03 July 2019

The Sunburn Solstice Trail Run (Full) - race report

Yes sir, the definition of insanity is indeed doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result ...

That was the kind of feeling that I had during this race.

I'd signed up to compete in the inaugural edition of Happy Trails Racing's "The Sunburn Solstice Trail Run" in the hopes of attacking it as a training run in advance of the planned 100-mile attempt later on this September.  I thought that both in terms of time on my feet (as the event was scheduled to cover the entire period between sunrise and sunset - 15h23m - on June 22, the longest day of the summer) and projected distance this would be a solid test of my physical fitness and mental fortitude.

Admittedly I did come into the race with my stores still somewhat depleted - not to make excuses or diminish my effort (or anyone else's for that matter), but I know that having participated in a 50 miler, a 300+ km relay and a 10km push-chair event in the month leading up to it that I'd done a delicate, or perhaps not-so-delicate dance with the overtraining monster.  Still I'd scaled back significantly in the mid-June weeks to try to rest up and not be a ticking time-bomb standing at the start line.

One of the other very cool things about this event was that the Happy Trails Racing (HTR) team structured this race as a fundraiser for Camp Marydale's "One-to-One" program.  As we were running on the trails of Camp Marydale it seemed fitting to give back to them, and the "One-to-One" program is intended to help provide resources so that kids with exceptional needs could be given the opportunity to experience summer camp just like their peers.  I decided to put some energy into this as a way of leveraging my running for the benefit of others, but also (just being honest here) because HTR offered to refund entry fees for anyone bringing in more than $200 in donations.

Gotta say that I was blown away by the support of friends both newer and older, far and near who responded to my call for support - they all helped me to surpass my individual goal of $500, and the event's overall goal of raising $4000.


1.  The Happy Trails Racing team - this was my first time participating in an HTR event although I'd known of Jeff (Rowthorn) and Heather (Borsellino) and always heard amazing things about them.  A number of my friends have also been ambassadors for HTR and spoke highly of the great vibe at their races as well as about the high degree of excellence with which they are executed.  The Sunburn Solstice Trail Run certainly delivered on all counts, from an amazing race kit including sunglasses, a metal whistle and a white pine sapling to the start/finish aid station which was fully staffed and fully stocked (e.g. protein balls, M&Ms, veggie dogs, pickles, grilled cheese sandwiches, watermelon, oh my!).  The course was super-clearly marked, the photog was all over the course (thanks to the irrepressible Sue Sitki Photography) and the venue pretty much ideal.  Can't think of a negative thing to say about the day from the organizational perspective!

2.  So many amazing new friends made - While there were all sorts of familiar faces that I was so pleased to have bumped into (K, Sandi, Tyler, Steve, Spencer, Rebecca, April and Melanie to name a few) it was also a tremendous privilege to have shared the course with a whole bunch of new-to-me friends.  From starting the day with Anna (choosing to celebrate her 21st anniversary with her husband at the race), Coffee (yup, that's his name!) and Reza (the eventual full-solstice winner) to meeting Jason (hiking the whole day with a 50-lb. rucksack), Brian, Jeff, Sheila, Craig, Mary, Renate, James, David and Julius (who helped drag my butt through the entire day), they were the ones who helped me to maintain a smile across the miles.

3.  The weather - It was a totally suitable day for an outing called "The Sunburn Solstice" as the conditions included almost full sun with temperatures peaking at around 25°C and only light breezes - a pretty glorious environment all in all.

4.  The course - Despite it being 'only' a 4km loop, there was sufficient variation in terrain to keep things interesting - from a short paved pathway to grassy tracks to, dusty trails to short wooden bridge crossings, and one hairpin turn in a parking lot around a small monument.  The mud was almost negligible (woo hoo!) with only a short 4 ft. patch that actually threatened to encompass shoes.

5.  No tripping or blisters - I'd elected to go full Reebok-kit on the day, including wearing the Floatride Forever Energy on my feet.  Even with road shoes I managed to not stumble or fall, and my feet held up well with no hot spots, rubbing or soreness.  #feelthefloatride !

Alas, it can't all be fun and games ...

1.  Poor fueling - Even though I'd loaded up my handheld with a GU electrolyte drink mix and stored an extra bottle's worth plus a tub of drink mix powder in my cooler at the start/finish pavilion area I somehow managed to neglect to consume enough calories through the first half of the day.  By the time that I hit 42km (around 10:30 am) I was STARVING!!  I'd been up since 2:00 am and really not had much to eat until that point, only sipping on my bottle maybe a handful of times ... so I decided to take a full-blown lunch break at the conclusion of that loop (maybe 20 min.) and downed some grilled cheese sandwiches, several pickles, some coke and a few cupcakes.  I had to then spend the next 30 min. or so just walking the course so that I gave myself sufficient time to digest, and then started up running once more.  And you know what?  After eating I felt like a million bucks!  -1000 points for not having a smart race-fueling strategy.

2.  The heat - Despite my best efforts to dump water on my head regularly, take salt tabs and stay hydrated I think that I fell victim to a moderate form of heat stress.  The course was about 50-60% canopied so it wasn't like we were constantly baked in the sun, but somewhere around 80km into the race my gut was feeling off ... like, waaaayyyy off.  After departing the start/finish aid station at 88km I almost immediately threw up in the grass beside the paved pathway leading into the woods - I then recovered enough to walk/jog for another km before repeating my oh-so-lovely display of wretching.  This continued for the pretty much the last 12km of my day, and thankfully I managed to not compound my situation by becoming seriously dehydrated.  I'm glad that none of the photos captured these moments for posterity.

3.  Only 100km - As ridiculous as it sounds, this was the minimum threshold of what I'd hoped to accomplish on this day, even considering that (a) I'd never run this long or (b) I'd never run this far in one session.  Plus I barely made to this point.  I limped away from the day seriously thinking that I need to bail on the Hallucination 100 miler because there'd be no way that I could pack in another 60km.  However, after a short and slow 8km recovery run the next morning I was back to my ridiculously deluded self and am still planning on making the trip to Hell, Michigan in September.

Lessons Learned
1.  Eat, man, eat! - I've gotta get better at pounding down the necessary calories, especially early in a race.

2.  Walk more - Again this is something that I need to do before I need to do it.

3.  Pacers and crew can make a difference - I'm grateful to Spencer (whom I first met a couple of years ago while pacing at The County Marathon) who jumped in to keep me going at around the halfway point when I just wasn't feeling it anymore.  And there were folks like Anna and Sandi and Julius who lifted my spirits just when things were looking bleak ... in these distances running is definitely a team sport.

4.  Even my hurt can be someone else's hope - The HTR team was gracious enough to recognize me as one of their "Wolf Patch" recipients, stating that "The Wolf Patch is for the runner who exhibits a 'pack mentality' by showing an abundance of compassion and camaraderie on the course to the other runners, staff, and volunteers."  I'm not sure how I was even considered for this as most of my race was focused on trying to keep myself upright and moving forward, but there must have been something in my grimacing and muttering that was perceived as helpful to my fellow competitors.

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I'll definitely have to add another HTR event to my calendar sometime soon, if even just to be blessed by the amazing energy of the folks who are a part of this tribe!

Next up is another attempt at redemption at The Limberlost Challenge 56k this Saturday - let's see if I'm actually any wiser (if not better) this time around!