The 2013 Harbison 50k was held this past Saturday on January 5th, 2013. The race had 146 finishers with quite a few of them being first time finishers! Awesome accomplishments to the first timers and welcome to ultra-running! This was my 3rd time running this race, each of the past two times were fun and I learned something about myself from the race.
The weather for this event has been something. The first year, we had wind and cold/cool temperatures. Last year, it was unseasonably warm. This year, we saw 26 degrees at race start and mid-50s as the day progressed. About as perfect running weather as it can be. I stayed in my long sleeved shirt for the first half and then just kept it on with the sleeves pulled up for the second loop. I saw several running friends prior to the race start, all hanging around the bonfire. I did miss quite a few people that I’ve met through the years of running that I knew were there. Several of them had great races, congrats guys and gals!
My buddy Brannon and I drove up the morning of the event, about an hour away from Augusta. Brannon was one of those first time 50k runners to attempt the distance. A large tasty bowl of Wheaties was my fuel source for breakfast. We get to the race with about 45 minutes to check in, use the rest room, prepare our drop bags, and the many other rituals that are customary to the pre-race time. I quickly found my buddy Michael F., the Kilted Runner and took our traditional pre-race photo:
We receive last minute instructions from Race Director, Dan Hartley and the playing of the National Anthem, Slash style from Dan’s son on his new guitar. Shortly after, the group of runners moved to the start line. This year saw a change in the course (more on this later) and aid stations, There would be one less aid station on the course (which was fine by me). We lined up in the same area as previously but in the opposite direction of the previous two years. Since this was Brannon’s first 50K, I decided to stay with him the whole race, I wasn’t really worried about my time; rather I wanted to see him finish! We lined up near the middle/back of the pack since we knew we wouldn’t be the speedsters. Final words from Dan and WE’RE OFF! The front runners broke away down the ¼ mile straight away, mostly downhill, which is always fun to start with. We make the first turn and try to find a smooth pace to keep since we had a long road ahead of us. Within the first mile, someone from behind us saw a part of the course that was labeled for later in the race and thought that was the turn. Almost everyone went that direction with the guy yelling “I’M IN THE LEAD!!!” we made it about 5 steps in and someone yelled out that the turn was wrong and we needed to go back.
We cross the road to the Lost Creek Trail section of the course. Here is where the new course direction comes in. After running the race the past two years, I had a feeling for this section of the course. Rather flat, very runnable for the first loop and a great chance to catch your breath and recover some on the second loop. When the course changed, it threw me for a little loop. At first, I didn’t really like the new course; it was a little hillier that I expected. I wanted the old flat course! During this section I saw Ray K on the course taking pictures like he has the past two years. This man is a great guy, a great ultra runner, and has been running ultras for longer than I have been alive. He snapped these pictures of Brannon and me.
Within the first 3 miles, I was feeling a hot spot coming up on my right foot, just below the big toe. Not good. We made it to the first aid station roughly at the 6 mile point. I took a moment to pull my shoe off and inspect my foot. No appearance of a blister so I slathered on some Auqaphor and went on. The next section of the trail is my favorite by far and I was glad to see no changes were made to it. I can’t really explain why I like this section, I guess it’s because of the peacefulness I sense while there. This section goes by pretty uneventful for the most part. As we neared the next aid station, I could really feel the hot spot increasing in intensity. I knew by then it was a full on blister. We get to the aid station and I see the ultimate slacker, Andy B. hanging out, drinking a NOS energy drink. I asked if he already dropped from the race (hamstring issues), he said no and that he was waiting on someone. I told him about my foot, he recommended Hike Goo and said that it got him through Pinhoti without a single blister. Must. Get. Some.
The last section of the trails is by far the toughest, a lot of downhills and equal uphills on the Spiderwoman section of the trail. I told Brannon to conserve during this section since we have a second loop to go and that he was going to need it to climb some of the hills then. As we enter the “Interior Loop,” which is a .75 mile section of trail that seems to be all uphill (I think Dan only added this section because he’s a little on the masochistic side, am I right Dan?), we were caught by Augusta locals and running friends Glen J. and Tina S., both are attempting their first 50K as well. Glen, Tina, and the other two runners with them (I suck and forgot their names) stayed with us during this section based on my recommendation to conserve. By now, my foot is really killing me but I’m not expression it. We stay together to the next aid station, which is a welcome sight since it’s roughly 3 miles to the half-way point on the first loop and 3 miles from the finish on the second loop. What I love about this race is the fact that I see the same faces at the aid stations year over year and they remember you as well.
As we progress towards the Lost Creek aid station I let Brannon know that my foot is hurting pretty bad and that I’m going to need to attend to it at the next aid station. As we get to the aid station, I asked a volunteer if I could use their chair to check out my foot. I grabbed my drop bag and yanked off my shoe and sock. Sure enough, a blister. A big one too! This thing had to be about 3 inches long by 2 inches wide. I lanced it and used my towel to wipe it dry. I packed some athletic tape just in case and I’m glad I did. I dried my foot off and proceeded to wrap my foot covering the blister. Ahhh, relief!! I coated both feet in more Aquaphor, changed socks and was ready to go. All-in-all, I spent about 20 minutes at the aid station with Brannon patiently waiting for me. The second lap around was pretty fun, we talked more, walked more, and just soaked it in. I realized by the time we made our way back to the Lost Creek aid station that I actually liked the new Lost Creek section of the course! By the time we hit the last aid station with 3 miles to go, I was excited knowing that Brannon was about to finish his first 50K! I knew he was fading, tired, and legs were fighting him so I had to help push him when I could. We got to point where we had about 2 miles to go and checked our time. I told him if we pushed; he would have a sub-8 hour first 50K. IT WAS ON THEN! We ran more and when Brannon wanted to walk, we walked for a few seconds and started running again. The final push is uphill (again that masochistic side of Dan was coming out) and we just kept saying to each other sub-8, sub-8. We made the turn for the finish, which was a roughly 100 dash through the woods, hopped over the log and came upon the finish line. I slowed down a few steps and let Brannon savor his first 50K finish line before I crossed the finish line myself. Finishing time of 7:56:02, a sub-8 for his first 50K! Not bad, not bad at all!
The food at the finish line was well received and enjoyed by all. The volunteers are exceptional across the board. The locals out enjoying their trail system, whether on mountain bike or foot, were very nice and encouraging. Dan puts on a great event and I look forward to running many more of his events. Thanks to the all the companies that donated supplies for the event; especially GU for being awesome (as always) and sending Roctane for the aid stations!
The only negative thing I have to say about this year’s event, this is in no means a reflection on Dan or his events, is the amount of trash on the trails. I realize that we have a surge in 50k popularity and many people are crossing over from road racing marathons to trail racing 50K’s but the amount of trash on the trails was ridiculous! It may seem acceptable to throw your trash on the road during a half or marathon, but that’s not the case on the trails. Never has been, nor will ever be! I’m not talking about the stray cup/GU pack near the aid station; those happen. I’m talking about the empty GU packs just thrown by the wayside along the trail. This cannot become the norm in trail racing. It is getting harder and harder to get permits from state and federal forestry officials to run these types of events and the last thing we need is trail trash to keep us from being able to run these beautiful trails. Quite frankly, it pissed me off to see this much trash on the trails. The person(s) responsible for this can be glad that I didn’t see them doing this; I would have given them an earful! I picked up as much as I could stash on me. We saw Ray K. running with a friend and stopping to pick up trash as well, Thanks Ray!