A few guarantees for a trail race in central Maryland in late July: The weather will not be cool and dry. The course will not be smooth and flat. The finish will not arrive quick and easy.
I recommend that if you are indeed planning to run a trail race in Maryland in late July that you make it the Catoctin 50k. Here's why: It's a race with no hype, no frills, and no BS. No t-shirts, no medals, and no goodie bags. The race website says it all, "a wink, a handshake, and a smile" is all you need at the finish. As well as the prestigious CAT card:
The drive South on route 15 in Maryland provides the runners a parallel view of the out and back course. As we whisk by at 65mph Shawn and I get an idea of how long and challenging the race will be. The ridge seems endless and the unspoken question in our minds soon becomes an audible statement of disbelief. Man, that is a long way to run!
Run we did. Jason took the win. I finished tied for 5th. And Shawn completed his first ultra marathon.
I enjoyed the company of running with Sage (1st female finisher) during the middle 10 miles of the race. She helped me stay focused when my hip flexors were cramping and seemed to know everyone on course, eliciting cheers as we soldiered on. It's amazing how quickly the time goes when you are enjoying upbeat conversation during the middle of a race.
I was excited when the exuberant Greg filled my bottle with ice at aid station #4. Cold water has never tasted so good. And the popsicle at the 5th aid station almost blew my mind. Were they hiding a freezer in the woods? The volunteers were incredible.
The last 5 miles may have been 7 miles. All I know was that they were not flat miles and they were not easy miles; rather they were miles that challenged every step. The quads protested on the descents. The heart disagreed on the climbs. I caught up to Scott and we grumbled a bit about the heat, the humidity, and the fact that the finish line was still too far away. But we pressed on glad to have someone to commiserate with and to keep the focus on making it up the last climb.
As we crested the hill and felt the breeze blowing up from the valley below, the pain vanished and the spirits lifted. I checked my watch: 5:56. I said, "let's finish this" and we turned on what little speed was left and hit the parking lot sprinting, finishing in just under 6 hours.
The rest of the day was spent eating some of the best race food you can imagine and hanging out with good people. Grilled chicken, black been burgers, a raspberry and lime dressing, avocado relish, potato casserole, and popsicles were plentiful as the lawn chair beckoned.
I look forward to running the Catoctin 50k next year.