Fueled By Candy Corn and Mountain Dew
Disclaimer: I received Now Sports BCAA Big 6 Natural Watermelon Flavor sports supplement to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!
“Everything went just as planned, nearly accurate down to the second.” That’s something you usually can’t say about running an ultra where the race format consists of running laps of four differently lengthed loops while being randomly assigned a said loop via the draw of a colored golf ball out of a bucket for six hours. But, that’s exactly what I’m saying now as I report on my race at the Squatchung Surprise. This was the inaugural running of the Squatchung Surprise, organized and implemented by Sassquad Trail Running
. While the Sassquad Trail Running group has only been putting on races for maybe a year or slightly over a year now, after running two of their events (the first being the Fat Sass Switchback Challenge
) they have quickly become my favorite NJ based group that organizes trail running events in NJ. They keep their events fun and unique by changing up the race formats. Additionally, they seem to always have a charity benefit associated with each event. This event benefitted Operation Chillout
, a nonprofit which aims to end homelessness particularly for veterans of our military services.
|The four loops.|
The Squatchung Surprise took place at Watchung Reservation in Mountainside, New Jersey on Saturday September 29, 2018. Like many of the other Sassquad Trail Running events, this one offered multiple race options: a 5k, a three hour, and a six hour event. I was really excited to run this race as it used a format I had never experienced before. I’m not sure if this race format even has an accepted name, so I’ll do my best to just describe it. More or less, each runner is randomly assigned a certain trail loop to run by drawing a colored golf ball out of a bucket. The color of the golf ball corresponds to a specific trail loop. At this particular event there were four loops of varying distances and elevation gain: blue loop (two miles), yellow loop (three miles), red loop (four miles), and the green loop (5 miles). In addition to the blue, yellow, red, and green balls there was also a black ball which if drawn meant the runner got to choose which loop they wanted to run. This process was continued for the duration of the event and like most other timed events, the runner with the most miles at the end is the winner.
|The drawing of another golf ball.|
It would seem that this format basically comes down to chance, however the format throws a curveball at you in the last hour of the event where if you employ a bit of strategy it could benefit you quite a bit. And if you have a bit of luck, as I did, it will benefit you even more. This hiccup in the format forces the runner to make a choice when they cross the finish/start line during the final hour of the timed event. Whether it’s one minute or 50 minutes into the final hour the runner must choose whether to continue drawing balls and running random loops or opt to run a paved, flat half mile loop. The catch is you are only allowed to run the paved loop for the last half hour. So if you finish your trail loop just a couple minutes after the five hour mark and opt to run the paved loop you’ll have to spend the next twenty some minutes waiting until the start of the mini loops. In the same situation if you opt to continue to draw balls and get the green five miler and end up not finishing the loop before the six hour mark you get zero miles added to your total mileage for that last hour. Hence the strategic decision. And whatever decision you make is final for the remainder of the event.
|Still high energy at this point!|
I went into this race with a definite strategy and several major goals. My first goal was to get a long training run in. I was using this race as my final long training run in preparation for the upcoming 100 miler I’m running in October, Mines of Spain. I figured whatever mileage I ran, pushing myself for six hours at a trail race would give me a better workout than a set distance long run. Not to mention it would be far more fun. My second goal was to test out how my stomach would handle a new supplement I’ve been training with during a race. I’ve been using Now Sports BCAA Big 6
(watermelon flavor) supplement either before or after runs, but had never used it while running. I figured this would be a great opportunity to test it out and make sure it didn’t disagree with my stomach if taken for an extended period while running. My last goal was to get as many miles as possible and have a good time doing it.
|Some sweet swag!|
I checked in at the Loop Pavilion of Watchung Reservation, grabbed some pretty sweet race swag and drew my first ball of the day prior to the start. Blue. I’d be running the shortest of the laps to start the race. After a little downtime before the start the RD made a few announcements and went over the rules of the race format a final time. And after that we started promptly at 9 AM. All loops started on a common easily runnable trail. After about a quarter mile you reached the first fork in the trail with red/green going left and yellow/blue going right. I quickly realized that remembering which color to follow every lap could become a challenge as I almost took the wrong path initially because I was just following a couple other runners in front of me who were going down a different colored path than me. I caught myself right away this time and vowed to be more cognizant of my loop color going forward. The blue loop simply made a short loop around Lake Surprise. At about the one mile point the other three trail loops merged back on to the blue loop and all four loops were identical for the last mile back to the aid station area.
|Feeling good with a pouch full of candy corn.|
Next I drew a red ball for the four mile loop. I enjoyed the red loop as it was a bit longer and felt like you weren’t just doing a quick lap before arriving back to draw another ball. I liked the red so much that when I drew a black ball next I chose to do red again. Next I drew a red and then a yellow. The yellow three mile loop felt pretty similar to the red, just a little shorter. For my sixth ball I finally drew a green. I was bit excited as I would finally see the last of the four loops. My excitement ended when I reached the new section of the green loop and realized it was probably the most technical of all the loops and had the most gain. It wasn’t ridiculously tough, but just had elements that slowed you down more than the other loops. There was what felt like a long sloppy wet and heavily rooted section. Then a bit of a more rocky slick section. It could have been the miles I already had on my legs, but I’m pretty sure the terrain had something to do with it as it was without question my slowest paced lap of the day. I got back to the aid station and hoped to not have to run the green loop again.
|And now a mouth full of candy corn.|
At this point I was a little past the halfway point (about 3:20 into the event). I decided to refill my bottle with my watermelon flavor Now Sports BCAA Big 6
supplement with a second serving as my stomach and the rest of my body was still feeling good. Up to this point, other than calories from the electrolyte drink mix provided at the aid station the only calories I had consumed were handfuls of candy corn and the very similar candy pumpkins. This seemed to be working well as a fuel source in place of gels which weren’t offered and I’m too cheap to buy so I stuck with it, packing a sandwich baggie of the delicious dyed fructose into the pocket of my hydration belt before heading back out on the yellow loop. I made it back to the aid station by the four hour mark, drew a blue ball, and was back after that lap by the 4:20 mark. Up to this point I hadn’t given much thought to which loop I was assigned. But it was getting to the time of the event where luck and strategy would start to play a role. And I got a good deal of luck going forward. I drew a black ball and chose red as I figured as long as I maintained a decent pace I’d be back just before the five hour mark to draw at least one more ball before being forced to make the decision of running the paved loop or continuing to run random loops. I had to push a bit, but finished the four mile loop with a few minutes to spare before the five hour mark. I drew another ball and as luck would have it I got black again, runner’s choice! It took me awhile to decide, but I finally chose the yellow planning to take the three mile loop at an easier pace and get back right before the half mile paved loop run started. The timing was a thing of beauty, a dang masterpiece if you will. I made it back after the three mile loop just as the runners were given the starting signal on the paved loop!
|The group of runners just prior to the last half hour of the race (I was just finishing my last trail loop at this time).|
I ran through the aid station without stopping, I just slowed down long enough to let the volunteers know that I was opting for the paved loop for the last half hour. I dropped my hydration belt and joined the crowd of runners starting their paved laps. My goal for the last half hour was to run sub 8 min/mile pace which would give me 3.5 miles in 28 minutes and allow two minutes of fluff time in case I felt worn out towards the end. Amazingly, I still felt really good for having just run five and a half hours of trails and I cranked out two sub 8 miles without feeling like I was redlining it. With my goal in reach, I eased off for the last mile and a half knowing that I wouldn’t be able to sprint the remaining 14 minutes of the race to only add an extra half mile to my total. Some people may think that running a half mile paved loop for the last half hour of a six hour trail race sounds like a terrible thing. I would disagree with those people. I thought it was fun to push hard after a long day of running to see what’s left. I also found it a bit comical as it reminded me of the training runs I did with the Runhole crew early this year. The chief Runhole himself, Jon Nicholson, decided that after two 25ish mile days of running the second half of the Eastern States 100 course that it would be a good idea to extend the run a bit beyond the actual finish area of the course and add about a half mile of paved road section before reaching the lot where our cars were parked. I appreciated the gesture after I realized it was a bit of a joke when he kept on saying how great it felt to “open it up a little” and “stretch the legs out.” I borrowed the jokes and made sure to let the other runners know that I was having a good time that last half hour “stretching my legs out” and “opening it up a little” before the finish. If it weren’t for that Runhole training run I definitely wouldn’t have appreciated that last half hour of laps as much.
|Early in the day while the tracking board was still looking empty.|
With the six hours of the event passed, I headed back to the aid station to have my Sassport checked and find out my final mileage. The Sassport is a small paper booklet that all the timed event runners carried with them for each lap. At about the halfway point of every loop was a box with colored stickers corresponding to the loop it was on. It was the runner’s responsibility to make sure to stop and grab a sticker placing it in the their Sassport in the same sequence as the runner mileage tracking board at the start finish area. At the check in area, volunteers assisted with recording the runner’s laps on the board and totaled the runners’ mileage after every finished lap. At the end of the timed events, volunteers checked every runners’ Sassport against the tracking board. I’m not sure what the official rule is, but I assume that if there was a discrepancy between the two that unverified (missing/incorrect color sticker) laps would not be included in the runners’ total distance. I was a bit nervous as my Sassport was checked as I hoped I had not forgotten to stop for a sticker at every loop. Thankfully they were all there and gave me a total official mileage for the day of 38.1 which was good enough for first place overall!
|Me with an awesome award to take home.|
Having not looked at my mileage or the standings of any runners all day, this was like the proverbial icing on the cake, the cherry on top. My strategy regarding timing had worked out perfectly pretty much to the second. Where I needed to have a bit of luck it worked out as I drew the appropriately colored balls. I got the minimum 50k training run in that I wanted and then some. The whole day my stomach felt great with zero issues arising from testing out a new supplement (Now Sports BCAA Big 6
) or from grazing on candy corn washed down by Mountain Dew all day! I can’t point to one thing that made this such a great race day for me, but I can point to many things that went well.
October 12, 2018
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I just heard about this race and am looking to do it this year! It looks like it was a ton of fun and I like the bit of strategy and planning ahead towards the end. Congrats on the first place finish!ReplyDelete
Thank you so much! I can't recommend this race or any of the other Sassquad Trail Running events enough. They do such an awesome job of organizing and creating a super supportive atmosphere. Not to mention, most of their events have some kind of twist to them making them a bit more interesting than your standard trail race.Delete