Hagg Lake 50K – Mud Hell

Mud!  That’s the only real word to describe this weekend.
Winner Joelle Vaught’s legs^
To start the 2014 season off, a group of runners from Klamath Falls traveled up to the rainy northeast of the state to complete in the Hagg Lake Mud Run 50K.  For some, this was their first 50K/ultra.  For others, this was en effort to PR or to start the season off with a bang.  For me, I went into it thinking that a PR would be nice but not expected – as I have actually only been ‘training’ for two weeks (plus a week of taper leading up to the race).  With a single long run of 18 miles, and not a long run since Lithia Loop Marathon almost 3 months ago, I wasn’t holding much hope for a personal best.  As the days ticked by and reports of 18″ snowfall and rain everysingleday. leading up to the race, I became dispirited quickly.  I would try to use this only as my first/bigger long run leading up to big training for AR50, Miwok, and LH70.
** I should preface with some background: I completed this race in 2012 as my second ultra.  My first ultra was a 50 mile race where I was running in mud the entire time and also got lost for over an hour.  Hagg was the second ultra and was sort of demoralizing with more mud and uneven running.  I got behind almost the entire race with a quick bathroom break early in the race (right after the out and back) and spent the whole race running in fartlek-style: sprinting in between people on single track while only to be held up by the next person in front of them.  So it was ‘speed up… halt… speed up… halt…’ the whole time, plus mud, and eventually I wore my legs out and was pooped out by the second lap.  I developed a distaste for 50Ks in my mind, and vowed to never do a mud-run again.**
Joe and I arrived in the evening and met friends for Thai food at a local restaurant.  The restaurant was overwhelmed by so many people (Valentine’s Day, yo!) and took foreverrrrrrrrrrrr getting us our order.  We got back to the hotel rather late and I stayed up past 11:00pm organizing my gear.  Having lived in the sunshine capital of Oregon for 2.5 years now, I am slow to consider the appropriate outfit to stay dry/warm without sweating to death.
It was dark when we woke up (late, at 6:30am) and I rushed to boil water and get coffee and breakfast started.  I ate a packet of oatmeal and a Perpetuum Caffe Latte flavor.  I made coffee but it remained too hot to drink on our drive there.  No water… I considered that this may not be an issue since it was pouring!  I found the group quickly and gathered around for the pre-race instructions.  It was pouring and I had already passed my raincoat off to Joe, which I regretted.  But we were about to be soaked anyway, what was a few more minutes?
The Lopers group, pre mud!
The race began with the out and back on the uphill section of road.  I took this very easy – I knew how much the mud took out of my legs two years ago and did not want to build up any lactic acid in the first 3 miles.  Plus, who are we kidding?  I’m pretty darn slow up hills when I want to be.  I also took the downhill slow, although my Garmin says I put down a 7:00min mile pace.  All of the KFalls group was pretty far ahead of me at this point.  I acknolwedged my mistake from two years ago of getting behind too many people at the start and tried to position myself around people that may be going the same pace as I was planning.
This seemed to work because I stayed VERY consistant the whole run.  I hovered within the same minute of pace every mile.  I passed a lot of people naturally and without trying the entire time.  The first lap I was running on the sides of the trails to keep out of the mud unnecessarily, which I *think* worked… at least I never slipped!  There were two prevailing methods to this mud-madness: the Beast Method of plowing through the middle of the trails, blasting every puddle, splashing all people around, slipping.. sliding, falling Method; and the Mud-Princess Method of tip-toeing around puddles, staying to the side of the trail, taking small strides and quick steps to prevent sliding, leaping over puddles, and never falling Method.  I belonged to the latter.  Some of my friends belonged to the former… Both methods are successful in their own way.  I stayed to the sides of the trails and hopped over sword ferns and blackberry patches as they came up.
Tip-toeing around mud in the first lap
I concentrated on surviving the uphills, even if I had to fast-hike some to avoid slipping, and letting gravity take hold on the downhills, with fancy footwork to remain upright and avoid tripping on vegetation on the way down.  At times this felt like football training when they run through tires except I was avoiding roots and mud buckets.  I noticed that I would go back and forth with a lot of people and eventually overtake them for good with the downhills.  After all, I saw that the course has a net downhill of -8ft!  Whoa!
Around mile 15 my hip flexors on both sides started exhibiting some fatigue.  I made a consious effort to not increase my pace as there was still half the race to go and I didn’t want to blow my quads.  They never got worse.  I saw Joe at the 17 mi, where we had 1 loop to go.  I picked up a few more bits of nutrition products and ran off. A pee break at ~18 for 30 seconds and I was off again.  I ran a few miles with a man I named Virginia dude, whose accent was southwestern VA-strong.  We chatted about the snow back east (crazy) and then he eventually took off and I stayed my same pace.  Around this time my friend Jeremy came up behind me – I almost double-taked because I never passed him.  He apparently stopped to change his shoes and I kept running through the aid station, passing him without realizing.  We went back and forth at this point (Jeremy is fast on uphills and I am fast on downhills) and I was happy to have the company.  I was a mixture of proud and incredulous that I hadn’t seen a single KFalls person yet!  Everyone was in front of me, aka doing very well.  [I take it back – I did see two KFalls people who were early-starters, but I didn’t recognize them in their awesome head-to-toe yellow raingear (this was the same doctor and her husband that ran Le Grizz in Montana last fall).]  Eventually I came to an aid station after the dam where Joe and our friends were waiting (much to my suprise!!!) with beer and hot chili, huddled under a tent they brought.  Amazing!  I separated from Jeremy at this point and figured I would see him again down the line.
Someone getting personal with the Hagg mud:
The second lap mud was horrendous.  God-awful.  I spent a lot of time thinking about descriptive words for the mud I was experiencing, inspired by a facebook post on the Hagg Lake page asking what type of mud was featured here.  The responses ranged from scientific to philosophical to artistic to nonsensical, and mine followed that pattern: clay based mud that hasn’t been glaciated in a long time with color ranging from dark brown to orange terra cotta shades; clay based mud with lots of water content; slippery/slidy mud; the exact opposite of Klamath mud (which is sedimentary/dry/cakey and bad vectors for invasive plant seeds). trails turned to rivers of mud.  lakes of mud.  oceans of mud, with waves.  tsunamis of mud.  cold cauldrons of mud, erupting Indonesean VOLCANOS OF MUD.  Alright, alright.  Then I was thinking of how my hydrologist friend Andy (also in the race) was thinking of the trail: hydrologically unrecovered.  Bad water quality in the reservoir.  At some point I passed a sign that said something that indicated that the area behind the sign was Ecologically Fragile (or something like that) and to treat lightly… behind the sign was a wall of invasive plants: a layer of dormant Scotch broom, behind it a mountain of Himalayan blackberry, and in a distant view down to the actual water shore was reed canary grass.  Not a ‘fragile area’ at all!  **note: I found out later that this sign was for a rare butterfly.  Neat!  Hopefully they are planting native flowering plant species to help the Lepidopteran out!***  Then I noticed all of the wonderful lichen littered on the ground in the forest and spent an hour trying to think of the species name (L_____ oregana….. why couldn’t I think of it?  The species only occurs on the west side and I don’t work with it.  Linaria?  no, that’s toadflax.  Lobaria!!!!! Lobaria oregana).  Just a glimpse of what goes through an ultra-running botanist’s head while racing.  Usually I do math and listen to music, but the music didn’t come out this race.
volcanos of mud.
I focused on staying hydrated yet only refilled my water bottles 3-4x total (they were each 10oz).  I did have a minor cramp form after the out and back but it went away after that.  I forced myself to eat something every 30 minutes until sometime during the second lap where I started to feel nauseated yet starved.  I always feel queasy after 25 mi and I am not sure why.  I was burping tastes of my gel, so I waited another 15 minutes and ate every 45 minutes once or twice, then tapered down to eathing nothing the last hour or so.  I know this is bad practice, but I am always aware that I’m almost done, so I can’t choke down any more sugar.  This naseated/starving feeling is not pleasant at all and I feel this way in almost every ultra, something to look into in the future.  Maybe I’ll have to figure out a way to incorporate solid food once in a while to prevent the empty feeling.
Another poor soul, succumbing to the mud:
Coming up to the finish, I did my best to plow through the worst of the mud, the last few miles where there isn’t an option but to run down the center and accept the mud.  I came up on Virginia dude again and we ran together through this section (where there was an awesome photographer waiting at the best possible location).  Still, no falls for me.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw the flash of blue- Jeremy again and proclaimed “What the h*ll Jeremy!” all in good fun.  However, this was the final push!  I had way too much energy left over and HAULED in to the asphalt section where I launched into a dead-sprint thinking that the finish was at the end of the road.  Wrong.  There was a minor trail section (that felt like forever but was actually 0.1 mi) and believed Jeremy was right behind me ready to pass on the mini uphill to the finish line.  He wasn’t there, but he was close!  I finished 6th in 5:07, a new PR and felt great most of the time.
Hubby Joe cheering me on in the background!
Overall, I am very pleased with the result.  I kept the effort level the same throughout the race and finished strong (with maybe too much left?).  Nutrition/hydration was good, despite my normal nausea.  I stayed warm (not dry) most of the time and was comfortable and relaxed.  I stayed present and aware when normally I have a cloudy-head phase around 25-30 mi in ultras.  Absolutely I ran my own race.  And – the Klamath group did FANTASTIC.  We all finished in the top 25% (maybe better???) with all of us finishing within only 50 minutes between us.  That’s crazy.  We all had different races: the tip-toers (Amber and I), the swimmers (Jason!), the ultra newbies (Kedric, Andy, Jeremy), the bonkers (Kedric, sorry!), injured (Nathan! ouch!), and the speedies (Jason and Amber).  Jason had the most mud and the most falls, which deems his new nickname Crash (instead of Nos Boss).  I am thouroughly impressed with the toughness of this group – in a challenging muddy race where so many dropped out.  This race was, by far, more muddy than 2012, and I ran 30 minutes faster.  Incredible given the lack of long runs and training at this point.
Jason’s epic falling:
earning him the nickname, Crash.
Anyway, I’ll briefly review my gear choices:
Shoes: New Balance 1010.  I like racing in lighter shoes with a rockplate and with these I did not slip at all.  I packed a back up pair of Salomon Speed Cross 3s that I just got on Tuesday before the race, which was too soon to use in a full and wet ultra.  I planned on switching half way, but didn’t need to.
Socks: SmartWool PhD with a high ankle.  These super thin wool socks kept my feet warm despite the rivers of muddy water once in a while.  No blisters! (but I generally never get them anyway).  The high ankle is always nice when wearing tights too.
Gaitors: Dirty girl gaitors in neon yellow leopard print.  I couldn’t see the color or pattern after the first 20 mins.  These don’t work to keep water out, only debris, which I was planning on.  No one wants debris in their shoes.
Tights: Salomon full length tights with a light fleece lining.  I just obtained these a few days before the race and they fit perfectly.  There is a little warmth (I LOVE fleece lining) but not super thick as to cause sweating.
I also wore a combination of a tank with arm warmers, with a jacket over top.  I thought it was going to be 55 and rainy, and it ended up being below 45 and raining, which made a difference for heat.  If it were 55, I may have removed the arm warmers underneath the jacket to cool down.
Tank: Asana Sole Team tank, Mountain Hardware.  Very comfortable.
Arm Warmers: The North Face left-over armwarmers from my running-store working days.
Jacket: New Balance water resistant jacket that was drenched through immediately (from Runner’s Alley Reach the Beach Team), still my only rain-resistant jacket in my collection.  Good thing I live in a desert.
Hat: Nike waterproof hat.  Kept my head dry and my hair matted.  I’ve seriously never had such knotted hair, it was almost dreadlocks.  But I didn’t need my ear-warmers at all and my head was dry under the hat.
Gloves: Burton ski glove liners.  I lost my favorite Brooks Wanganui gloves this winter and have been mourning their loss.  I used these thick fleece liners instead, with dog poop bags covering them to keep my hands dry.  Ha!  It worked!
Pack:  brand new Ultimate Direction Jenny vest!  I am in love with this vest!  Amazing.  The vest didn’t move and I had storage for all sorts of crap with easy access to most of it.  No rubbing/bouncing and the water is easy to grab and refill, pockets are right there so I can just reach in for nutrition.  I put a “emergency” baggie of NSAIDs, Tums, tp, and salt tabs in the top and an extra longsleeve (wrapped in another dog poop bag) in the back pack part.  I never had to use anything from there, so I didn’t attempt to reach back while running to get anything in the back of the vest.  I am thrilled to use this in the future though.  Ladies – get it at Asana!
That’s it!
**** Later on:
On our drive back we got really muddy with our new dog, Muddy!  He’s a Chesapeake Bay Retriever (maybe 1/2 lab, maybe full?) and we are so excited to have him as part of our family.  We will always remember the Hagg Lake weekend as the weekend of mud!

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