pace this last lap would be in vane. I finished with only 6 seconds remaining on the clock, and Jesse finished right behind me. Both of us rose to the challenge and Jesse's last lap counted also, giving him the win by beating me by 800 meters since he had already gotten in a lap before I started.

I couldn't be any happier with the results. We crushed the old course record. I ran 77.9 miles and Jesse ran 78.4 miles. Stephanie also beat the women's course record by running an amazing distance of 76.9 miles. I didn't win but I fought like hell with heart and ran the best race I had in me, pouring everything in my soul out on the course.

Shoulder to Shoulder again with Jesse...

It was great to be in chase mode the final hour to give me that adrenaline surge. It was a very exciting finish.

Many congrats to Jesse. I think he ended up raising about $2000 for Scott Spitz. (I'm not sure if that is the correct spelling of his friends name...)

This was Denali's first time traveling to a race also! The format of a timed event is great as she played in our giant Quest Outdoors event tent which Kara was stationed at the whole day to provide food and fluid.

The following day we went to the Bean Blossom bluegrass festival to recover and relax after a pretty epic race...