About a week before running the Berryman Trail marathon in May, in the pre-race week excitement, I signed up for my first ultra trail distance. My ankle problems were over from previous years and training was going well for the Berryman so I thought I could be ready for an ultra by September. There are a lot of 50Ks, but I wanted to start with something a little longer and the 60K distance was perfect so it seemed like I was destined to run the Hocking Hills Indian Run as my first ultra.
I left at 6 am Friday morning to head to our cabin where I would meet my fellow cabin mates, Kelley, Letty, Sid, and Adam. This would turn out to really be a good chance to get to know Kelley, Letty, and Sid better. I hadn’t met Adam before, but he seemed to fit in fine with the group. After a very long 9.5 hour drive, I arrive at the cabin, not sure if I am in the right place and then Letty, Nick, and Nicholas arrive. A short while later, Kelley, Adam, and Sid arrived.
We walked into the cabin and it felt like home, much better than any hotel, and lots of nice amenities. We prepared (mostly Sid and Kelley) a yummy spaghetti and salad dinner. After dinner, we got our stuff together for the race, and were off to bed by 10 pm. I set my watch alarm for 5 am since we needed to be at the race headquarters at 6:30. The bed was really comfortable, but too much adrenaline kept me from falling asleep quickly. Finally, I fell asleep but awakened about every hour until I decided to get up at 4:15 am. Considering it was 3:15 am Missouri time, I actually felt rested with little sleep.
I had my pre-race shake, banana, yogurt and water. I was still hungry so had another banana. Tried to go to the bathroom about 3 times but it wasn’t happening for me, but the 4th time worked, and then ended up going 2 more times before we left. I decided to drive my own car just in case I wanted to come back after I finished.
We arrived at race headquarters, picked up our chips and race shirts. At this point it was about 20 minutes to the start with a temp in the low 60s. I strapped on my fuel belt with 4 bottles of water since the water stations wouldn’t be ready until the second loop. I had 6 E-gels with me and planned to pick up more on the final loop. I also had some bananas and Fig Newtons in the car just in case. I wasn’t sure what I might feel like eating between loops. I went in to go to the bathroom one last time. After a briefing on the course, we started about 7:10 am and it was plenty light enough to see the course at this point.
I started off a little conservatively and worked my way up to about 5th place position. The front 2 runners pulled ahead of everyone quickly and were out of site. The start was rolling and my first mile split was a reasonable 8:21. 2nd mile was rolling and down and then started to go downhill a lot. 2nd mile split was 7:01. Then we kept going down a LONG downhill.
The 3rd mile was really difficult for me to not pound my feet down this hill. At one point, I looked at my GPS and it said 5:10 pace! I’ve never run down a hill so long and steep in my life. I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. I probably shouldn’t have fought it so much, but it was kind of scary running that fast down a hill on pavement. I tended to lean back and should have leaned forward more and just let myself go even faster. My split on the 3rd mile was 6:25. My quads and feet really took a serious beating on this downhill.
I get to the bottom and make a turn to a trail and there is Steel Hill, the one I’ve wondered about since I signed up for this race. It seems like this hill is about a mile long, but it is actually only about a half mile. I decide to keep “running” up this hill and my legs really having to work to run. Pace on my GPS is 13-something. It feels like my calves and quads are working hard and starting to burn. I pass the runner ahead of me who is walking up the hill. 4th mile split which included the uphill was 9:13.
Shortly after reaching the top and turning onto some pavement, the guy I passed going up the hill, passes me. We are on the pavement for a short while before turning back onto a trail. We talk a bit and he tells me he has run the course before. I told him walking up the hill was probably smarter since he caught me. He says his goal is low 5 hours and I tell him mine is under 5:30. I stay with him for a couple miles and then let him go since it felt like I was running a little too fast, but there was still some down hills and felt okay to run faster pace than the plan at this point. My splits for miles 5- 7 were 7:05, 7:30, and 7:33.
Mile 8 split was 7:33 and then I get to the Rose Lake where they warned us at the start not to make a wrong turn. The entire course was very well marked with orange paint and huge arrows on the ground and some orange signs as well. This part of the course gets a little more technical with a narrower trail in parts and trees brushing, lots of turning and maneuvering around things. It is rolling and at one point it goes down and makes a sharp turn beside the lake. Too much momentum and one could end up in the lake. Mile 9 split was 10:03.
Mile 10 was more up hill with a water stop near the top and this one was ready to go so I took water. I had been drinking from my bottles every 2 – 3 miles and an E-gel every 4 miles up to this point. There’s a campground with pavement to run through. There are people supporting the runners through the camp ground, but some seem to be oblivious that there is a run going on. After the campground we go back into the woods onto a trail down hill, and eventually over a springy wooden bridge. Mile 10 and 11 splits were 8:34 and 9:13.
About half mile further we wind around some sort of building and then have to climb about 30 stairs. At the top, we turn onto the pavement with a nice up hill back to the parking lot where we started. Mile 12 split was 7:55. Total time for first 12.43 mi loop is 1:39:55, 8:02 per mile pace. I stop at the car, remove the fuel belt, drink some water and then start my second loop. I think a 60K guy might have passed me at this point.
I begin the second loop. At this point, I’m really starting to feel great. I do manage to keep the down hills at the beginning slower this time running miles 13, 14, 15 in 8:16, 7:37, and 7:19. There were no mile markers on the course. The course was 12.43 miles so it would have been difficult to mark each mile so I was counting on my GPS to let me know my progress.
Mile 16 included Steel Hill and again I pass the same guy as on the first loop. He walks and I run up the hill. Again, he catches me at the top, but this time I had stopped for water. My split for mile 16 was 10:07. We run together and he asks if we are about on pace for 5 hrs. I tell him we are close. We get back out to the pavement and I stay with him, but this time it seems like he is slowing. I’m feeling really good so once we get back on the trail I just go with whatever pace feels good and pull further ahead of him.
Splits for Miles 17 – 19 were 8:52, 7:40, and 7:33. I decided after the first loop there was no way to run consistent miles on this course so wasn’t too concerned about the really fast miles. Split for Mile 20 is 8:55 and then I think I see Kelley and Sid completing their first loop of the 40K which started an hour after the 60K. I yell to Kelley before I get there and they give encouragement and then I move on. There are 5 and 10K runners out on the course too. Some passing me and I’m passing some of them as well as 40K runners.
I notice that my GPS has stopped accumulating miles and I have no signal. I wore my heart rate monitor as well and it is still working fine so I have an idea of my effort. Heart rate had been in the low 150s on the up hills and would drop to the 130s on the down hills. GPS didn’t get a signal so now I was going by watch time to decide when to take my E-gels. I stopped at all of the water stops on the second loop and would usually drink 3 cups. There were 4 water stops with the starting area.
Back to the car after the second loop and I eat a banana even though I didn’t feel like it. I drink some water, grabbed the other 2 E-gels since I only had one left on me. 2nd loop split was 1:41:28, average 8:10/mi. Overall time is 3:21:23 at 24.86 miles and average overall pace is 8:06/mi.
I start the 3rd loop feeling pretty good and knowing that I’ve almost completed a marathon distance. Soon I would be surpassing that point. This time the downhill on the pavement felt brutal with legs and feet taking their 3rd beating. I even noticed my knees were slightly hurting and my knees never hurt. I attempt to run on the tiny bit of gravel on the shoulder whenever there is room to lessen the impact. It’s probably good my GPS quit at this point since I know my pace had slowed. I still figure even if I can do this loop in 10 min miles, I still should be able to meet my overall goal since I’m so far ahead of schedule.
I start running up Steel Hill again. All of my muscles in my legs are burning so bad I decide it would be good to start walking. I end up alternating back and forth between running and walking until I make it to the top. I stop for water. Normally, I don’t like to stop at water stops, but these few second breaks where I drank 3 cups of water actually gave my legs enough time to recover a little and get going again. My leg muscles are feeling really sore, but not dead. All of the muscles hurt, my knees hurt a little, and I wonder if I’m going to feel like this the rest of the way.
At about 3:50 I take an E-gel and 10 minutes later, my pace picks up and my legs start to feel good again with less pain. This was totally unexpected and I just went with it. At 4:20, I’m cruising along in the zone, pass a guy and woman, and Letty yells at me. I had passed her and not even realized it was her. She tells me she decided to run 40K instead of 60. It had really heated up in my last loop with the sun coming out so I’m thinking that is a good idea if she had any doubts about a 3rd loop.
I noticed the bottoms of my big toes burning and wondered if I had blisters. I felt one pop at one point and actually felt better. I was probably about 6 miles from the finish. Right before the lake with about 4.5 miles to go, I trip over a branch, and yell since my right calf is cramping. I grab it in time to stop it and continue on and then my right hamstring starts to cramp. I would have expected it to be my quads, but they are fine. I run while trying to massage the right hamstring. I have to walk down any steep areas or I’m afraid something is going to cramp.
I’m able to continue running and just willing these areas not to cramp, carefully running at a pace that they will cooperate, and walking up hills when needed, and walking down, to keep from cramping. Finally, they seem to settle down. I make it to the water stop, take a short break and continue on with about 2 miles to go. Back up the stairs and onto the pavement again.
I’m feeling fairly strong so decide to push it just a little since I think I’m going to be close to 5:20, my original goal. I’m going along up the hill near the end and again the hamstring and calf feels like they are on the verge of cramping so I slow down just a little. I pass a guy that has a 60K marking near the end but not sure what loop he is on.
I come into the finish and it was sort of strange since the workers had their backs turned away. I cross the chip line and they give me my medal, a ceramic arrow head made by the Logan High School craft classes. As I’m walking out of the finish I see Adam who has already finished his 40K about 10 minutes earlier. I go to my car and drink a large powerade, protein drink, and eat a banana. Attempt to call Hugh but no cell phone signal.
My 3rd loop time was 1:59:28, 9:37/mi. Overall time was 5:21:02, 8:37/mi pace. I placed 3rd overall out of 35 finishers. I think we started with 40-something and several dropped back to the 40K. Since the top 3 were all 35 – 39, the results say I am second in my age group. Overall HR was lower than usual for a marathon at 147, but really noticed it slowed in the final loop since I had to walk some.
For all of the various distances there were over 500 people which the organizers said was a record. The winner of the 60K, marathon junkie, Chuck Engle, is the same guy that won the Heart of America Marathon, won in 4:38:51. He had run another marathon the day before HOA and won it as well. I definitely didn’t expect that he would run the Hocking Hills 60K.
I had a post race massage on my legs which lasted about 20 minutes. Legs felt pretty good at this point and no post race cramping. About an hour after I finished, Letty came across the finish line looking in pretty good shape. I decided to take a shower in the lodge locker room and there was no hot water, but felt good anyway since I was covered in salt crystals.
We all waited for Sid and Kelley and kept getting reports of how many runners were out on the course and where they were located. We see Kelley coming around the corner and Sid not far behind. We got to cheer for them as they finished. Sid didn’t look well, but bounced back quickly once we got back to the cabin.
Some of us sat in the hot tub. Hugh called and we attempted to have a conversation with the really bad signal. I snacked on a lot of food. I thought I was full and then later we enjoyed our dinner of steaks (Sid wonderfully prepared), baked potatoes, and green beans. While Sid, Adam, and Kelley were getting their massages, Nick built a fire outside while Letty, Nicholas, and Nick talked until the rest could join us. Then I was off too bed and slept really well. I woke up at 3 am wide awake so got up to see off Nick, Letty, and Nicholas, and back to bed for a few more hours.
Then we all were up, sat around drinking coffee, talking and then got our stuff together. We went back to the lodge for breakfast before heading home. It was a really pleasant weekend other than the long drive back to Columbia. I arrived home about 7:30 pm.
Today, legs are feeling pretty good other than right calf is a little tight, both calves are a little sore, quads really sore, and hamstrings and knees feel good.
Race Results here