Saturday 10/13 was a date I had circled on my calendar for quite some time. It’s the date of the 3rd running of the Feral Hog 50k trail race in Southwestern Ohio and it would be my second time testing myself against this challenging course. I tried in in 2017 and was quickly humbled by the hills, creek and river crossings absolutely lighting up my IT band forcing me to drop after 20 miles. I didn’t even know what an IT band was, let along how to fix it before I started the race but since then have learned quite a bit. Months of PT where I learned stretching, foam rolling and loads of hip strengthening exercises ensued. I firmly decided I’d be getting my revenge on the course in 2018. I’ve been doing a lot of rucking lately and a few GORUCK events so as the event drew close, I felt pretty comfortable in changing my entry from runner to rucker. I had logged plenty of training miles in my boots, with my ruck and was happily anxious to get started.
My son and I drove to Williamsburg for packet pickup the night before the race and were greeted by name from Mary, the race director. We had been joking back and forth on Facebook about my quest for a finish and made a special DNF glass from last year’s race for me with a promise I wouldn’t need the 2018 DNF version. We were all smiles and happy to be recognized by name. She remembered my son who was the youngest finisher in 2016 at 16 years old. We collected our swag, which included a cool zip up jacket, bib and we were on our way to the hotel for a good night’s sleep before the big day. While watching “Live PD” a guilty pleasure that reminds me of the “COPS” of old, I got my ruck ready. I had a 10lb weight, 3L of water in a hydration bladder and a 1L Nalgene with NUUN electrolytes in it. I also had my Pelican case with foot care kit, more NUUN, batteries for my headlamp and my headlamp itself. All told it was over 25lbs and the weight requirement for the rucking division is 20lbs so I was all set.
We were up and at ‘em around 5:30 and on our way to East Fork State Park. I had some hotel coffee and two Panera bagels we bought the previous night as nothing is open this early. We arrived and parked in time to hear the pre-race briefing for the early start (6:30AM). I checked in and had my ruck weighed at 27lbs officially and it wasn’t long after I was off on the course. My son started at the regular time so hung around the camp fire while I hit the trail.
It’s important to note that it rained the night before and had also rained earlier in the week, so the course was pretty muddy. I am being kind here as the first two miles or so are part of the horseback riding trail and the horses made some pretty deep mud holes which after the week’s rain were more than ankle deep and even more in some spots. My plan was to shuffle as much as I could on the flat but this mud made it a real slog. No worries, I kept on trucking, this was going to be a long day but I was in the woods, so it’s hard to beat that! My first two miles were under my target pace but once we made the transition off of the horse trail, I was able to bump it up. I was feeling great and really just enjoying being out there with the sun slowly coming up. I was able to turn off my headlamp and just started grinding miles. The Feral Hog 50k is a single loop course around the East Fork State Park. The race director changes the direction of the race every year which means that the part of the course I was on now was new to me as it would have been the last 14 miles of last year’s race. It is fall in Ohio and the leave are turning and it was cool, in the mid 40F’s and I was making the pace I needed to make. All of the other early starters were ahead of me with the exception of a few I passed in the mud. I was rucking solo and totally loving it. Mary had mentioned early starters could now compete for a coveted flask for finishing under 10 hours and I not only wanted to finish, but a flask. I was on a mission! The terrain was rolling hills and I knew I had a pretty deep river crossing coming up. I started the descent into the river valley and right before I reached the river, the lead runner from the regular start time dashed past me. Dang that dude is fast! I crossed the river and Mary was on the other side cheering everyone on. I made my way up the hill and somehow missed a turn and kept up the path until I hit the parking lot and didn’t see any runners or markers. No worries, I wasn’t too far off course so backtracked down, found the turn and began the uphill slog out of the river valley.
The first aid station was coming up soon and I arrived a little behind where I wanted to be, but still in the hunt for a flask. I drank some NUUN, topped off my 3L bladder, which I had been hitting regularly and checked in with the volunteers. My son had passed me while I was on my detour so I was bumming that I missed seeing him out there. I grabbed some peanut M&Ms and was off. I had a plan to not sit at any aid stations and I wasn’t going to quit this course – they’d have to pull me off. I shuffled along the flat part of the Spillway section, again keeping with the plan. I was feeling good, IT Band was happy, post operation knee was happy and so was I. Runners were all supportive as they passed me. The trail running community is amazing and I am happy to be a small part of it. I was making the pace I wanted and working my through the course. The terrain wasn’t too bad and we were on single track and part of the Buckeye Trail so pretty well maintained. We joined up with the mountain bike trail and could finally see the lake through gaps in the trees. I pushed when I could and felt like I was constantly drinking.
The next aid station, Indian Mound, was getting close and I was slightly behind flask pace but still moving. I pushed harder and it wasn’t too long before I was walking into the aid station. I checked in while one of the volunteers filled my hydration bladder – I had drained all 3L of it. I finished my NUUN and mixed up a new Nalgene of it, grabbed some PB&J sandwich pieces and was out of the aid station without sitting or spending too much time. It was maybe a mile out from Indian Mound and I was noticing I was slowing. The terrain was getting more intense so I chalked it up to that. I found another rucker, Steve from Cleveland, who was lost. He joined me in the grind and we made our way forward. We chatted on and off and were clocking miles. He had DNFed last year too and was out for revenge. At one point he sat down and told me to keep going. I double checked to make sure and he insisted so I kept rolling.
This is about where the wheels on my dream fell off. I stopped to urinate, which almost immediately struck me as odd. With all of my hydration I should have gone at least once before then. I’ll spare the details but lets say I was between IPA and Red Ale.I had probably close to 5L of fluid in me including maybe 1.5L of NUUN which I use all of the time in training. I was soaked with sweat but apparently was sweating more than I was taking it. I can’t tell you how demoralizing it was to see how dehydrated I was, though it certainly explained my slower pace. I intensified my drinking efforts and kept moving. We were into part of the course I had been on last year and I knew what was up ahead – a very challenging section of hills and valleys. I pressed on but my pace was way off. It wasn’t long before Steve caught up with me. We were close to missing the cut off time at the 3rd aid station and probably had 2 miles to go. I was crushed to realize this was not going to finish the way I wanted. The only way out is forward so onward I pressed. We met up with a female rucker and checked with her as she was working on a strain or pulled calf. She urged us to go on so we did. The cut off time came and went. The female rucker passed us and we continued on.
Our day came to an end at 20 miles as we arrived at the aid station and loaded into the “Slaughter Wagon” to be returned to the start. I had more or less come to peace, as best you can, with the way the day ended up. I hadn’t planned for dehydration and man, can it kick your butt. I felt horrible, weak but somewhat content that I gave it my all. In the car on the way back to the start I heard that my son finished (whooo-hooo!!!!) and that he won the “Dirtiest Nut” award. Apparently he was caked in mud and I found out after the fact that the last 2 miles were back on the horseback trail and the mud we faced at the start. The dropped us off next to the fire and I walked up to my son who was talking with some of the other ruckers who DNFed. He was sad to hear I DNFed but happy that it wasn’t my knee or IT band. He suffered an IT band issue earlier this year and knows how miserable that can be. We chatted with people for a while and made our way to the start finish line so I could get my DNF pint glass. Mary was there and commiserated about the DNF. We took some pictures with my son getting his award and headed to the car for the 2 hour drive home.
It is Thursday as I write this and I am just finally starting to feel normal and hydrated properly. I obviously drank a ton of water, Body Armor, coconut water and more water over the weekend but wow did that experience really drain me. I’ve been able to hit the elliptical the last two mornings and did some rucking last night but nothing that’s close to my normal training effort. I’ll be training more before my next races and will pay special focus to my hydration. I don’t want to enter that pain cave again and as always with these endurance events, you learn a lot. Check out the salt crust on my face in the pic below - that's a serious sweat.
Will I be back next year? Without a doubt. Now I have a double-sided axe to grind. Plus, the volunteers at the aid stations are amazing and so supportive. There was a band at the finish with banjos, too and of course, the race director is awesome. To remember our names and put as much effort into this event as she does is just a testament to her love of the sport.
In case you care,
· GORUCK Rucker
· CamelBak Crus 3L Bladder
· Nalgene 1L bottle
· Columbia SilverRidge Convertible Pants (in shorts configuration)
· Russell Athletic Dri-Power Powerformance Crewneck Shirt
· Rocky RKC050 Military and Tactical Boot
· REI Hiking Socks