Monday, February 23, 2015

Race Report: Frozen Heart 50K - Calloway, MD

The Frozen Heard 50K was a cold, long, and difficult race to kick of the season.
We left DC around 630PM on Friday night to head down to Callaway, MD for the Frozen Heart 50K. The weather that week had been terrible - lots of snow and freezing temperatures, so we spent a while contemplating whether we should even go. In the end, we decided to give it a shot (downside of - non-refundable room!). After about two hours (would have been a little shorter, but you know, DC traffic), we made it to the California, MD, which was about 15 minutes from the start of the race. For dinner, we grabbed a quick Chipotle burrito to-go. Normally, I like to have a nice sit-down dinner before a long race (from some place that I know won’t kill my stomach), but in this case, I was a little too tired, and wanted to try and go to be early.

The Course
The course was three loops around St. Mary’s Lake, and was 98% single-track. The one non-single track section was in the parking lot, where the race director added some extra distance to ensure runners were hitting the 10.5 miles for each loop. The road section proved to be a welcome relief after running in the snow.

While the course and trail were actually pretty nice, it was hard to really enjoy it because of all the snow. I’m up for a good challenge, but this was just silly. It had snowed about 7 inches earlier in the week, and stayed near freezing, which meant no time for the snow to melt. Obviously, being a trail in a park, people were not out there trying to clear it off for runners.

As we started, the pack moved quite slow through single single track, everyone seeming to try and figure out how to run on the snow. Some folks were more prepared than others - gators, studded shoes, etc., but a large chunk of the pack was just sliding around in their normally running shoes, looking for a way to get in a groove so they could tackle the one, two, or three loops on that cold day.
After the initial single track, we broke out into an open field, followed by a dam, before heading into more single track. This allowed the runners to spread out a bit before spending the remainder of the loop on a single, snowy path.

The first loop was miserable, and it took almost two hours to finish. This put me WAY behind what I had planned, which normally wouldn’t have been a big deal. However, we knew a storm was coming (and DC was supposed to be especially bad), and had a big event to attend that night (all-around, probably not the best idea to run this race). Nevertheless, I re-grouped at the aid station, and headed back out.

During the second loop, I spent a big portion of the time with some ‘running bros’, who kept me a bit distracted during some of the more difficult sections. I eventually got separated, and ended up finishing up the last couple of miles by myself. During that time, I made a deal with myself: if my ride was there, I would finish at 20 miles, and be happy with the tough 34K. If my ride wasn’t there, I’d consider pushing on, but only after a sock change.

When I hit the parking lot, I didn’t see my car. It would have been easy to spot - at that point, almost four hours into the race, most of the runners had left. I trotted through the parking lot to the turnaround point, and the only thing in my head was: “I’m done.”. As I crossed the checkpoint (all manual timing), the RD asked me if I was done. I said I’d think about it, and headed to the aid station.
I changed my socks, got some tailwind, ate a PP&J and some gummy worms, and contemplated whether I would continue. As the minutes passed, I started to get colder and colder. At the point, I knew my ride would be at least 30 minutes, which would mean if I left right then and there, I could make it almost three miles until the car came back. Looking back, I’m not sure why that really makes sense, but for some reason, it helped me created a image of chipping away at the miles until I eventually finished.
Aid Stations
The aid stations were solid - everything I could have needed was there (save Tailwind, which I always bring with me!). The volunteers were amazing. Not only were they braving the seriously FREEZING conditions, but they were super supportive and helpful as well. Honestly, aid stations are one of my favorite aspects of an ultra, and this was no different.

I dug deep. The final loop was hard not only because I had run 20 miles in the cold, but I knew what was in front of me. I knew I was going to hit tough sections. I knew I was going to be alone most of the time. I knew the last 3 miles were going to feel like 20. Still, I found pockets of motivation that helped me get through some of the more difficult sections.

The first bit of motivation came at mile 4, when I got to the aid station and was informed that I was 5th overall. They were pretty excited, and to be honest, so was I. Sure, it was a small race, but I still felt it was a good accomplishment. This was a good feeling, because one of my least favorite sections of the race was immediately after - a long, open, snowy field that seemed endless, and I needed a boost to get through.
I made it through that section, and I told myself over and over again not to look at my watch. You see, this particular course, combined with the snow, seemed to be endless. I don’t know what it was about the switchbacks and the trees, but I just felt the end of each loop would never get there.
Around mile 27 or so (I know, because I broke my rule and looked at my watch), I was just feeling so done with the race. My desire to finish was so strong that I overcame the aches and pains and began to give a little kick. I pushed as hard as I could for about two miles, and then pulled off the gas a little bit. I really wanted to see the parking lot, and to get in my nice warm car and head home.
From a distance, I saw the other thing I had been looking forward to seeing all race - my SO. I was a bit overwhelmed when I saw her standing in the parking lot, camera in hand, waiting for me to finish up. I said hello, rushed by, and finished out the last little bit on the parking lot. It was over. I was done.

I’m not completely ruling out this race for next year, but I sure as heck am going to wait until the week-of, or day-of to register. It’s worth the extra fee to see a more accurate weather report

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