Is there really any better way to kick off your racing year than by playing in the woods with a bunch of other weirdos for a few hours? Of course not, which means I registered yet again for the Harbison State Forest 50k.
Saturday January 3rd dawned…wet and foggy. But, it was warm unlike last year! Also different from last year is that we weren’t going to run the Lost Creek section (that’s the super squiggly bit on the far left of the map above. Squiggly bits are slow and sad). The wet conditions weren’t really a concern as my only goals for the race were to finish and remain in one piece. It’s very likely that Harbison will be the only ultra I run this year as I shift my focus to road racing and shorter events so I wasn’t about to take any unnecessary chances on trail that might derail the rest of my race plans. Deciding to take the pressure off earlier in the week ended up being the best thing I could have done for myself due to the conditions of the trails which got progressively worse as the day went on.
Despite (or because of?) the rain, mud and muck, IT WAS SO MUCH FUN! I didn’t wear a watch, but the few little time splits I heard after the first loop told me that I managed to stay pretty even paced on the second loop even though the rain began coming down in earnest and some sections of the trail got downright treacherous (I’m looking at you,Midlands Mountain Bluffs). I ended up 6th woman (29th overall) and a time of 5:38. Full results are here. I chose to have the four Gu that I brought with me, plus some water, Coke, and pickles from the various aid stations. I saw that the aid stations were more than adequately stocked with the ultra runnings classics like pbj sandwiches, chips, fruit, Tailwind products, and more I’m sure. I just tend to stick with my own little tried and true options since I know they work. Also, I didn’t carry any water with me, but the aid stations were placed evenly enough apart that I knew I’d be okay just grabbing a cup of water every few miles.
The course itself was great. I REALLY like that Lost Creek had been removed. That meant we reached the fabled SpiderWoman and SpiderWoman II trails much earlier in the first loop and they were…dare I say it, manageable! Of course it was somewhat (a lot) worse on the second go round, but I would say that the newer course allowed for lots of recovery time between sketchy/technical sections. As alluded to earlier, the bluffs section of the Midlands Mountain trail (I think that’s what it’s referred to. Either way, it’s the far right of the map that is beside Broad River) was probably the worst part. It’s a single track section with a steep banking and a severe drop off. Also, it was super slick from the rain. Also also, it got beat up pretty badly the first loop from all of us. Also also also, being already brain dead from the several hours of running prior means that Slip ‘n Slide OF DOOM is a far more accurate name than the lovely imagery that the name Midlands bluffs conjures up.
Overall, I’m a huge fan of the course. I am also partial to loop courses and out-and-backs, but I understand that I’m in the minority with that preference. One downside to the day is that I heard of a few people getting off trail. I know I did that briefly last year so I don’t have much room to talk, but I have a hard time understanding how that happened this year. I never felt confused when looking for the surveyor’s flagging, and the directional signage seemed very obvious to me. Frankly, I feel like someone gets turned around or lost at every ultra I have run on a trail system. There’s got to be some kind of Vegas odds that dictates that sort of thing. Again, it didn’t happen to me so I don’t know the circumstances behind folks getting confused, but I felt like I should mention it for the sake of full information as I have it. On the upside, that’s easily the only negative thing about the entire day I can think of.
My personal favorite part of the day is that I inadvertently ended up running most of the way with a couple of fellow Greenville Track Club members. Getting to chat with Brian and Kerrie through the early and mid portions of the race made it much more bearable when I was on my own for the last miles. Also, the HAM radio folks that volunteered their time to keep tabs on us runners meant that I was never too far from human contact– a reassuring thing to know when the going got tough! Actually, ALL the volunteers were absolutely awesome! There were motivating signs (“Run now, poop later” was the obviously best one), cowbells (so glad to know I wasn’t hallucinating ringing in my ears), and cheerful encouragements (“Good job, and hey, you don’t have to see me again!” from one gentleman later in the second loop).
The finishers, like last year, get these trail/tree motif medals that double as a bottle opener:
After the race there was a new challenge if getting the mud out of places that mud shouldn’t be. I didn’t even fall down, but there was gunk everywhere. Everywhere.
While I can’t say what my future in ultrarunning will be given my other goals and life and such, I can comfortably say that I plan on being back to Harbison 50k for the 2016 edition. Thanks again to all the volunteers, the RD David Nance, and to y’all that put up with my running and writing about it!