The HHH50k holds a special place in my heart. Last year it was my 1st 50k race. Looking back and reflecting on that race I was so nervous! I truly had no idea what I was up against and doubted if I could complete 31 miles. Stepping up to the start line I was a ball of nerves and it took me a few loops to get into a groove. Crossing the finish line I was overcome with emotions and burst into tears. I knew that I had more to give on the course and looked forward to my next opportunity to challenge myself at this distance.
Fast forward a year and I was back at the famed University of Wisconsin-Parkside Cross Country course to take on the HHH50k once again. As a runner I have grown and progressed. I had several races under my belt since the HHH50k the year before and was ready to put my experiences to good use. I wanted to see what I was made of and what my training was doing to evolve my running. Weeks before I formulated a plan. The advantage I had at this event is that I had run it before. I knew the course, the aid station set ups, and had prepped for the weather no matter what Mother Nature tossed my way. Game on! I wanted a PR and was willing to push my body to get it. Up to this race I had been able to complete more 50k events and had the confidence in the distance, but I had not been able to improve on my times. I was sitting at 6:49 for all my events. I so badly wanted to see that drop. I had put in the work and run all the miles, now time to prove it.
As a stalked the weather throughout the week I was relieved to see that the temps were predicted to be reasonable for late July. Last year the heat and humidity were bananas. Regardless I was going to prep like I would sweat my butt off. To save time I wanted to make sure I could be efficient at the drop bag location. At the Titletown Ultra Series 6 hour I was able to iron out a good prep method and planned to tweak it slightly to improve on my in and out times. To combat the heat I filled snack size ziploc baggies with ice so that I could grab them and go. I could then use the ice while I walked the monster hill at the start of each loop. My plan was to use the hill to my advantage, I would drink, fuel, and stuff ice in my shorts back pocket and bra. Last year I would stop and spend 4-5 minutes doing these things at the bag drop then walk up the hill. My goal was to never stop moving. I also filled extra bottles with Tailwind and water so that I could grab them easily. Water went in my clear Orange Mud bottles and Tailwind in my orange bottles. The easy visual made grabbing what I wanted seamless. With access to my supplies every 3.1 miles I wore my Orange Mud HydraQuiver VP1 which is a light breathable vest that holds a single 24 oz bottle, giving me what I needed but not adding a ton of weight. Also in my gear bag I brought extra shirts, shoes, and several pairs of FitSok ISW Isolwool trail socks. The grass was really long last year and the dew in the morning soaked my shoes on the 1st loop. My feet suffered as a result of the moisture and I had numerous blisters. In addition to dry shoes and shoes I also lubed up my feet crazy good with Trail Toes cream (its not just for foot care though, I also use it all over to prevent chaffing). Everything else I would need for the day I was able to carry with me in my shorts or hydration vest (Salt Stick Caps, inhaler, chapstick, and RunGum).
Morning of the race I met up with fellow Oiselle bird Melissa B at 3:30am as we headed down to UW-Parkside. The race was to start at 6am. We were easily able to find the course and luckily got a close parking spot in the lot directly across from the starting line. Packet pick up the morning of was offered to participants coming in the day of. Within 5 minutes were had walked to the packet tent, gotten our swag bag, and were headed to the gear drop locations. The race had a laid back feel to it, but was set up very well. Each race distance had their own gear drop spot clearly labeled with signs and caution tape. The area was spacious and also had chairs for runners. Relay teams were to the right of us and on our left was a cooling station with more chairs and ice buckets. Melissa and I organized our stuff and went to go find our personalized signs. It was a nice touch to have each runners name on a welcome sign. We did not have to hunt long, finding ours close to the 50k gear drop location. After saying “hi” to several runners and catching up with friends we were called to the start line by the race director.
Runners made their way to the start line quickly as many were anxious to get started and put several miles in before the temps spiked and the sun beat down on us. We go some last minute instructions, played the National Anthem, and were off to charge up the hill and get the party started.
- Course – 3.1 mile loop. 500 feet of flat terrain to start and then a steep incline that tops out with another 500 feet of flat terrain all grass covered. At the top of the hill after it flattens out you turn to corner to head into the woods. This covered portion of the course is a mixed bag of gravel, rocks, wood chips, and dirt. There are rolling portions with gradual inclines, but nothing like the 1st hill. You travel in the woods approximately 1 mile before heading to a grass covered open area to bring you back to the monster hill in the beginning, but this time you head down it to arrive 1.5 miles into the course at the 1st aid station. Leaving out of the aid station you turn back into the woods to cover again a mixed bag of terrain. The final portion of the course brings you back to the start finishing with a gradual 500 feet of down hill grass. Aid station #2 was located at the start just past the gear drop area. Due to the uneven surfaces I chose to wore trail shoes, which worked awesome for me.
- Aid Stations – 2 stations were set up offering water and basic medical supplies. Most runners brought their own items and did not frequent the stations. A nice addition this year was a port-a-potty at the aid station 1.5 miles in. The volunteers were local cross country runners. They were amazing! Kind, helpful, and full of encouragement.
- Swag – Unique to this race was a tiara or crown versus a finishers medal. Each runner also received a cotton participant shirt.
- Start/Finish Line – Music was pumping throughout the day and runners were greeted throughout the day with individuals cheering them on. The start and finish line were the same location. It was a low frill environment, but fit with the laid back atmosphere.
- Food -As a fundraiser the cross country team had items for purchase after the event, which included burgers, brats, chips, and soda. The campus did not allow for the sale of alcohol at the race site, but runners could bring their own and partake in it across the street at the park adjacent to the campus. Many runners were grilling out and celebrating at the park.
After getting started and heading up the hill I began to settle in around the 1st turn. I had a plan and was going to stick to it. I did not want to go out to fast. It was important for me to study the course on the 1st loop to refresh myself on the terrain. Even though I had run last year I needed to acclimate myself. Loop 1 flew by and once again I found myself facing the big hill. This time I did not run up the hill. At the base of the hill was a large tree, my plan was to run the flat portion up to the tree every loop. If I needed to grab supplies then I would do that quickly, but continue to run to the tree. I also selected a spot in which I would start running again once climbing the hill. I stuck to this all day and it paid off. Last year I walked from base camp up the hill, wasting the flat portion up the course and struggling to make it up on the tough portions. After a year of racing I have learned to accept that I will walk on a course, but that I need to smart about where I do it and how I use that time. Walking is key to my hydration and fueling plan, it is no longer wasted time…I continue to move forward and take care of my body. Adopting this game plan I have been able to endure more miles and also not bonk due to low calorie intake.
To traverse 31 miles runners had to complete 10 loops. I was lucky to be able chat with Chris the RD of the Milwaukee Running Festival 5 of my 10 loops while he completed the 20k. He is a wealth of running knowledge and I learned a ton from our conversation. This made the 1st half zip by and set a great pace. I felt strong and had stuck with my plan. Loop 6 I realized that my shirt was soaked as I began to sweat more heavily with the temperatures increasing. As I finished loop 6 I stopped briefly to change my shirt. My feet were doing great and I did not feel the need to change them as I did the 1st year. Loops 7 & 8 were not eventful, but this was good. I was starting to feel the miles and focused on my goal of hitting a PR. I knew I was on track for that, but in ultra running you never assume anything until you have crossed the finish line…a lot can happen and go wrong in the final stages of a race. As I started loop 9 I heard my name being called. My friend Melissa D who I ran the Ahnapee Summer Solstice 50 Mile Relay with in 2015 was running the 100 mile relay with a team. I was starting to struggle and asked her if she wanted to run the last loop with me. I knew she would keep me moving no matter what. Loop 10 with Melissa by my side we trudged through the last loop. She is a rockstar and I owe her big time. She had me laughing and enjoying the miles even though my body was resisting it with every step. Before I knew it we were done! I purposely did not run my GPS watch (I had been dealing with an injury and did not want to pressure myself to pick up the pace if I was in pain) so when I finished I did not know what my completion time was. I later found out my official finishers time was 5:53 and placed 2nd overall in the open female division!!! This was a huge improvement from my 6:49 finish last year. I was over the moon with excitement.
All the hard work with coach Nora (Team Bird Training) and sacrifice this summer is paying off. I am so pumped to see what my next running adventure has to offer. Each race is a lesson and experience that I grow from. It truly does take a village to raise a runner & I am blessed to have people around me that help make my ultra running dreams come true.
#BeHappy #BeKind #BeActive
Date – July 29, 2016
Gear Used –
- Orange Mud HydraQuiver VP1 – Single bottle vest allowed me to carry my own hydration/fuel mix. The bottle makes it so easy to quickly open and fill at aid stations.
- FitSok F4 Tech Socks – My feet stayed dry, cool, and blister free even though I was sweating like a beast and the grass on the course was wet.
- Tailwind Nutrition – I filled my bottle 2 scoops of Tropical Buzz (caffeine) with 24 oz of water.
- Oiselle – Black Distance shorts, Gray Wazelle short sleeve shirt, and team singlet.
- Altra Running – Superiors. These are a zero drop trail shoes that have a hard bottom to take on any terrain, they also drain quickly when wet, and are light.
- Run Gum – I did not have time for coffee so I popped two pieces in on our drive to the race! Great pick me up with zero gut bomb.
- Trail Toes Cream – My go-to blister fighter. I slather this stuff on before I put my socks on to prevent hot spots. It stays put even when my feet sweat or get wet as they did with the sprinklers on the course.
- Salt Stick Caps – With the heat and humidity in Wisconsin I sweat a lot and find that leg cramps can be common. To combat this I take salt throughout the race and have had great luck with this specific product.