Thursday, September 14, 2006

Groundhog 50km

My race weekend began on Friday afternoon. I left downtown Cleveland and headed down to Hudson to pickup some last minute gear from Vince at the VR store. Four of us shared the ride to the Groundhog 50km in Punxsatawney, PA. I heard tales of past Groundhog 50km races and how the hometown feel to this race brings them back year after year. This year, and as much as I like the River Run, I opted for Punxy instead. No regrets.

Punxsatawney sure loves its Groundhogs. Thery're everywhere. I found groundhogs in every store, restaurant, and in similar way to Cleveland's guitars, even every sidewalk.

The Punxsatawney Phil (ya know, the weather guy)

The start and finish of the race was in the middle of town at the community center. Right away, I felt the homeyness to this race. The vibe I felt from the many runners and volunteers was one of community. This was a homecoming. The fact that you see many of the same faces at these events makes it feel like being with family.

The highlight of the Friday banquet was the talk given by Dr. David Horton. Last summer, the Liberty University professor set out to break the thru-hike record for the Pacific Crest Trail. He told the tale of some of the difficulties: 40 miles per day, for 66 days, with an average 8000' elevation per day, crossing rushing mountain streams, running out of food, and starting each day off with a good cry. His main theme was, "that the body can go much further that you ever expected," and that "adventure involves risk."

"Great," I thought. This is just what I needed to hear on the eve of my two-race weekend. Friday's party started me off with a super attitude to tackle 57+ miles in the next two days.

Saturday morning started off perfect: Cool and overcast and the forecast was for afternoon rains. The course was 7 miles out, an 8-mile loop done twice, then an 8 mile return trip back to the finish line in town. There were a half-dozen or so steep walker hills. Each had their own name: Two Beers, Yellow Bus, Cry Baby, Water Tower, ESPN Tower Hill. Overall, the course was mostly very runnable double-track trail. Of the 31 miles, about six mile were on roads.

At 7am, John the RD sent us on our way. The first two miles were uphill along roads before finding the trail. I fell in line and its funny how I end up running and chatting with the same folks from past races. This time it was Terry Hawk, Dave Peterman, and local Punxsy-ite Chris Meanor. We made it together down the very steep Two-Beers, which got its name from local mountain bikers, who on average needed two beers to muster up the courage to ride down. It was that steep.

We made it to mile 7 and the start of the loop in about 65 minutes. My strategy for the day was to keep my heart rate low (without wearing my HRM) and to stay aerobic. The loop was pretty trail, sometimes steep, sometimes muddy, but more runnable than the Buckeye Trail. I normally don't look back during a race, but fellow runners insisted I look back at the top of Yellow Bus Hill. The valley view was phenomenal. About midway through the first loop and about 1:45 elapsed, the rains came. I was stunned and upset that I had no hat. But what to do, cry? Nope, just keep trodding on and moving towards the goal. The backside of the loop was a little more sloppy and at one point the trail became a stream. No more dry feet! The loop ended with a 1 mile stretch along a country road with a good climb back up to the start of the loop. Made it here (15 miles) in 2:15. The rains continued, heavy at times, and I repeated the 8 mile loop and made it (23 miles) in about 3:30.

Here's me in the downpour at about mile 21 and smiling.

Only 8 miles to go to the finish with the venerable Water Tower and Two Beers Hills awaiting. Throughout the run, I trailed my training bud Dave by a few minutes. As I approached an aid station, he was just departing. We continued thoughout in this manner, although we never ran together. Later, Dave would say that he just wanted to keep away from me. Good strategy, as Dave ran a PR in 4:36.

As I've become accustomed, running the last part of an ultra is normally alone. I successfully maintained an aerobic pace and I knew I had a reserve in the tank. I scaled Water Tower hill and enjoyed the valley vistas before arriving at the last aid station at the base of Two Beers. Dave was just departing and it was the last I'd see of him. He ran a great race.

Two Beers was steep and not too long. After the ascent, amazingly I was still in good shape and looking good for a PR. I ran on knowing the goal was there to be taken. Concurrently, I was part of the team competition and knowing that helped pull me to the finish. Team VR performed well. I was 6th on the team behind Connie, Bob, Vince, Mike, and Dave. All of us set course or personal records.

The last two miles were the same dirt and paved roads as the beginning of the race. I kept a good pace on the downhill grade and rolled into town and across the line in 4:39 and 19th overall! Whoooo-hoo.

For recovery, I took a good walk to the drugstore for some chocolate milk before taking part in the post-race lunch and banter. I can't say enough about the hospitality of Punxsatawney. It was a great time shared by runners of all types and ability. This was a race I won't soon forget and one that I'd recommend to anyone.

We drove home and I set into motion the refueling and recovery plan for Sunday. Although I was still unsure about running a marathon the next day, I had a positive attitude about it.


Blogger Kim said...

Great rain photo and good race report! It was such a runnable course other than the hills. I guess I had 'heard' about the hills so much I was expecting more of them.
I also thought we were running slightly uphill at the beginning of the race, but it felt good to be on a downhill at the end!

6:57 PM  
Blogger E-Speed said...

Sounds like a fun one! If I jump on the ultra bandwagon I may have to do this next year.

10:29 AM  

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