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.
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.
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
This is a good race. You’re on rolling, grassy hills for maybe 60% of the race; asphalt and gravel for 10%; and the balance is on runable double-track. There are very few rocks, roots, or hills. Of course, the “ease” of the course catches up with you.
The other challenge of this race is to run consistently throughout the whole race. If I were running a 50K and trying to get it done in under 6 hours, I would have had much more time in the bank than I did at the end of laps 5 and 6 on this course. Everyone has some late-race pace fade, but this format doesn’t allow for you to do that.
On the other hand, I got to push myself more than I would have in a 50K. For sure, if I’d had time in the bank under my time goal, I would have permitted myself to walk more than I did on the last few miles of this course. So I learned a little bit about my ability to push past my comfort level and keep pressing on.
This race finishes with a nice craft beer garden and tons of pizza. My stomach didn’t feel like it was going to tolerate any pizza, but I did have a really, REALLY good Beecher IPA from Waredaca Brewing. I’d talked with a couple of guys who had transitioned from road races to trail races about how the post-race food and beer at a trail race is so much better than it is on the roads (because trail races don’t have to pay for 100 cops to stand by and shut down cross-streets).
As it turns out, Waredaca is like the craft brewer of craft brewers. All of their beers have ingredients that they’ve grown on their own farm and they give their spent grain to local farmers for feed or composting. Very cool. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like you can find their products down here in Virginia.