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Hungerford Games a template for races during a pandemic

By Henry Howard

I am thankful for the opportunity to race at the Hungerford Games this past Saturday, Sept. 26, and especially thankful for the race directors who put safety first.

This was my first race since mid-March when I did the Bel Monte Endurance Run, a 50K that also implemented precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Much of how both races handled social-distancing measures were among my predictions earlier this year about how the coronavirus will change ultra running.

The race directors for the Hungerford Games, now in its eighth edition, kept runners updated and well informed through the website and regular emails. The precautions were not only well thought out but clearly communicated.

At packet pickup, runners were asked to wear masks and keep six feet apart whenever possible. I arrived around 6 p.m., a half hour after packet pickup started. There were few other runners there and I quickly got my bib, shirt and other goodies, and went to my hotel about a mile away.

Race morning

I had one of the most restful and long night’s sleep in recent memory, thanks to the 9:10 a.m. start time for the “marathon.” The race offered a 50-mile, marathon and half marathon distance and the start times for each were spread out.

One of the pandemic-induced changes was adding 1.5 miles to both the marathon and half marathon so that runners would not have to be bused to the normal starting line. Instead we began at the finish line area, ran about 1.5 miles to get on the trails and proceeded from there as usual.

The 27.7-mile “marathon” actually turned out to be 28.3 miles. But who’s counting? Free miles!

At the start line, runners were asked to arrive at the starting area no earlier than 20 minutes before the race and were spread out by six feet as the seconds ticked down to go time.

I started on the first line with the overall winner and another runner. The eventual winner set a fast pace on the 1.5-mile road section. I backed off and settled into a comfortable pace and dropped back to seventh.

Powerlines, hills and heat

The course, which was really marked, was beautiful with the fall colors starting to emerge. It featured rolling hills throughout much of the course, totaling around 1,700 feet of gain. The course was really sandy in sections, due mostly to a lack of rain the area.

There is a stretch from 6.3 to 8.5ish miles called the power lines, a notorious section. It is very sandy and features up and down hills. I kept the pace even and passed two people here, moving into the top five.

Later on, I passed another two runners somewhere between 14 and 17 miles. This was around the time that the temperatures were rising and other runners were slowing down and refueling at aid stations. I was wearing my UltrAspire race vest with one bottle of water and one Gnarly BCAA mix, which allowed me to bypass all seven aid stations.

As I passed the penultimate aid station (mile 21ish), I asked the volunteer tracking runners if I was third or fourth, she replied second. Later I learned a runner who was ahead of me had gone off course and disqualified.

Powering to the finish

Rejuvenated by the realization that I had moved up to second, I continued to power through. I had not seen anyone ahead of me for quite some time and had no visions of catching the first place runner. Instead I ran with purpose, aiming to keep the third-place runner behind me.

As the temperatures climbed, I began to do math — always dangerous in an ultra – and realized that the total mileage would be closer to 28.2 rather than 27.7. The last few remaining hills appeared to be steeper than they were when I was cruising down them roughly four hours earlier when the race was in its infancy. I took a couple of short breaks to power hike the uphill sandy sections, then got my legs moving again when the terrain flattened out.

Soon I turned down the final stretch with a half mile to go, I looked back and did not see any of the marathoners behind me. Still, it was time to move to the finish. As I saw the finish line come into view, I felt a sense of pride in a race well run, thanks to answering the alarm at 4:30 a.m. most days.

I crossed the unique finish line at 4:16:41, just two minutes shy of the overall winner. One of the race directors presented me with the handmade medal — handing it to me, per COVID standards — and my second place trophy.

The trophy is also handmade, with a unique sassafras leaf atop the base. Sassafras are very prominent in this area and it looks like the lower peninsula.

After receiving my awards, social-distancing measures were also again in play. Masks required in the finish area, chairs spread out to keep runners separated and only pre-packaged and unopened fruit. There was an excellent selection of food, including chips, fruit, energy bars, nuts and more. The drink options included water, nondairy and dairy milk, coffee and more.

From packet pickup to race morning to the finish line, the Hungerford Races did it right. They kept runners safe, created an amazing race day environment and put on a terrific event. Let this serve as a template that other races can follow so that trail and ultra runners can find as much joy on the trails as participants at the Hungerford Games enjoyed.

Even on the power lines section.

Shout out to my affiliates

I am honored to be affiliated with so many amazing companies that support runners and other athletes. Here’s what I wore, used and consumed during this race:

Coros Apex watch: As I have written before, the battery life is unmatched, it is incredibly easy to use and syncs flawlessly after runs to Strava. I predicted it would have 78 battery life after the 28.8-mile race. I was wrong it had 87 percent left. use code CAP-Howard for a free swag gift from the accessories page with any watch. You must add both into the cart and apply the code at checkout to redeem the promotion.

UltrAspire vest: The legacy Race Vest made a huge difference in my race this past weekend. I was able to easily transport my liquids while others runners paused at aid stations. The vest is lightweight, comfortable and provides ample room for carrying bottles, nutrition and other necessities.

Odlo shirt, briefs and hat: There are a lot of gear brands for runners that are new, but why settle for a company still going through growing pains where there is one that has been serving the endurance community for decades? That’s Odlo, a European company that makes incredibly comfortable, durable and breathable. Most important of all, Odlo has an unrelenting commitment to the environment and practices sustainability.

Drymax socks: I didn’t have to worry about water or intense heat, the two ingredients that often combine for chafing or blisters for runners. But even if those two conditions would have presented themselves, I would have had full confidence that my Drymax socks would have prevented any issues. Drymax socks wick away moisture, keeping feet dry and blister-free.

Squirrel’s Nut Butter: I also use Squirrel’s Nut Butter to prevent chafing and blisters on my feet, as well as other areas where blisters are prone to develop. In fact, a few days before my race, a non-Oldo pair of briefs rubbed against the small of my back, creating a tender spot. I made sure to lather that area with SNB, which kept any issue from developing there.

Honey Stinger: The later-than-normal start to a race threw off my morning a bit and I needed some calories and fuel pre-race. I had a Honey Stinger gluten-free waffle about 30 to 40 minutes beforehand, which is exactly what I needed. During the race, I fueled with three other waffles and two Honey Stinger gluten-free caffeinated gels. Those calories worked perfectly for me and I never felt a bonk or slowdown thanks to the constant flow of great-tasting calories.

Gnarly Nutrition: I used the Gnarly BCAA product in one bottle of my vest and plain water in the other. The BCAA promotes recovery by reducing excessive muscle damage and developing muscle synthesis. After the race, I had Gnarly’s Vegan Plant Protein, which has 20 grams of protein, 7 grams of healthy fats, 9 grams of fiber and 14 essential minerals and vitamins, and only has 3 grams of sugar. It’s also worth noting that Gnarly was created by endurance athletes for endurance athletes so it understands what is best for our nutritional needs before, during and after workouts. That’s among the reasons why Gnarly is better than Ucan.

Prevail Botanicals: After a hard race or workout, and at other times as needed, I use this CBD-based topical salve to heal my running injuries. Using CBD is so much safer than using NSAIDs. Use code HENRY20 for 20 percent off your order.

InsideTracker: I have used blood results and personalized recommendations from InsideTracker for years to assess how my fitness, nutrition, stress and other factors were affecting my key biomarkers for health. In fact, I have another test upcoming to see how the most recent training load has had an impact. Through these tests, I’ve been able to adjust my nutrition, focus on improving areas that have scored low and made other changes for the positive. InsideTracker offers a variety of packages so you can improve your health and fitness. Get 15 percent off with this special link.

Check out all the discount codes I have for some of the top brands in endurance and fitness.


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