A Simple Running Log

February 13, 2017

Algonquin 50K recap

Filed under: Uncategorized — aschmid3 @ 10:10 am

I had a pretty awesome time running the inaugural Algonquin 50K through the Pocomoke State Forest this weekend.

Friday, I was feeling unenthused about the whole thing, to be honest. Pepper finally stopped puking that morning, but as I was laying out my stuff to pack for the race, he kept lying down directly on top of my running clothes and giving me a pointed look, like he knew what I was up to and he wasn’t happy about it. I was also tired after not getting much sleep the night before due to his issues, and the thought of running an ultra in the morning sounded impossible. I kinda just wanted to stay home with my hopefully-not-sick-anymore dog.

But, I go through this “I don’t actually feel like doing this” thing at some point before every single race (just usually not with real reason), so I stuck to my plans. As soon as Clark got home, I drove to Salisbury, to packet pick-up at Hopper’s Tap House.

Once I was there, I started to feel a little better. I immediately found my friend Melissa, the one who talked me into the race in the first place and was letting me stay at her house. She was in high spirits, and really excited about the race.

I got my race bib, as well as a long-sleeved tech shirt, a trucker hat and a small pile of coupons and fliers for other upcoming local races. Amongst the swag were two small stickers. If I didn’t hate stickers on cars, I might put this one on mine:


I had a grilled cheese sandwich and a beer for dinner at Hopper’s. Packet pick-up closed around 7, after which Melissa and I headed to her house. We got all our stuff laid out and ready for the next morning, agreed to be ready to leave the house at 5:30 a.m., and went to bed before 9:30 p.m.

I slept pretty well Friday night. Since I had an early alarm set, I did wake up a couple of times, sure I’d missed it, as usual, but other than that, I slept straight through. I felt OK when I woke up for the last time a couple of minutes before the alarm.

Melissa and I left her house a little after 5:30. It was a roughly 30-minute drive, and we were parked at the Milburn Landing Area of Pocomoke River State Park with plenty of time before the 7 a.m start.

It was still pitch black, and cold, as we made final preparations – dropping off our bags of gear that we’d be able to access at the mile 15 aid station, peeing a couple times and standing as close as possible to the fireplace in the pavilion before we absolutely had to leave it to go to the start line.

By the time we were all called to the start, it had lightened up enough that we probably weren’t going to need headlamps for the first couple of miles after all, but I kept the one Melissa lent me anyway, just in case it was darker in the woods.


Waiting for the start. I’m in the pink shirt on the left, looking grumpy. Melissa is to the right, adjusting her headlamp.

Our race director dictator, Trent, thanked some sponsors and volunteers, and then said the Algonquin 50K was proud to be the longest 50K on the East Coast, and laughed. Melissa had run the entire course a month earlier, and said her Garmin had recorded 32 miles. I couldn’t decide at that point if it was better to know ahead of time I wasn’t going to be anywhere close to done at 31 miles.


Race dictator getting ready to send us on our way.

We got the countdown and at 7 a.m on the dot, 114 runners took off.

The first three-tenths of a mile or so followed a paved road around a park office, and then we ran into the woods and got on the Algonquin Trail.

The course was sort of an out-and-back, though there were some sections we only ran either on the way out or on the way back. Everything toward the turnaround was marked in pink, and everything toward the finish was marked in blue.

The first four miles were all trail. I settled in with a group of runners and followed them. If there is one place I don’t want to be in a trail race, it’s in front. I have a habit of running off course (and taking others with me), even on trails I know.

Those first few miles ticked off quickly, and before I knew it, we were coming out of the woods and arriving at the first aid station. I took a pretzel and got my handheld water bottle topped off, and then I was off.

We ran a brief section of paved road, and then turned onto a hard-packed dirt road for the next mile or so. I took my first salt cap around mile 5.

The course veered right off the dirt road onto a grassy path along the forest, another soft, very runnable surface. So far, there was nothing to complain about.

It was somewhere around the one-hour mark that we ran into the first mud pit along the course, and I soaked one of my shoes for the first — but not nearly the last — time.

Not far past that, I felt some familiar gut pangs for the first (and also not last) time. I had to run off course and find a hidden spot in the woods to take care of that, just before the 10K marker.

I felt much better after that bathroom stop. The course continued along that grassy path, with some more mud pits. The runners were getting spread out enough that a few times I was completely alone, which made me worry I’d run off course. But then I’d see a pink flag or hear another runner complaining as they hit the mud pit I’d just slogged through, and I knew I was still on track. Then we were at the next aid station and checkpoint, at mile 10.

I had a boiled potato wedge covered in salt and a handful of M&Ms, took another salt cap and got my water bottle topped off again, and then I was on my way.

Not far past that aid station, we made a left turn onto a road that was all sand. Like the thick sand near the dunes on the beach, in which, when you take a step, your foot sinks farther in than it goes forward. And we had to run through it, for almost the next mile. It really sapped your energy.

Eventually we got through the sand, but then my gut started acting up again. Just before mile 11, I had to run into the woods again.

We ran through more sand and more mud pits over the next couple of miles, but then the course got back on the Algonquin Trail. Which also had some extensive mud pits. But no sand at least!

At mile 15, we came to the next aid station, the one with our drop bags.


Arriving at the mile 15 aid station.


This guy ran the whole race barefoot!

I had thought I might change into a lighter shirt and drop off my gloves, but I wound up just exchanging my earband for a baseball hat and finally dropping off Melissa’s headlamp. Other than that, I didn’t need anything I’d put in the drop bag.


When’s the last time you saw Crystal Pepsi? Ultra aid stations have everything.

I ate some more M&Ms and some GU Chomps at the aid station. We had to run a very short out-and-back past that, with a port-o-potty at the end. I had to wait a couple minutes for it to open, but I was able to use the bathroom (for what would turn out to be the final time of the race, finally!) like a civilized person.

After that stop, I got back on the trail. Following blue markers now!

But, there was another out-and-back spur, through more sand, before I could really start running back toward the finish. Not long after I started running out, I saw Melissa running back. She looked great.

The out-and-back was longer than I anticipated, about two miles one way. Finally, I made it to the turnaround near an old bridge, and started running back.


I was running pretty steadily until I finished the spur and got back on the trail toward the finish. I made it to mile 20 and took a walk break to take another salt cap and eat a GU.

This was probably the lowest point of the race for me. I’d been running for almost 3.5 hours, and I was getting tired, but I still had at least 11 (probably 12 or more) miles to go.

I forced myself to start shuffling forward again, and caught up again with a group of guys I’d been leapfrogging all day (they passed me every time I stopped to use the bathroom.) Then one of them wanted to take a walk break, so the other two guys with him did too – but a woman who’d been running with them kept running. So I made what turned out to be the best decision I made all day, and kept running with her.

I followed her for probably another half-mile or more before either of us said anything to the other. Talking with Hadjer – about her kids, my dog, New Balance shoes, pan-seared salmon, chiropractors, who knows what else – took my mind off whatever was hurting, and it was like I’d gotten my second wind. We took some walk breaks, but mostly we kept running.

At mile 24.5, we came up on the next aid station. I think I had another potato wedge and candy here. (I hate white potatoes, except at aid stations during trail races. Then I can’t get enough of them.) And we were off again.

About a mile later, the trail hooked up with the part of the course we’d run on the way out, and the rest of the way back was all trail we’d already run. I tried to remember landmarks from the way out, to get an idea of how much farther we really had to go, but it felt like it’d been a week since I ran those sections, not a few hours.

We left the woods and got back on the dirt road from earlier. Clomping along that road, Hadjer said her hydration vest was really bothering her. We reran that part of paved road to the final aid station, which had been the first aid station earlier.

This one now had the most elaborate spread all day. Pretzels, potato chips, PB&J halves, more potato wedges, candy, Ghiradelli chocolate squares, peanut butter crackers, soda, TriFuel, pickle juice, water… it was a real feast. One of the volunteers took Hadjer’s vest and said she’d get it back to her at the finish area (gotta love small races) and we took off for the final four-mile section back to the finish.

Without that vest, Hadjer ran like she’d just lost about 50 lbs. She really pulled me along. My stupid watch was getting a lot closer to the 31-mile mark than I knew the finish was, which was a little demoralizing, but she kept me running.

My watch reported 31 miles at 5:39, but we were still in the middle of the freaking woods. At that point, it was probably better knowing I still had a ways to go.

We kept running. Every time I thought maybe we were getting close to the end of the trail, we’d make a turn and it’d just stretch ahead as far as I could see. My watch hit 32 miles. Still in the woods!

Finally, I started thinking I could hear snippets of people yelling. Like at the finish line, as runners ahead of me were finishing. But then it would stop and I’d think maybe I’d hallucinated it.

Then it got louder and I was sure we were almost there. We emerged from the woods, ran a shorter bit of pavement toward the pavilion, where they’d moved the start/finish arch, ran up the lawn and officially finished 32.5 miles together, arm in arm, in 5:55:06. We didn’t get passed by a single runner once we started running together, but we’d picked off quite a few.

Instead of medals, the race dictator was handing out very nice handmade ceramic finisher’s mugs. I grabbed my mug and gave Hadjer a huge hug. I’d have taken a lot longer to finish those last 12.5 miles without her.

I was eighth of 39 women to finish, and 41st of 113 total (there was one DNF.)

Once I was done running, I took stock of what hurt. I had some muscle soreness in my upper back and shoulders from carrying that handheld water bottle for six hours, and my quads were a little sore. But other than that, all the pain was in the muscles and joints that had held me upright as I slipped through mud and trudged through sand. My left hip flexor was especially tight.

My feet felt great though! No blisters, in spite of getting my shoes and socks repeatedly soaked.

First order of business was getting into dry clothes. Once I had that done, I headed back to the post-race party at the pavilion.

I found Melissa. She finished in 5:07 and won overall female! She got a really cool vase made by the same place that made all the mugs.

There was plenty of food that I eventually got up the appetite to eat. Pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, cole slaw, chips, raw veggies, Smith Island cake and Dunkin’ Donuts. Someone was passing around a box of the new s’mores Girl Scout cookies. And all the free locally brewed beer you wanted!


Hadjer and me.


Melissa and her awesome trophy.


Melissa and me.

I hung around until the last runner finished in 9:20, then headed home.

Pepper, by the way, had not thrown up again at all since Friday morning. And he still hasn’t as of right now, Monday morning. He seems to be feeling much better and I could not be happier!

Saturday night, one of Clark’s friends since middle school came over, with his girlfriend, and we wound up staying up until after 1 a.m. I was so tired when I went to bed I couldn’t get to sleep. I hate that.

Sunday, I made myself a cup of coffee in my new mug.


Then I spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon lying around and not moving.


Pepper agreed that was a much better way to spend a day than running.

Eventually, Clark and I got dressed and took Pepper first to 3rd Wave and then to Hopper’s for dinner, where we were joined by Clark’s boss.

And that was my weekend. Today, Shamrock training continues with an easy 5-miler in some pretty strong wind.


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