Not Mailing it in: Thoughts on Hells Hills 50-mile and Squak Mtn 50k Course Records
By: Paul Terranova
In light of the tragic and despicable Boston Marathon bombings that have claimed the lives of 3 innocent people and wounded almost 200, I’m feeling selfish in capturing my “trail running” thoughts. The running community especially is forged on suffering, sometimes defeat, yet ultimately relishing victory at the finish line. The FBI and other investigators will do what they do best, catch bad guys (and girls). The rest of us are left to hope, pray, support, and keep running…
I’m currently smack dab in the middle of the first of two intense training/racing blocks, leading up to the Western States 100 at the end of June. So far so good: two wins in consecutive weekends, two course records over two different race distances, and a pretty fast road 10k sandwiched in there as well.
The Hells Hills 50-miler (Rocky Hill Ranch, Smithville, TX) was a return to the site of my very first 50-miler in 2011, which was a substitute race for the flooded out Lake Sonoma 50-miler. That year I ran just over 7 hours, placing second to a very fast Neal Lucas who went just under 7 hours. With a 5-day taper (finally!), I came in healthy, happy and ready to roll from the 5am gun. The first of three loops is in the dark, and goes by pretty fast as the sun is eager to rise. My loop 1 time was a couple of minutes slower than I expected (ran alone the whole way), so I got on the gas during loop 2 (and had to pass a lot of the shorter distance starters) which put me under course record time at the start of loop 3. Although my third loop in 2011 was not terrible, it was certainly not anything to brag about. This year things would be different and I ran smart and hard all the way to the tape to notch my first 50-mile win in 6:54:08 and a course record by a little over 5 minutes! Thanks Tejas Trails RD Joe Prusaitis for the metal donkey award, La Sportiva for the trail running shoe gift certificate, and Hill Country Trail Runners for supporting members with tickets for BBQ, it helped my recovery for the next day’s Statesman Capitol 10,000!
Crazy, right?! Why on earth would anyone race a 10k the day after a 50-miler?? Well, for one, it forces you to focus on recovery as quickly as possible after the race, and two, it mentally prepares you to get the motor running the next day. It’s also a nice way to shake out the legs and share the gift of running with thousands of other eager runners! That being said, I was careful to get in an extra long warm-up, and then eased into race pace with a 19:12 opening 5k (6:11/mile pace) followed by a miserly 17:54 second 5k (5:46/mile pace). Not too shabby and good enough for 5th in my age group!
This past weekend, Meredith and I ventured out to the Pacific Northwest to visit my sister Nicole and brother-in-law Ryan, who just happens to be training for his first 100-miler, Leadville! (You’ll recall from my posts last year that this time last year Ryan was in Afghanistan). A family visit would not be the same without a race of some sorts, so we returned to the Squak Mtn 50k to do battle in the “land of Ewoks.” Meredith set the women’s course record here last year and I got 2nd to a very quick Justin Angle. This year, conditions at the start were comparable temperature-wise, but a bit drizzly and misty. I debated starting without my Drymax armwarmers, but my sister Dr. Nicole advised against it recalling how last year’s Western States was unseasonably cold. I heeded her advice and could not have been happier all day, thanks Sis! A two loop course (loop 2 is about 5 miles longer than loop 1), I immediately went to the front with the intent of running every single step (last year I was forced to hike some of the steeper climbs). At the end of loop 1, I was less than a minute behind course record pace, so I knew I had some work to do given the slightly sloppier trail conditions. Much like at Hells Hills, I spent the first couple miles of loop two weaving in and out of the shorter distance starters on the single-track and trying to be as genuinely polite as possible while zipping by. The occasional “2-earbud wearer” would get startled and not hear my approach warnings, not my fault y’all! Loop two felt great, and I kept to my pledge of running every single step. Eventual marathon winner Jordan Wolfe caught up to me 2/3 way through loop 2, passed me, but then I caught back up as we re-climbed the steepest pitch of the course. Hitting the final aid station for a splash-n-go bottle refill, I drilled the remaining climb knowing that it was all SWEET sweeping downhill to go and my quads and Hokas were ready to fly and take a crack at the course record, knowing it could go either way, DO NOT MAIL THIS IN. And fly we did!!!! It’s a super-fun descent (the kind where you FEEL the temperature change as you descend) and I really went after every foot plant and toe-off, this was great training terrain, the ground soft but firm, with a huge grin/grimace on my face. Glancing at my watch it showed 4:40:## and for a split-second I thought it’s not gonna’ happen.But JUST then, the trail opened up to the jeep road and from there it’s not even 50 yards to the finish, 4:41:01, a mere 23 seconds faster than Justin’s time last year. So nice to be done. Trey Bailey did a very comprehensive interview after the race (check out the podcast!), and the Evergreen Trail Runs post-race soup, chili, and hot water for coffee and hot cocoa hit the spot! Meredith reset her course record from last year, Ryan kicked ass, and Nicole beat her half-marathon time from last year too! After the race, we showered and ate lunch at Nicole’s friend’s home nearby, then hit the Seattle Mariners/Texas Rangers game with 5 kids in tow, great times, and yes, they have excellent New England Clam Chowder at the stadium!!! What a successful trip.
I’m amazingly thankful for the trail running “gift” that God has allowed me to explore. Huge thanks as always to Rogue Running, Jack & Adam’s Bicycles and High Five Events, Pure Austin Gym, DryMax Socks, Bonk Breaker Energy Bars, Soleus Watches, Advanced Rehab, thinksport, RunSmart, of course Eating & Living Healthy for enabling me to train and race at my potential!!
Keep up with Paul by visiting his blog, Grand Kona Slam.