Maryland | Hashawha Hills 50k

After a great finish to 2017 with a couple of world major marathons, I had big intentions for 2018. I planned a packed schedule that would stretch my limits and also get a good number of states completed as well. This year started just as last year planning to run Mississippi Blues Marathon. If you noticed, I said “planning” to run.  

Yeah it didn’t happen again.  

I had booked the race in the Fall once they opened our discounted rate from the weather situation of 2017, to only find out later that one of my corporate video clients had an event that same weekend. So I ended up losing the money from the race for the second year in a row (but I made it back from client lol).  

Taking a look at my schedule, I was trying to have a race planned every month at least for the first half of the year. As I do for 99% of my race searches, I went to Runningintheusa.com to see my options. I spotted the Hashawha Hills 50k  in Maryland at the end of February and felt that would fit in the schedule. I have really been sticking to marathons but thought it would good to mix it up some more this year and hit longer distances. I checked out their website to find out that it was less than $20 to register! No t-shirt, no extra swag, just a cool finishers mug and a great time on the trails. I was sold on it, but then I saw it was a lottery entry which meant not a guarantee. I had also been looking at the Baltimore Marathon in October and had told myself that if I didn’t get into the 50k, that I would register for that instead. I had to wait a few weeks before the lottery opened and made sure I got my name in early so I wouldn’t forget and miss a cut off date.  

Race: Hashawha Hills 50k
Location: Westminster, MD
Date: February 24, 2018
Finishing Time: 6:31:21  

  Their lottery selection was an interesting process. I won’t go into all the details (you can visit their website for that) but they would assign you a random 3 digit number and based on how the DOW Jones market closed on the day after lottery closed was where they started selecting numbers. If it finished up they went up on the list and if down, they went down. There was no way that this was being fixed and it made it even more special when I was selected as the 115th spot of 120.  

Now usually with races with lotteries, you find out about your entry and then you have a few months at minimum until the race date. This was not the case with Hashawha Hills. From when I was selected, it was just over a month until race day. I had been training in a way that I was going to get it and would have been bummed if “wasted’ that training. I had used the Runners World holiday streak to jump start my training and just kept up with the miles. So with just over a month until race day I started the preparation.  

I spent some time on their website trying to get all the details from where to stay, course information, race day information, etc. The only issue was that none of it existed. Well it didn’t exist in detail. There was some general information about race start/finish, a little bit about what you would see on the course, and some of the post-race festivities but no real details about the course itself. This was not ideal for a few reasons. First, I wouldn’t be able to prep Kaela on where she would be able to see me during the race to cheer me on and second, I had no idea what kind of training I should be getting in the last few weeks.  

They had a brief course description that I took with a grain of salt:   “The course has about two miles of asphalt, three miles of gravel road, and 26 miles of trail. The course is mostly single track trails along with some old woods roads and open fields. The entire course is runnable. There are no mountains, no rocks, and no roots, but there are a few stream crossings (you WILL get your feet wet) and never ending small hills to wear you down with a few bigger hills thrown in just for fun. The scenery changes from mostly woods to meadows and open fields with beautiful views of rolling farmland. The course will be well marked for the entire distance; however, runners will have to pay attention to remain on course.”  

When they said runnable with small hills and some a few big hills thrown in, I thought to myself they must call “hills” what we do here in flat Ohio. Being that the race was on the eastern side of Maryland I wasn’t expecting much elevation change. So that being said I just kept to my normal training plan and got most of my runs just around town in Delaware.   So on the way down to Maryland, we decided to split up our trip on the way down by stopping at my in-laws farm, and the continuing on to Westminster, Maryland the next day. We got to the farm late, so once we arrived I started to get ready for bed to try and get some decent sleep. This is where my “first race of the year” packing plans went to crap. I realized that I had forgotten my contact solution which resulted in me having to throw out fresh contacts and use a new pair in the morning even though they were less than a week old. In addition, I forgot my foam roller and my stick that I like to use before bed, so yeah it was not a good start of being “focused” for 2018.  

One good thing is I slept like a baby since I was so exhausted from the day of travel. Since the bedrooms are smaller in the old farm house, Kaela and I sleep in separate beds so we both can get a little bit of sleep. In the morning, I got prepped and went out for my shake out run on a typical route I run at the farm, an easy 3 mile out and back. Once back, I packed up all my items and had them ready for when we were ready to leave. We just spent morning relaxing and chatting with Gram before enjoying lunch and getting on the road.  

Kaela, being the loving wife that she is, drove the little over 2 hours down to Westminster so I could keep my legs loose. Once we arrived, I had Kaela drive by the park just to get an idea of the type of terrain I would be dealing with. As we got closer to the park, the landscape started to roll and I then realized that this race may be a little more elevation change than I originally expected. Heading up and down a few steep hills after park entrance, I noticed the pink flags that I knew just had to be the course but it was hard to see which direction they were headed so we followed them up to where we believed the start to be.  

I took a quick walk on the trail to get an idea of the footing which would help me decided which shoes/socks I would be wearing for the race. The ground was soft from previous rain but overall it seemed very runnable. I knew that there were a few things that were going to cause the conditions to change a little bit during the race, from rain during the race, temperatures rising, and 120 people hitting the two laps of the race. I got back in the car and after a brief stop at Walmart (I forgot to pack contact solution, remember) we made our way to our hotel.  

We spent the evening in our typical planned way, warming up pre-made pasta dinner while chatting and watching TV. Not only did I forget the contact solution but I also forgot our Roku so had to deal with watching re-runs of Bones on USA or TNT or one of those networks that seems to only play old shows. Being the first race of the year I guess I was a little rusty in remembering all the items that I need to bring along with us.  

I prepped my vest with all my nutrition, putting together the items for my drop bag and laid out my clothes for the next day before stretching, cleaning up and trying to get some sleep. I didn’t get great sleep as our room was near an entrance door, a stairwell and the vending/ice machines which were the cause of a lot of traffic. There was also a large gap from the door to the floor so after I was woken up the first time, I shoved a few towels in the gap to try and dampen some of the noise.   Alarm went off way too soon, or so it felt. I was a little bit rusty to races after a few months off. Up and out of bed I started the morning routine. As I prepped my food, I had to warm up my bagels in the microwave as the hotel breakfast area was locked until 6:30am to be able to access a toaster. I’ve had to do this a few times now and I never enjoy the chewy mess they become, but I’ve got to get in those carbs. Bagels with jelly and honey stinger waffle the typical pre-race breakfast before getting my stuff together and heading out the door.  

It was just a short 10 minute drive to get to the starting area. Parking was limited so they had us park in a few different parking areas in order to accommodate everyone. I checked in to get my bib and was hoping for maybe a course map or something to help Kaela navigate herself along the course for photos. But all I received was a bib. I triple checked my vest and drop bag to make sure I had everything I needed and then hung around until the pre-race meeting. There wasn’t much discussed other than following the pink flags, how to handle the turn around in the single out and back section, and a high level course overview that wasn’t helpful to someone not familiar with the park.

After the meeting we made our way towards the start area. Kaela and I discussed her plans and we decided that she would just see me at the start/finish between laps and that she would have a few hours before that took place. I gave her and Bella and kiss before she made her way down the trail a little bit and I headed to the back of the start. I have seen in almost every trail race I’ve done that people take off way to fast at the start and then you bottle neck at the first turn, so I like to stay in the back of the pack at the start to try and keep my momentum moving. I said a quick prayer before making sure everything secured on vest, shoes were tied and I was ready to go.   In typical trail race fashion, a simple go from the RD was all we needed to take off.   go. (race director was very soft spoken)  

As expected people took off at the start. It was a gradual downhill so I let gravity do a little bit of work from the start. Kaela was on the left hand side with camera, but I noticed she was trying to look through the crowd to find me, not realizing I had almost passed her (haha). Short portion of trail before we made it to the road that took us into the park. It was a steep climb so I put myself in power hiking mode to make it to the top and then yet again let gravity help on the way down. We had two of these climbs on the road (the second not as steep) before making our way back to the trail.

When we hit the trail there was a good climb on single track that started to bottleneck the group. The pack of runners I was around, were not good hikers and seemed to take the hills far to slow for even me. We had a few flat parts during climb and I used one of them to pass by 10-15 people just to be in a more comfortable position and not stuck. My body was feeling great and I was trying to keep an honest pace in the first few miles. Around mile 2.5 we had a long climb that once again had to bring out my best John Rutherford and power hike to push through it. We hit the highest portion of that side of the park, which meant we had a fast downhill coming up. I let my body “fall” down the trail trying to be mindful of each step I was taking not to trip. The trail was pretty clean with little rocks or roots to cause issues but every once in a while I noticed a hole that could have done some damage.  

At the end of the descent we arrived at the start of the out and back. It was nice to get a gauge of where I was within the pack of runners and also gave me some motivation to see that I wasn’t as far back as I thought I was. This section was tight especially taking into consideration that we had two way traffic. The trail was already a little soupy with mud and I knew that the second time through this would not be a fun experience. After a few encounters with thorn bushes hanging over the trail, I made it to the turn around. We were to grab a rubber band on each loop and show at the finish to verify we hit that section. I grabbed my rubber band made it back out to the split.  

I had gotten into a groove with a few runners as we exited the split and made our way to the “cliffs”. Now I remember reading on the website to watch out for the cliffs and was really interested to find out more information. It was tight single track that fell about 20-30 feet at some sections. We kept in a single file line as we ran the edge and walk/climbed our way over roots and trees that were along the way. After a few curves we made it to the steepest single portion of the trail. It wasn’t long but man was it a climb. I’m not 100% sure if my mind is playing on tricks on me but I remember feeling like I could grab the dirt in front of me at eye level while I hiked it.  

I was with a good group of runners that didn’t just relax after the climbs but got back to work which helped me keep pushing. I know I have a tendency to take a little too long after a tough climb to get feet turning back over but having a guy in front of me pushing pace and a few guys behind me clicking on my hills, it pushed me to move. That was until we hit the “rope climb”. In the distance I see people coming out of what looked like a hole and getting back on the trail. We then cut in and down a little just so we could get to a break in the trail that they had tied a rope to a tree in order to pull ourselves up. They could have easily just kept us on top of the trail but I guess that wouldn’t have made for as good of a story.  

With all that climbing I knew a downhill had to be coming soon and I wasn’t disappointed. Keeping my stride in check, I powered down the trail making our way to a country road. Around this time is when I hit my time alert to eat. Ever since North Country 50 miler, I have stuck to eating every 45 minute in races to make sure staying on top of calories early on. Reaching for a delicious fruit smoothie gel from Honey Stinger I hiked a flat portion of the trail right before making it to a road.  

As we hit the road the skies opened up and the rain that was previously light and steady become heavy and still steady. I turned my hat around just to keep it out my eyes and kept moving down the road. We made our way back down the creek that was at the bottom of the cliff from just a few miles before and as I looked up I could see people making the climb up. I was really enjoying the downhill sections but I knew that they were beating up my quads. When we hit the creek, we turned on an all rock “road” that caused a little bit of uneven running. Not to long on the road, I realized that it was a slow gradual climb and that my stride would work better as a power hike, and that is exactly what I did. I put myself into hiking mode and powered through the climb knowing that there was a lot of race left to waste energy on this.  

At the top of the road, the rain had all but stopped and we made our way back into the woods on the trail. Parts of this section got a little tighter with some growth coming on to the trail. A few climbs and turns similar to what took place at the beginning of the race. I maintained my effort hiking the hills and powering through downhills to try to be as consistent as possible. We eventually made it back to another gravel road, passing by some nice houses. It was nice to be able to see a little further in the distance compared to the never ending of trees. After some rolling in the road, there was a volunteer letting us know that aid station was just ahead.  

I took a look at my watch and realized I was a little shorter than they had said when arriving, which probably meant the course would be a little short overall. Heading into the aid the volunteers were amazing. Grabbing my water bottle to refill and trying to offer me all sorts of food options. I went with a trusty PBJ before thanking the volunteers and walking and eating. I have been working on trying to get better in not staying in the aid stations, so even walking while I eat helps saves so much time. At this point we would be doing a 2.3 mile loop before heading back to the same aid station.  

Crossing a road we made our way back onto a trail and an instant climb. Not terribly steep but long, so it gave me some time to eat and get some fluids in before reaching the top. I was back in a small pack of runners as we made our way down the trail. Around mile 9, we hit a section that looked like a mud slide. Heading downhill, we would just take a step and slide hoping that when we hit solid ground that it didn’t throw us forward. I tweaked my groin while trying to stop myself from a slide but knew because of terrain that I couldn’t just stop. Finally exiting the mud, we made our way to the “prairie” that they spoke about in the course description. Open fields where you could see runners a ways ahead of you on the other side. As we followed the pink flags along the side, the angle of way we were running just started to annoy me. It was that feeling of having to run on the edge of a ditch on a back road. Luckily this angle wasn’t for the entire time, but long enough to really get my mind all out shape, especially knowing that I was going to have to do it again.  

I was still moving at a pretty good pace and staying on schedule with my caloric intake. Getting out of the fields, we had a fast/runnable portion of the trail that took us back to the road where we would catch the aid station. Since I was just there less than 30 minutes before hand and the start/finish just 4.5 miles away, I blew right through it. It was funny to me how many people stopped and had to refill again and grab even more food. I told the aid volunteers my bib number and pushed through the parking lot and down unto the horse trail. Bouncing back and forth on the trail trying to stay on even ground, I could hear the stream off in the distance. They had said that there would be a few stream crossings and I was surprised that I had yet to come across one. The water was crystal clear which allowed me to see the large smooth rocks on the floor of the stream. The water was mid calve deep and I stepped carefully to make sure I didn’t hit a slick stone. Even though I was careful, I tried my quickest to get back out because that water was cold. It sent a chill through my body upon entering and coming out my feet felt like ice cubes. The next 1/2 mile or so was just mud from previous flooding causing soft ground, mixed with over 100 runners making the way on the trail.  

After a few more long climbs (seriously I didn’t think the course would have these climbs) we made our way to another clearing. You could see runners heading toward a road across the field, but then quickly realize that they were a few miles ahead as we were turning into the woods for the good part of 5k. I caught up to a few guys that were chatting about just about everything and told them I would just hang on to their shirts and listen to keep my mind off the hurt. Powering through up and down’s of trails definitely tested my legs going back and forth from running to hiking to running. While with the guys we chatted about previous races and all sorts of running stories. It got me talking about the podcast which led into what some staple beers of the area. The guys told me about National Bohemian as a Baltimore staple and to make sure I garnished it with an Old Bay rim…yes, that old bay! They said that some places actually make a “boh-tini” which is beer served in martini glass with old bay rim and crab garnish. I made sure to make a mental reminder about this so I could pick it up after the race.  

We eventually made it back out to the clearing where we saw the runners heading out and that took us to a small trail that would wrap us around to the start/finish. Heading down some cool looking trail line with pine trees, we could see the midway pavilion in the distance. Kaela was set up at the pavilion taking pictures and one of the guys said “should we flick off the camera” and I responded “you could, but it’s my wife” which got a good laugh from the guys.  

I came into the aid station feeling great. Kaela refilled my water bottles and got me some snacks to eat. My watch showed around 14.8 miles and I came in just under 3 hours. Kaela had asked what I was thinking my pace would be for the second loop and I let her know that because of the hills, this loop would be much slower as my legs were already beat up pretty well and wouldn’t be able to hold on. I gave Kaela and Bella a kiss and hit the trail for the second loop.  

I took off with Blaize and Junior (a few guys I had been going back and forth with during the first loop) down the trail to the rolling road and back to the start of the climbs on the trail. As we were chatting, a fox jumped out across the trail about 10-15 feet in front of us. At that point I knew it was going to be a fun loop. We stayed together for a few miles before we made it to the out and back and they took off. I had to walk and eat on my time schedule and just was unable to catch back up. I spent really until the aid station running alone trying to keep my stride in check and moving as fast as I could through the climbs. My legs were just getting heavier and steps were getting harder. The trail seemed to never end and every turn seemed like another hill. I was so happy when I made it back to the road of the aid station and could hear their music off in the distance.  

I had a little more food at the aid station this time, getting in some soup and a PB&J for the road. I knew this little loop was going to be hell the second time around, so I got out of the aid station as quick as possible to just get it over with. I made it up the long hill that wrapped around to the mud slide area. After over 100 people hitting it twice, it was a complete mess. The plan of action again was to take a step and slide down as far as I could. Once I made it to the fields I just had nothing left in the tank. A few people had passed in this section as I struggled to put some life into my legs. Once I made it out of the fields I knew it was just a short jog to the aid station so I picked up the pace and made my way back into the aid station. I consumed as much as I could to give me enough energy to push the last 4-5 miles to the finish. Eating some pierogi’s, pickle juice, and yet another PB&J for the road, I thanked the volunteers for their help and made my way to the finish.  

I left the aid station along with some bad ass runners and it helped me keep moving forward hearing all the crazy races they have completed and have scheduled. The first few miles clicked off pretty well and then heading into the final 5k loop, I told them that I would see them at the finish line and the lady I was running with (Aidee I think), said “no, let’s go!” and it was just that little bit of encouragement that forced me to hang with them. It was short lived however because like I said previous, bad ass runners. A few of their running friends caught up to us and they started talking and picking up the pace. The last few up’s and down’s slowed me down and before I knew it they were out of eye sight.  

The last 1.5 miles I ran by myself and there was a peace to it all. My legs were beat, but overall I was pleased of my performance on a tough course. So I took the time to enjoy my surroundings and just be in the moment, thankful that I have the opportunity to do these kinds of things. I turned a corner near the finish and Kaela was on the trail cheering me in. As I passed her she told me not to run too fast because she needed to get to the finish line, and at that point was a short little hill that I decided to walk up, which made her turn around and say “well I didn’t say walk!” She always knows how to put a smile on my face.

Last turn and took my final strides through the finish line.   6:31:21   I shook hands at the finish with RD and volunteers as I was given my finishers mug (and I might add a really nice mug). I saw the crew that I couldn’t keep up with and that congratulated me for pushing through a little bit of pain to make it to the finish. I took a seat to rest for a moment before making my way to change. My shoes and legs were a muddy mess so we used water bottles from the car to get as much off as a I could before heading into the center bathroom to change.  

In the center they had set up a finishers area with chili, drinks and most importantly cookies. I had some food and chatted with another finisher from Northern Virginia. It seemed a lot of the participants were local to the Maryland and Virginia area, with me being the only person from “out West” in Ohio. After eating we headed to the store to pick up some Natty Boh, before making our way back to PA.  

This was a wonderful race! I was thinking that with the low entry cost that maybe it would be a crappy event, but I could not have been more wrong. Yes you don’t get a shirt, swag, promo items, etc, but to me that is not what running events should be about. The finishers mug was amazing but if they decided that they wouldn’t provide that either, I would still recommend this race to anyone. The race organization was great, the volunteers and aid stations were on point and even the course was great (even though must hillier than expected). Overall I am so glad that I found this race randomly online and that I was lucky enough to get into the lottery on my first attempt.   Next stop I head to have some back to back fun in the middle of the country!    

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