Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sucking it up at the Cat 50K (2012)

(My 2014 race report is available here)

The Hype

Heading into my first Catoctin 50k, I read all the reports. The rocks, the heat, the lack of tolerance for sniveling, whining, whinging.  True, all true.  So how to do a race report without falling into the covert complaining trap?  Here goes.  And I'm really more than half serious, too.

Festival of Rocks

Yes, they are with you the whole way. Big dry boulders to hop across. Wet slippery boulders in the stream crossings.  Little pebbly rocks that move around underfoot, usually in unexpected directions. Football-sized immovable rocks that do not not move, that crowd together and keep you constantly off-balance, that seek out and bruise any unprotected area of the foot.  An infinite variety of rock types.

But the technical demands of the Cactoctin trail are not unrelenting.  There are sections of a good 30 to 40 yards where the terrain levels out and you can really open things up and get into a groove.

Heat and humidity

Just an average hot humid day in 2012, peaking out around the low 90s (I think). Normal hot, not one of the must-be-global-warming crazy hot days we've been having this summer. I tried to think of it as a nice warm bath on a cold day. That went pretty well until the hour, when the sun came out full force and I overheated.  Icewater, a popsicle, and a little walking did wonders.


All that stuff Kevin says about no sympathy, no frills, "I don't care," etc?   Well, someone didn't tell the volunteers, who go above and beyond to take care of runners on the trail. They are informed and knowledgable as well as solicitous (eg, "are you keeping up with your electrolytes?").


I saw one race report complaining about the lack of scenery. Well, it's true, you don't see anything but trees (and rocks). The race is basically a hot, humid, green tube with terrible footing. This just means you don't have the distraction of beautiful vistas, which only lead to rubbernecking and possible dangerous falls.

Getting lost

The blue trail blazes are pretty good, actually.  The overwhelming challenge of the Cat 50K is keeping mental focus. Lose it, and you may go down, or go astray. Inevitably, the mind strays...and too bad for you if that happens at a trail intersection. I did fairly well, given the statistics of lost souls. I lost maybe two minutes on a short side trip, then maybe another 10 when I missed a sharp left turn in the latter part of the race.

Post-race festivities

Fantastic post-race party. Good conversation and good company.  War stories, past and present.  I'm glad my stomach was "on" today, because after the race I enjoyed the best veggie burger I've every had. I'll never go back to frozen supermarket veggie burgers after experiencing this grilled masterpiece of burger, avocado, and shitake mushrooms.

My race

Dropping from 13th place near the final aid station, I ended up 18th place, in something like 6 hours 34 min, a slew of people passing me during the last climb.*  Ugh.  Considering the goal was--well, I didn't have a goal, except not to do anything stupid.  Felt great until the final set of climbs, when I overheated and had to walk for a few stretches and douse myself with water to cool down. The big triumph for me was finally mastering that Rubics cube of fluid, electrolyte, and nutrition--for this particular gut, anyway. Nausea and GI issues have been the bane of my ultra existence thus far, so getting it dead-on right under these conditions gives me a lot confidence for cooler fall races.

*After the race, I was not showing up on the results, so I wrote to Kevin, who replied right away that he was on a cross-country motorcycle trip for 2 weeks--then he somehow fixed the issue from the road.  Another example of how you get way more than your $25 worth in this race.

Cat 50 vs. Promise Land 50k smackdown

During the race, in one of those mental "wandering" periods, I found myself thinking about whether Catoctin or Promise Land was the more difficult race.  All things considered, I'd have to say that PL is the more physically demanding race, but Catoctin is the more mentally demanding.

Some respect, please

I'd take issue with one blogger who wrote that the Cat 50 was not good training for a longer ultra, presumably because the rocks kept things slower.  That's nonsense.  The Cat 50 above all teaches mental focus.  Focusing on the moment, on your surroundings; paying attention, for hours on end.

Everything about this race also teaches you the virtue of positive thinking and collective effort.  In other words, of turning off ego and self-regard and self-pity, and turning outwards towards the world and others.  Enduring not just the big physical tests, but all the little physical insults of the trail and the weather. These are pretty key attributes for ultra runners.  Or for anyone at all.


  1. Great race report! Glad you had a great day on the trails!

    1. You too, Ray. Thanks for the rattlesnake photo on Twitter. Bummed that I didn't see it, actually.

  2. I too contemplated that same smack down and had a hard time deciding since my time at promise land was an hour faster but still I would have to agree with you on that smack down choice especially with that cold climb up apple orchard this year. However, this race is brutal and if your not ready for even a little heat it is a suffer fest. I wasn't and am not sure if I will ever run well in heat. Great report and great job out there,

    1. You definitely need to be heat trained to survive this one. It makes a huge difference; I felt pretty well heat-proof after recent training in 100 degrees, but still suffered in the last hour or so. Sorry to hear you weren't acclimated this time--ouch. But congrats on getting through it.