Quick Race Facts
Hawthorn Half Day Relay and Ultra
Terre Haute, IN
3.1 mile looped course
~130 ft. elevation gain per loop
double track fine gravel/dirt, pavement trails
wetland forest, exposed lakeside
12 hour time limit
It was all sun and games at Hawthorn Half Day Relay and Ultra! Seriously, it was the hottest day of the year thus far with temps topping out at 87 degrees with plenty of wetland provided humidity and exactly zero clouds until about an hour before the finish. It made for a tough day for everyone, as training for heat isn’t easy when temps jump like that. Such is the nature of Spring races, right?
While sun and heat were the major challenges of the day, the race itself was great and set on a fast, flat, and wide 5K loop. The goal is to run as many loops as possible within the 12 hour allotted time, and my personal goal was to hit 40.3 miles or 13 loops. I had thoughts of 50 miles after previewing the course Friday night, but knew the heat (my kryptonite) would ultimately make the determination.
My friend, Rob Gentry, and I setup our ‘personal aid station’ on Friday with finishing touches on race morning. I had convinced him to run this with me (it never takes much!), and it was really great to have him there - especially late in the race when the struggle was real. He runs quite a bit faster than me and has a pair of 100-milers to his credit. Meanwhile, my longest distance coming in was 33 miles.
After the starting gun, the first two and a half hours went very smoothly. I set a nice pace that was super-comfortable and managed 5 loops (15.5 miles) with minimal effort.
Then the sun got hot.
On the 6th loop, I started on the fully exposed mile-long section around one of the lakes at the same pace I’d been keeping since the start. After dropping into the wetland forest, I could feel the heat had gotten to me over the last mile. I had to do a double-take when I checked the time, as it was only 9:30-something in the morning!
I knew then it was going to become a long, torturous day in the sun.
With that kicking around in my head, I went through my mental list of goals for the race:
Stay safe and injury-free
11 loops = 34.1 miles = PR, and that’s a good day!
13 loops = 40.3 miles = PR, and that’s a GREAT day!
I kept hold of these as I pressed on with particular emphasis on the first one. When it gets hot in the Spring, a lot of bad things can happen very quickly. Heat exhaustion or worse, heat stroke are serious and will end a race - with a possible ride to the ER. I decided to take my time at our aid station at the end of each lap to cool down and to pay extra attention to hydration and electrolytes.
As the day marched on, the sun gained in intensity and basically, from noon until the finish, it was a struggle staying cool. Each loop was progressively hotter and slower with more and more time spent cooling at our aid station. I saw Rob a couple times in the middle hours, and he was having a tough time too.
But we kept moving, lap after lap.
Toward the end of the day, we were both sitting at our aid station and trying to figure out what we wanted to do to close out the race. I had 10 laps down and needed 3 to hit 40 miles. Rob was a lap ahead and wanted to hit two more laps. We headed out, and lap 11 was good enough to keep me in position to hit 40 miles.
The next lap, my piriformis (old nagger) started acting up, and I had to stop twice to stretch it out. I think this came up because of the enormous amount of walking I had to do to avoid overheating the previous several hours. Regardless, we finished that loop and the clock - and my body - said it was time to call it a day.
I’d finish the day with 12 laps, 37.2 miles officially. Rob was a lap ahead and ran an extra mile on the short course they opened with 30 minutes left. He finished with 41.3 miles - a lap and a mile ahead of me.
So, another PR to round out the Spring where I set personal bests at my three major races - Land Between the Lakes (best trail marathon time), Big Turtle 50K (best 50K time), and now a personal best for total distance - 37.2 officially, 38.19 miles on my GPS.
Overall, I’m running faster and stronger than ever and am in a great position for my Fall races including Georgia Jewel 50, Cloudsplitter 50K, and Rough Trail 50K.
The highlight of this race is the incredibly strong community of runners that you’ll see here. The local running community is amazing with a wide range of runners young and old who just love running - specifically, running together. After the race was over, nearly everyone stayed for the awards ceremony where a delicious dinner was served and more trophies were handed out than I can ever remember at any race.
The race directors do a fantastic job of setting things up and taking time to connect with runners. The feel of that event is so unique compared to most any other race I’ve run because of the strength of that particular running community. Hats off to the RDs and the loyal running community in the Terre Haute region.
Also, there were plenty of stories from that race - first time ultras, people pushing to new personal bests, and of course, plenty of talk about the miserable heat. Evidently, this race used to be held in June! So, instead of a Maybe Sufferfest in May, it was a Guaranteed Sufferfest in June:-)
There was a young fella whose aid station was next to us. It was his first ultra, and he was running strong through most of the day. Eventually, the heat got him, and he had to lay down for a good while to cool down and get right. His parents were there to help him out, but to his credit, he got back up and finished at 37.2 miles.
Another woman had been running pretty even with another competitor in the same age group. She was spent at the end and had some sort of injury. She pushed out for a final time and was able to win her age group.
Then there was the vault toilet with a busted deadbolt. It took some maneuvering to get out of there with thoughts of being locked in the shitter flashing through your mind!
Oh, and that mile of exposed running? I won’t forget that misery anytime soon. Kind of reminded me of Yamacraw 50K a few years back when we hit a Forest Service road that climbed and climbed and climbed with zero shade more than 20 miles in. That sucked and so did this mile of misery. Actually, let’s just call it the Hawthorn Misery Mile!
So, would I run this thing again? You bet your ass I would! The people can make a race, and these are some damn good people!