Hashawha Hills 50k – It’s harder than you think

Westminster, Maryland is one of those places where there is always a view from no matter where you’re standing.  These views are the fortunate byproduct of the distinctly rolling forest and farmland hills that encompass Westminster’s landscape.  The Hashawha Hills 50k is held in Westminster and very deserving of its name.

What initially appealed to me about this race is that it is an early year, low-key, local trail ultra on new terrain (for me), and sponsored by the VHTRC.  Washington D.C. is my home and I consider a 90 minute drive for a race convenient enough to be termed local.  What I realized immediately after the third running of the Hashawha Hills 50k began was something more: this race is much harder than I thought it would be.

The race course itself consists of two 15.5 loops, totaling 31 miles or, you guessed it, 50k.  Single and double track woodland trails make up the bulk of the course and running through the hilly cutover cornfields at various points along the way are a playful addition.  It is obvious to the astute observer that the analytical minds of race creators Alan and Pam Gowan choose to host a race that is fun and challenging for runners but easy enough for them, as race directors, and for the race volunteers to set up and manage.  In fact, the course design makes efficient and multiple use of only two actual aid stations.

One thing I like to see at events is the race director(s) out on the course chatting with and cheering for the runners.  When I saw Alan for the first time during the race it was towards the end of the first loop and he was casually snapping photos.  Unfortunately my mumbling grunts as I passed him coming up a hill didn’t make for great conversation.  Why I like to witness casual race director activity at a race is because it tells me first and foremost that the individual is a runner, or obviously a fan of running, number one and they make it a point to soak up the experience.  Secondly, it tells me the planning and hard work has been done in advance so they too can enjoy the race and watch it unfold.  Thirdly, they’ve hired great volunteers to manage aid stations and course details, all of which allow for a more pleasant experience for runners.  This is what I witnessed at the Hashawha Hills 50k, not to mention perfect trail markings, well situated aid stations and don’t-stop-until-you’re-finished support along the way.

The hills on the course are another matter all together.  They are more like tiny little mountains and come one after another after another to the point where there is next to no flat running.  If your legs are fresh by all means the entire race course is runnable; however, a few climbs are perfectly walkable though run them if you dare- particularly on the first loop.

The locally made handcrafted clay mugs presented to all finishers of the Hashawha Hills 50k are an excellent keepsake and the warm smiles at the finish are reason enough to want to come back.  I don’t always leave a race with the feeling that I must return another year but when I do experience that feeling I always return.  I will definitely return to the Hashawha Hills 50k in the future and I encourage other runners up for a new challenge in 2012 or beyond to consider adding the Hashawha Hills 50k to their race calendar.  But, just so you know, it’s harder than you think.