ORRC Hagg Lake Double

Technically this is a “race” report but more like just a long training weekend because I did nothing over the course of Saturday or Sunday that felt like racing. Strap in for some slow methodical musings of the weekend out at Hagg Lake.

Let’s go over the details of the event. ORRC (Oregon Road Runners Club) puts on this “trail” run at Hagg Lake in February ever year or least for 10+ years as if you’ve done it for the last 10 years you get VIP parking right at the finish line. The official title of the weekend festivities is “Hagg Lake Mud Runs – Ultra 50K & 25K”. I bolded the mud word as basically the whole course is pretty sloppy. Its around the lake on the trail with various little road sections intermixed in with the dam being the longest road section. On Saturday, they have the 50K which is two laps around the lake and on Sunday they have the 25K, a single lap. As a person who signs up for the double, you get a special color bib and when you complete the 25K on Sunday you get a beanie and a full growler filled with either beer, cider or root beer. The growler was the sole reason I signed up to do this.

The 50K on Saturday started right at 7am. It was light enough that I didn’t need my headlamp but I had brought it just in case. The weather was misty and about 45 degrees with some wind. The best part of the event was they had about 5 of those outdoor heaters that you see at restaurants in the picnic area. So instead of having to sit in my car prior to the start of the race, I just camped right next to one of those. I wish all races had them. They also had port-o-potties a plenty as I never had to wait in a line for all my pre-event nervousness.

The pre-event briefing happened at the start/finish about 5-10 minutes prior to start where they went over the emergency stuff and talked about the course and aid stations. They had setup the event with recycling in mind. No cups and everything was basically compost-able. Yep, it’s fun to be back in Oregon. I had my hydration bladder and was basically carrying all my nutrition. New to my nutrition setup were two 20oz soft flasks from HyrdaPak. They basically start collapsing as you drink their contents and they don’t bounce in my pack.

I positioned myself towards the back of the runners since my plan was just to go easy and slow the whole time. No crazy downhill running in the mud. Just relax around the lake 2 times. The event started and we did a little lap around the paved parking lot to help spread out everyone a little before the first single track section of about 400 meters before another longer paved out-n-back to really spread out the field. I immediately noticed a few runners in road running shoes. I was like uh-oh. I knew from my simple training run back in early January that it was gonna be tough going with a decent traction trail shoe even though Oregon had a super dry first 2 weeks of February.

Sure enough we hit a slight camber hill in the first trail section and people are slipping everywhere. A few almost wiped out on the first small downhill that we had to walk since everyone was still bunched up. Once we got off the trail to the serious out-n-back up a pretty decent hill I decided to try and distance myself from anyone not wearing serious trail shoes.

As we ascended on the road, an animal of some sorts dashed right across the road through some runners ahead of me. It was so fast I couldn’t make out what it was but the runners up ahead said it was deer. It almost barreled right into them. Crazy lucky that no one got side swiped.

We got thru the out-n-back and the serious trail running started. There was some decent trail but lots of slushy mud on descents and ascents. I was navigating a slow clip and got passed a couple of times but overall I felt I was in the right location pace wise. After a few of the hills I closed on a few folks who were employing the walk all hills routine. I had decided to run at a good clip all the hills to help get my legs ready for whats to come this summer. This is when we hit the first nasty uphill of the route.

So nasty that it had a custom sign provided by the event organizers, “The Slip-n-Slide”. There was even a photographer taking pictures of us as we scrambled up. I was able to make without much trouble thanks to my serious traction on my Salomon Speedcross trail shoes. The worst part was the muck going down the other side. I navigated this as well but it was a bit slippery and everyone around me were taking it slow.

It would’ve been interesting to watch the leaders go through these sections but us BOP(back of the packers) were in no rush. I saw a spill as we came what looked like a benign off-camber section in an open field. We hit the road and made our way across the dam. It was super cold in this section as the wind was going and the mist just made your soul cold. I got passed by a few folks motoring on the road section as I just kept everything easy.

Across the damn and up some local picnic area roads to the first aid station and a watch alert that we had come 8 miles. My GPS is never super accurate but 8 miles seemed at the time a bit long considering I really didn’t think the dam as over halfway around. I made a quick port-o-potty stop and filled one of my flasks with water. I had already pre-mixed some nutrition so decided to add the extra pound of water to my overall pack there. I figure I might as well use an aid station.

It was still pretty spread out but I was somewhat near a few folks. There’s lots of steep ups/downs in this section. Basically there’s what I would call 3 distinct sections to me around the lake. The first from start/finish including the Slip-n-Slide to the dam, the second from the dam thru some steep ups/downs with a bunch of flat meadow sections to the last long road section, and the finale’ down a super steep hill and then through whats labeled the “Pigpen” where there’s no avoiding ankle deep slop/mud for what feels like an eternity but probably is only a quarter mile before the finish parking lot.

The 2nd section has pretty sloppy parts on those ups/downs and some serious sticky mud in the meadow sections. It’s pretty slow going if you’re just picking your way through trying to stay on your feet. Even more though is just not tweaking a muscle from an unexpected slide that you’re not ready for. As an old guy, every decent slip of traction I could feel.

I was slowly catching folks here and there as they had slowed down from either remembering we’d be doing 2 laps or from the mud itself. It was quite scary as I saw people just all over the trail. I was serious hoping they’d make it without falling. I passed those folks as soon as could so I would accidentally crash into if they fell. We hit the last aid station on the loop and passed a few folks who stopped while catching up to a few faster folks. I finally slotted in with more folks that were I felt were similar paced.

The sun came out as I approached the “Pigpen” for the first time. I had heard stories but nothing can really prepare you. It’s thick but yet there’s standing water in all the foot prints. There’s a bit of safety on the side for little sections here and there but overall you have to just go right through the middle. You need to give yourself some space around and put a decent effort so you don’t fall because it really grabs your foot.

You come out of it and hit the parking lot and your shoes are just brown and caked. But it was over and my first loop was finishing up. Woohoo halfway done. I hit the start/finish and folks were cheering and time showed 3 hours. Perfect!! I was right on my thoughts of running for 6 hours. I asked if we needed to do the out-n-back again and they said no. Double woohoo!! I was over halfway and rejoiced. This loop was gonna be a piece of cake.

After the 3 hour mark, I definitely get highs and lows but overall for this run I didn’t really experience any super low moments. Sure I had slowed down a bit with not as much pep in my step. This was super noticeable on the road sections but I continue to catch folks. The sun stayed out but man did the wind pick up something fierce. All through the loop debris was hitting the trail. I felt a little apprehensive as I was almost hit by a tree in a windstorm during my ultra training in 2015. I was hoping for folks still behind me that everything would go smoothly.

I started to think ahead to Sunday single loop and was thinking how easy that was going to be. Things had spaced out so much I barely so anyone during my second loop. I wondered how many of the folks who had road shoes decided to even start their second loop assuming they were able to make safely around once. I mean I don’t fault them because unless you had done any part of the course before or had heard about the event you wouldn’t know. It’s not like Wildwood in Forest Park where even during the super wet months you can manage on road shoes.

The 2nd loop even though tired just goes by a lot faster due to not having the opening out-n-back and before I knew it I had arrived at the Pigpen. By that point of the 50K, I really didn’t care too much about the mud so I basically just slogged right through without even worrying about running on any dry-ish sections.

50K finished onto the 25K on Sunday…well Mother-Nature decide to through us some cold temps(35) and snow flurries on Sunday.

The 25K starts at 9am which makes a 3 hour loop take you to Noon. I wished they would’ve started at 8am but oh well. Sunday was going to be a single loop but in the opposite direction. So after the aforementioned out-n-back, the Pigpen would be right at the start to totally soak and muddy your feet. My shoes were sortof dry from Saturday but not bone dry and as we listened to the pre-race briefing my feet felt bone chilling cold.

The 25K has about double the participants and since I had run on Saturday I definitely was in the far back of the runners. We got to that first section of trail and just like the day before I was behind quite a few folks in road shoes. Sure enough the off camber got one poor girl not 10 feet in. She was okay and noted she wore the wrong shoes. Again my goal was to try to look at the person in front of me and see if they had any traction on their shoes if not try and pass as SOON as possible.

A few fellow Sunday training folks had planned to run the 25K but I hadn’t seen them prior to the start so I figured I look for them on the opening out-n-back. As we hit the first part of the out-n-back, the leaders come zooming by us. I was like wow they are really tearing it up and then I found out why they were already “back”. They had shortened the out-n-back section by over 2 miles. I guess that’s how they got the “correct” distance. I saw Jonathan but it was too late and he was too fast before I could shout a hello from the “BOP”. He was near the front as I had suspected since he’s been hammering out training runs all winter.

We got back to the start/finish area and I prepared for the Pigpen with the biggest issue being everyone was still really bunched up. I passed a few people who were going slower than I wanted through the muck. I tried my best not to alter anyone’s course and just I excited the Pen there was a guy going backwards looking for his shoe. Ooops…luckily my shoes were still on my feet.

I was too far back as everyone was going really slow and tentative through ups and especially the downs and we were probably under 2 miles in. I decided to push past folks on any uphill and try to find some space farther up the trail. I saw quite a few falls and even more remnants of previous falls. The tell-tale sign mud up the person’s entire back.

Being this was my 3rd loop around the lake I really had everything dialed in where I was, what section was coming and the trickier mud sections. In certain parts, I felt a bit overdressed and it others I felt just right. We had snow flurries here and there and even sun in sections.

I steadily passed folks throughout the section to the dam which kept my brain busy and made it go faster. Overall, it just felt easier knowing we were stopping after a single loop. I felt like I could push a hill knowing it was really no big deal because I would take a bit easier on the flat or the downhill. Its kind of fun knowing you’ll finish and have lots in reserve. I wasn’t going to place or finish anywhere near the top but I was just having fun and mostly feeling relaxed. Hey I had a growler of cider waiting for me at the finish and everyone around me was sporting “green” single 25K bibs. The other thing at a couple of points the wind storm from Saturday was prevalent. Full 6 inch trees/branches across the trail requiring alert navigation over.

I knew once I hit the dam it was home free. Basically the last section is pretty easy with only real nasty mud section, the Slip-N-Slide in reverse. The dam was a super slow drag though. I felt like I was running in molasses not mud mind you because I felt I moved faster in the mud sections than I did across the dam on the pavement. I got passed by a guy who was just cruising along and he motored off into the distance. I also got caught towards the end before the trail started but she didn’t pass. I hit the trail with a sense of relief as it just felt better and before I knew the person behind me was nowhere.

I just felt smoother on all the trail sections than I did the road. I have no idea why or from a pace standpoint if it was reality. I just kept my overall pace and next thing I had caught up to the guy who passed me on the dam. He was moving okay but then he just let me by. I thanked him and just figured he stay right behind me. On a switchback farther along I looked back and he was completely out of sight. It was towards the end so perhaps he was feeling cooked or some pain/injury cropped up to slow him down.

I continued to pass a few folks here and there and finally could hear the finish area. It was my fastest loop of the weekend but it’s hard to tell because each loop was a different length.

img_1114

The growler claimed for running both days.

Overall thoughts, if you like mud/trail races this is the event for you. It was very well run and had unique and fun swag. For me, I’ll probably never do it again as I’m not about the mud and/or cold weather. Sure I’m tougher for braving the course and conditions but this is a more one-and-done personally. It was pretty sloppy throughout the course and this is what I’d considered a drier than normal Jan/Feb so I don’t even want to think how bad the course would be if it was a WET winter.

Jonathan crushed the 25K in 13th overall where I was well down the list of folks. It was super easy not having to race that course so my hats off to Jonathan and everyone else who had the foot to the metal the whole way around.

Back to Forest Park and Wildwood for me this weekend….

Thanks for reading..

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