Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hagg Lake 25K Race Report

Dirty Girls
I have never outgrown my love for making mud pies or letting the mud squelch between my toes as I walk barefoot through dirt.  I have been running roads exclusively for the last six weeks and have dearly missed the trails.  Hagg Lake 25K was just what I needed.  Not only would I get my beloved trails, I'd also get dirty!  I like this well-run, scenic, fun race so much that it's on my annual race calendar. 

My race buddy, Danuta (aka Downhill Dirt Diva) and I left Eugene at o'dark thirty for a three hour drive to Gaston (near Forest Grove) where the race would take place in Scoggins Valley Park.  This year, amazing race directors, Kelly, Eric, Todd and Marianne staged the race on two separate days.  50Kers had first crack at the trail around Hagg Lake the previous day in frigid bi-polar weather conditions.  It was now the 25Kers turn.  How bad could it be?  I had run this race before. Sure it was muddy, but only in sections.  I had a blast last time I ran it.  These folks must be exaggerating when they use the words like "relentless" and "epic" to describe this year's Hagg mud.

My primary goal was beat my last race's 3:08 time.  Doing so would require that I maintain a 10:18 pace over 15-1/2 miles.  No sweat!  I've been running WAY faster than that these days.  I would tackle this race like one of the many long progression runs that I've been doing on the roads.  Nice and easy at the beginning, gradually building up speed and then flying through the finish line.  That was the plan.

Isn't my shirt cute?! LOVE it!
The first mile and a half is my least favorite part of the course.  It's an out and back up on a gravel road.  Little did I know that this was one of the few sections where I would have footing solid enough on which to run.  I should have appreciated it while I had the chance!  On the downhill section, Danuta took off.  I wouldn't see her again until the finish. Go girl!

I heard the first hill before I saw it.  Joyful whoops sounded as runners descended the hill of viscous mud.  By the time that I got there, there was a pile up at the top.  I was a bit frustrated to be slowed down.  I had a pace to maintain, dammit!  A PR to protect!  Why are these people STOPPED at the top of hill?  I watched the various descents.  Some fearlessly careened down, others gingerly baby-stepped their way to the bottom and the rest said "fuck it", and slid down on their asses before they had the chance to fall on them.  Alright! The fun has BEGUN!  There would be several more of such hills.  Going up was equally challenging.

My mud encrusted calf.
I marveled at the varieties of mud on this seemingly innocent trail.  There was thick mud, sticky mud, slimy mud, soupy mud, mud of all colors, and mud accessorized with grass, gravel, rocks, sticks, pine needles, roots and blackberry vines.  Just as soon as I figured out how to navigate one type, I encountered the next.  By mile eight, I was tired and discouraged.  I wasn't able to keep the pace I had intended. So much for my progression run tactic.  Ha!  My legs were toast.  I looked like a drunken ice skater wading through banana peels.

I talked to myself more than I have in any other race: 

Angrily at the top of my lungs: "This ISN'T running!  This is just ridiculous!" "Are you KIDDING me?!" "Enough with the mud already!"

In a whimpering baby voice: "I just want to be done." "Why do I do this to myself?" "Where's the aid station? I need a potato chip." "Why?"

Stoically:  "I just want to run."  "You're just tired."  "You can still PR."

In a sing-songy voice:  My apologies to Yukon Cornelius, Simon and Garfunkle and School House Rock.  "Just put one foot in front of the other...",  "Slip, slip sliding away, slip, slip sliding a-way...  You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away.","It's just a hill. Yes, it's only a hill."

The most impressive trail runner's tan I've ever had.  
The two aide stations were run by friendly volunteers and were well-stocked.  Thank you RDs and their minions!  I noshed on PBJ on white bread, potato chips, bananas, oranges and threw in a couple packets of Gu for good measure.  This kind of running (and I use the term loosely) took a lot of energy.  Much to my chagrin, the bite valve on my hydration pack broke.  This left me thirsty and carrying unnecessary weight on my back.  This just was not turning out to be my day.

I was tired of the mud sabotaging my ability to run.  I would take one step and slide back half the distance.  So much effort went into covering such little ground.  The first half of the race I kept a 10:34 pace but the second half a 11+ pace.  I got so clumsy out there on my fatigued legs that I'd have to stop and collect myself.  Then I'd come to my senses and start back up again  I fell, I flailed, I ran through puddles to release the mud's grip on my feet and I would never run this race again!

Do not wear this kind of shoe to Hagg.  You WILL not have enough traction.
I think my Montrail Masochists with their huge lugs on the soles would have served me better.
When I hit the road 1/4 mile from the finish, I scraped and flung frisbee-sized mud cookies off my shoes.  How long had I been running with those ankle weights?!  Then I followed the sounds of cheering spectators and ringing cowbells.  I finished that blasted race in 2:52, a 17 minute PR.  My race buddy commented on how happy I looked as I crossed the finish line. "Yeah, that's because I'm done!" I told her.

Hagg Lake has awesome post-race grub.  Grilled cheese sandwiches, two kinds of hot soup, cookies, hot dogs, veggie dogs, chips and soda were just a few of the recovery food options. I don't think I care to ever do that race again, I thought as I shivered under my space blanket stuffing my face.  We were impressed with the sheer volume of mud that our bodies, clothes and shoes collected.  This afternoon's shower was going to feel SO good!  It turned out I had to take a nail brush to my bod to get it all off. 

By that evening, after hearing and telling war stories, the grueling aspects of the race began to fade.  The fun parts took over.  Watching strangers pushing each other's butts up muddy hills, seeing a runner take down another runner like a bowling ball when s/he toppled down the hill, laughing at the ridiculousness of choosing to run in that muck, and most of all being in a gorgeous setting with awesome folks running (eating and talking) for hours on end.  By that evening, I was sure that I would continue making my annual pilgrimage to Hagg Lake to play in the mud.  How could I possibly resist?

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