Monday, March 24, 2014

My Supporting Role--HAT 50K

Ready to go
As I mentioned in a previous entry, Emir and I are doing two different races in March.  This past Saturday was Emir's race, HAT50K.
Niko and Emir before the start

I really considered this my first time in the supporting role.  There was Emir's first ever marathon which I did not run however I didn't feel very supportive.  It's really hard for an 8 month pregnant woman to lug a 2 year old around and be super supportive during a race.  And as excited as I was that all three of us were going to be there to support Emir at the 50K, I did have some concerns over exactly how it would go.  The kids as they are getting bigger (4.5 and almost 2!) are easier to take out in public but a 50K trail race is a long day for anyone let alone two kids.  Luckily for all of us, the day turned out better than I imagined it would.

Happy to support daddy!

The HAT 50K takes place in Susquehanna State Park in Maryland.  For us it was about 1 hour and 20 minute drive, not bad at all.  We were able to leave our house around 6:15 that morning and make it in more than enough time for Emir to get his packet, glide up, warm up and all his other pre-race rituals.  Right off the bat, people were so super friendly to us.  A race volunteer asked me if I had been to the HAT before and when I said no, he brought me right into the building where the packet pickup was to show me the course map.  He told me to stay at the start area until the runners came through twice and then head to the lower aide stations at this picnic area and we would be able to see Emir 4 more times.  I hadn't even asked anyone about the best places to be, it was so nice of him and he was totally right.  Once we were up at the pavilion area by the start, we saw a few other kids and we all (well not Una) needed the potty.   There was a line but it wasn't too bad.  Everyone standing around was so friendly talking to us and the kids.  No one was annoyed that Niko and I, who were not running the race, were utilizing the facilities before the race. 

The starting line?

off they go!

 Next thing I knew, it was time for the start.  The start is a very interesting one.  All the runners are lined up in this field.  I thought they would all be filing out to the course in a line, but once the man set off the siren (which he accidently did 30 seconds early, oops!) it was a mass of people running straight across the field.  Niko was beside himself cheering for everyone to "run fast!"   While we waited for the runners to start making their first trip back through the pavilion, we met a nice man who was just there to watch.  He is an injured runner currently but lives nearby and has run the HAT numerous times.  He started talking to us since Niko was wearing my Blues Cruise 50K sweatshirt.  We also met another gentleman who is race director for a track ultra that actually takes place about 25 minutes from where we live here in PA. 

Then the runners started coming through.  We were able to basically stand right there as they passed both times.  It was somewhere around 1.5 and 3.9 miles that the runners came through that area.  It made for a very exciting first 45 minutes or so.

After that it was time to head to the lower aide stations.  I wasn't sure exactly where we were going but after pulling out of the main area, I followed signs for the picnic area.  Eventually we made it to the picnic area and low and behold, it was the right place!  It was a fantastic setup for support crews, spectators and the volunteers.  It was a huge parking lot with a playground on one side and the trail on the other side.  There was a large aide station ground level near the parking lot, then there was a second smaller aide station up a short hill.  After the initial small loops the course then consists of two 13.7 loops.  The runners first passed through the upper station and then 4 miles later the lower station.  Therefore, we were able to see Emir 4 times at the picnic area.

All 3 of us had a fabulous time at the picnic area despite being there for hours.  As I have mentioned, I'm being coached now by Caleb Masland and everyone that he coaches is part of #teamwickedbonkproof.  I'm not really going to get into all the details now but we all communicate via social media and we all have #teamwickedbonkproof singlets to wear.   This made it easy to spot the 6 or 7 of my teammates who I have never met before.  So not only was I snapping pictures of Emir all day long but of my teammates to post on our team FB page.  So you might be wondering what my children were doing while I'm snapping away with the camera??  In the beginning Niko made friends with a few other kids hanging around the aide stations.  They gave him and Una clappers and they were all cheering for the runners.  Most kids just say "go, go!" or "run fast!"  Not our Niko.  He could be heard loud and clear "Looking good runner!!"  "you've got this!"  "Not much further to go!"  I think some people thought we practiced for weeks for the race ;-) 

taking charge
handing out drinks

one of the crew

After Emir passed through the two aide stations the first time, we were going to have a bit of a wait as there were 9 miles until he would come back again.  And in fact it was quiet in general for a little while until any runners started making their way back.  The nice setup allowed us to go hang out in our car for a while.  I knew they were both getting tired and could use a snack and rest.  We ate a little and rested a little.  And we didn't have to worry about missing anything as both aide stations were so close and visible, we would easily be able to see any activity.  Una actually took about an hour and half nap in the car.  Niko and I after a shorter rest, went back to the aide station on the hill.  We could see the car easily and Niko would periodically go check to make sure Una was still sleeping.  This is when Niko took it upon himself to start working the aide station.  He is constantly amazing me.  He just walks over the to the table grabs a water cup and a Gatorade cup and then positions himself with the other volunteers.  As runners make their way towards the aide station he starts yelling "fresh water! Gatorade!"  After runners grab drinks from him, he goes back to the table for more.  No one including me ever said to him, "do you want to help give out drinks?" or instructed him on what to do.  At one point he even started filling runners bottles for them as well!  It was so fun to watch and everyone there was enjoying it including the runners coming into the station.  Also, thanks to Niko and his outgoingness we ended up meeting and talking with other volunteers who become our "friends".  Of course leave it to Niko to introduce himself to a man who had parked next to us at one point.  Turns out he was Phil Anderson the man who created the HAT race!  Not that I knew any of that at the time.  I think Phil was a bit surprised I didn't know who he was since I was there and wearing a HAT sweatshirt.  Guess I should have done my homework before the race!  Oh well, Phil was super nice and thanked us for being there after he showed us his HAT tattoo on his leg ;-) 

Giving daddy a kiss for "extra energy"
Best support crew

All of that made us pretty busy in between our Emir sightings.  I thought for sure we would be on the playground a lot to pass the time but the kids enjoyed the people and the runners so much at the aide stations that they never once asked to play on the playground.   As much fun as we were having, we were even happier when Emir would show up including Una who would run for Emir "Daaaaddddddyyyyy!!!".  We all gave him kisses and words of encouragement.  We asked how he was feeling and were even able to give him Tailwind refills.  It worked out really well that we were at the picnic area since Emir's drop bag was at the start pavilion.  So about 5.3 miles after the second aide station with us, he would get to his drop bag.  Even though at times, it was a bit hard for me to just be standing around watching everyone run, it was totally worth it to see how us being there for him really made his race.  Just our presence at these 6 stops was enough but the fact that the three of us were clearly having a wonderful time and others would tell him how great it was to have Niko and Una there, made Emir super happy and I'm sure helped him to push on so he could get back to see us again. 

Last aide station stop

Niko's official race photo with the MadHatter on the HAT FB page
 After we set Emir off on his last 5.3 miles, we drove back to where the race started as this is also where the race finished.  It was a huge grassy hill overlooking the finishing stretch.  It was a perfect view.  There were plenty of people sitting on the hill watching and cheering.  There were also tons of kids which Niko and Una had a great time with.  When Emir came into view, I called to Niko and he went running towards him.  He was yelling to me "mommy I want to help daddy finish!!"  And that he did beaming with pride.  What a moment for me as mommy and wife, so proud of my boys! 

My boys finishing the race
 After Emir's finish, we hung out a bit to cheer on some more runners and give Emir some down time.  Lucky for us we didn't have to drive all the way home right away.  We went to meet and eat with some of my #teamwickbonkproof teammates.  It was great to meet in person and chat about the race and all things running.  Thanks Thomas!!!

What a long day for me!  I was on my feet for like 6-7 hours! ;-)

I know time wise the race wasn't exactly what Emir would have liked (you can read his recap here) but I know that the day in general was far beyond both our expectations.  The race was wonderful for all involved whether you were a runner, spectator, support crew or volunteer.  I would love to run this race with Emir next year but at the same time I want the kids to be able to come again.  Then again it depends on what my goals end up being for next spring.  I'm sure we will have many a discussion on this one!

Lucky for me, I don't have long to wait for my turn to race.  This Sunday is the Ocean Drive Marathon down the shore.  There's many reasons I'm excited.  I've been training different than I've ever trained before so I'm excited to get out there and see if I've improved.  I love road marathons!   Emir and the kids will be there supporting me.  And my sister is running the 10 miler that coincides with the marathon so I won't be alone taking the bus to Cape May for the start.  And finally I love the Ocean Drive Marathon.  I love the shore and I love that this marathon is point to point all along the coast.  Of course as excited as I am, I'm starting to get pretty nervous (see why here)!  Check back next week!