Monday, September 17, 2012

Gunpowder Keg Ultra Trail Race (FatAss 50k)

I attended this race last year (2011) and it was my first ever experience at an ultra event and my first time at this park. Being that it was a FatAss we went and ran only half of the race. It was held only 2 weeks after flooding of the area so there were lots of downed trees and debris all over the trails. Some of the trails even had to be rerouted. It was quite an experience and I couldnt wait to come back in 2012 to do the whole course!

Fast forward one year and I have a marathon and several ultra distance runs including a 45 miler two weeks before this race under my belt now. I am even more excited to run it this year as a training run for my first 50 miler coming up in November.

Gunpowder Keg Ultra is a FatAss run put on by Baltimore Road Runners club. It runs along the Gunpowder Falls River in a huge park consisting of over 18,000 acres. The race consists of two 15.5 mile loops with two aid stations that are pretty nicely stocked! Plus you pass your car at the start/finish as you head out for the second loop incase you need to stop for anything. It is basically all single and double track. I should mention that it is actually a 10.5 mile loop and a 5 mile loop that makes up the 15.5 mile loop. Get it? Good. Oh, and one more thing...the course is short. Everyone measured short last year and this year anywhere between 26-30 miles I think. Meh, who cares....its a fatass!
Typical Gunpowder Falls trail
I talked two friends into taking the trip down with Rik & I to run it this year. We all car pooled for the 45 minute drive down and got there nice and early. Signed our names on the paper and got ready to run! Weather couldnt have been nicer...chilly at the start and tank tops in the afternoon. Sun all day long!

It started at 8am with the RD giving us directions for anyone who wanted to run a shorter race, which I think just confused people not familiar with the park. He said, "ready, set, go" and we were off. Right away my friends and I let pretty much everyone go ahead of us onto the single track. We knew it was going to be a long day...why rush it.

Running was going well. Feeling good. I wore my hydration pack because I just wasnt sure at the start what all the AS would have and wanted to carry everything to be sure. The first section of trail is very nice single track with a couple of small ups and downs. We crossed a road onto a gradual uphill double track. Then down again. It pretty much went like this until we came to a creek crossing that we were able to pass with dry feet thanks to low water and stepping stones. We hit our first AS and went down onto a new trail that I have been on before but was closed in last years race because of the flooding.

This trail had two pretty big climbs that were followed with pretty big descents, the second one being a short section of road. Of course, as were are coasting down hill, three girls would chat and not pay 100% attention and we missed our turn. I knew we had missed it when the road started to head up again. I knew this was to much road for a trail run. Luckily a passerby stopped and he reoriented us with where we were in the park and we knew we need to turn around.

Before we even got to the bottom of the hill we could see the red flags AND spray paint! How did we miss that?! Only 10-15 mins and less then 1/2 mile later we are back on track. I will pay better attention from here on out! About two miles later we hit the flattest trail section of the race and can really cruise. Just make sure you pick up your feet because the trail is fairly narrow with alot of growth on either side and rocks and roots that pop up out of nowhere.

We get out to the road which is where the second (bigger) AS is. We refuel and stretch. Then head across the road for the 5 mile loop. This loop is more difficult and hilly then the previous trail. You can go either way on the loop so we have people coming at us several times on some pretty tight trails. We are still unsure of how far we want to run today and these hills arent helping the decision making process! Here are my girlfriends running through one of the very short field sections...
We finally decide that we are going to run this 5 mile loop a second time now and then decide later about doing the big loop again. Sheri decided that she had had enough and left Sue & I to do the loop again. We decide to do it in reverse. Good choice! I dont know if it was true or not but counter clockwise seemed easier. We passed Rik coming at us at almost the end of this section which meant that he was almost done the entire race.
These are some of the pretty flowers that dotted the trails along the sides...
SO pretty!
We crossed back across the road again for the two mile trek back to the start/finish/car. During these miles we decide that we want to keep going and see how we feel. We have another 10ish miles. Can we do it?!

We spend a couple of minutes at the car to refuel, take some Ibuprofen and say Hi again to Rik who is now done with his race. Then we head back out unsure if we will do the whole big loop or not. See, I am now sticking with Sue the entire race because this is the furthest she has gone since double knee surgery two years ago. I will go as far as she wants to. She is feeling good and wants to keep pressing on. So we do. Here we are crossing the bridge that takes us back to the flat running section and we can start counting down the miles to the end...

Pretty pleased that we are now on the flat trails and we are cruising at about a 12mm pace which is awesome after twenty-some miles! It was probably the most enjoyable part of the entire race.

I know we are getting close to the last AS so I keep up the pace and figure she will catch up there. But I stopped to snap one last picture from the road looking down onto the trail...

I get into the AS and am so excited to see that they are still there and that there is food left! I immediately grab an Oatmeal Raisin Cookie and it is the best cookie I have ever eaten!! What is even better is that one of the volunteers asks me if we are going to do the little loop and I tell him NO that we already did the little loop twice and that we are almost done. And EVEN BETTER YET is when he tells us there are a couple of people still over in that loop. WE ARE NOT IN LAST PLACE!

We take off from there for the two miles left to the end. They were pretty uneventful until we were hiking the last hill of  asphalt to the finish when I see someone running towards us from behind on the trail below. I tell Sue that I think someone is coming. At the same time we see Rik ahead and he says that someone is running behind us. Oh heck no...someone is not passing me at the finish now. I yell at Sue to run! I dont know where either of us found it in us to run the rest of that hill after 7 hours out on the trails. But we did. I wasnt going to let them pass me at the end, lol. It made for a fun finish!

We got done and were ecstatic and exhausted. We also decided that we didnt want to walk back down the awful hill to the bathrooms to change. So in the car it was.

Great, great race and volunteers. Its one of those FAs that are just as nice or nicer then a paid event. Very well marked. Will be back again next year.

Happy trails!

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