HUFF – a recap
No matter how long the blog post, no matter how many pictures I show you, there is no way that I can truly bring the experience of the HUFF 50K to life for someone who wasn’t there. But I am going to try. It truly was the craziest race I have ever done and I am warning you, this post may get a bit lengthy.
It all started with a long car ride up north. I picked up Karen and Christi in Indy and then Bri in Muncie. Four girls in the car for an adventure, it’s no wonder that the laughter never stopped. When we finally got to Albion, IN, our first stop had to be the race packet pickup. We were very lucky that Bri’s inlaws live in Albion as she was our resident navigator. Albion is a tiny town nestled in northeast Indiana and the packet pickup was in the most desolate, far off farmland I have maybe ever been to. As we navigated the tiny, winding 2-land roads in the dark, it was hard not to start thinking of a horror film. Four girls in the middle of nowhere. Dark. Quiet. Not another soul to be seen other than the imagined kidnapper we feared lurked behind every turn. And one of the funnier themes of the weekend was Kenny G. The entire drive up I played the Holly Christmas music station on the radio. And as we drove to this random camp to get our registration packs with our bodies tense at the fear that any moment some scary criminals were going to surround our car and we were to never be seen again, Kenny G’s Sleigh Ride blasted through the speakers. It became the theme song of the weekend.
We managed to make it to the lodge finally and it was then that we first started to realize what a true difference an Ultra race is from anything we have ever done before. The race organization was small and the racers seemed to know each other. And everyone seemed to be bad asses. And the packet pickup? Well instead of an expo with gear for sale and other race promotion, there were at least 9 reindeer heads mounted on the walls and a few fusbol tables. Only in Albion.
As you may remember from my previous post, Karen, Bri and I were supposed to do the 50K relay. But on the way up, we decided that it made no sense for us to run this alone. There was a one-loop race of 10.5 miles which we could do together and would be the same distance each of us would do alone in the relay. So why not switch our registration so that we could run the first leg of the relay together and then hang out and wait for Christi? The minute the decision was made, we were immediately relieved. And quite frankly, it’s the best decision we’ve made.
After registration we searched for restaurants to “carb up” but we were in Albion. Where the only options were Magic Wand Magic Burger and some scary looking alien bar. When we drove by an Applebees in Kendalville, it was like a beacon of light. It was there that we sat down, enjoyed a beer and a meal and met Christi’s running partner, John. She met him on Twitter when searching for other runners doing the 50K and they vowed to run it together. Thank gosh she too wasn’t going to be doing this alone.
After dinner, we tucked into the Best Western amidst nerves and laughter. We downloaded Kenny G for our running playlist and laid out our running stuff for the next morning.
We awoke to snow and 28 degrees. It was gorgeous. As we ate breakfast from a crock pot in the hotel lobby, we noticed the other Ultra runners. We really didn’t fit in with our bright colored clothing and multi-layered outfits. These guys had long hair, trail shoes, little clothing and huge smiles. The more elements they had to deal with, the better the race for them. These people were nutso.
When we got in the car, guess what was on the radio? Yep…Kenny G. It was a sign. We arrived to the State Park and had to wait in crazy traffic for about 25 minutes. By the time we parked and walked up to the start, the race start time had long passed. But it’s an Ultra. These things don’t have to start on time.
What we witnessed at the start was unlike any other race I have done. Men relieving themselves out in the open (and I don’t mean peeing). Some with their pants all the way to their ankles as they poured some sort of lubricant to avoid chaffing all down their body. Crazy outfits. Crazy people. Including us. We were now part of this whether we fit in or not.
As we lined up at the start, they announced the importance of following the green flags and to ensure they were always to your right (otherwise you are going the wrong direction). A woman near us told me she got lost last year. The snow was accumulating in parallel to the nerves. Getting lost? How crazy is this course?!? Christi met up with John (who was wearing an Angry Birds hat) and we gave her a huge good luck hug. She had to do 2 15-mile loops and I told her she wasn’t allowed to cry during the first one. She was clearly nervous, but in great spirits. She was embarking on something most never even consider. When the cannon went off, we started running up a large, slick hill. I thought to myself “well this isn’t an easy beginning, but I bet it gets easier from here.” HA!
Karen, Bri and I vowed to have fun in this race. We didn’t bring our GPS watches. We had no way of timing ourselves and we promised to keep it easy and enjoyable. Within the first mile, we already stopped chatting. The course was so insane that it took all of our concentration just to maneuver our footwork. Into the woods. Up and down large hills covered in leaves, tree roots and snow. The terrain seemed hard but I kept thinking that eventually we’d end up back on pavement or flat ground. But other than maybe a total of .5 miles throughout the entire course, we didn’t. This course was epic.
The first couple of miles were hilly, but dry other than the snow. At one point, Bri wiped out after tripping on a tree root, but she wasn’t hurt and we laughed it off. That was just at mile 2. By mile 3, we had already hit the water. The lake was so flooded that it covered a good percentage of the course. We could either run through the water, which would have been up to our knees, or we could take the detour. But the detour was through the woods. The brush. The thorned bushes. Climbing over fallen trees, through thick branches. There was no running on the detour. There was barely walking.
For the next 8 miles, this was the terrain. We missed the slick, leaf-covered hills because at least we could run on that. This required us to stop, navigate, cautiously crawl through the woods until we came to a clear path again with those green flags marking the way. It was crazy. We fell in with a group of about 10 women and I led the charge. I am sure I didn’t always choose the most efficient route, but as early as it was in our race, none of us were willing to get soaking wet in 30 degree weather. Little did we know that eventually, we’d have no choice.
At mile 4 we hit our first aid station. HOLY HELL this was the best aid station I have ever been to! Donuts. Potatoes. Pickles. Chips. Jolly Ranchers. FIG NEWTONS!!! Brownies. We stopped and snacked. And laughed. Have I mentioned that this was the craziest race we had ever done?
As we continued, we started to make the most of this course. We barreled through the brush and onto the trail again singing our Kenny G “Sleigh Ride” each time. We laughed. We sang carols. We ran when we could. We walked when we had to.
At one point, we hit an area that was completely covered in mud. About six inches of it to be exact. And though we tried to avoid it, the only option was to walk through thorny bushes. All of us have insanely cut up legs and arms from the thorns but eventually, we just said screw it and walked through the mud. Our shoes were caked and it was so slick that running wasn’t an option, but it was better than continuing to be cut up. Our morale was down around mile 6. We just wanted to be able to run. Just let loose and run but the mud and water and thorns prevented it all. So we turned to our friend, Kenny G. I blasted “Sleigh Ride” on my iPhone and tucked it in my pocket. It was like a mini boom box and it was amazing how it raised our spirits. As we bobbed along to his lovely saxophone, we started to smile again. This wasn’t easy. But we were doing it together and we knew it was an experience we’d never forget.
There wasn’t a mile that went by where we didn’t thank our lucky stars that we decided to do this as a trio rather than a relay. We were making the most of it, but it was hard. And exhausting. And frustrating. Our bodies were so tense as we tried to navigate the course and ten miles never seemed so long. We eventually were forced to run through the water. But by this time, our legs and feet were wet, muddy and bloody. There was no point in us trying to avoid it – we just wanted it to be over. At a pretty unforgiving part of the course, we took a dancing break. We blasted Bel Biv DeVoe’s “Poison” on the iPhone and broke it down in the middle of the mud. Had anyone seen us, they surely would have thought we had lost our minds. And maybe we had.
At the last aid station, we picked up hand warmers. Again, these were the most amazing aid stations we had ever seen and the fact that they provided hand warmers was exactly what we needed. Finally, I could feel my fingers! Which was good because it wasn’t but a mile later before I went flying into the snow, shoulders first. Our second fall of the day. In the last mile, we had to cross a creek, climb up a mud slide and run up and down hills. But the most amazing thing greeted us at the finish, and I don’t mean the medal that also doubled as a belt buckle. Our friend Meghan and her boyfriend Jake came to cheer all of us on and to surprise Christi. Her first words were “This looks awful.” Yes, Meghan. Yes, it was.
We ran straight the my car and stripped off our clothes in the middle of the street. Layer after wet, muddy layer came off in exchange for warm, dry clothes. Our feet were freezing after swimming in frigid water for miles. We started the trek back to the tent to find Meg and Jake when we saw the Angry Bird hat. It was Christi and John coming through at their halfway point! She was in amazing spirits. After what we just went through, we really almost expected Christi to call it quits when she looped around. How she could go through what we did for 3x the distance, we had no idea. But despite her legs being bloody and having to traipse through knee-high water, she was going to do it. SUCH an inspiration.
We made our way to the “heated” tent for soup. After 2 cups of chicken noodle and 1 cup of chili, I still was frozen. There was no getting rid of the chill and we were miserable. We knew we had at least 2 more hours before Christi finished and we couldn’t imagine sitting in the cold, shivering the entire time. Luckily, Boppy Fairy (Bri) to the rescue! She knew of a little bar called the Friendly Inn just ten minutes down the road. We were sold.
Jake bought us two pitchers of local beer and took a $1 shot of Ice Mint while we thawed out in the bar. We relived the race for Meg and Jake. And we communicated with Christi via text. She was slow going. We found out later that she was doing 20-minute miles through thick mud and water at that point in the course. And that’s what an Ultra apparently is. It’s not just about the distance, it’s about the obstacles and the elements. It’s about enduring and overcoming. And she did just that.
We made it back to the course to see Christi at mile 29. While we waited, we sat in the car alongside the course and blasted music. When each runner passed us, we unrolled the windows and screamed and hollered at them. We honked and cheered and every single one of them loved it. Jake got out of the car at one point, and screamed for Christi. She was probably a mile away but his voice carried. She heard him and later told us how excited she was to get to us. And when she did we jumped out of the car and surrounded her with hugs. She had less than 3 miles to go before she was an official ultra marathoner.
We made our way back to the finish and waited until we saw her and the Angry Bird hat round the lake. We screamed our heads off for her and shed tears as she crossed that finish line. 50K. Through water and mud and thorns and hills. She is a rockstar. And as much as I told myself I would never do something as crazy as that course again, even for 10.5 miles, she has inspired me. I want to be an ultramarathoner too.
This weekend was amazing. I bonded with these girls through an experience that no blog post could ever truly describe. And as I look down at my scratched up, bruised legs while humming “Sleigh Ride” in my head, I can smile at what we accomplished. Especially Christi.
P.S. Read Bri’s recap here!