I first heard about the Run Thru Hell sometime in the 90's. At the time I wasn't running enough to think I should do such a crazy thing as ten hilly miles in the middle of August in Michigan. Granted, it's not Florida or Arizona, but average morning conditions include both temps and dew points in the 70s. Icky, soupy stuff for running.
Anyway, I finally got up the mileage and the courage to go to Hell in 2011, the summer I was training for marathon #5 (Philly). Finished that day in what I think was a comfortable 1:26. In 2013 I ran 1:23 and then last year a 1:33 (started OK but really crapped out at about mile 7). Every other year they have both a 10 and a 5 mile race. This year, they only had the 5 (4.93 to be exact). Suppose that gives me a PR for the distance.
It's a great race, though. Mostly dirt roads (7 of the 10), plenty of shade, almost none of it flat. And they hand out a ton of hardware. Trophies for the top 5 in every 5-year AG. Last year I was 5th. Another difference from the normal race was no hydration on the course. Good thing it was only 5 miles.
The weather this year was about as perfect as possible. About 60o at the 8:00 AM start time. They had a fully open start - any time you wanted to leave until 10:00 AM. Takes all the nervous starting atmosphere out of waiting for the gun or horn or countdown or however a race normally starts, but there was also no weaving in and out of slower runners/walkers in the first 400-800 yards. A fair trade as far as I'm concerned. Take all the time you want getting ready, make sure there's nothing left in the gut that might want to come out during the race, stroll over to the start and get moving. It was OK.
Had to beat off the paparazzi during my warm up.
Once I was running, it didn't matter. I still checked my pace, checked my effort, checked the runners around me, checked the grade of the next hill, tried to run smart. There were a few masked runners, but for the most part we trusted all the extra room on the quiet country dirt road and the fresh air, of which there was plenty. Most of the anxious starters had gone a few minutes before me, so I mostly passed people the whole way. There were maybe a half dozen or so who came up behind me and blew past - young whipper-snappers showing off, no doubt. One tall guy in a University of Illinois singlet, a set of shirtless HS kids (sweet memories, I have to admit), both pounding up the inclines and thundering the down slopes. I remember one guy with a Jamaican accent who had been talking to a woman at the start. He came up slowly on my left at about mile 1. I thought I might try to go after him later if he was still in sight after another mile.
That first mile is probably the toughest one of the 5 mile course. In the 10-miler, there are three that are steeper and longer. The 5-miler has a couple of hard climbs in Mile 1 and another in Mile 4, along with the rolling profile of the rest of it. I've only had a few short tempo runs, so didn't have much of an idea of how to pace this thing. Started conservatively, knowing that pushing up the first hills could have me walking before half way. Used it as a warm up (8:56) and then went to a tempo effort, about how I felt the previous Tuesday, hoping for something close to 8 minutes. Mile 2 - 7:50.
Jamaica was still in sight. He probably went out a little fast because he was fading over the course of Mile 3, which was predominantly uphill. I thought about encouraging him to stay with me, but didn't know how that fit in with the socially distance rules. Plus, I'd decided I wanted to beat him, so why would I help him? I stayed focused up one particularly nasty hill and left him behind. Didn't see him again. Mile 3 - 7:52.
Mile 4 turns onto the main road through the actual town of Hell. There's one mile of blacktop in the whole course and it's from 3-1/2 to 4-1/2. It also had the least amount of shade. So life was kind of rough through there. 8:08. But it was pretty great to be racing again and I could almost smell the finish. Had a few speedsters go by me but for the most part I was passing people and figured on a strong finish if I didn't lose it on one of the last hills.
The start and finish were in the same place, but I couldn't tell that from where I saw the flags earlier, so I thought I had another 50 yards and a steep section when I crossed the line. Could have taken a few seconds off if I'd been paying more attention. Still, 6:47 (7:27 pace) for the last partial mile and a good day being on the road, pushing hard and being with other runners.
Post race face FTW!
Official time 39:37. 8:03 average. 3rd place out of 18 in the 60-64 AG. Good enough for a bigger trophy than last year's 5th place.
Thoughts on a fall marathon coming up next time. Looks like there are a few that may happen this year.