Everything I remember from the Hitchcock Experience plus some other things

“You ran to the start?”

“Yeah.”

“And that’s all you brought for a drop bag?”

I stared at the little insulated lunchbox my parents got me for my first job out of high school. It made for a great lunchbox back then, but these days I use it to hold things I might need during a race, like extra socks, a backup shirt, peanut butter, and drugs. It’s waterproof, squirrelproof, Sithproof, and small enough to carry while running away from the dark side. I’m sorry to inform you that it’s not for sale.

“Yeah.”

She looked at me suspiciously.

“How are you going to get back to your tent?”

“I was planning to just hobble-jog it and hope I didn’t freeze along the way.”

I almost died of hypothermia during my first 100-miler because I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was doing. It rained all day and part of the course was thigh-deep in water. The rest of the course was mud. I did fine until night fell and the temperature dropped. Being too stupid to see the need for changing out of my wet clothes, I was well nigh frozen by the time I got to mile 95, where I spent about half an hour shivering violently inside an old schoolhouse and then another 45 minutes or so doing the same thing in the front seat of an ambulance with heaters blasting.

Fast-forward a dozen 100-milers. I know about hypothermia now, but I still don’t have the slightest idea what I’m doing, which is why instead of remembering to bring warm clothes to change into after the Hitchcock Hundred I left them all at my tent. This despite my best planning:

A hilariously incomplete list of things to take to Hitchcock

Not sure how I keep forgetting stuff.

Fortunately the Beacon of Hope/Despair (that’s the lodge at the start/finish) was warm, so after finishing the race I went inside and found a chair. And that’s where I had the above conversation, or something similar to it. I was surrounded by people I didn’t know but as it turned out those people were friendly and kind, just like most everyone I’ve ever met who thinks ultrarunning is a good idea.

As is my custom, before I get too far into this blog I’d like to take the opportunity to point you somewhere else on the internet. Time is money; don’t waste yours on this blog. Instead of reading the next 2,200 words why not watch this ridiculous Mario Kart 64 speed run. I played a lot of Mario Kart 64 in seventh grade, mostly in the entertainment section of every Walmart my family stopped at while we were traveling across the country, but I never knew these tricks were possible. It’s not enough to make me want to relive seventh grade, though.

The buckle

I’ve never understood all the fascination with belt buckles in this sport but I’m putting the Hitchcock buckle near the top of this blog despite my confusion. I’ve heard rumors that the buckle can be traced back to Western States and the original 100-mile endurance ride before Gordy turned it into a footrace for crazy people. Being a man who rarely wears belts and never wears buckles, I usually just stow the buckles I’m given in a cardboard box and forget about them until I need to take a picture for a blog post.

The Hitchcock buckle is very handsome and based on the results of the detailed material composition analysis I just made up, it consists of brass and inlaid wood:

Hitchcock buckle

The Hitchcock Experience 100-mile finisher’s buckle.

Hitchcock buckle reverse

Here is the back.

The event

This was the second annual Hitchcock Experience Hundred, hosted by the Greater Omaha Area Trail Runners (GOATz) at the Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa. Here is their Facebook page, which is a good place to go if you’re just looking for pictures of the course and have realized that I didn’t take any.

I picked this race for several reasons. First, I wanted a late-season 100-miler. I’ve been trying to finish at least one 100-miler every year since I almost died in that first one in 2013. But back in March I screwed up Antelope Island 100, then I had to take it easy for a couple months in order to pin down some odd health problems that ended up being related to life at high elevation. Then I spent the entire summer scouting for Nolan’s 14, and of course I screwed that up, too. October rolled around and the big event that month turned out to be R2R2R. Then all of a sudden it was November. Not many 100s take place in November/December but Hitchcock does.

Second, I wanted something relatively affordable. Hitchcock was just under $200 which I consider a really good deal for a 100-miler.

Third, I wanted something I could drive to in a day. Getting to Hitchcock took me about 10 hours, or maybe it was 11, including stops for gas and coffee and depending on whether or not I go back and check Google Maps directions before publishing this blog.

Fourth, I wanted something with a lot of climb, and Hitchcock seemed to fit the bill. A lot of Nebraska/Iowa is flat, but where the Loess Hills reach up out of the ground just outside of Omaha you’ve got the makings for a tough race course.

Finally, I gave preference to Hitchcock because I knew someone who ran it last year, Eric, and so I contacted him for feedback. I figured he’d have a good perspective because he helps direct the Potawatomi 100 in Illinois, which I ran in 2014. Hitchcock sounded a lot like Potawatomi – plenty of climb on a looped course in the middle of what you might expect to be flatlands.

The course

The course is laid out on a winding loop that squeezes 12 and a half miles out of the trails in a 1,268-acre park. You run 8 of these loops for the 100-miler, and the first loop has an extra 0.9 miles or so tacked on to accommodate the half-marathoners who start with you at 5am. You can find all of this information on the race website so I’m not sure why I’m repeating it. Here is the map. If you’re looking for a great late-season 100-miler then I really do recommend this course. (There’s also a 50-mile option; just be advised that it starts at 9pm at night.)

Trails

Mostly smooth with minimal roots/rocks. Lots of doubletrack. There’s one short section a bit after mile 2 where you enter private property and the ground is kind of choppy, but that section didn’t appear to be a regularly used trail so much as a race-day connector. Plus I’m guessing it varies a lot in footfeel depending on weather and use.

Anyway, as mentioned above the course has a lot of elevation gain thanks to numerous short, steep hills and the fact that you get to climb each one 8 times. The race website indicates there’s about 19,700 feet of gain for 100 miles, and after I finished both of my legs agreed that was a pretty good estimate. I ran all the flats, downhills, and gradual uphills, but every time I got to one of those short, steep hills I hiked it. For me, it’s just more efficient to powerhike hills that steep.

Aid stations

  • The Beacon of Hope/Despair – Start/finish; very warm and inviting. Great place to quit but I really don’t recommend quitting. This is the only spot for drop bags, but given the proximity of aid stations and the loop length there’s no need for DBs anywhere else. Kickass volunteers and hot noodle soup here
  • Ralph’s – Mile 3.65; kickass volunteers and hot noodle soup here
  • The Oasis – Mile 6.75; kickass volunteers and hot noodle soup here
  • Loess Hills Nordic Ski Patrol – Mile 9.5; very limited aid. Basically just a firepit with some kickass emergency personnel standing around in the cold ready to help if you’re dying

Course marking

Markers were frequent and clear. Only an idiot would get lost on this course. I’ve always been the type to memorize a course in advance and carry a map with me, that way when I still somehow manage to get lost like an idiot it doesn’t take too long to get myself back on track. I’m sure not gonna complain when they make a course this easy to follow.

The rest of this blog

is mostly farce and flapdoodle, so once again I recommend you quit reading, especially if you’re looking for useful information that would help you finish the Hitchcock Hundred. In fact, why don’t you read this Omaha World-Herald article about the race, which describes how the women’s 100-mile winner, Jodi, finished despite a bad case of bronchitis. And pneumonia. I was also interviewed for the article but I don’t recall having to push through inflammation and infection of my respiratory system just to finish. There must be some kind of lesson about perseverance here.

The experience

I got up super early on Friday, Dec. 9, to start the drive to Iowa. Every time I drive east from Colorado I’m reminded of all those years I spent in Chicago running the flat lakefront path and city streets, and it always makes me thankful for the opportunity to live in the mountains. I know there are people who want to live in the mountains but for various reasons aren’t able to. So I always try to be grateful about my lot in life.

I’m going to skip most of the driving to Iowa part because it was, well, driving. If you’ve ever driven on an interstate highway then you can imagine what it was like. I followed the speed limit, used my turn signals, and drank gas station coffee all day because I hate myself. Somewhere between Lincoln and Omaha a white pickup truck with a couple dozen ultrarunning and GOATz bumper stickers went whipping past me so I knew I was heading in the right direction.

I arrived at the nature center at dusk and located Scott, one of the race directors, at the Beacon of Hope/Despair. He gave me directions to the group camping site reserved for runners. I was expecting a crowd because it was free camping, but I was the only one there. Who passes up free camping?

Whenever I go camping I do everything I can to avoid paying for it. I prefer to find dispersed campsites, or to just make my own campsite if everything else is already taken. The nice thing about making your own campsite is that the only thing you have to do is build a firepit. Once there’s a firepit you’re good to go. Now, not paying for camping means that a lot of times I have to drive Growler, my (mostly) loyal Subie, on roads and into places he probably shouldn’t be driving on or into due to the high risk of never coming back out. But that’s a small price to pay for something free.

Here’s the other great thing about that group camping site – the race course goes right by it. That meant I got to see Growler every loop at about mile 2, and if I wanted to change my shirt or chip a tooth on a frozen granola bar or just quit running altogether and drive back to Colorado, well, I could do those things.

I slept very comfortably and warm in my tent. At precisely 4am Saturday, Dec. 10, I woke up and poured a Red Bull mostly down my throat and partly down my sleeping bag. Then I packed my little lunchbox, ran to the Beacon of Hope/Despair, and started the 100-mile race at 5am.

Here’s a quick and very incomplete loop-by-loop rundown:

Loop 1

The snow started somewhere in the middle of loop 1. It was still dark and the flurries were disorienting as they stole the show dancing in the light of my headlamp. I was dizzy and worried about the snow because I knew that if it kept on snowing there’d be the risk of hypothermia and mud, two things I’m not a big fan of.

Loop 2

I took a slide, gracefully of course, down a steep hill just past Ralph’s. This was the only time I fell during the race. I usually expect to fall at least once in every race, and I always take it as a good sign when my fall comes early. It usually means the rest of the race will go well.

The snow stopped and the trails cleared off nicely.

Loop 3

“Just one more loop and you’ll be halfway there!!” someone said when I finished loop 3. That’s all I remember from loop 3.

Loop 4

I finished loop 4 at 9 hours on the dot feeling fine and still able to do math in my head. I calculated that it would be possible to finish in under 20 hours if I focused and didn’t slow down too much.

(“You’re halfway there!!” someone said.)

Loop 5?

I don’t really remember this loop, so maybe this is a good place to talk about how my old extensor tendonitis injury flared up during the race. I can’t remember exactly when I first noticed, but I do recall I was hiking up one of those steep little soulcrushers at the time, and also it was still light out, so let’s just put that little piece of trivia right here.

“Hey Brandt, remember what happened last time?” I heard myself ask myself.

“Yeah, 40 horrible slow miles of pain to the finish line, and then two months of not running,” I answered.

“You’re gonna do it again, aren’t you?”

“If I have to.”

Fortunately I didn’t have to because the flare-up didn’t get any worse, and then after a while I couldn’t feel anything in my legs at all, so I took that as a good sign and kept running. Also, I think it was somewhere in here that I got the dumb idea in my head to try and crack 19 hours. But I screwed that one up, too.

I don’t remember loop 6 either,

so I guess I’ll use this space to talk about nutrition. The aid stations had everything anyone could possibly need to finish 100 miles. I had Tailwind in my bottle the entire day, and I also ate a lot of noodle soup. That’s really about it – Tailwind and noodle soup. I may have had a quesadilla and a cup of hot chocolate in there somewhere too.

I know Tailwind is supposed to be a complete nutrition drink where you don’t need to eat any solid foods to perform well, but that doesn’t change the fact that hot noodle soup is the best thing in the world when you’re running all day and it’s cold outside. I think the lesson here is that during 100-milers you should just eat whatever you feel like eating and try not to throw any of it up.

You know what, forget it

I spent a whole day running around in circles and I can’t remember exactly where all the memories fit in. Who cares. What matters is that I finished all 8 loops in 19 hours, 16 minutes, and 38 seconds, averaging about 2:25 per loop, good enough for the top 10. It was my 15th attempt at the 100-mile distance and my 13th completion.

I went into the Beacon of Hope/Despair and found a chair.

The end, thanks, and happy belated Festivus

Thanks to the RDs, Scott and Ron; all the wonderful volunteers who donated their time; all the people I met and talked to whose names I’ve forgotten; and of course the kind souls who gave me a ride back to my tent – that was a whole lot better than hobble-jogging and freezing.

I feel well-rested and healed up from the race. My tendonitis is in remission and I’ve been on several decent runs recently. None of my toenails fell off this time, and only three of them are black. I can’t wait to see what happens in 2017.

Bonus picture of my Festivus poles:

Festivus poles that are actually just Leki trekking poles

Pretty sure these guys are 100% carbon, not aluminum. Strength-to-weight ratio is still very high and fatigue life is way longer than aluminum. These are $200 poles so it’s a miracle my friend Erik decided to just up and give them to me. Happy Festivus everyone.

 

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