Ho boy. This was one for the ages.
My spring racing season wrapped up a couple days ago at the Dirty German Endurance Fest, held in Philadelphia’s Pennypack Park. Since I live less than half a mile from the Wissahickon, I don’t often take the time to get up to Pennypack to run, even though the trails are lovely and I do find myself yearning for some less familiar trails.
First off, thanks to Uberendurance Sports for organizing a great event. And thanks to the Wissahickon Wanderers for letting me hang out with them in their somewhat rainproof tent after the race.
Oh…did I say something about rain?
Alas, my trusty, economical Garmin Forerunner 10 has stopped communicating with my computer, and I have not replaced it yet, so I have no GPS maps or elevation profiles to show you for this race. But here is the segment from Strava:
First thing to note is that the course is a bit short. My watch clocked 15.07 miles, and that included a bit of extra distance after missing a turn. It’s one big loop around the park for the 25k, two for the 50k, and three loops plus a bit extra for the 50 Miler.
Pennypack in general is flat with smooth trails. There were maybe five true uphills throughout the course, none with an elevation of more than about 100 feet. So in terms of trail running, this should have been about as easy as it comes. Lots of narrow singletrack, some packed gravel, and a few short sections of pavement. A meadow or two. In a couple sections, one at the beginning, and one about two miles from the end, there are these crazy serpentine twists in the trail that were a lot of fun to run. I mean, really tight, quick turns, one after the other.
There were also three creek crossings. On a normal day, this might have mattered, because, you know, your feet get wet. But Saturday, the creek crossings were more of an opportunity to dry off. Did I mention the rain?
We started off for the 25k at 8:30, amid rain that varied from light to pretty heavy; overall, about an inch and a half fell throughout the day, swelling Pennypack Creek past its boundaries (Aid Station 3 had to be moved during the race because of localized flooding). I started with a very different strategy than in my previous race, a trail half. In that race, I wanted to get out front to avoid getting caught up in a slower queue as we got into the singletrack. For the Dirty German, rather than pushing the pace early and trying to hang on, I took it very easy at the start, easing into my pace. Sure, I gave up some time in the early going, and sure, I needed to wait to work my way up the line on the singletrack, but that was ok. The previous trail half was a pacing disaster, and I fell apart early and suffered long. This race was a bit longer and I wanted to feel better at the finish.
The trail itself, early on, held up pretty well. Yes, the trail was equal parts trail and ankle-deep puddle, but the footing remained firm, and I could descend well and run at a fast and comfortable pace when I found the space. With the heavy rain and nearly-contiguous puddles, the creek crossings didn’t seem to be that much of an obstacle, even of the creek was deep enough and fast enough that some of us were trading nervous glances as we forged into the rapids.
I was feeling good, and running with my new 2L Nathan hydration vest, so I skipped the first aid station. I paired up with a couple other runners to chat and regulate my pace, and that went pretty well for the first half of the course as well. But once the second half got under way and the real work began, I put my head down, stopped talking, and ran harder.
The trails also started to come apart over the second half of the race. On Facebook, a number of other runners have been comparing the consistency of the ground to various unbaked foods…cake batter, brownie batter, hot fudge, etc. All accurate. And it all saps the legs pretty good. My IT band kind of went nuts, and I had to deal with some pain up and down my right leg, but I got through it, and it was really only uncomfortable on the downhills, of which there were mercilessly few.
Coming through the last aid station where I grabbed some Coke and a salt potato, I got caught up behind a slow-moving group going through the serpentine section, so I ate some more time there as nursed my leg and waited for a small clearing where I knew I could press ahead a bit. Press ahead I did, running well through the very pretty closing half-mile, and then it was back out into the open for the start/finish area, one last puddle to clean the mud off the shoes if not the legs, and it was over. 2:31:50 or so, a pace just over 10:00/mile. Not great for the easiness of the trails, but considering the weather, and how I am still trying to learn pacing and dealing with terrain in longer trail races, I’ll take it.
What I Learned
To ignore the weather. We’re all out there together. It’s an unavoidable element of the race, it’s a problem to be worked the same way you’d work a mountain or a log to jump over. I mean, mud puddles are fun, anyway.
Two weeks of light running before my next structured training cycle gets going. I just want to keep some miles in my legs but be ready to start fresh. I’ll talk about my late-summer plans later.