There are many stupid things to do in the world. One of them is running for a long time through difficult terrain using only your feets and your wits. So, that's what I did, in a dubious pre-50th birthday celebration called The Pilot Mountain to Hanging Rock 50k. October 02, 2021.
Let's start with the name. Traditionally the race is run from Pilot to Hanging Rock. But in 2021 the race course was reversed to avoid the supposed large crowds of sandal-toed tourists cruising through the beautiful trails of Hanging Rock on a Sunday afternoon.
The race is held mostly on singletrack, with a few stretches along the road or on bridle trails. Of the 50k, I'd say about 40 (k) is singletrack, but I could be off by a mile or two.
There is also a painful amount of elevation gain and loss. I don't know what you're used to running, but a local tough 10 mile course near me has about 800 feet of gain/loss.
This dopey endeavor had 3,700 feet of gain and 4,500 feet of loss. If you're a runner, you know what running downhill on tired legs feels like. So you don't need me to describe it. But you might just be some random hiker dude or chick that found this page so I'll explain it. It feels like an invisible gremlin is stabbing you in the quads with every step. So there's that.
I ran with a couple of friends, who for anonymity's sake I'll call Happy and Grumpy. They both trained for it pretty well. Happy had some back issues that threw him off, while Grumpy struggles in warmer conditions.
My preparation for this race was not bad. I didn't want to bang out huge long runs during the height of the summer heat, so I delayed a real long buildup until August. And I cheated in how I increased my weekly mileage. Traditionally it's not advisable to add more than 10% or so to your long run distance or your total weekly mileage. Since I'm special, the royal Me ignored these rules and jumped a fair bit week to week. I already forgot most details, but my long run distances went something like 11 - 13 - 16 - 18 - 20. With a downweek or two in there somewhere. If you're really interested you can follow me on Strava. Don't forget to hit the like and subscribe button either.
The other neat trick I added was to follow up the long runs with another run the following day, instead of the usual triathlete plan of a long ride or a day off, depending on who/when/what you do. My longest session thus wound up being a 20 miler on Saturday followed by 8.5 on Sunday.
Anyway blah blah blah I also swam and biked and did strength and yoga and was overall in pretty good condition. Happy and Grumpy both had more running miles in them but I probably had more overall training volume.
So then we started the race. Or kind of. There were about 200 people doing the event. 180 of them lined up and took off at the start. We and a few others waited a couple minutes to let it clear out. Then we started.
Now, if you're smart, you go and review the race course so you know what to expect. We did not because we are not smart, so imagine our surprise when we hit an extremely tight singletrack section a half mile in. And then we walked! For almost 2 miles, it was too tight to pass anyone and the few slower runner/hikers that had started immediately just shut down our game.
But soon enough there was room to pass and we started running. Happy got frustrated and started leapfrogging people, while Grumpy and myself cruised together for a few more miles. I eventually pulled away and a 2-3 mile stretch of highway running.
Then it became a matter of pacing and just being careful with the steps. It was very scenic, and the temperature for the first 2/3 of the race was comfortable.