Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hot To Trot 8 Hour Run 8/7/10 (Race Report)

On August 7, 2010, I completed the Hot To Trot 8 Hour Run at Sweetwater Creek State Park in Lithia Springs, Georgia. Hot To Trot, an annual race sponsored by GUTS (Georgia Ultrarunning And Trailrunning Society) each August, is known for challenging even the most accomplished ultrarunners. This year's Hot To Trot consisted of a 1.18-mile trail loop, complete with tree roots, rocks, sand, and a 73-foot elevation gain, in 92-degree humid weather.

Photo courtesy of Andy Bruner
The race description from the GUTS website says it all.  “At the Hot To Trot 8 Hour Race, our goal is to provide the race as advertised. As the name implies, you can count on it being HOT. Temps are easily in the 90's this time of year in Georgia, with humidity off the scale. Hyponatremia and dehydration can be serious. Runners are expected to use proper electrolytes in order to stay alive!”

I completed 25 loops (29.5 miles) during this 8 hour race. I barely missed the 50K distance that I was hoping to finish within the time frame, but my relief at finishing this event in good health and good humor is greater than any disappointment that I might have about the distance covered.

“Safety first.” was my personal mantra for this first attempt at the Hot To Trot 8 Hour Run. As a slow ultrarunner, I was accustomed to being out on a course for eight hours, but I had never raced for this length of time during the hottest month of the summer. I kept a drop bag at the race with S-caps to take at the end of every third lap, extra light-colored technical T-shirts to run in, an extra pair of trail shoes, and tough-strip Band-Aids to apply to a persistent blister on my left little toe that has been bothering me for weeks. I resolved ahead of time that I would take walk breaks as often as necessary and even make a point to walk entire laps to keep moving until my eight hours were up. As a Galloway group leader on most Saturday mornings, I had familiarized myself with the main symptoms of heat exhaustion and I promised myself that I would take all precautions necessary to recover if I felt extreme fatigue, nausea, faintness, or confusion. Although I had lost 23 pounds during the past two months before this event and was finally on the road to getting my weight under control, I was still significantly heavier than the other, more talented runners on this course, so I would have to be all the more careful to keep the effects of the heat and humidity at bay. Thankfully, my emphasis on safety was rewarded and, during the eight hours of this race, I never felt that my health was in danger.

The start/finish area of Hot To Trot was a picnic shelter that served as the aid station, where several dedicated volunteers filled water bottles and served food to each of the 60 runners. Three volunteers, Tom, David, and Kirsten, manned the water stop and their careful attention to the hydration needs of each runner was, quite literally, a lifesaver for all of us on the course. Countless other volunteers manned the food table, counted laps of each runner, and provided a helpful cheering section as we passed across the timing carpets after each lap. As always during her races, Race Director Sarah Tynes did a superb job putting on a fun event with the emphasis on safety and well-being for each participant.

Many runners dislike multiple-loop courses, because of the monotony of circling the same path over and over during a given time frame, but I welcomed the arrangement. The nature of this loop course was psychologically beneficial to me, because I knew that, even under the worst case scenario, I was never farther than a half mile or so from the aid station. Unlike the point-to-point ultra races that I've participated in and found myself alone on a trail with no other person in sight for extended periods of time, this race would find me constantly surrounded by other runners and volunteers.

We were blessed with cooler-than-normal temperatures for the first two hours of this race and the weather enabled me to take advantage by putting in some quality running laps early on. I completed the first four laps (4.7 miles) in 50 minutes. For the second hour of the race, I held back and decided that I should slow down to keep my pace at four laps per hour. Four laps per hour would enable me to complete 28 laps in seven hours and clock in a 50K distance, while allowing extra time for rest and for slower pacing later on. For each lap, I ran a mostly downhill stretch for the first half, over a series of berms that would prove a little more annoying with each subsequent lap, through a brief paved section, down a rocky fire road stretch that provided good pacing for the attentive runner, and, finally, through a sandy single-track trail where I had to duck under two low-lying fallen trees and step over a couple of other trees on the ground. The second half of the course proceeded along the sandy single-track before crossing a wooden bridge and making a series of runnable tree-root-covered trail ascents that I decided to walk up from the beginning in order to save energy.

Early on during the race, a fellow ultrarunner, Tony, passed me and asked me how often I was eating. When I told him that I had planned to eat a gel every third lap while I was taking an S-cap, he advised me that I needed to eat more often to keep my energy up for my size. When we both arrived at the aid station, Tony instructed the volunteers, “Be sure that Jason eats something every time he passes through here.” His advice proved helpful, especially during the early hours of the race, when I was able to take in a small amount of nutrition after each lap (a couple of Fig Newtons, a watermelon slice, a handful of pretzels, a protein drink, etc.) and have enough energy for the duration. Most ultrarunners are advised to take in roughly 200-300 calories per hour during a race to avoid the dreaded “bonk” (the hit-the-wall crash and burn experienced when the body no longer has the energy to continue). At 255 pounds, however, I wasn't “most ultrarunners” and I made a point to keep feeding myself within reason as I completed each loop instead of eating at every third loop.

Photo courtesy of Cindy Strickland Ralston
Heat is an insidious adversary and the temperature rise into the noon hours of the day can take even the best runners off guard. As I felt the temperature gradually creep up into the 90's, I increased the frequency of my walk breaks until, eventually, I was walking most of each lap. During the fourth hour of the race, I slowed to pace equal to just over three laps per hour. I suspected that my goal of a 50K distance was slipping away from me, but I decided to let it be and just keep moving to the best of my ability.

Fortunately, there was never a shortage of inspiration along the trail. During the Hot To Trot 8 Hour Run, I had the opportunity to talk to each and every runner at some point during the race. Two runners that were battling for the lead, Jon and Jim, sped by and lapped the rest of us multiple times, but still had words of encouragement for each runner that they passed on their way to completing over 50 laps. Jon and his wife, Kate, would eventually win first male and first female. I was always inspired by these runners and by the others to the point where I would sometimes abandon my walk strategy and run for a while after they passed. One advantage of a multiple-loop course is that you can see each and every runner over and over and gauge everyone's progress. I often felt overwhelmed that the top runners were passing me by effortlessly while I was, more often than not, reduced to a fast walking pace. During the hottest hours of the run, though, I had a reality check that erased my disappointment about my own pace.

The reality check came in the form of a collapsed runner that I encountered at the wooden bridge on the loop. This runner had succumbed to heat exhaustion and had collapsed after experiencing nausea. Two other runners were standing over him and they informed me that help was already on the way. Volunteers came down the path and were able to get the runner to a medical facility. After the race, we were all happy to see this runner fully recovered and hanging out at the finish area.

I was glad that I never came close to experiencing the borderline hyponatremia symptoms and heat exhaustion that had plagued me during the Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon this past May. My improved conditioning and weight loss since then had made a small difference, but I have to give full credit to the volunteers at the start finish area who made sure that I was adequately hydrated and that I had taken plenty of electrolytes. In the final hours of the race, these volunteers filled my 12-ounce handheld water bottle with ice water each time and there's no greater psychological boost to a summer trail runner than ice cold water. At one point, Sarah was handing out ziplock bags full of ice to each runner to take along on the lap with them to cool the body temperatures. At three points during the eight hours, I took additional rest by sitting down under shade in the volunteer picnic shelter to change to a different pair of shoes, to change out the Band-Aid on my blistered toe, and to simply cool down with one of the protein shakes that the volunteers were handing everyone. Halfway through the race, I took off my gray shirt at the aid station and replaced it with a white shirt that left me better equipped to handle the heat. (If you read any news stories this weekend about a white whale sighting at Sweetwater Creek State Park, then that was just me with my shirt off.)

The change of shoes proved to be a much-needed boost to my experience. During the first four hours of Hot To Trot, I had worn a pair of Montrail Mountain Masochist that felt quite nice as I ran over a variety of trail surfaces. Later in the race, though, I switched to a pair of Montrail Sabinos with Superfeet insoles. The Montrail Mountain Masochist shoes were great running shoes, but the Sabinos were better walking shoes...and I was doing a lot of walking by that time.

During the final two hours of Hot To Trot, the race became more interesting, as I encountered more runners who were walking the course. Even the best runners were showing fatigue, but everyone seemed to be in high spirits. We were all happy that we were close to completing our eight-hour adventure in one piece. I knew that I didn't have time to get in enough laps to complete a 50K distance, but I was still pleased when I had enough to mark a full marathon distance. After finishing the marathon distance, I kept going another couple of laps. I finished my final lap, the 25th lap at around 7:55 on the official clock, with a final distance of 29.5 miles.

I spent the next hour drinking plenty of water, eating hamburgers from the grill, and sharing stories with friends, old and new, from the course. One day later, I'm less sore than I have been after previous races and I'm already looking forward to belting out a 50K and then some at next year's Hot To Trot.

Thanks to Sarah and the GUTS crowd for putting on another outstanding race.

See you on the trails.


1 comment:

  1. Kicking off a blog with an H2T hard core race report...Niiice!

    btw,I am honored to be your first follower.

    See you at Long Cane, you beast:)!