Yesterday was the Hocking Hills Indian Run 60K Trail Race. I had a great experience and left everything out on the course. The weather was perfect, the park was bumpin with friendly campers, and the hills were plenty. I decided to wear my VFF's for this run. They held up great, and I didn't get torn down like I did @ Mohican last spring. I'd trained all summer in them and my body has adapted to them. I thought this would be a good time to validate all that training in them and see if they're a good option for me as a distance runner for future trail races. (cliche?) :) They are, I actually finished this race an hour and a few minutes faster than my 50k race only 5 months ago. I will continue to wear them on my training runs and future races.
The night before, I arrived around 7 or 7:30 and hung with my best bud, Tyler and his family. They were EXTREMELY hospitable and hooked me up with a huge dinner, pillows, blankets, and great conversation. We sat around the fire and feasted while laughing and enjoying each others company. Around 10pm, Tyler and I went into the camper and called it a night, as we had an early morning ahead of us. As it turned out, Tyler had a rough night's sleep and didn't get much sleep. So much so that he had to cancel his start of the 20k. I felt very bad for him, because he had talked about this race for a long time and he and Liz (his girlfriend) had been training for it all summer. :( Next year guys!! Next year...
My phone alarm went off at 5:45 am sharp and I drove to the visitor center to get checked in. I (literally) got the closest parking spot to the starting line. I did my stretching and configured my trunk to be my own personal aid station as I came through on each loop. Jennifer had packed me a killer lunch with ham sandwiches, gatorades, grapes, power bars, banana's, all of which was buried in a stack of ice blocks. It was awesome and kept me strong the entire race. Thanks babe!! :) I got my race number and t-shirt, then stood around and talked to some of my running buddies that came to the race.
One of the first faces that I saw was good ol' Mike Allen. This was the guy that helped me finish my first ultra marathon here 2 years ago. He remembered me and we caught up for a little bit. He told me that he shared the story of that day with many of his friends, and that it was a great honor for him to do that with me. I agreed and told him the same. It was great to catch up with him again. I swear this man doesn't age, he's just as young as I am; yet he claims he's 61 yrs old. !? :) Great seeing you again Mike!
The race started promptly at 7:14 am. :) The ranger stated that this was the record year for the 60k turn out. This race is getting bigger every year, and I think it's great. We all did a big cheer then shuffled off into the dewey morning fog. The sun was rising and it was simply a beautiful morning to be at Hocking Hills. The first section of the loop is mostly road. All of us runners spread out pretty good along here and it was neat seeing so many runners on the road as you came to the top of a big hill. I was able to keep a pretty nice pace down RT 664 and felt real good. I had forgotten how huge the downhill was at the end of the road section though.
As I got to the bottom of the last (huge) downhill, I turned left up Steel Hill. This is a hill that goes strait up for about 1/2 mile to Chapel Ridge Road. It wasn't as bad as I remembered it, but it was still pretty big compared to other hill climbs on this course. Perhaps I just wasn't as intimidated by it this year and I approached it more confidently. I got to the top of the climb in a decent jog and kept on trucking past the water stop; my water bottles were both 3/4 full.
From Steel Hill, we winded down the road for about a mile to a service road that leads us down through across some rolling hilltops with open views of the hocking hills. This is one of my favorite sections on this course. It was ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS this morning. All of the runners had spread out by this point and I found myself running alone with these panoramic landscape of the Hocking Hills. K, here goes: The dewey leaves of the rolling tree tops had a nice light fog that gracefully tucked into the valleys of these sunlit rolling hill-tops known as the Hocking Hills... What d'ya think? :) Just know that it was awfully pretty, ok? I was kicking myself for leaving the camera in the car.
Once I got out of my Shakespeare moment, I found myself in the woods running down a wide service road. I had two runners creep up on my stellar pace, Chris and Matt. They immediately started asking me questions about my shoes; most of which I didn't have the answers to: How much do they weigh? How many miles do you have in them? How long do they last? I just kept saying, "Good question" :P We talked about lots of different things and they stated that they were marathon runners. This was their first trail ultra. They have both been training for the Columbus Marathon next month and they decided to run this as a training run. They were working to PR at Columbus this year. These guys looked like some pretty strong runners, and I'm sure they're gonna kick butt next month. They took off ahead of me and I stayed back to settle back into my delicate pounces through the randomly scattered gravel rocks.
I came out to the next road section and felt real strong. The sun was out, the cars were driving by and it turned out to be a beautiful morning.
By the time I had gotten to Rose Lake, the 10k runners were starting to merge into the mix. I a nice steady jog through this section and kept my eye out for "toe crushers" (ie. roots). On my ascent out of Rose Lake, the course came onto the campground section. I was going to be passing right by Tyler's family camp site where I stayed last night. On my way through I yelled hello to all of them. They cheered me on and I kept on running. I'd be seeing them two more times today, so I didn't feel so bad not sticking around and talking with them this first time. It looked like they were just waking up anyway...
From the campground, we headed up the main road to back to the starting line (and my car). I forgot how long this road section actually was. It's a little over a mile and it's all uphill. Granted it's a gradual uphill, but it is uphill.
When I got to the car, I scarfed down two ham sandwich halves, some grapes, and I chugged a gatorade. I found enough time to snap this cool pic. --->
There were tons of runners standing around waiting on the bus to take them to the 10k and 5k starting line. I got a lot of stares at my shoes and some people asked questions about them. I think some of them were seeing them for the first time, and I felt like I looked eccentric... I'm not, really! I'm normal and love kittens. :)
A small group of guys said "Yeah, Mr. Five Finger!", I just raised my water bottles and said "Woo hoo!". :) Then took off running again feeling the stares.
On my second loop, I was chugging a long and a runner came up behind me and asked me if I was running the 60k. I said yes, how about you? He said he was running the 20k and I congratulated him. He then asked me how my feet were doing. I told them they were doing just fine, and then he went on to tell me that he reads my blog! I got very excited and thanked him for introducing himself to me. That put a smile on my face for a while, for I mainly post my blogs without thinking of other people reading them besides my family and friends. So "dude", :) if you're reading this post, feel free to comment anytime. It was nice meeting you!
The second loop was pretty uneventful. I ran into Matt and Chris again and we talked for a while up Steel Hill. At the top, they pushed on again and I settled back into my trot. I had a pretty good pace going (in my terms) and I didn't walk much at all the second loop, except on the crazy uphills. I tried to jog up the gradual uphills and leap up some of the smaller climbs. The course was mixed with a lot more runners by this point, as the 20k and the 40k were all in the race now. You could tell who was who for the most part. Many of them traded encouraging words, and I would always return them.
Toward the campground area, I ran into Mike Allen and we ran beside each other for a while through here. We played leap frog a few times. The first time was when I stopped into visit with Tyler's family's camp site. By this point, the entire crew was there. We chatted for a little bit and they gave me some Funyuns to send me on my way. Thanks guys. :)
After visiting with them I caught back up with Mike and we climbed up the road section together and into the checkpoint. We paused at the snack table and had some random snacks to refuel on: apple slices, pretzels, and banana halves. I got to see my Italian twin brother Luca:
I had a ham sandwich chunk in my mouth during the photo. "It's not a too-mah!"
Luca is this cool guy that runs with a lot of the same people I've run with. He and I met on a training run with Nick and his buddy, Bret last year. We cross paths every now and then, but haven't ran together since that first time we met. I would enjoy running with you again soon, Luca! Let's make it happen. :)
Third (and Final) Loop
Mike and I grabbed a frosty gatorade from my trunk and we headed back up the climb to RT 664. On our way up the climb, Mike went ahead of me and I wouldn't see him again for the rest of the race. As we wove through the hills along RT 664, I saw him getting further and further from me as I crested each hilltop. He would have a great run and I'm sure he finished strong. Great job, Mike!
This third loop was a little more difficult than the first two loops (duh, right?). My feet were pretty swollen by this point and my calves were pretty tight. I found myself walking on the crazy downhills along 664. I walked all the way up steel hill, and actually sat down at the top of Steel Hill for the first time to gather myself and give my legs a quick break. I sat there for maybe a full minute and talked to the aid station crew. They were very friendly and I was grateful for their hospitality and conversation, it helped.
I stood up and decided to trot. I tried not to walk, and only walked when I absolutely had to. This third loop was just as peaceful as the first loop. Most of the 20k runners and 40k runners had either finished, or was keeping the same pace somewhere else on the loop. I found myself running along through a lot of this loop, and I really liked it. I just let my mind wander and enjoyed the great run. I did meet a few other runners on this final loop and it was great to talk with them and hear their stories.
I didn't sit again until I got back around to Tyler's family's campsite (sounds weird?). Here I actually sat for a minute or two and they fed me a warm juicy hot dog, right off the fire. Yum!! Michelle (Tyler's wonderful Mom) filled my water bottles with ice, and it really helped! Thanks Michelle!! I left their campground with two freezing cold maracas that kept me hydrated for my final 3 mile stretch.
From the campground, I made it to the final stretch of road up to the finish line. I did quite a bit of walking here. My feet were throbbing, but I found that when I was in a shuffle/jog the pain went away. Either that or it hurt worse, and actually numbed my feet... I'm leaning toward the latter. As I made my final ascent, I got to see a lot of the other runners leaving and many of them honked and cheered for me. I just love the love. :)
The Finish Line
I finished my race with a time of:
8 hours, 33 minutes, and 1 second
There were no fireworks, no announcers, no media, no trumpets, and no elephants. It was just me and very nice lady that gave me my medal. The medal for this race is worth the $25 entry fee alone. The local elementary school kids make medals for the racers, and I have a nice little collection of them in my basement now. I can't wait to get my finishers medal next year.
In conclusion, the training has worked. I'm very happy with todays run. It was 3 minutes slower than my first time out here, 2 years ago. However, it was over an hour faster than my 50k time earlier this year. The most rewarding to me is that I ran it pert-near barefoot. I'm also very happy with the way I feel after the race. My feet hurt, and my calves are pretty sore, but other than that it's just the normal "post ultra" pains.
Next weekend, I'm going to RunWoodstock up in the great state of Michigan with my good buddy, Farley. We're running the Hippie 1/2 Marathon and the Tripin 10k (night run). This is going to be Farley's first 1/2 Marathon and I was able to talk him into a 10k too. I have that effect on people, just ask Dan. :) I have a feeling Farley's gonna crush 'em both this weekend! Can't wait, Bro!!