2018 Farm Park Challenge – 6 Hour: Race Report

The Farm Park Challenge takes place up in Derwood, Maryland on the trails of the Montgomery County Agricultural Farm Park.  This is a timed, looped event with a twist.

In most timed courses, you get to run as much as you want in a given time period.  These events are perfect for people new to ultras who want to get their feet wet in a “safe” way where your food, water, and car are never more than a few miles away.  I also believe that they’re great at introducing people to the atmosphere of an ultra.  In a looped event, slow people get to see fast people and vice versa. And everyone cheers everyone else on.

So here’s the twist with the Farm Park Challenge: you don’t get to finish your loop, refill your water, and head back out on the course.  You must finish your 5.12 mile loop in 60 minutes or you’re “out.”  And if you happen to finish your loop in, say, 42 minutes, your reward is that you get to sit around and wait for 18 minutes until the top of the hour.

The race features many different divisions: 3 hour, 6 hour, 10 hour, marathon, and “fun run.”  I ran the 6 hour event and banked 30-ish training miles on one of the first really warm days this Spring.

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My goal was to finish each lap with enough time to refill my water, get some food, and not have to stand around very long.  This proved pretty easy on the first four laps or so, as the course is exceedingly runable and it wasn’t difficult to keep a pace just over 10 minute miles.  Things got hard for me around lap five.  This was one of those days that stayed overcast the whole day, but had almost no wind.  Temperatures hovered right around 70 with mild humidity and it rained a couple of times for maybe five minutes – not enough to cool you down.

I have always struggled with running in the heat and I’ve tried to expedite my acclimatization this year with some extended sauna sessions, but I’m not quite there yet.  The fifth lap was a strugglefest.  I knew that all I really had to do was get back to the starting gate in about 58 minutes to have enough time to get something to drink and head back out there.  But I was feeling sapped of motivation and the beer tent was calling.  Luckily, I teamed up with Paul at the turnaround and we worked together to get back to the start/finish in time.  We ended up getting back to the start line in 57 minutes.

Lap six was really rough.  The way that this race works, your last lap is your “race.”  Since everyone starts each lap at the same time, the only way to rank runners is to mark who comes in first during the last lap.  I had no delusions that I’d be “racing” anyone on this day and I ended up coming in DFL of the official finishers.  But, I finished.

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Woah. Need more heat training.

I ended up getting behind on hydration a little bit on lap 5.  I had been doing really well finishing a 20 oz. bottle of Tailwind on each loop and consuming some extra water while waiting for the next lap.  But on lap five I only finished about half the bottle.  I chugged some water at the start line and then decided to just leave my pack and bottle for the last 4.9 miles, figuring I’d be a little less hot if I didn’t have the wear the vest.

Splits (to make things a little more confusing, laps 1, 3, and 5 were a 5.3 mile out and back; laps 2, 4, and 6 were about 4.9 miles)

Lap 1: 54:03

Lap 2: 51:34

Lap 3: 55:06

Lap 4: 53:15

Lap 5: 57:00

Lap 6: 57:20

Continue reading “2018 Farm Park Challenge – 6 Hour: Race Report”

2018 Mt. Tammany 10: Race Report

Before I race, I make it a habit to read every race report that I can find online.  The Mt. Tammany 10 is every bit as brutal as the internet says it is.

This race takes place in the Delaware Water Gap in late March.  It hadn’t snowed much in 2018 (must’ve been saving it up for race week).  The forecast for race week: a foot of snow in New Jersey.  The snow rolled in about 48 hours before the race and dumped eight inches on the mountain.  Ironically, this timing worked out pretty well.  Mt. Tammany is covered by rocks and the snow actually made the downhill more runable than usual.  At least for the first half of the race.

My wife is from Easton, PA, so the race being about 40 miles from her hometown perfectly situates us to take the kids for a visit to the in-laws and for me to get a day on the trails.

I arrived on-site about 5:45 a.m. and headed over for packet pickup.  I got a warm greeting from Alex at Athletic Equation for being the only Virginia entrant in this year’s race and headed back to my car to start setting up.  I strapped on my brand new Yaktrax (purchased on Amazon 48 hours before and shipped directly to the in-laws) and debated whether or not to start the race with a headlamp.  With the sun due to rise about fifteen minutes after the start, I decided I didn’t need it and left it in the car.

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The race features 10 assaults on Mt. Tammany, a 1200 foot tall, rocky beast.  From the start/finish you head out on the road for about a third of a mile,  head up the mountain for 1.3 miles on the Red Dot trail, run along the ridge for a while, and then head back down the mountain on the Blue Dot trail.  Once you reach the bottom of the mountain, you head right back up and do it all over again.  Every other loop you return to the aid station to check in and get some food and drink.  The official cut-off is ten hours, but the RD is lenient if you are making good time and are on pace to finish before dark.

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My training leading up to the race featured a lot of time on a stairclimber, but not a lot of time training downhill running.  This was a mistake.  By the second loop, I knew I had neglected my quads and should have spent more time doing lunges.

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The view from the top is beautiful.  And for the first four laps, the climbs were not that bad.  The descents weren’t that bad either.  The Blue Dot trail, which goes back down the mountain is notorious for lots of medium size, ankle biting rocks.  But early in the day, where the eight inches of snow had been packed down by a day or two of hikers and the front-runners, it was smooth sailing down a snowy trail.

As the day warmed up and the snow became more and more packed, the trail iced over and the smooth sailing turned into skiing.

Going into the day, I thought that if I could finish six ascents on the mountain, I would finish all ten.  After all, what’s the point of doing eight loops and going home?  But by the time I got to the top of lap seven, I knew I wouldn’t make the time cutoff for ten.  I did turn myself back up the mountain for number eight, but it was a long, hard slog and I had to stop and rest against trees several times.  I was resigned to walking the ridgeline on lap eight, as by that time the sun had done its work and melted all of the snow off the mountain and all of the rocks were out in their full glory.

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When I returned to the aid station after loop eight, Alex told me I had to turn and burn.  I told him I was already cooked and was going to call it a day.

I’m not sure what I could have done differently in training.  Frankly, I probably managed more miles than I should have because the snow made the Blue Dot trail so runable.  This is a graduate-level course.  You could tell by the folks who showed up: lots of fast-looking 20- and 30-somethings (many with OCR backgrounds).

Training on the mountain would help and many of the other racers I chatted with lived nearby and told me they had done as many as five or six loops in training.

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A DNF for me.  But at the end of the day, I was really proud of this effort.  More vertical than I’d done before in a race and I didn’t give up until I was really done.  Which is more than I can say for my brand new Yaktrax.

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Splits:

Lap 1&2: 1:51:21

Lap 3&4: 1:57:38

Lap 5&6: 2:13:04

Lap 7&8: 2:34:41