2018 Race Recap #14: To Hale and Back

Image may contain: tree, snow, outdoor and nature
Just before the start of the race, this was the condition of the trail.  Photo Credit: Mass Ultra

The thing I really love about TARC (Trail Animals Running Club) races is the vibe of the thing. No matter what distance you’re running for a given race, it’s like $22 to enter: Oh, you’re doing the 5k? $22; You’re doing the 6-hour? $22.  The whole scene is really chill too: you’re asked to bring some food for the aid table, donuts or oranges or whatever. Today I was offered a quesadilla, a pulled pork taco, and a couple of donut holes.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, snow, tree, outdoor and nature
Here’s a shot from a little later on in the race, after I ditched the knit hat and nylon jacket. Guessing lap 2, maybe 3 because I don’t look like a sweaty mess and the trail still has a lot of snow. Photo Credit: Mass Ultra

Hale Reservation is an educational organization with about 1100 acres of property. When I was a kid, my parents would buy a summer membership and we’d spend time at the membership beach.  They had these aluminum docks demarcating swim lanes or something along the beach, and my sister and I would bring our buckets out and catch some of the ubiquitous sun-fish in them.  As I was reflecting on that, I actually said to myself “Man, that seems so long ago…” when I quickly snapped back to reality: that’s because it was a long time ago. The last little round window decal I remember was from the summer of 1978 – 40 years ago, there kid.  That IS a long time.

There’s a really good synopsis about this years To Hale and Back winning efforts at irunfar.com about half way down the linked page (sorry, there doesn’t seem to be any HTML anchors or anything to send you to the exact passage.) The first paragraph says everything you need to know for my purposes:

Four late-season snowstorms slammed New England in recent weeks and assured that the To Hale and Back 6-Hour Ultra–the Trail Animals Running Club’s season opener-would be a challenging affair. The snow-packed and often sloppy course conditions at Hale Reservation ensured that course records were safe, but they didn’t prevent Joe McConaughy and Elise DeRoo from delivering winning efforts.

I remember the last time I was there – not as a member as my family had stopped going years before, but my friends family was a member in the early 1980s and invited me along for an outing. I got so sunburned, I remember feeling like there were bugs crawling under my skin like some kind of addict going through detox.  I remember it as a great day, but a horrible afterward.

Now, the region was just hit with its 4th winter storm in as many weeks earlier this week, so I knew the trail would be snow packed and generally gross. I wasn’t quite sure I knew what else to expect from the trails – I hadn’t seen an elevation map and frankly this was my first trail outing of the year so beyond the unfamiliar terrain and snow, I had several months of cobwebs to shake off.

Image may contain: 1 person, text and outdoor
There I am, the closest I’d be to the front of the pack all day, at the start of the race. Click the graphic to see the video (because I’m cheap and have the free WordPress account I can’t upload it myself).

My hope was to get in 20 miles – about 6 or 7 laps, it’s so hard to tell with the trails – but my goal was at least 15. I’ve done TARC 50k trail races in just under 7 hours, but given the snowpack and generally unconditioned self I set expectation low for a 6-hour accumulation.

It was pretty warm – about 34 degrees – at the start and was projected to continue getting warmer throughout the race, so I did layer up. This was a solid move as after my first lap, my nylon windbreaker and knit hat came off.  That was my last solid move as far as gear went though: I made the cardinal sin of wearing a pair of shoes I’d never worn before out today and in the end that’s what did me in.

Image may contain: plant, tree, snow, outdoor and nature
This was on my 4th lap, so it doesn’t look quite as bad as it did the first few laps.

Long about my 4th lap, I realized I had a pretty significant blister building on my left heel.  I was going to pull the plug after that, but I was pretty sure I had another lap in me so I went for it. It was slow going, but I did in fact have that lap.  I may have had another lap left in the tank, but I just couldn’t do it and pulled the plug after 5.  According to my watch, that was good enough for 17.2 miles. According to the official records, that was good enough for 16.  Grrr. The vagueries of trail courses will do that to you.  That said, I do know there were some modifications made to the course to account for snow and treacherous conditions, so maybe that added more distance than was given credit? I’m curious to see other folks’ data, but for now, I’m sticking with my 17.2 (my GPX data was pretty consistently showing me a 3.4 mile loop).

Relive ‘To Hale and Back’

So, I called it quits with somewhere around 90-100 minutes left. Which bums me out, but I’ll file it under “lessons learned” and go from there.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, tree, shoes, snow, outdoor and nature
I’m pretty sure the though process was, “what the hell am I doing?” Photo Credit: Mass Ultra

End of day, I finished 68/93 – and, not that I’m the least bit salty about it or anything, you’ll see that I’m officially credited with 16 miles (even though the course was actually 0.2 mile longer than they’re saying), but it was 0.2 miles longer for everyone so it doesn’t affect the results…just the official distance…which I’m not salty about at all.  Or anything. More disheartening is that I finished near the bottom of the men.

I do wish I had taken one more lap, but as I sit here writing this post, my legs stiff, my blister throbbing, and ready to fall asleep, it’s probably for the best I didn’t.

Results:

68 of 93 Runners
51 of 62 Males

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