Hades Underworld Ultra Trail Run - Recap

GroundHog Events is a small company who has just begun to host trail races and team challenges in Southwest and Central Florida. I found out about them through FaceBook, and although I don't typically travel very far for races, I'm glad I drove nearly 4 hours to do this one. Hurricane Irma threatened to derail the Hades Underworld Race, but in the end, the race triumphed and so did I.

The Week Prior:
The distance I was coming across the state dictated that I would need to find a place to stay the night before the race, so I reserved a campsite at Alafia River State Park. This would be my first solo camping adventure, and I was excited. Until Hurricane Irma wreaked her havoc-- the park was closed due to the storm damage and my camping reservation cancelled. I figured the race would follow. Thankfully, after a venue change and then a change again, the race was on at the original location.

However, this left me with too much to think about. No campsite. Potential road closures due to flooding from the storm. Packed and expensive hotels. Congested roads and a 4 hour drive. Just 2 days before the race, I was thinking that I was going to have to delete this race from my schedule. The head of GroundHog Events, Nate, was extremely helpful. We messaged back and forth multiple times regarding the park and campsite options. As late as 5 hours before the Park would close, I got word that I could in fact camp-- I quickly threw my stuff into the car and hit the road.

The Night Before:
I rolled into my campsite around 7:30. The drive to Lithia, Florida wasn't bad. I've come to realize that everything really is relative. When my weekly runs have me grinding it out on pavement for 4 hours at a time, 4 hours in a car really whizzes by.

I set up my tent and tried not to worry too much about wild animals and ax murders, read a little, and settled into a not so peaceful sleep. I'm not sure if it was my imagination or if animals really were sniffing and scratching around my tent at various times during the night.

 Race Morning:
With nothing better to do at 5:30 am, 3 hours before the race, I packed up my tent and headed to the start line. I kept busy by helping hand out bib numbers and offering much needed bug spray to my fellow runners. The race began just about 5 minutes behind schedule.

And I committed the cardinal sin by running out too fast.

The Course:
The course was a challenging 5 mile loop over a variety of typical Florida terrain-- sugar sand, grassy pasture, shaded trails and some surprisingly steep (but short) inclines on equestrian and hiking trails. We had to traverse a few small downed trees and to wade through a small creek.

Most of the course was shaded. The first 2 sandy miles were the most brutal for me, probably because they weren't shaded, and they followed the final 2 miles of the previous loop which were hard on the quads and hamstrings. When I say the inclines were steep, I mean you had to dig in with each step to make sure you wouldn't slide down. On the last loop I pretty much sat on my butt and slid down a few of the declines for fear that my legs would lock up and I would plummet.

Fueling, Hydration, and the Rest of It:
I still haven't figured nutrition and hydration out. And the problem with getting it dialed in, is that it takes practice. The problem with practice  for marathons and ultras is that you have to run a lot of very long, very painful races to figure it all out. And I'm finding out that with Ultras and trail races, running a similar distance means virtually nothing. Terrain is a huge factor, as is temperature, altitude, time of day, climate... you really can't compare races judging by distance.

Pretty much everyone will tell you that fueling and hydrating well for a race begins days before the actual event. For me this was a challenging week, with the hurricane I had cabin fever, baking fever and eating and drinking-everything-in-the-house fever. I didn't do so well with dinner the evening before the race, either. I got hungry driving to the race, so I ate what was easy and convenient-- Pop Corners JalapeƱo Cheddar popcorn chips. By the time I set up camp, I wasn't really hungry for my real dinner-- hard boiled eggs and a salad. Breakfast was much better-- my favorite snack of an apple and almond butter.

I didn't eat enough. And I didn't drink enough water during the race. On the first loop, I drank my Vitargo (about 1 scoop) and only about 3 oz of water. On the second loop I  ate about 1/2 of a chocolate coconut Clif bar and drank about 6 oz of water. On the 3rd loop, I drank about a scoop of Vitargo and ate a couple more bites of the Clif bar.

After this loop (15 miles) I stopped at my cooler to refill my water and Vitargo. I wiped down with a baby wipe, doused myself in ice cold water, and was off-- feeling pretty refreshed and euphoric. I was ahead of schedule. At this pace, I would be able to finish another 3 laps. I rewarded myself with my Spotify "Run" playlist.

After finishing my 4th loop, I stopped at my drop bag to grab a bag of Terra chips. I knew I needed to get some more food in me and was starting to feel a little nauseous. I once again doused myself in icy water, refreshed with a baby wipe, and grabbed the hard boiled eggs... they just sounded good.

I happily began mile 21 munching on those chips. And then made a big mistake. I felt the first twinge in my calf, said a quick "Oh, please, no," prayer and assessed the situation.

Electrolytes or water? That's always the dilemma. At the water stop, I grabbed a packet of Advocare's Rehydrate. It was delicious and just the thing (I thought) I needed. The sticky sweetness wasn't feeling so great, so I took out my slightly mushy bag of hardboiled eggs and started eating like I was Cool Hand Luke doing the 50 egg challenge.

Midway through this 5th lap, I knew I was in trouble. I was having to walk as much as I was running. I could feel my heart rate start to skyrocket every time I began my shuffle-run, so I would have to slow to a walk once again. Meanwhile, Spotify had now begun to play "music similar to your playlist," which was not, in fact, similar to my playlist. Everything was pretty soaked from my hippo like submersions in that little creek-water crossing, so I was stuck with weird modern alternative rock songs in my head. Not helpful, as I was trying to mentally keep myself together (but at least I could channel some of my angst toward Spotify).

I was fine (again, a relative term meaning that at this point, I could slowly run for a bit until my legs would start to twinge-- twinge being that feeling just before a full-blown crippling cramp) until that last little bit of technical trails. As I stepped down the first decline, my left quad seized up. Then the muscle along my right shin. Then the left calf... and my body proceeded to take a very thorough and violent inventory of every muscle in both legs and feet. Seriously. I've never had the muscle on top of my foot cramp up. I never really realized there were muscles there. Thankfully, I had drank several large gulps of water and refilled my water bottles at the last water stop, so when my left quad cramp brought me to my knees, I drank one of my bottles. Then 5 minutes later, when my right camp brought me to my back (it was a humbling moment), I sucked down all my remaining water.

By this point, I knew that the finish line was less than a mile away. But I wasn't sure if I was going to make it. I mean, I knew I would live... but what a shame it would be to come this far and DNF! Plus, I didn't really want to sit for another hour waiting for the course sweepers to find me. After my pleas to the Lord and my water consumption took effect, I rose to my feet and walked gingerly to the finish line.

Despite that this was not at all a glorious finish, I was happy. I gave 100%. I learned much. I enjoyed the course, my fellow racers, and the entire experience.

I finished 1st female and 2nd overall. 
I also won some pretty sweet trail socks from Mudgear.


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