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Fun Runs

If you asked, I'd tell you running is fun. I feel pure joy when I'm out cruising on trails. But, when I'm training for a big race, I occasionally find myself taking my running too seriously.

This Spring, I've re-discovered the fun run. These short "races" have refreshed my spirits, gotten me excited about running and I'm now looking forward to my training more than ever.

First in the Fun Run Series: The Fancy Pants 5K. This one was dreamed up by my friends Kris and Kyle who hosted it the morning after their wedding. Named for her sister's cat Clancy, the only requirement was to wear fancy pants. I went with my Life is Good pajamas (surprisingly comfortable on a cool Spring morning). Hubz wore his god-awful weightlifting pants from the 80s. 

Gang at start of The Fancy Pants 5K
The planned course covered a mile of scenic Lexington to the VMI track, then retraced its steps, ending at a bakery. Kris said anyone who wished to run a full 5k distance could run a mile in laps. After one lap, a few of us decided we would make our own impromptu course. A fellow guest who had attended VMI gave us a short tour of the campus. We achieved a bit of bonus mileage before we reached the bakery, where we enjoyed breakfast and coffee with our friends. Great fun!

3.23 miles of Fancy Pantsing around Lexington, Virginia

Urban racing (photo by Bobby Gill)
Second, and the most indulgent, was the WUS Donut Run. One of my Tuesday night running group cohorts came up with the idea, and I didn't have the heart to tell her @PunkRockRunner had beaten her to the punch. She made it a bit more competitive, to her credit.

The plan: Run a 10K, eating six Krispy Kreme donuts at the halfway mark, then run back to the start.

For the injured reserve, there was a 5k option with the requirement to consume a full dozen pastries. Brittany managed this seemingly impossible feat with aplomb.

The Donut Eaters (photo by Bobby Gill)
Hubz and I ran the first half, ate several donuts, then decided to go for sushi.

We may or may not have eaten more donuts when we got home.

Finally, the slightly more serious and less fun Crystal Run 5K. A couple of Twitter friends were signed up for this Friday evening race and a day before I impetuously ponied up my twenty bucks to join them.

The weather deteriorated all day until it was cold, windy and raining. I cursed my stupidity, toying with the idea of skipping the race. The rain deterred me from warming up for more than a couple of easy laps around the start area, however I did manage to run through a puddle the size of a car and soak my feet ten minutes before the start.

I had no idea what my 5K PR was. In fact, it has been so long since I raced a 5K, even the Internets don't remember. Half the participants were in red dress get-ups, blatantly stealing the idea from the Hash House Harriers. I don't care if it is in the name of charity, that's a Violation! Anyway, I wasn't sure how the hell I'd pace myself around all these yahoos but I was too cold to care much and then we were running.

Aside from the occasional headwind, the chilly weather was good for racing, and it also kept more than a few runners home. The scenery was urban service roads and buildings, the course was flat and fast with a couple of turnarounds. I didn't see my friends so there was nothing to do but get it done as quickly as I could.

Stylin in my Punk Rock Racing shirt.

Mile 1    8:19
Mile 2    7:59
Mile 3    7:54
Last .22 7:22

I was darn pleased with that, honestly. I'm counting it as my new 5K PR.

Although I ran this harder than the previous two fun runs, I didn't get anywhere near the misery index a 5K usually entails.
After the race, I met up with @katekirk and enjoyed a free beer courtesy of the race. All in all, time and money well spent.

Next up: The Beer Mile! The trash talk has already started.

The HAT Run 50K

Seven years ago, I ran my first ultra here. I remember the crazy mush mind I got in the last few miles of the race. I remember how my legs hurt afterward, so much that I could hardly sit still on the ride home. I signed up for another one immediately.

A grand old tree on the HAT course
Here I was again, toeing the line at my fifth HAT Run. Well, actually my sixth. I was here to redeem a DNF.
The Usual Suspects. With over 400 starters, the VHTRC was well-represented. Seeing so many familiar faces is always a highlight of this race.

Mad props to VHTRC members James Moore and Margaret Schlundt. They logged their 20th finishes this year!

Goofing off pre-race with VHTRCer @robcolenso

My friend Jerry was here too, running his first ultra. It was great to spend time with him on trail and soak in his positive energy. He graciously sang my praises for turning him on to trail running and giving him training advice. He ran strong, was smiling all day, and I'm not sure I've ever seen a happier ultra runner. Congrats, Jerry, and welcome to the club!

Race Day. It was truly ideal running weather - cool, sunny, and breezy enough that I was grateful for my arm warmers. The trails were in stellar condition, drier than any other year I could remember.

Rosy Abregu climbing one of the many hills
The Course. HAT is a loop course. It's a great first ultra. If you're trained to run a marathon it's a relatively easy transition. The trails aren't technical, the hills aren't killer. When they're steep, they're very short, and when they're longer, they're gentle. There's some pavement, some fields, and generally excellent footing.

Sounds like some sweet trail, eh?

I swear, this race is harder every time I run it.

A stream crossing on the HAT 50K course.
Runnable vs. Technical. Many ultras are not what you'd call "runnable." They're rocky, technical, over mountainous terrain where even the elites are reduced to a speed hike. Not a race where you can get a rhythm going, and pace? Out the window. One mile could be a 15 minute per mile slog up a treacherous climb, the next, a section of fire road you run twice as fast.

One of the "gentle" hills.
The dirty little secret of ultras is how little actual running we do. Sure, there are long stretches of fast, fancy footwork on trail.

There's a lot of speed hiking in the mix, too, and brief stops at aid stations for food you might find at a college party. There's laughing and chatting instead of the intense faces, heavy breathing, and pouring sweat seen at a typical road race.

HAT is very runnable. You're running along for ages, wondering when you'll get a break. Then you reach the cruel, steep little hills. These hills are short. You hardly feel justified walking them. But make no mistake, they're too steep to run. And they just keep coming.

None of my trail running friends are normal. I love ultras.
There's one long climb on each loop. It's too long to run, but you hardly feel justified walking, because it's such a gentle climb.

This race pisses you off because you feel like you should be running harder.

Out of Shape. I think I ran my slowest time ever. I left exhausted and already sore.

Did I mention it's a good ultra if you're trained for a marathon? I am certainly not. I've managed to rebuild my base after spending all fall in physical therapy, but as I mentioned in my last race report, I've done no speed work, or any specific workouts. I'm still rebuilding my base mileage. How long am I going to use this excuse? Only time will tell.

Crossing a field on the HAT 50K course

Brush With Celebrity
. I caught up to Born To Run author
Christopher McDougall with about 4 miles to go, just milliseconds after his Tarahumara huarache toe strap failed. I mumbled something trite about how he'd literally be going barefoot. I shouldn't be allowed to talk to people.
A la piscina en San Jose

An Aside: It is not a good idea to leave for a vacation the day after an ultra.  You will, surprisingly, not feel like packing after you run for seven hours. Above all else, do not book a ridiculously early morning flight.

Proper Recovery. Should you fail to heed those warnings, you'll need to spend the following day lying at the pool in a warm climate. Do nothing more strenuous than raising a cold beverage to your lips.