If there’s one thing we learn from ultra running it’s how to focus on possibilities instead of limits, achieving beyond what makes common sense and running into the unknown. We run with confidence to continuously move up those mountains, reaching the top only to find higher mountains and more possibilities. Although I’ve ran the 50K distance many times, I feel that every ultra marathon, no matter the distance, makes us stronger. We run, we learn, and we grow every time we put on those shoes and walk out the door. The Patapsco Valley 50k was no different. Since I ran this race sick, to stay positive and to keep my head in the race was an accomplishment all its own. So here’s my Race Report on the Patapsco 50K. Please read, enjoy, and most importantly: Keep It Moving!
Race Day Morning
The weather was incredible the week prior to race day. 80-degree temperatures and not a cloud in the sky; one last dose of summer before entering into a cold northeastern winter in the United States. Unfortunately, there was a dramatic shift on race day morning. The 80-degree temps were replaced by the low 50’s and the sunny skies were replaced with clouds and 20mph wind gusts. I was fighting a really bad cold but kept my focus on making it to the starting line. I couldn’t have doubts. I just wouldn’t. That morning I watched the trees blow sideways while I coughed violently, looking out my hotel room window. A chilling head cold left me congested and my mind cloudy. When I looked in the mirror I noticed my shirt was on backwards and found one of my compression socks on inside out. This made me laugh as I tried to keep it down with my 2-year-old son still in a deep sleep. His excitement kept us up for the better half of the night. I thought to myself, “Today will be an interesting one.”
At check-in it was surprising to see such a big turnout. There were over 200 participants in the race. When I reached the front to get my bib, I was handed a big winter snow hat. This may have been the most useful piece of swag I’ve ever received. I put the hat on immediately and a pair of sweatpants to get warm. We took the starting line and at 7:00am off we went!
Official Course Description
For those planning on attending next year here is the official course description:
The Patapsco Valley 50K is a trail ultramarathon on the trails of Patapsco Valley State Park Avalon Area in Baltimore, Maryland. The race features plenty of scenic dirt single track with a few short sections on paved bike trail. The terrain is challenging but runnable with rolling hills throughout. The course has a handful of small creek crossings and can often be muddy in many places. You will hardly believe you are just minutes from busy downtown Baltimore!
Course highlights include Cascade Falls, Bloede Dam, which was the first submerged hydroelectric dam known to exist, Swinging Bridge, and the ruins of the Orange Grove Flour Mill and the small manufacturing towns of Orange Grove and Avalon, as well as the Avalon Nail and Iron Works. Not to mention gorgeous views of the Patapsco River throughout! Adding to the intrigue of this race is the fact that part of the 1999 movie The Blair Witch project was filmed at Patapsco Valley State Park!
My Official Course Description
Oddly enough, they mention The Blair Witch Project because I specifically remember running past an old, creepy-looking abandoned house. Anyway, the description is pretty spot on. There were many runnable rolling hills with some steap climbs. There was even a group of firefighters tied off to trees scaling down the same hills we were running up. In addition to climbs, there were creek crossings, rock running, and a few old train tunnels. The course is well marked but my advice–pay attention. A handful of people did get lost. Ever run to a point where that feeling in your gut sinks in? The feeling when you realize you just ran miles off course? I have and it’s a tough slump to get yourself out of. But I’ll tell you what–Patapsco 50K had a great group of volunteers. They were out along the course to give direction. Even towards the end of the race when the signs blew away, the flags ripped off the trees, and the food got cold, the volunteers were still out there full of enthusiasm. Besides a few wrong turns that I quickly noticed, my navigation was up to par. Overall the course was fun, challenging, and rewarding.
The First 20
The race starts off with an immediate steep concrete path before entering into the trail. If you plan for a quick start make sure you get up front because it’s a tight single track afterwards. I decided to start at a slower pace than usual because of how sick I was, plus the fact that I caught pneumonia racing this past March. It truly takes much more discipline to run at a slower pace. I tried my best to breath through the nose. This was, unfortunately, quickly interrupted by a nosebleed that instantly became an issue for the remainder of the day. After the first creek crossing at mile 7.4, I hit the first aid station. I did not stop. I continued running at a conservative pace, trying to enjoy the views of the open fields and the various bodies of water. After one steep climb, I hit the next aid station at mile 11. Again, I did not stop. I ran past the first two aid stations–not a sip of any fluids until mile 18. Running on empty has helped me solve some pretty intense stomach issues. For me, it’s worth sacrificing speed if it eliminates nausea. During my first 100-mile ultra marathon I ran 50 miles nauseous. That race I finished on pure determination, strength, and ginger chews! Anyway, between the 2nd and 3rd aid stations there were some technical downhill trails and a train tunnel to run through. There was also a section of rocks to climb through the creak. This section can really be a blast if you’re up for it.
To the Finish
Mile 20 brings you back to the start/finish area. There I found my drop bag along with my son! I picked him up as my family helped me refill my handheld with some coconut water. As I let go of my son he began to cry and this made it tough to leave. But I knew he’d be even happier to see me at the finish. So It was time to run the same beginning section of the course. Back past the abounded house, back through the creek, and back up the steep climb. Over the same rocks and through the old tunnel. If you look at your energy level as a bank on race day, I was very conservative with my spending but it was time to withdraw. The last 5 miles I let go and ran like it was a new race! Rolling through the hills, I sprinted up the climbs and flew down the descents. Even with a cold, I didn’t want to leave anything on the table. You really only ever hear people talk about a second wind, but with the right level of mental strength you soon discover there are many more winds to catch. Towards the end of every race, I remind myself that the next day while laying in bed, thinking back on the race that this will all just be a distant memory. So while I’m here, today, in this moment, the moment in the present, I will give it all that I have! As I ran down one of the last technical descents, my foot clipped the top of a root and down I went. The first fall of the day! I wrote in my post Running Your First Trail Ultra Marathon? that if you look up then you’re going down. You might also want to keep in mind that at the end of a race your legs are much more tired so it takes much more effort to lift them, especially if you increase your pace. Landing face-first as I rolled off my shoulder breaking my headphones, I popped back to my feet and kept moving forward.
Crossing the Line
As the finish line came into vision, I wiped the dirt off my face and the blood from my sleeves. Approaching the finish line, I saw my son in the distance. When I reached the final stretch I picked him up and we crossed the finish line together. Today was my 50th run over 30 miles and my son’s second time crossing the finish line with his Daddy. I thank the Patapsco Valley 50K and all its volunteers for putting on such an organized event.
While I’m laying here, thinking back on the race, it is now a distant memory. So while I’m here, today, in this moment, the moment in the present, I will sign up for another race! (Haha) Thanks for reading and Keep It Moving!