Monday, February 21, 2011

Hagg Lake 50K, aka the Hagg Mudd


I’m divided in my choice to run Hagg Lake. On the one hand, I ran with a fast field on a very nasty course – that makes for a good experience and a lot of lessons to learn. On the other hand, holy cripes mud.

I backed out of a parking space at my hotel in Forest Grove and almost did a 180 in the parking lot – the snow and slush that fell the night before had iced the roads! Not good news!

 You just mad 'cuz I'm stylin' on you.

The first four miles of the race take place on an out-and-back that runs up into the hills around the lake. The surfaces were still icy so everyone more or less shuffled out of the parking lot and onto the road. I caught up with a guy I saw at White River and Pine to Palm and we chatted on the way up the hill.

Coming back into Sain Creek we finally hit the trail and were treated to some muddy stretches that opened up into the first “crossing”. Basically, you drop down into a mud pit, ford through a stream, cross over some semi-floating logs, and scramble up a steep slope. I was a bit surprised at how rugged this was, but given the rest of the trail this honestly was pretty tame.

The last stretch between Sain and the next aid station includes a 1.5-mile section of road that straddles the earthen dam on the south side of the lake. There was a strong, steady wind blowing off the lake and advecting plenty of cold air – I was glad I wore two layers for the first lap. Nevetheless, it was nice to clear my treads of mud and get a reprieve from the slick trail.

 Well at least the sun was shining.

The next section was mostly unremarkable with respect to landmarks, but it really gave me a feel for the trail around the lake as a whole: a lot of short, steep hills, reasonably sharp turns, and a shit-ton of mud. I mean a lot of mud. On a number of uphills I started to slip backward, and you essentially had to skate the downhills – you’d put your foot down and slide. I’m honestly amazed that I only fell twice here, and managed to catch myself with my hands each time.

From the north aid station back to Sain Creek, we were treated to periodic romps through hilly meadows, which gave us a nice view of the lake and the finish. Unfortunately, because the lake has so many inlets, you keep thinking that you’re getting closer to Sain, only to twist back around into another cove.

It rained and snowed the night before, which might explain why these exposed meadows were so insanely muddy (amazingly, more so than the rest of the trail). Not only was there thick mud, but huge puddles and streams of runoff, too. At this point I stopped trying to avoid it and just forded on through.

The drop-bag, aka, dump-all-your-belongings-here, area.

I hit Sain Creek at 2:31 and stopped for a few minutes to take care of some GI issues, grab more Gu, and shed my thermal top and gloves. This stretch was relaxing – relative to the rest of the loop, the mud on these trails was tame and the winds had died a bit on the dam road.

From the dam aid station to the northern aid station, I ran entirely alone, only occasionally passing an early-starter. I hit a soft wall around mile 24 and had to walk a few of the steep, muddy hills, but that was probably faster than trying to run them and slipping backwards.

I was incredibly happy when I hit the last aid station, because I had conserved some energy and was starting to get into a nice groove on the mud. It’s difficult to adapt to such conditions for the first time, but I finally figured out that it takes a combination of abdominal muscles and glutes to get up a good trot through the slop. That, and a really high cadence.

 Just when you thought it was over, you get one last taste of Hagg mud.

When I hit the last road section I started to accelerate – with two miles left and at 4:46, I was feeling pretty good! I slid down from the road to the lake and hit the last section of uber-muddy trail. Unlike previous sections, the last mile of trail is an unavoidable mess. There are no patches of grass or berms to try and skip to – it’s pure slop, with long sections of standing water. You can feel the mud sucking down your shoes (or Fivefingers).

I passed someone with about one mile left and really turned on the afterburners, smoking through the parking lots and the last section of trail. I flew into the finish chute just a few seconds over 5 hours and the miles of slick trail finally hit me. Damn that was hard. The effects of running in mud for 31 miles is sticking with me even days later.

 Feels good, man.

I won a pair of Mountain Hardwear running gloves, which was pretty cool, and grabbed coffee and a grilled cheese before hitting the road back to Seattle. I did stop for a burger and a milkshake at Burgerville in Vancouver (I hope they expand into Seattle; grass-fed beef burgers, craft beer, salads? Damn son.)

So how did the Vibrams fare? The Treks do not have as good a grip on mud as many trail shoes, unfortunately, and this was very obvious today. Yes, on dry trails with roots and other obstacles, they are an advantage; they were hard to deal with today. However, my new Zoot compression calf sleeves rocked – my calves feel great right now, a lot better than my hips and ankles.

 Any questions?

Thanks to all of the volunteers and the photographers out on the course on this bitterly cold and muddy day.

There are some photos from the event at the Hagg Lake Facebook page, and I suspect more will be trickling in over the next few days.

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