Friday, February 24, 2017

Frozen Heart 50K

While the title of the race may have been the Frozen Heart 50K, the weather was not cooperating.  From the side conversations I could overhear, folks were very disappointed by this as well.  These are hard core trail runners that wanted snow, sleet, frozen puddles or at least mud.

Instead we had a day that started out sunny and 35F and by the time the last person crossed the finish line was in the low 60s.  Several of the signs on the trail had the Ghostbusters red circle and slash over the "Frozen" part of the sign signaling we give up.

Let me start this review by saying the event was a lot of fun.  It was well run and well staffed, started almost exactly on time and the air was full of energy and support.  It was clear that the majority of the runners had done this particular race at least once before and were excited at some of the changes they could see and couldn't wait to get started.  The location of this race at Salem State Park in St. Mary's MD was just under 2 and a half hours from my house.  So that meant we had to be up and out by 4am.

While others may have been disappointed that the weather was so unusually nice and warm, I was ecstatic.  I had never done a real trail run race like this and wasn't looking forward to dodging roots, rocks and trees in mud, sleet or snow.  Several races I have run in the past had trail aspects to them (Biltmore Marathon and the Via Marathon), but this was the first race where the entire distance was trail.  This is also the first 50K race I was attempting as well as the first race since my brain surgery.  My wife was planning on tackling the 17K.

The trail is about 17K long, so the race offers participants three distances to choose from.  Runners can do the 17K (one loop), the 34K (two loops) or the full 50K (three loops).  At close to the half way point around the loop (mile 5) there is a water station/rest stop with porta-potties and lots of food and drink choices.  Given the distance between the start line and this rest stop most runners were carrying some kind of hydration and snacks with them.

Strava Route Map (17K Loop)

The trail was marked fairly well for the event, but I did see a runner or two miss a turn and talked to one runner on my second loop who ended up a half mile in the wrong direction before turning around to find his mistake.  There were signs, flags and ribbons in trees to help mark things, but given the amount of attention the ground was getting as you ran, it was certainly possible to  miss one and go in the wrong direction.  There are many trail heads and intersections in the park.

Overall elevation gain for one loop around the park was about 150ft.  So fairly flat in general, especially if this was a road race, but as a trail run, those gains were often short but steep.  There were only a few long sections where there was a slight incline.  Everything else was quick up and downs around the trail.  A few of those sections being very technical with single board bridges and lots of rocks/roots.

One of the many bridge crossings

One of the more interesting sections was just before the 5 mile rest stop.  From approximately mile 3.9 to 4.6 there was crushed concrete on the trail that was large.  Between the size of a golf ball and a baseball.  This was challenging to run on and was difficult in sections to find an area that was clear so you could avoid it.

As I mentioned before the weather was so nice, and had been nice for so many days prior to the event that there was very little standing water on the trails or areas of heavy mud.  There was really only one "bad" spot just after the 5 mile rest stop before making a left back into the woods.  Right around mile 5.2.  There was enough area on the sides to avoid this somewhat but was still better to move quickly so you didn't sink too far into the mud.

Hard to look cool when your dodging roots and rocks downhill

After this point the back half of the run was more "technical" as I indicated before with several steep short climbs and aggressive downhill sections with lots of roots and rocks.  The first time around I managed to keep a fairly steady pace the entire way around, but during the second trip around I did find myself tripping more frequently (didn't fall) so I slowed down and walked a few of the more challenging areas (mostly downhill sections).

Winding uphill on the trail

Obviously the second time around had some advantages as I knew what to expect and had some markers I knew I wanted to avoid or treat differently the next time around.  One of the more amusing sections was a long section of boards that kept people out of a marshy area that ended three boards wide.  The center board was loose so if you stepped on it, it would kick up several inches and then when you came down on it you were splashed with water and mud.  On the second loop I knew to stay on the left side.

Yes, I was drafting runners in front of me

About 25% into my second lap my right knee started to complain as my IT bands started to tighten up.  The longest run I had done since my surgery in Dec was about 14 miles and given the punishment the trail was causing my body I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that things were getting challenging.  I managed to get through my second loop, but knew I had to stop at 34K and not attempt the third lap.  I have a back to back Half Marathon and Full Marathon in early March in Asheville, NC and didn't want to injure myself.

Two laps of elevation via Strava Maps

After getting to the finish line I let the time keepers know that I was wrapping up my effort and proceeded to collect my finishers medal (they use the same medal for all three distances).  I grabbed some water and then headed to the car to change cloths, get something more substantial to eat and get ready for the long drive home.

Finishers medal, with spinning snowflake

Overall, I really did enjoy this event.  I would have preferred to complete the 50K, but I knew I needed to listen to my body and call it early.  The event was very well run, the runners were friendly and would chat on the trail as we passed each other.  I can't imagine doing this in the snow, but during a discussion with a runner on the trail he indicated that it is fun.  The snow packs down so you don't have to worry as much about roots and rocks, and of course it is clear where you need to go.

Given the distance from home and what the weather "could" bring in a more typical Maryland winter I am not sure if I will do this again or not.  But since I am not a trail runner I wouldn't discount the race just because I may not do it again.  It was a lot of fun and if you love trail running or just want to try something different, definitely give this event a try.  I know you won't be disappointed.

1 comment:

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