By Alan Gowen
I guess Pam and I are just like so many others where The HAT Run is concerned. Just as we must be in Boonsboro every autumn, we have to be at HAT in the spring. It’s probably the easiest 50km we do on a great course each and every inch of which by now is burned into our brains, and we were both looking forward to this year’s event.
I was anxious to do HAT this year since my MMT training had been going miserably. I usually have a good run at HAT and I was looking forward after months of mediocrity to finally getting in a good race. But of course the huge question mark this year was Pam. The HAT Run would mark seven weeks since her rib-breaking fall at the Uwharrie 40 Mile. The pain from the broken rib had kept her from running at all for six weeks, but finally, one week before HAT, she was able to run seven miles at a slow pace, only to find she was stiff and sore the following day. Seven miles in seven weeks. It really didn’t look too good.
On the Friday before the race the temperature began to fall along with the rain. The rain continued through the night and by 5:30AM the ol’ rain gauge showed almost one inch accumulation and it was still coming down. On the drive to Susquehanna State Park, we discussed the fact that the mud would be a big issue. We were both wondering how Pam would fare coming into the race with only seven miles of training in seven weeks. We both knew that since this race is two loops of the same route, Pam would be able to call it a day after one loop if she needed to.
At 9:00AM, with the rain still coming down and temperatures in the mid forties, 408 runners set off. It was apparent right from the start that the mud was going to be a huge issue. On the crowded single-track, the pack was going very slowly, mincing along, slipping and sliding and trying to stay upright. Since there was no other option but to wade across, the stream crossings didn’t provide their usual opportunity to pass the large group that’s usually trying to step gingerly across without getting wet feet. Most of the mud was manageable, sort of like running in wet snow. The real problem was not on the steep uphills, which drained enough to be OK and where I had to walk anyway, but on the more moderate uphills where I would normally run, but that were now so muddy and slick running wasn’t possible for me. Therefore, in the course of the race there were several miles I would have normally run where I was forced to walk due to the mud. There seemed to be very few places where I could run and just let her rip, although those downhills leading down to the second stream crossing were dry and nice and fast as always.
The slower pace and the extra effort in the mud extracted a pretty heavy toll on most of the runners, and as I approached the end of the first loop, I knew without a doubt that Pam would have to drop out when she got here. I really felt disappointed for her, but knew she would have no other choice, since the effort in dealing with the mud was considerable. I was already tired, and as I hit the start-finish line after one loop in 3:01, I knew I was on my slowest pace at HAT ever. I also was now convinced that with all the extra effort required to get through the mud that Pam, with her mere seven in seven, would never be able to start out on another loop once she arrived at the halfway point.
On my second loop I really had a long bad patch, but just as has happened so many times before, at about the 25-mile point I began to feel better, and the last six miles passed by pretty well, as I continued to catch and pass others.
With a group of VHTRC friends cheering me on I began my finish line sprint (such as it was) on the last uphill and crossed the line in 6:20:24 to record my slowest HAT Run finish ever. I was not alone here though, as it seems many others had similar troubles with the mud.
As I crossed the finish I couldn’t figure out why Pam wasn’t there cheering for me. I looked all around in the pavilion and couldn’t find her. I asked a lot of others if they’d seen her, but no one had. She had said that if she dropped that she’d sit in the car and finish her homework, so I headed to the parking lot to find her and to get into some dry clothes, as I was now beginning to feel chilly.
When I got back to the car, Pam wasn’t there. I got into some warmer clothes and as I made my way back to the finish line the incredible undeniable truth began so sink in. Despite her seven in seven, somehow, with others dropping out all around her, Pam had found the pure guts to head back out after completing her first loop, and she was now still out there running her second loop. It seems incredible to me with others dropping like flies that Pam was able to dig down deep and find the drive and courage and ability to leave what could have been the end of the race, with dry warm clothes, food, and festivities, and begin her second loop. It wasn’t even a pretty day. The woods were wet and gloomy. There was mud everywhere. The stream crossings were deep and cold. And whereas this course can be astonishingly beautiful on a bright sunny day, this day found it almost brooding in a dark, wet, and uncompromising sort of way.
The muddy conditions had extracted a very heavy toll on the pack of runners and 85 out of the 408 starters had decided to drop out after completing one loop, making Pam’s decision to continue all the more remarkable.
I hung out at the finish line, visiting with others, sharing the common bond of our mutual sufferings. The time passed quickly and soon enough someone shouted, “There she is!” as Pam came into view rounding the corner, sprinting to the finish line, and smiling from ear to ear. On this day when I as well as many others recorded their slowest HAT finish times ever, Pam’s time of 7:40 in 296th place out of 408 starters was only 6 minutes slower than her previous slowest finish. Amazingly, of those in her age group who actually finished, Pam was 6th out of 12, which is an astounding statistic considering once again her seven in seven.
We hung around for quite a while longer as others continued to finish their races, until finally it was time to head for home.
One of the wonderful things about running and training together is that it affords Pam and me more opportunities to share in common experiences. After all, what could be better than being able to share something so important in our own personal lives with each other on such an intimate level? Many times after these races as we drive home, we trade stories and inevitably comment on someone or other’s amazing performance. On this day’s drive home however, there was no contest as to who turned in the performance of the day.
Seven in seven. Pam is the toughest runner I’ve ever seen.
Sunday after the race was a wonderful sunny day. For some reason though, I felt completely wiped out. My legs hurt, my stomach was upset and I felt entirely drained. As I dragged my sorry old ass around, trying to find something to do besides sit down and sleep, Pam flitted from one task to another, smiling and laughing in wonderment. She felt absolutely fine.
I haven’t verified this for sure yet but I’m fairly certain that now with her eighth finish at HAT on Saturday, Pam has moved into third place on the women’s all time finishers list for the 19-year history of the race behind our own Marge Burley and of course Margie Schlundt.