”Running is a road to self-awareness and reliance …
you can push yourself to extremes
and learn the harsh reality of your physical and mental limitations
or coast quietly down a solitary path watching the earth spin beneath your feet.
But when you are through, exhilarated and exhausted,
at least for a moment everything seems right with the world…”
“I’m just here for the scenery” was the half joke I made at the start of the Chatfield Hollow State Park 50K yesterday morning. The truth is I WAS there for the scenery, but I was also there for a very important reason- raising money to support CT-ALIVE (The CT Alliance For Victims of Violence and Their Families). This was my forth year fundraising for victims of domestic violence, and I certainly wasn’t going to sell them short with anything less than an ultra distance. I picked Chatfield Hollow because one year wasn’t a long enough to wipe Bimbler’s Bluff from my memory. Plus, I thought it would be fun to race in a new venue.
I was surprised when I looked at the registration list and found only 15 runners had signed up for the 50K with most runners opting for the shorter distances. Of those 15, only three were women… Clearly the rest of the ultra community (and majority of the runners present) knew something I didn’t. Rather than get nervous over this revelation, I figured the low numbers were due to the close proximity with Bimbler’s. Besides, I was too busy enjoying the gorgeous scenery to worry about the brutality that awaited me!
Plus, I figured that if I could survive Bimbler’s, I could handle anything they threw at me. I just couldn’t imagine it being any worse. What a silly notion!
What I didn’t take into consideration was the stricter time cut offs. The total allotted time for the course was only 8 hours (an hour less than Traprock and 2 less than Bimbler’s). Like Bimbler’s, the course was extremely rocky with a good amount of technical single track trails. There were parts that literally involved scaling up and down rocks which definitely slowed me down. I am not the biggest fan of running on rocky terrain because I am clumsy to begin with; so overall the unstable footing was a detriment to my pace. That’s not to say that I didn’t still enjoy myself because I totally did!
The course was composed of five 10K loops. (Spoiler Alert: I got DQ’d after not meeting the time qualifier on my third lap; however the officials took pity and allowed me to still run a forth!) The thing that was really challenging about this specific ultra is the entire loop was up and down. Every other ultra I have run, all the really horrible climbs are either in the first third of the course OR at the beginning of the loop (For example, at Traprock of the 10 mile loop, only the first three miles were horrific and the rest were more manageable). This race had hills throughout the loop, including rock faces that had to be scaled at the end (well played race organizers, well played). In a word, it was BRUTAL… and this is coming from a girl who did Bimbler’s as her first 50K and finished a Half Ironman less than two months after gallbladder surgery.
All that being said, throughout the race I really felt good. I was going slow, but I wasn’t hurting or miserable. I felt better on my third lap than I did on my first or second, and that was in spite of having to repeat a mile and a half section that I accidentally missed on my second time through (in my defense, the course was marked going in two different directions and I choose the one with the flags to my left because that is what we were instructed to do… I definitely had a little internal struggle about making up the part I missed knowing I was already flirting dangerously with the cut off. However, I’m an all or nothing kind of girl. I didn’t want to get credit for finishing unless it was for the entire course).
At that point, I was a little tired of all the climbing and descending and the pounding on the rocks, but not to the degree I expected given the difficulty level. It definitely helped that there were some great views and really fun sections which were enough to keep my mind off any aches or pains. Not to mention, I was too busy trying to simultaneously watch my footing and for trail markers to pay attention to much else! On a side note, I have to be honest that the scenery alone makes this run worthwhile… rocky terrain, continuous climbs, and all.
If the Chatfield Hollow SP 50K is a race you are considering doing, my advice would be to expect very rocky terrain and make sure you are prepared for it. Also, all the race distances start together, so expect the first few miles to be crowded and slow unless you get to the head of the pack. Another consideration is to plan on bringing your own water/nutrition. They have an aid station at the start/finish with some food, but the other two aid stations are just water stops without volunteers. There’s not going to be anyone handing out your snacks or water, so that’s something to keep in mind (Think “self serve”).
On that same note, while there are some people at the start/finish area, there are not a lot of volunteers on the course. Be prepared to spend some quality time by yourself because you won’t find a lot of company or support out there (like at some other races with larger numbers). Personally, I like to think that the secret of ultra running to be really comfortable with yourself. Otherwise, it’s an awful lot of time to spend with someone you don’t like. Any demons or insecurities you have are going to be brought on on this course, so make sure you either deal with them ahead of time or have a strategy come race day.
Lastly, don’t get caught up with the time cut offs. I spent a good part of my first loop worrying about not being fast enough before I realized there was nothing I could do about it. I was doing my best, and it was either going to be go enough or it wasn’t. It turned out that it wasn’t; but, surprisingly, the world didn’t end. No one pointed a finger at me and told me I wasn’t good enough. In reality, getting pulled and not finishing did not even remotely detract from the experience.
I took on a course that was WAY out of my comfort zone, and I didn’t quit… even after I was technically disqualified. I am immensely grateful to the race organizers for allowing me to run that last loop and get in as many miles as I could. In addition to being a great opportunity for me to cry it out and work out my frustration (which lasted about 30 seconds until I reached the first climb up a set of stairs… what is it with ultras and stairs anyway?) it was also a terrific chance for me to savor the scenery and run for the pure joy of running.
Okay, so in reality they said it was for finishing the 20K
(I might have to write in a little x2…since I techincally did the it twice.)
In truth, when I did get pulled after my forth loop I felt great beyond just not being sore and feeling like I could take on another lap. Every problem I had stressed about during my hell week of tapering had completely dissipated. Sure, there may have been a little fraction of disappointment; but, for the most part, I was just happy and grateful and having had the opportunity to spend a whole day doing something I love.
At the end of the day, I’m not in this sport for the finish lines or medals (although I do appreciate the bling too… shiny things, what can I say?). I do it because I LOVE the trails and constantly challenging myself. This course was INDEED a challenge, and a glorious one at that.
As far as I’m concerned, any day spent on the trails in good company is a fantastic one in my book.
Would I do it all over? 100% YES! I have absolutely no regrets.
As much as I did this event because I LOVE trail running, this race wasn’t about me. It was about raising awareness and money for victims of domestic violence so that other women have the chance to THRIVE after abuse that I did. CT-ALIVE was there for me when I needed help, so I am happy to endure any kind of torture a race course can throw at me if it means raising funds for them to help someone else. In fact, I’ll even do it with a smile on my face.
Thank you Trails 2 Trails for a wonderful race experience and definitely living up to your “We Don’t Do Easy” advertising… although, for record, I think running 50K is hard enough without you trying to make it more challenging with 8 hour time cutoffs and such. 😉