This morning, I participated in the inaugural Harding Hustle 30K down in the Cleveland National Forest. With PCTR's Headlands 50 looming on the horizon next weekend (along with some other big races down the line), I wanted to gauge my fitness and see the fruits of my training on a timed course. I have been running at least 55+ miles for the past 5-6 weeks and save for some lingering respiratory issues, feeling about as fit as I ever have.
I made the approximately 1-hour drive down south, running a bit late so instead of parking in the big lot and taking a shuttle with the other runners, opted to drive straight to the trailhead. Thankfully, made it with about 5 minutes to spare before the race started at 6:30am. After saying a quick hello to my friends Kayla and Lori, I lined up and off we went.
Runners gathered at the start (thanks Lauren).
The course is a 15K out-and-back which immediately begins with a climb and save for a bit of downhill after mile 1, it's all climbing to the top (4,500 ft) on rocky fireroads. Had I arrived earlier (ahem) I would have tried to get a warm up in. Instead, I was relegated to trying to use the first mile or so. I never really felt 'right' from the get-go...breathing was harder than it should be at the pace I was running and I had a tough go of trying to get my legs to respond to the ups. After about 2 miles of this, I was already starting to power hike portions while slowly getting passed in the process.
Shortly before our first aid station at about mile 4.5, my friend Lori caught up with me and we ran together briefly. At the aid station, we both filled up but she ran ahead while I bid my time a bit. A little before an hour into it, I finally decided to tear into a gel (around mile 5) and maybe not too coincidentally, started to feel better and stronger. In my haste this morning (I hit the snooze one too many times), my breakfast consisted of coffee and a 1/4 of a Clif Bar.
Pretty much our view going up.
I also decided to ditch the shirt and use my bandana to shield me from the sun and from the flies by wearing it on top of my head with a visor snug over it. My burst of energy lasted a couple of miles as I overtook a few runners on the run up, but started fading a bit with about a mile to go to the top. By this point, the leaders were already headed back down and I'd eventually see Lori running down when I was about a couple of hundred yards from the turn-around aid station. I quickly grabbed a couple more gels and topped off my water bottle before blasting downhill. I was determined to make up some time on the descent so I leaned forward and took it on as fast as my legs and quads would let me.
I passed a couple of guys before we were all spread out so far that I couldn't really see a person in front or behind me. At approximately the 10.5 mile mark, I felt a cramp twinge in my right calf and without panicking too much, took my 2nd and last salt tab of the day and tried to shorten up my stride a bit. I focused on the running the tangents on the windy fire road as best I could, although rocks and shrubs made it difficult at times. After a couple of miles, I decided to pull over to the side to water the bushes when I spot a runner coming down the hill. I finish just as he passes me and I quickly continue running right on his heels. I sort of let him set the pace and figure I'll try to make a move closer to the finish.
We hit the last aid station with about 4+ miles to go and I doused my bandana covered head in water one last time and topped off my 26-ounce bottle before running again. The calf twinges hit a couple more times and the downhill pounding were brutal on my legs. I just kept my fingers crossed that I'd make it to the end without the legs blowing up. With about a mile left to go before the finish, we hit the last up (which we obviously ran down when we were running the out) and my legs were toast. I saw the guy who ran past me lightly running it but I could tell he was fading. So I power hiked up the hill as briskly as my legs would allow and once it flattened out, I jammed down once again for all I was worth, passing him with a quick word of encouragement.
What I didn't see was that there were a couple of other runners quickly gaining chase behind me and didn't spot until I rounded the switchback. And that was all I needed to see to really start booking it without looking back any further. If they ended up passing me on the final stretch, they'd pass me. But I would go down swinging to make sure no one was gonna pass me with less than a mile to go. Mercifully, I spot Lori who'd come out a bit on the trail to cheer me in and after confirming no one was immediately behind my tail, I made the quick right and finished in an official time of 2:55:13, good for 22nd overall (out of 80+ finishers). Not DFL, but not great.
All smiles for Kayla crossing the line.
After hunching over for awhile to catch my breath, I finally made my way over to grab a cold Coke and try to walk off the painful lactic acid coursing through both my legs. The half dozen or so masseuses that were set up at the finish area were very tempting, but I just opted for my recovery tights instead.
It was a pretty decent effort overall but I was a little disappointed in how I ran the first 1/3 of the race. I need to do better on the climbs. Hopefully it goes a little better next Saturday for my 2nd 50-mile challenge.
In the meantime, my eternal thanks once again to Jessica the RD and to the volunteers (Catra, Andy, Lauren, et al) for taking care of us out there. Next stop, San Francisco.
Oh, and best of luck Badwater runners/pacers/crew on Monday - be rooting for ya!