Monday, February 24, 2014

Ugly Mudder 2/23/14: Hogging the Trails of Mt. Penn

Yesterday was our second PCS race of the year, far too few if you ask me because they're superbly executed and fun trail runs.  The Ugly Mudder is, in theory, just another one of their trail runs, 7 miles (give or take course conditions) on Mt. Penn in Reading.  Conditions are usually lousy, hence the name and general theme of this race.

I was looking forward to the race all month, but with an extra boost before race day, I found I'm at the lightest racing weight I've ever had at just under 160.  Holy crap, I think I've accidentally lost too much weight.  A bit of fear that I'd hit the wall early with a lack of body fat but eh, what am I gonna do?  All  week, I'd felt great but this morning I was inexplicably sore in my calves and just feeling tired and kind of miserable, I shook it off, knowing I've had lousy runs when I felt great and good runs when I've felt lousy, performance isn't always related to feel.  

My race plan was pretty loose due to the course conditions.  Conditions were pretty interesting.  Ron Horn, PCS' race director, let the corral of runners know he believed that course conditions were the "worst ever" on this morning during his always entertaining pre-race debriefing.  One of his volunteers suggested it's even "worse than that," whatever that means.  Ron notified us also that the course had been shortened due to the conditions, somewhat relieving.  He told us it was 5-point-something miles instead of the planned 7...

Actual weather conditions were pretty nice.  It was probably mid-40's at the start, a little cloudy which would open up during the race to warm up a little more but we were tackling some unbroken snow from the last few snowfalls.  Despite the recent break in the cold weather, the warmth of the weekend didn't have enough impact on melting away any of the snow.  Fortunately for me and 99% of the field, we'd have a packed track to follow.  A narrow track.

Kristen and I met our friend Josh before hand and we chatted some about race plans and all pretty much decided to throw them out the window and focus on having a fun run.  The reality was it was going to be a difficult course to navigate via single track and it was inevitably going to be a walking conga line at multiple pinch points and climbs.  

With the race start, we poured out across the start line onto a brief stretch of road where Josh and I tried to move ahead in the pack to avoid getting stuck in lines, we did some work to move up to the front 1/4 of the pack and he made out well a little further ahead, I'd never see him again.  He's a running coach and I'm just some dude so he's got some great ability while I'm still developing.  The first pinch point came fast, as soon as we turned off the road to the single track.  A few people ran around the pack, plowing their own tracks a little wider of the course, I submitted to the line and thought I'll choose my passes wisely later on in the course.  I think it was a strategy that worked well.  
Early on, a slow entrance to the trails
The narrow track, but beautiful scenery.
We stretched out along the trails, eventually forming packs and mashing our way through the slushy course.  As I've become used to them, I wore my Ice Trekkers (on my NB 810's) and felt pretty solid in regards to footing.  I had no issues on the runnable climbs and any descent was a lot of fun, taking long, gliding strides and "sledding" a little on each strike in the slush.

The single-file running was nice in that I could mindlessly pursue whoever's in front of me but I could only maintain the position for so long before feeling restless or bored so I changed my scenery as often as I could, breaking trail along side of the single track just long enough to get by a few runners and eventually far enough to find the next pack of runners.  You could see little patches of blood in the snow from the runners lowing through the unbroken trail marking the trail, I had a few scratches from the icy top surface too, so it's a nice little badge of honor to earn while moving through the packs. 3 miles of that and I suddenly felt a ton of energy, I was ready to go and I wanted to go fast!

I did what I could and cruised through the last 2.5 miles pretty easily, enjoying the race and scenery.  At about 5.5 miles, we approached the final aid station right below an abrupt drop in the course where the girl I was following decided to suddenly stop to contemplate her decent and with cat-like reflexes I hopped to her left and into a foot-first slide right off the hill, somehow making a quick work of the "obstacle" and trotting another 100' to the final aid station.  By "aid," I mean lager.  I pounded a beer and kept going on to the finish, invigorated.
The slide with fermented refreshment just ahead.
Is it weird that this is the only aid station where I stopped?
Finish of a much quicker race than I expected.
I did my best to continue forward progress among the field of runners but it was still a limiting factor.  My last few miles were quicker than I'd expected and I turned in a 1:16:37 for 6.37 miles (Ron must have misspoke at the beginning about the revised course distance, no big deal).  Josh greeted me at the finishing chute and said I did really well, only finishing 3 minutes behind him.  In those 3 minutes were 63 other runners.  Josh just missed placing in our age group and I felt like I cheated myself, sandbagging too much at the beginning.  I found Derek Schultz at the finish and chatted with him a bit; he's an awesome runner.  He turned in a 17th place finish, the final award position for our age group.  I was expecting him to be in the top overalls but he had some similar struggles with the course and had to deal with losing a shoe when someone gave him a flat tire.

We stuck around and shared a pitcher of a tasty dark German beer and watched the awards.  I love PCS races, they're really awesome and the people are fantastic. Happy training, folks, enjoy the race recap video!

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