Ho-Hum. I’m kinda bored. (IPad opens).
Click (Ultrasignup.com). I’ll just take a peek – I’ve got one more race for 2013 and that’s totally fine don’t need ANY more – just nosing around ya know.
Ya there’s no more races near here ‘till spring. I wonder what’s going on south of the (click), border.
Oh well that looks kinda (click), (click), interesting. See these folks in warmer climes are SO lucky, they can race whenever they want. (Click).
See even JUST 8 hrs. drive south of here there’s a really cool looking (click, click, click) race called FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN 50k! How Bad ASS does THAT sound? (Click, Click)
Man I’d totally crush this race I bet. It’s SO close by!(Click, Click). Hmm…Maryland? What’s in Maryland? (Click, New Tab, Click, Click).
(Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click).
“BAAAAAABE, How would YOU like to go to an AWESOME RESORT in The Lush Potomac Highlands of …. Maryland?@!$?!?@% Awesome right???”
Several weeks later we are booked into the Rocky Gap Resort and Casino for 3 nights and we’re on the road to wilds of northern Maryland.
The 8 hr drive from Toronto was a smooth one with nice views of wooded hills and some changing leaves when they weren’t totally blown off the trees.
One thing we did begin to notice along the way, (about halfway through Pennsylvania) was a lack of….people….outside.
It started with my wife slowly looking around then it seemed she was really LOOKING for something…”What’s up babe?” I asked, as we careened through some very quiet road splitting a town…
She looked back at me, eyes squinting, “do you notice that there’s no…like….no….”
“People?” I asked as we both nodded and eyes widened waiting for some “dum-du-duu-duuumm-dum-duuuummmmmmm” It was true though. Each and every town we drove through sported driveways, small driveways, of small houses, FILLED with cars and not one live person afoot in sight. Creepy folks, Creepy.
SOMEHOW – we made it to the hotel and checked in on the Friday – two days before the race. Nice place if you like casinos:).
We pulled into the open field which would serve as parking lot, tailgate party, bonfire locale, campground and finish area. My anxiousness as usual began about 15 min before getting there. I have a problem – I like to get to races EARLY – I’m talking like an hour ahead of start at LEAST. My amazing and supportive wife likes to take things easy and drive me CRAZY during this tender period with a newly re-acquired chillax attitude to deadlines etc (LOVE YOU DEAR!!:).
My fears were assuaged as we rolled onto the grass by the sight of buses lined up to take us to the start line and a line-up of bobbing headlamps making their way to them. Kisses and hugs and “don’t die’s” out-of-the-way and I climb onto the bus for our 45 min trip to the overlook and start area.
The ride was pretty uneventful other than hitting a crazy bump along the way somewhere that shot me directly up, out of my seat and flat on my ass in the middle of the aisle. This would normally be the place for me to have some ridiculous injury that kills my race but I was surprisingly fine and continued chatting with a few dudes sitting around me after some laughs.
Once we arrived, I had the chance to peek at the beautiful overlook view of our terrain in the dawn’s rosy light. Gorgeous is all I can say. The RD had some funny and informative stuff to send our way (Course is broken up into a Red Trail follow red markings, Green Trail follow green marking, Fire Roads – follow roads – hey sometimes you need to say this stuff and finally Purple Trail – follow purple markings).
The group of us gathered together for warmth on the frosty mountain top and to make some sort of start line.
Starts with a happy mile or two on a forest road. Not very technical but a nice little warm up for later because – well- she gets technical folks. This is also when I like to find a super comfy pace at what I know is a teensy bit fast but comfy and conscious that I’m not ripping a start that will cause a blow up later. Any of you who’ve raced might know what I’m talking about.:)
Once we really “tuck” into the forest we were met with our first dose of sweet single track. The trail lifted and dipped here and there and soon enough we were faced with our first creek crossing (our – meaning the small merry band of trail freaks I had joined). What I didn’t know was this creek crossing was a foreshadowing of crossings to come. Many. Like – a LOT. I have raced my share of trail races and nothing prepared me for the amount of water about to be introduced to my shoes. Speaking of shoes – GEAR CHECK!!!
Hat – Sulphur Spring 2012 Trail Race Free Hat/Buff wrapped around ears which dropped to around neck
Top – Long sleeve Nike compression under Sugoi WEST TORONTO PACERS Short Sleeve
Bottoms – Salomon S-Lab Sense Exo M Shorts
Socks – Dry max super thin running no shows
Shoes – Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra
Hydration Equipment – 1 x Amphipod Handheld (the bigger one:))
On Course Nutrition – Genuine Health activfuel+, PowerGel Double Latte (x4)
The trail was fairly well-defined even with some rather leaf covered sections and the larger DRY challenges at this point came in the form of WALNUTS if you can believe it – they were EVERYWHERE. Lots of little sharp rocks etc too but the walnuts where kind of an interesting obstacle underfoot and I’m guessing pretty unique to races in this part of the world.
There were 2 aid stations in this section that were well stocked and full of nice folk – I’ve seriously yet to meet a jerk at an ultra aid station.
The green trail is not all that different from red but there seemed to be a lot more uphill along here. I also laughed at the fact that we had to follow GREEN blazes on a course in a forest in order to not get lost. Green paint on trees. Green. Couldn’t they have just had “BARK” markers and make it really interesting? The green blazes were pretty darn hard to spot at times but luckily and not uncharacteristically, I wasn’t leading the race so I could follow folks or at least a bobbing head far off in the distance:). There were some really steep grades along here and some sheer traverses. I recall at least one downhill where a fellow in front of me literally had to baseball slide DOWN the hill – that steep. Another instance I recall was running along a shelf approximately 60cm wide looking down at least 300 feet of sheer wall into a forest below. Scary and super fun. This green section is also where we crossed creeks what felt like approximately 4,000,000 times. It felt JUST as my foot was drying out and warming up (always my right for some reason), I would have to perform another unsuccessful leap into the creek. I will say this – the S-Lab Sense Ultra’s REALLY drained well. Brava Salomon people, Brava.
This is the halfway, home away from home, aid station if you couldn’t already tell from its name. It’s a spot chosen by family and friends to gather and urge runner’s on that has another spectacular view of the Green Ridge State Forest. I had a nice chat with a guy named Ryan running his first ultra there and we picked up together from there.
Running along here was made a lot nicer being able to run with Ryan. He was eager to chat and I was super happy for the company. A tall, slim, smiley guy, Ryan was at a stage of his race where he was a little unsure about being able to keep going. He was a serious athlete – (mountain bike) – but this was his first ultra. He was really loaded down with a big hydration pack that I suspect carried other things and I felt for him. As with most the pack was admittedly his security blanket out in this race but was quickly becoming a penance or burden.
I have been that guy with the big pack and I have chatted with many who’ve been in the same boat. I think we all need to go out as far as we need to in regards to equipment, training, nutrition and work our own way back to what makes sense for each of us. We’re all different. What I CAN say in my experience is NOBODY races faster or more comfortably with carrying more than they need. It appears that for most of us, we get to leave the genius of hydration marketers behind as we discover we really need the trail, trail runners, and, ourselves to have the best time.
The purple trail saw us heading up and into the forest and leaf covered trails in what would be the final leg of the race. I lost Ryan at this point and managed to pick up a fellow by the name of Scott. Scott was a local guy who was running as a personal challenge to himself – a triathlete. We exchanged training stories and I listened eagerly to what he had to say as I believe training within and for 3 different disciplines to be just totally whack. He echoed the same about ultra runners running so damn much so we got along well.;). We could both feel the races finish coming and were happy with where we were until “BOOM”, a gun shot. I’m talking an actual gun was going off. I was shocked and more than a little scared. I explained to Scott that I was from Canada and we don’t really shoot guns and he laughed. We both did. Until – “RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT” . A Machine GUN???? You don’t hunt with a machine gun!!!! “Do you hunt with a Machine Gun SCOTT??””” I asked. He looked freaked out – we both were. So the pace quickened as we just wanted to get out of the area and away from what was probably a few yahoos, cheap beer and automatic weapons in the Maryland Forest.
The distinguishing part of this Purple Trail has to be the crazy downhill somewhere around the 40k mark. A steep, wooded downhill that is covered in leaves, under which is nothing but sharp rocks. This hill was quite literally an ankle breaking machine. I didn’t so much run or walk down it than do some weird sliding motion with my feet the whole way down. I got to say it was pretty freaking dangerous and the only way down.
At some point the trail opened up and a familiar feeling came over. I’m sure most of you feel it who have run an ultra. The promise of the finish. It’s almost always at this point my second wind comes and doesn’t let up until I’m done. My “kick” arrived and I warned Scott that my pace was gonna start to roll and he said “get at’r dude – I’ll try to follow”. This was followed by a “dude you’ve lost me” yell behind me. I knew Scott would be fine and I knew I was going to get this done. I pounded out the final 8k passing a few people (carnage), along the way and finally popped out into the clearing. I was heading straight for the finish when I was handed a log of wood and told I got to do a traditional victory lap of what was about 400m around the parking area. I took it and ran, happily. Coming around to the final 50m there was my beautiful wife smiling and clapping along with some seriously happy and enthusiastic folks at the finish which was a big giant campfire that I was asked to place my log of wood on.
As it ended up I managed a 39th place over all and top Canadian at the race. I was happy with my race and really hope this race goes on again next year – it’s special.