Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hagg Lake Mud Run 50K

Despite being advertised as the Hagg Lake Mud Run, I don't think the trails are going to be too muddy today. The whole past week have been relatively sunny. Still, I'm wearing my Merrell Trail Glove minimalist shoes, for traction more than anything, and warmth, though really, I think the 'extreme' cold weather of the Willamette Valley area here in Oregon (such as it is) has passed, and I could be moving back to huaraches or, gasp, barefoot. Still, 50K. Do I want to risk having cold feet for six hours? So I'm playing it safe. I'm having cold feet about having cold feet, I think. Excuses, I know. A manly barefoot runner would tough it out. Sigh....

But, anyway, looks to be a great day out here at Hagg 'Lake' (it's a reservoir). Still a bit foggy, but I'm thinking it will lift later. I could've almost slipped in for the early start at 7:00, but I think I'm going to be ok. That is, all this training I've been doing for the Badger Mountain Hundo must be worth something at this point!

There are, I think, 300, people signed up for today's 50K, and I think it's the first time the race has actually sold out the 50K. There is also a 25K tomorrow, with twice as many people, and it's sold out. There is also the option to do a 'double' and do both, which I opted not to do, though maybe I should have. My thinking is, actually, that I don't want to waste my time with a measly 25K. On Tuesday I plan to run 30 miles, and then Thursday 45, as my 30/30/45 hundo training week. Oh well.

We are gathered under a picnic pavilion near the reservoir shore, where there are portable outside heaters we're all standing under. The air is not actually super cold, but still, I've only got two shirts on, and some light wool gloves, but I'm already impressed with the organization of this race: heaters are a nice touch, and I see they have a kitchen being set up for the end—we're going to get more than doughnuts! All of the volunteers seem to know each other and many of the runners. Must be some kind of running group out this way.

And lo, who should appear but a guy in huaraches! I'm not sure what kind they are, they've got a funky strap. Might be home made. Interesting, for me, to not be the odd man out. In my Merrell shoes, no one can tell that I'm actually a freak. In fact, I feel guilty now. I should've 'huarache'd up' like a real man. But, now I can see how other shod runners react to him, staring at his feet when they think he'd not looking and shaking their heads sadly. Like, what an idiot, huh? Everyone knows you need supertank shoes to run a 50K.

And hark, the babe of the day just appeared, and she walks over and stands next to me. She's the only one here with maybe frizzier hair than me. Being the manly man I am, I smoothly strike up a conversation by asking, “Have you run this race before?” I've got all kinds of pick up lines like that.

But, we talk. This is her first time here, but sounds like she's an accomplished long distance runner. She's actually doing the 'double.' She's from Walla Walla, and knows about the Badger Mountain Hundo, and may be doing the 50K section. Anyways, sounds like she's a wee bit faster than me, so I probably won't see her again. We exchange 'good luck's' as we line up for everyone else.

The course is going to be a short out and back up a dirt road, than back here to the picnic area and around the reservoir twice. Again, I like the planning here. I mean, maybe they need to add on a few kilometers to make the double loop a full 50K, but what will happen is, after runners have warmed up, they'll be zipping right back here and can drop off any extra layers now that they're warmed up. I myself am just going with what I have, hell or high water, but many people have brought out whole bags and boxes with clothes and multiple pairs of shoes! Yes, and some people are running with small backpacks on, which I think are Camelbacks, but they also seems stuffed with stuff, I'm not sure what. That just seems like overdoing it, since we have three stations total, with water and food. That's the bonus of doing races like this—they supply the supplies!

Doesn't quite seem like 300 folks, but I'm never sure on that. And no gun or cannon or anything, just suddenly we're off! And uphill immediately! Woo hoo! And up a gnarly gravel road. Gnarly meaning big stones of gravel, that are uncomfortable even in my Merrells. I can't imagine what the guy with VFFs I pass if feeling. So yeah, maybe barefoot wouldn't be so cool here. But, hey, you could run this out in back in something thick and then ditch the footwear on the way back!

With an out and back, we get to see the front-runners, and they're young dudes with no body fat just barreling down the road. In fact, curiously, when I get up to the turnaround point, I too barrel down and it seems, just seems, that there seem to be two kinds of runners: those who barrel down hills, and those who don't. And those who do are all in front. I'm like the last person barreling, midway in the pack. Again, this might be my imagination, but I wonder if there's a way to test this?

But yeah, those gravel stones kinda hurt when barreling.

On my way back into the parking lot and the picnic area, a bystander (or bysitter), a guy, yells out, to me, “Hey, how come you're wearing shoes?”

I'm startled. “How'd you know?”

“Oh, I've seen you around.”

How odd. I don't recognize him at all. And we're like an hour from Portland. I guess I'm a Known Figure. As an extreme introvert, this freaks me out. But I guess it's a compliment. But I think it's another sign from the Universe that I should have huarache'd up, at least.

The START/picnic area is almost at the 'top' of the reservoir, where whatever river is being dammed up comes into the valley. Is it the Tualatin River? Not sure. Anyways, we're soon on the other side of the reservoir, and can in fact see the START area and parking lot. In fact, I can still see them further on, when I can also see the dam coming up. That's weird. I'd think the dam would be the farthest point out? But doesn't feel like we've gone but a few miles. Ah ha, but here's the deal, the trail on the other 'side' of the reservoir is a lot more 'wind-y' (as in, it winds) with a lot more coves that dip in and out.

But first, at the end of the dam is our first aid station, and man, these people know what they're doing! It's well stocked with all kinds of drinks and munchables. I eat an orange slice and a banana section, and yes! Fig Newtons! I don't think I'm going to be needing the two Clif Bars in my pocketses, which is good because I'm about sick of Clif Bars at this point. In fact, all they're doing now is taking up space and weight in my shorts. My Amphipod water bottle is handy though.

And yeah, this trail, especially over here, where it's a little bit more muddy (though just a little) is totally barefoot-able. Not sure about six hours of cold mud, but might conceivably be doable.

The pack is well spaced out by now. I chose my starting position well: Mid pack. There hasn't been a lot of passing or being passed since the out and back road (another good reason for that!). And the trail is easy to follow. It basically stays between the water and the road that goes around the dam. No getting lost today! But a pleasant run in the trees.

Something odd: the route does bump out onto a parking lot. The area is still technically closed, but this lot has some vehicles, and some activity going on. Cement is being made and shoveled out and who, what the hell are those things??? It looks like a modern art sculpture. Those cement bricks have been turned sideways, holes facing up, and cement is being poured into the holes. Then three-foot rubber tubes and inserted into the west cement, hanging out like multiple antennae.

If the people doing the activity were like a bunch of artsy looking people with lots of tattoos, I would say it was art. But it's a bunch of small town good 'ole folks. Kids and elderly people. I'm racking my brain long after I pass them and head back into the woods and then suddenly my time working for the Forest Service back in Arizona comes back: Those things are for fish. Either habitat and/or food source. Once the cement dries, the block will be dropped to the bottom of the reservoir (which, remember, isn't a real lake, so doesn't have stuff like plants) where, I think, the tubes will act like plants and accumulate plankton (or whatever, smaller plant bits) which the fish (which, remember, are stocked and not native) can nibble on, and maybe swim around in. Shoot, I still kind of prefer them as modern art.


Some mud appears, enough to get the shoes muddy, but not too bad. I'm ok with this not being a total mud fest, which sounds like it normally is. Some people I've talked to say that even the flat straightaways are like running on oil. So far I haven't slipped at all!

Second aid station is just as well-stocked, and with friendly volunteers. And more Fig Newtons! And we cross a river. Hm, maybe this is in fact the 'top' of the reservoir. Not sure. The whole day has been quiet so far, just birds and moving water. So nice.

Finally, the parking lot, which means the picnic area is not far now. One last little section of trail, and pop!, here I am. Time? Hm, 2:50. That bodes ill for finishing in six hours, since I'm sure I'll run the second loop slower. But, that also includes the out and back, so this is in fact more than half way. I don't dawdle though, just grab some grub and go. I'm so into the food that I forget to drink some water at the station, though I at least refilled the Amphipod, which should be enough to get me to the first aid station.

And around we go. I'm playing tag with these two guys, one of whom seems to be having some leg cramp issues. I'll pass them while he's kneading his thigh, then they run by me chatting away. The only other person around is a woman wearing what I call 'booty shorts' over her running tights. I've occasionally seen women running races in just these booty shorts, which are black and super short, though I'm not sure if they're actually sold as running shorts. They're awfully (or, that is, wonderfully) skimpy, but I'm not sure what wearing them over running tights is getting her, though she has a juicy booty anyways—if she were just in shorts she'd be hanging out all over the place. I know, I know, just focus on running. Still....yowza.....but no, I must remain loyal to my Babe of the Day.

The fog has lifted, the sun is out and wow, coming out on the dam, what should there be but a rainbow! Much rejoicing. The sunshine just give a little boost, not sure if it's psychological, or if I'm getting a shot of Vitamin D or what. And at the first aid station there are more orange slices and bananas and Fig Newtons! And here comes Babe of the Day. I thought she was ahead of me. We say hello and I'm off. I'm sure she'll catch me. I'm not going to be running any faster at this point, but I do feel strong, like I could potentially not bog out. I don't even know have far I've come, there are no mile markers. There signs at the aid stations, but they're meaningless to me, since I think they're in the metric system.

On my way back into the trees, a guy comes up behind me and says, “Well, are we having fun yet?”

And I say, “Yeah, actually, I am.”

We start talking and turns out he's and ultra runner too. Not like one of the gods, but just someone like me, or a little bit more advance than me, with a couple hundos under his belt. When I tell him about my DNF at Burning River, he says he went through the same thing on his first hundo, and gives me words of encouragement about my second one coming up. I go over my training plan with him, and he gives me some basic tips, like to walk all hills, even at the early stages, and to in fact go slow right form the beginning. His second halves of his hundos are faster than his first halves, which kind of boggles my mind, but ok! And in fact, looks like his second half of this race is going to be faster, since he soon pulls away.

Soon after, I'm caught up by the guy in the huaraches. As he passes, I ask, “Hey, what kind of huaraches are those?”

And he says what I think is, “They're 'Tired of Shoes huaraches. I make them myself.”

Turns out he's got his own little huarache-making operation called Tire Dove Shoes. He's out of Monroe, and I think he says he's started selling them at a farmers market in Bend, but he's soon moving up to Portland. I like his idea for laces, using flat nylon parachute cord (I think?) with a special lock kind of deal that keeps the lace firm, even when putting the sandals off and on, so no having to readjust every time. Plus, he's working with using actual tires for the tread for at least one 'line' of sandals, which I think is brilliant. Seems like some people would really like the recycled option. Anyways, he's going faster than me, but I get his email: Ave McCombs,

At the second aid station I fill up and ask, half-jokingly, “How much farther do I have to go?”

A woman says, “Four and a half miles.”

Finally, miles! “Oh, I can do that!”

She smiles. “Of course!”

The trail does get muddier in here, now that it's been pounded by 250+ pairs of feet. A little slippery, and at time sticky. I'm going a little slower, my second split won't be as fast as my first, but I'm not bogged down either. Still, I'm a little worried, looking ahead to Badge Mountain, and if I'm feeling tired at this point, I'm not sure what will happen.

And in the mud who should pass me but Babe of the Day, looking strong and steady. Maybe I should work more on being stronger for my second split, I seem to be getting passed more now.

And, as if for some kind of closure, I even get passed by Booty Shorts. And well, I hate to see her leave, but love to watch her go.

Concentrate John! Going slow. Am I even going to have energy for my 'balls out' at the end? Not sure. But here's the parking lot, which means it's not far now, so I make an effort to pick up the pace. And since the trail becomes a lot more downhill-ish here, I'm helped by gravity, and in fact, once I start barreling down again, something kicks in and I'm actually sprinting! I even catch a guy I'd seen farther ahead, he's dragging, and I can hear the people at the finish line.

And I pop out of the trees and whoah, they've moved the course so that the finish line is only like twenty feet away. I kind of catch people by surprise and actually have to put on the breaks in order not to run past the finishers tent, where a woman offers up my medal (which is actually a bottle opener, I guess for all those old school type bottles of beer popular out here). Time? 5:48! A PR, by at least twelve minutes. So yay!

I wobble down to the reservoir and take off my shoes, washing off the mud as best I can, then standing in the water for some coldness on the muscles, and my, the water is brisk! Babe of the Day is there with a posse of friends. Ah well.

Best of all, under the picnic pavilion, the kitchen is in full swing, with hot dogs (even veggie dogs!), grilled cheeses, and two kinds of hot soup. Plus brownies. And mounted screens set up so you can see your time, and computer screens on table to look up your stats. Man, there are just a ton of guys my age doing these races. I'm going to have to wait 20 years for all their knees to give out before I start winning for my age category. The overall winner came in at something like 3:26. Impressive.

I run into both Ave of Tire Dove Shoes, who gives me his card, and Babe of the Day. Turns out she PR'd too. I think this was a good fast course, with great weather.

Now to hobble back to my car for the drive back to Portland.