A bald eagle soars by as Caren's van pulls out of Susquehanna State Park. We've just finished a friendly 50 kilometer ramble through the woods of northern Maryland. The 29 March 2008 Hinte-Anderson Trail Run follows a new course, modified as per Park Service request to reduce erosion. Compared to previous years, today's route features significantly longer road segments and greater elevation gain, about 10,000 feet according to an official handout. The 2004 HAT was my first ultra; today marks my fifth HAT in a row. Perhaps it's time to take a break, lest this streak turn into an obsession?
Comrade Caren and I hold hands as we cross the finish line in a joyful tie: 301st place, our official time 7:46:05. A fortnight from now we're going to take on the 50 mile Bull Run Run together. It will be wonderful!
HAT day begins at 0-dark-6:30 when Caren Jew, Ken Swab, Michelle Price, Cathy Blessing, and I rendezvous for the hour-plus ride up Interstate-95 to Havre de Grace on the Susquehanna River. We arrive in time to park close-in and stroll to the start/finish pavilion near the Steppingstone Museum. Phil Anderson, a founder of the event, shakes my hand as he lounges in a recliner. Volunteers distribute race packets that include a plentiful assortment of HAT-logo swag: a lunch bag, a soda-can insulator, a fluorescent-lime-green technical shirt, and a baseball cap. Another HAT-cap awaits those who cross the finish line.
We prowl the area, greet friends, then retreat to Caren's car for warmth and to pin on our numbers. Eagle-eyed Michelle points out a distant eagle and reminds us to be on the alert for more along the river. My hip, the upper end of the ilio-tibial band, has been troubling me for the past month. This morning it's only a little tight. Before starting time we emerge, ditch excess gear at the pavilion for the mid-course revisit, and pose for photos in front of an antique stone wall. The region is crisscrossed with these walls; as we run we see so many of them that I lose count. A crowd of close to 400 runners line up and await the Go! signal.
Caren and I capture our rightful place from the start — dead last — and follow the masses as they dash along the out-and-back initial road segment of the course. Cathy runs ahead, and soon Ken and Michelle trot out of sight. Caren and I walk the hills and stay cheerful as we find ourselves completely alone in the woods after only a couple of miles. No worries! This is precisely where we want to be.
After the preliminary loop, shown in lavender on the course map, we begin the real trek. Caren loves water crossings. I fear them, but follow her example and choose wet feet instead of a fall on the slippery rocks. Course conditions are excellent, in contrast to last year's sea of mud. Arrows on bright yellow plastic plates direct us over hill, through forest, and across meadow. The trail comes to a tangent point with itself several times, and we spy other runners far ahead of us. An hour out from the pavilion we arrive at the main HAT aid station in the picnic area parking lot. We refill our bottles, grab cookies/chips/candy, thank the volunteers, and head out in less than 2 minutes.
Caren pauses to show me a monstrous earthworm crawling across the path. We stop at a gigantic gnarly American beech tree and take photos of each other. Shortly thereafter we catch up with a pair of young ladies — Amanda Prestage and Holly McFeely — dressed respectively in magenta and white. They're running buddies and it's their first adventure beyond the marathon distance, a 30th birthday present for Amanda. We offer them encouragement, exchange stories, and tell them that they can make the HAT cutoffs if they keep moving steadily. Then we take our own advice and push onward.
Near the four-hour mark we approach the central pavilion where the race starts and ends. At intervals of a few minutes the leaders begin to zip by, an amazing 14 miles ahead of us. We step aside, applaud, salute, and cheer. When we arrive at the pavilion we meticulously detour around the finish line chute, refuel, and commence our final loop.
"Ils ne passeront pas!" So vowed the French as they held the line at the Battle of Verdun in 1916. Neither Caren nor I say it aloud during the last dozen miles, but our actions suggest it, as we quietly stalk and pick off the injured and the too-hasty who've hit the wall. Walking wounded, we call them. Not one person passes us! That's the triumph of starting slow and controlling the pace — for which I repeatedly thank Caren.
Crossing a grassy field near mile 20 I start to feel tired, but a Succeed! electrolyte capsule magically perks me up again. Then both Caren and I begin to suffer increasingly severe twinges and aches in various tendons, ligaments, and bones. At mile 27 I break down and take two ibuprofen tablets when my self-diagnosed metatarsalgia gets worse. Soon the old foot starts to improve.
At the major aid station we're on one side of the table when Cathy Blessing arrives at the opposite side, a full hour ahead of us and on her way to a 6:35 finish. We shout greetings across trays of potatoes, plates of PB&J sandwiches, and bowls of painkillers. We watch for Ken Swab but don't see him; he's too far ahead of us. After doing the first lap with Michelle Price, Ken runs the last loop solo for a 7:02 result. Michelle has a foot injury and as per plan stops at mile 17.
A few miles later the trail almost self-intersects. Luck is with us: Amanda and Holly are passing by on the other side of the ribbons, a mile behind us and looking good. I offer hasty words of wisdom in the few moments we have within earshot: "Walk the hills! Drink lots of water!" They persevere and finish, tied for last place — a position of honor in my book. Congratulations, ladies, on your first ultramarathon!
As the end of our odyssey nears both Caren and I start to pick up the pace. Our various aches feel better when we run than when we walk. I get silly and attempt to sing "We Are the Champions" and other mock-triumphant songs. Caren shushes me, "Don't jinx us, Mark!" We meet the new race director, Tim Gavin, as we leave the last aid station. I shake his hand and thank him.
We enter the meadow for the final dash to the finish line, and Caren whispers "Good-bye, Trail!" to the woods behind us. She insists that I run up the last little hill to the pavilion with her. Her race strategy has turned out well. It's a great day. Thank you, Caren!
|Start to Pavilion||1.4 mi||0:18||18 min|
|Loop #1 - Pavilion||3.6||0:52||34|
|Outbound - Aid Station||7.9||1:52||59|
|Inbound - Aid Station||12||2:52||60|
|Unmanned Aid Station||15.5||3:40||58|
|Midcourse - Pavilion||17.3||4:19||29|
|Outbound - Aid Station||21.6||5:25||67|
|Inbound - Aid Station||25.7||6:25||60|
|Unmanned Aid Station||29||7:21||55|
|Finish Line - Pavilion||31+||7:46||25|
(course map courtesy , compressed from original at ; see Caren's photos at ; cf. HAT Run 2004 (2004-04-02), HAT Run 2005 (2005-03-20), HAT Run 2006 (2006-03-31), HAT Run 2007 (2007-03-25), ...) - ^z - 2008-04-01