The training cycle leading up to the Huff 50k was an interesting roller coaster and culminated in what was a challenging but in the end fun first 50 kilometer trail race.
My preparation for this race started after I finished my triathlon season at the inaugural Ohio 70.3. This race was a bit of a challenge and definitely showed me some things to work on for future long course races specifically nutrition since I felt like my nutrition was lacking on my races this summer.
I also decided that I needed a break from triathlon focus and even though I haven’t been as interested in trail running since my knee injury (hyper-extension) a few years ago that I was kind of interested in seeing if I could use trail running in this off season to decompress a bit and work on my stability and agility. As such shortly after Ohio 70.3 I went out on some trails to prepare for a winter solstice (or at least close) trail race.
My first real hard core trail run to prepare for the Huff was a Ragnar race where I was on a masters ultra team… which meant that over the course of less than a 24 hour period I would be enjoying 3 trail runs at a distance of 9-13 miles or so… despite most of my legs being in the dark this was actually a lot of fun albeit also very tiring. Our team did great and we ended up winning or division and even came in 3rd place overall for the ultra teams.
The next training race I signed up for leading up to the Huff was even more fun and definitely one that I would love to do again. My wife and I both signed up for the final day of the another inaugural race the Grand Circle Trailfest. We signed up for the last day of the Trailfest which included an 18 mile run along the North rim of the Grand Canyon.
We had also planned on spending a few extra days in the area after the race to enjoy Bryce and Zion and got some great hill climbs and other beautiful sights along with some great workouts out west as well. We really enjoyed this trip and it just cemented the idea that we really want to get out that way sometime again in the future either for vacations or permanently.
These were the major races leading up to the Huff and most of my other trail running was done at a local metro park which was admittedly very repetitive to say the least. As such some of the training runs (especially long runs) were an interesting challenge to say the least. I did get a chance to try out some different speed work (Critical Velocity Intervals) in the beginning of this training cycle that did result in some interesting “insights” especially since the first few times doing the intervals they were very tough and nearly impossible but by the second cycle I was able to hold them and getting into the later cycles I was able to get even faster.
During this fall training cycle I also explored some different fueling for my long runs than I have done in the past. One of the problems I have with race nutrition is that I often find that during running I can’t get sufficient calories because I don’t find most gels to be palatable for extend periods of time and as such I can’t keep up with my nutrition for longer than a couple of hours. During this cycle I opted to try a few different things than I have in the past. After reading a bit about it I decided to try out some Pacific Labs Endurance Gels. Part of the reason I settled on these is because unlike most other gels I have used these are somewhat thinner and easier to take in while moving. Another reason that decided to try these is because the formula includes a 4:1 combination of carbohydrates and protein. They also had some flavors that were appealing and ultimately felt sufficiently light in flavor. The three flavors I enjoy were Key Lime, Citrus Orange and (for later in races) Raspberry Cream with caffeine added.
Despite my training ups and downs this fall I did make it to the race and generally felt ready for the race. The only element that worried me were the elements themselves. This is because despite our usual winters usually really starting in January this December in the days leading up to the race we had snow pass through the mid-west and we had to deal with about 8-10 inches of snow at the race site for the Huff 50k which is done at the Chain O’ Lakes State Park in Albion, IN.
As is normal for trail races we arrived at the race site about 25 minutes (at most) ahead of the start of the race. The trails walking to the parking lot that serves as the start and finish were slushy and definitely didn’t give me a warm fuzzy regarding how the day would go. At just after 8 am the 25k (1 loopers) and relay teams were started and then 15 minutes after that the 50k and 10 milers (on a different trail) were started which included me. And off we went.
Now as I was afraid the first few miles were tough to say the least. It felt like running in sand only in addition to not having solid footing I also had to deal with sliding back about half a step for every step I took forward. Because of this my pace was not great and in addition I was working much harder than I would have otherwise and my legs were definitely feeling it. I could feel it burning and I was dreading the possibility that it would be this way over the entire course. I also decided that due to the potential of lower temperatures I should/would use an insulated drinking tube for my bladder as such because of the unusual setup my usual process for nutrition didn’t work in the same way and unfortunately during one instance of removing my drinking tube from the pocket on the front of my hydration/gear pack I managed to knock out a gel packet which was promptly stepped on behind me and then proceeded to leak for the next few miles and drip all over my right leg (the standard drinking tube is held in place via magnet so that isn’t a concern for my normal setup.) As such when I arrived at the first aid station I was NOT in a good mood.
Fortunately after a bit of food and drink (the aid stations really are very good at this race.) I felt much better and was ready to get back out despite the potential conditions.
Now in addition to the snow on the ground the race day conditions included basically a continuous light drizzle of freezing rain. Now while that sounds like rather unpleasant conditions (and frankly elements of it definitely were) it did have at least a slightly positive effect in that as the day progressed the trail conditions started to improve. This was mostly because of a combination of the runners on the trail packing down the snow on the ground and the freezing rain filling in the gaps (if you will) to allow the paths created by the runners to be less likely to give at every step and thankfully this really started to show up after the first aid station.
The next few miles were much better then the first 4 miles and by the second aid station I was feeling much better then I was ahead of the first aid station.
After Aid station #2 there is about 7 miles until you return to the starting line and there isn’t a manned aid station until you return to the starting/finish line for the second loop. This is a long time to be out with freezing rain falling and I was definitely starting to get a chill before the halfway point. That is where it is a very good thing that I had a few things to look forward to when I arrived at the halfway point. This race is good in that there is a drop bag and I planned for the weather and had a few things waiting for me when I arrived. Most important my wife was there which was a Godsend. I’m sure I could have done this without her there but it was much nicer and much easier having an extra set of hands to help get things out of and put things back into my gear bag. I also had a few other things there that I was really looking forward to at the halfway point.
- Fresh Socks – I considered a second pair of shoes but opted just for the socks because I figured that fresh socks would be wonderful for at least a few miles and additionally I figure that everything would just get wet again anyhow so it didn’t matter if I was putting back on the same shoes.
- A clean shirt and dry jacket (outer layer) – This one was loosely based on a recommendation from a friends post on the TAUR Facebook page. I was glad to have done so and it really felt good to be dry for a while after getting back out on the trail.
- A HydroFlask with Hot Skratch Labs Apples and Cinnamon – This is something I saw someone do at last years race and it was wonderful to have it there and because of the HydroFlask it was still deliciously warm.
- I also used restocked my gels for the portions between the aid stations.
Starting out on the second loop it was obvious that the trail conditions were better and it was nice having and idea about how long it would take to get to each of the aid stations as I went along. I did notice that during road crossings that because of the salt being applied the snow was especially slick which meant that it was more comfortable closer to the edges of the roads and in heavily tree covered areas (especially pine) the snow was much softer. Some other roads were also very slick and it was much better along the edge of the road despite the snow being deeper than on the roads themselves. The first half of the second loop just kind of happened and soon I was arriving at Aid station #2 once again.
Now at this point I knew Beth would be there with the car and I had planned on asking for my rain coat (a pack-light Marmot) for after the race because I knew that it was pretty light and could easily pack into my Ultimate direction pack. I also was getting pretty hungry at this point and I knew that this aid station had boiled potatoes which sounded great at this point of the race. (They also had burgers but I wasn’t interested in one of those.)
Because of the freezing rain during the day the trails started to get a bit slicker and down hills were becoming more challenging to navigate. This slowed me down a bit because since I have been getting out on the trail I had definitely improved my downhill running. I will say it probably didn’t slow me down much because my quads were really starting to get sore and going down hill wouldn’t have been very brisk anyhow.
As an aside: The freezing rain also resulted in some interesting ice formations on my hydration pack straps and some nice beard-sickles.
After Aid station #2 it was just a matter of continuing to move through to the end and try to make steady progress forward. I also find that as the race goes on the people on the course tend to be more and more talkative which is nice because none of us are going to win the race and having a conversation or laughing at things definitely passes the time.
I think the best line I heard was on one of the last portions were the trail intersects with the road and someone pointed out that if he had to deal with this much glaze then he wanted donuts. (mmm… hot Krispy Kreme).
Thankfully before long I was arriving at the final Aid station which is only about half a mile from the finish and my race was done. My first 50k and longest ever run at once in 7:45:40 which as Beth likes to point out is slower than her 50k PR.
Apparently I’m not allowed to run any more of these so she can keep her PR that is better then mine.
Now that this race is finished I am looking forward to a short off-season break and then looking forward to getting back into triathlon training in preparation for a few 70.3s and a 140.6 this summer. Thanks for reading.