I ran my first 26.2 marathon to celebrate my 26th birthday, so as I approached turning 31 I decided to run my first ultramarathon, the HUFF 50K.
I’ve already recapped my Training, my Packing List, and my Lessons Learned. Those previous 3 posts were more about my first ultramarathon, and less about the actual race itself. And just like the long mileage of this race, this recap is a bit lengthy, so bear with me please.
First there was Packet Pick-up on Friday, December 18th. I arrived to my hotel and started organizing my gear before heading over to Kountry Kitchen (26.3 miles from my hotel…does that count as an ultra?). Pick-up was fast and easy. My packet contained my bib, a course map, safety pins, a zip tie (for gear check), hand and toe warmers, and a HUFF 50K portable charger.
Friday evening was more packing and repacking and trying to control my nerves. I foam rolled briefly and used my yoga toes, but completely forgot to do any yoga stretching. I was concerned that being next to the highway the traffic noise would bother me so I tried sleeping with the TV on, but that only kept me awake. Once I turned it off I slept very well, only waking up at 2:15am because of night sweats.
On Race Day, I woke up a few minutes before my alarm. I threw my oatmeal in the microwave to warm, and headed downstairs for coffee. I peeked outside and noticed a dusting of snow. I had a bit of difficulty trying to eat my oatmeal, but I ate all of it. I lowered the temp in the room so I wouldn’t get too warm as I was moving about and eventually turned it off when I began to dress. I drove with the heat on as low as my car would allow to keep the windows from fogging.
Reading the race materials, I knew that Race Day Parking was to be the paved lots near the campgrounds with the gravel lot for overflow. I followed the cars ahead of me and was directed to the gravel lot shortly after 7am, and I was a bit surprised that the other lots were already full. None of the parking was far from the start area, which was a bonus.
I stopped drinking water approximately 2 hours before the start to keep any nervous bladder symptoms at bay, but it didn’t help. Upon arriving at the start I found myself in a decent line for the restrooms.
The 27 degree cold Weather was starting to set in. I was happy to find some space in the Main Tent to finalize my gear and stow my sweatshirt in my Gear Bag before checking it. I made it a point to stay away from the heaters because they made me start to sweat. With expected 250+ runners registered for the 50K alone, the tent was decently packed there was no space to do my warm-up yoga routine.
Runners did not want to leave the warm Main Tent as they were called to the start line for the 8:00am start. But I was just ready to begin! It was finally our turn. I had set up my Garmin Forerunner 230 to enable GLONASS, to hopefully get accurate GPS tracking on the trails. I headed out early to acclimate to the weather and accomplished a bit of stretching. Looking back now, I regret not warming up better.
Race Goals and Strategy. In a perfect world I would have run a sub-5:30 50K; I feel that I’m currently in that kind of race shape. My strategy was to enjoy the first loop comfortably so that I wouldn’t be taxed, and then push hard through the second loop. I really wanted to finish my first 50K under 6 hours. But since I didn’t know the course, I wasn’t sure what to expect and couldn’t set a realistic goal accordingly.
Start + Miles 1-4 (9’42/10’23/10’29/10’11): I didn’t notice crowded trails early on. I mean there were plenty of runners but nothing to cause an issue. Although compared to how thin it was later on and during the second loop, I guess you could call the first 2-4 miles “crowded.”
With my adrenaline flowing, I didn’t remember the tips I had read about walking the inclines until my legs were gassed after a hill during mile 2. I also decided to start sipping water and came to find out my bite valve was freezing. It took a few miles to figure out a strategy to prevent this (tucking it under the shoulder strap) so I wouldn’t have to keep warming it up in my hand.
As I approached mile 4, I began to notice that stomach didn’t seem happy. Before mile 5 I contemplated the reststop but instead decided to unwrap my first Clif Bar. A frozen Clif Bar. I was trying to warm it with my hands and that helped sparingly. The Clif Bar didn’t go down easily but I finished it.
Miles 5-8 (11’01/10’45/10’41/10’21): As I began mile 6, I saw snow flurries. But they didn’t last long (thankfully). Around mile 8 was another aid station, but even though my stomach was just plain angry at this point, I begged off. Instead I unwrapped another frozen Clif Bar. This was going to be a long day of eating if that kept up.
Miles 9-12 (11’35/11’52/11’26/10’55): Shortly before mile 10, there is a teaser view of the finish area. Then as you enter mile 11, there is another teaser view of the loop back to the finish. Miles 11-14 honestly felt like the longest 5 miles of my life, until I realized it had only been 3.
Mile 13-15.6 (12’06/11’48/11’00): Mile 13 was the only unmanned aid station and it was just hydration. No restrooms. But the mile 11-14 section had probably the most elevation changes of the whole course. I had planned on consuming another Clif Bar at mile 14, but I really couldn’t stomach the thought of it. Right before mile 15, I finally made a much needed bathroom break, and then dropped off as much gear as I could at the main tent. Why carry 4 frozen Clif Bars that I couldn’t eat?
I noticed a good deal of people who were taking breaks between loops, so when I headed back out on the course it seemed fairly deserted.
Miles 15.7-20 (15’18/12’22/11’29/12’52/16’07 ): I walked a bit more in the first two miles than I had planned. I knew that I needed to fuel up at the aid station. I also knew I needed to increase my sodium intake since I was sweating. I had 3 salt caps and planned to have some soup. That thought powered me through.
My GPS was about 1/10th mile off, but I think that was due to the bathroom detour and/or the detour to the main tent between loops.
Once we turned off the trail we began a nice descent up the road to the aid station. The volunteers read my mind and handed me a steaming cup of ramen noodles. I didn’t train with soup or my salt caps; but I trained with extra sodium GU bloks. The chews don’t have enough calories needed for this race, and in colder conditions they are harder to consume. I was trying something new on race day, but I was hoping with proper fuel consumption and hydration that it wouldn’t be an issue.
Miles 21-24 (11’32/13’27/14’58/11’46): By mile 21, I was feeling a dozen times better. Until I hit the wall at mile 22. It’s hard to explain how overcome with emotions I was when I hit the wall. By mile 23, I said fudgesticks, I’m finishing. Somewhere during mile 24, I face planted as I looked up to pass a runner I tripped on something.
At this aid station, I took two salt tabs, tried two frozen gummy bears, two quarters of PB&J and some chicken noodle soup. I took a homemade lemon bar to go. I didn’t consider filling up my hydration pack, because during my 20-mile training runs, I barely consume 1/2L.
Miles 25-28 (17’25/12’30/12’36/12’51): Right after starting mile 25, I ran out of water. The course also got muddy. Probably because of all the people who had traversed it that morning. I started to take extra caution with my steps. I knew that during mile 28 I would pass the unmanned aid station and be able to drink some water. But as I approached I noticed that there were no more cups and shaking the containers they were empty.
Miles 29-31.2 (13’33/11’07/10’27): It was hard to pick up the pace during mile 29 because of the mud and the steep inclines and declines. But my competitive juices were flowing and I started to pick off the people ahead of me. It made me walk faster and more motivated to pick up running instead of continuing the walk between hills. Once we crossed the road, I knew it was the home stretch and took off. I exchanged “Good Job” with ever runner I passed. Seriously, at this point in the 50K I was impressed with anyone who was still standing.
Finish Time – 6:18:30 (Pace 12:11)
First Loop Time 2:56:07
Second Loop Time 3:22:23
Age Group 8/19
Post-Race: Once I crossed the finish line, my body was in shock to stop moving. It took a minute to fight the oncoming stiffness and move forward. I headed into the Main Tent to grab my gear. It was pretty crowded by then with no place to sit. Makes sense why people brought camping chairs. I lacked the motivation to hike to my car to get my shower bag and then try to locate the showers. So instead I grabbed a cup of soup and walked to my car. My body surprisingly felt pretty good on this walk, already recovery from how stiff it felt when I stopped running after crossing the finish line. I headed to Cracker Barrel for a late lunch/early dinner.
Pros: The staffed Aid Stations were incredible. The volunteers are what really made this race the best. When we stopped, they talked to everyone and made sure we had everything we wanted/needed. Often times they were reading our minds offering before we could get the words out.
The Course was impeccably marked. I don’t think I could have gotten lost if I tried.
There were NO water crossings. I’m not sure if the weather had been different, if this would have changed, but I noticed plenty of bridges that I was thankful for.
Cons: I know for this race I was in the back of the pack. But with a lack of cups and hydration at the unmanned aid station around 2pm, I can’t imagine how everyone behind me dealt.
Since there was a lack of rain/snow, I anticipated a fairly dry course and did not consider mud. The first loop wasn’t bad but there were parts in the second loop from the number of runners passing through that made some nice slick muddy parts. I would definitely consider spikes of some kind in the future for traction.
I did not do any recon prior to race day. I should have gotten out to run parts of the course or at least figured out where parking was prior to the morning of the race.
The tracking device took up the whole bib so it was difficult to find a spot that wouldn’t involve bending it. I settled on pinning it to the chest strap of my hydration pack. I also started researching bib belts after the race.
Recovery: The first step I took was changing into my ProCompression socks after finishing. I wasn’t able to foam roll or really stretch after finishing. I did focus on rehydrating.
On Sunday morning, I attended my usual Power Yoga. I also foam rolled. I made sure I was still properly hydrated. And wore my ProCompression socks.
On Monday, I did more Yoga and foam rolling; hydration is key.
On Tuesday, I did my first recovery run. My body felt good, but then again it was also 20 degrees warmer than Saturday.
Post-Race Thoughts: It is sometimes hard to mimic race conditions such as weather. But I learned a lot of lessons from this race. Especially when it comes to trail races and racing in sub-freezing temperatures. Overall, I am happy with my performance. I look back and think of how I could have pushed harder and maybe finished 20-40 minutes faster and I’m not sure I could have. I did my best.
During and after finishing, I thought that this might be my one and only ultramarathon. But give me 24 hours and I was already researching other races.
Conclusion: I would absolutely run the HUFF50K again! But I would definitely come more prepared training-wise.
If you’re interested, you can find all of my Race Recaps here!