Saturday, January 17th, 2009 – Helen, Georgia – Hogpen Hill Climb 17K
“One of the toughest races in North America”, so the brochure says. When we started talking about doing this in our running group, how could I pass it up? Hip problems mostly behind me, needing to get some hill work in for upcoming races, and a chance to hang out with my friends all day, and get a shirt to boot. Count me in.
The race says it’s 3600 feet (a bit over 1000 meters) of climbing over the 10.5 mile course. That actually doesn’t sound horrible. Heck, it even sounds pretty easy if you play with the numbers. 360 feet per mile. 90 feet per quarter mile. That’s nothing.
One word – WRONG! Let me speak of our adventure, and you will see.
To list the crowd and give credit:
- Ryan, Helen, Clay, Jeremy, Nicole and myself: first time running this
- Simon: 5th time doing it. Previous best, 1:27.
- Keith: Has probably run this every year, since he lives for these kind of courses.
- Dustin: Not sure if he’s done it before, but if Keith is going, he doesn’t want to miss the fun.
- Jenny and Mark: driver and company. Also stand-in photographer and cowbell ringer.
- Joe, our resident mountain goat: No where to be to be seen.
The race starts at noon, and it’s about an hour drive, so we met at 9:30 to head over, drive the course and get registered. Although a couple of us made suggestions that we meet earlier and have breakfast first, that idea got shot down. For some reason, a couple people thought McD’s didn’t seem like a good idea before running. Not sure why. Helen suggested we run both ways on the course too, which also got shot down. (Not me, I was good for both. Really. I was.)
Heading out, the temperature was around 24 degrees, with no wind. Good thing we’re heading up in elevation so we can get to where it’s cool enough for running.
Getting to Helen, we start to drive up the course. I don’t know whose dumb idea this was, but let me tell you: It was dumb! After about a mile, I’ll be the first to take credit and say I was the first to start whining about wanting to turn around and go register. If we would have driven the whole course, I think our whole car would have skipped everything and just gone with the 5K. It was disheartening. Happily, we turned around, and saved the most of the course for a surprise finish.
We got registered, met of with everyone who wasn’t in our car, and waited for the start. Oh, I think it warmed up to about 29. Next thing you know, it was time to go.
(I ran into Christian, and said hi. I’d like to be optimistic and think I could have ran with him a bit, but lets be honest. I’m out of his league. There is no way he could run as slow as me.)
About 3/4 of a mile into the race, some lady it running the wrong way. Looks like she meant to take the 5K course (which started a minute after us), and was in the wrong place. Guess she figured it out in the nick of time, right before we turned out of town and hit the first hill.
About a mile in, we do hit the first hill. It’s short and steep. Luckily, I’m encouraged, because across the river I start hearing someone frantically banging a cowbell. Oh yeah! I knew bringing that was a good idea. Coming down this hill was one of the worst placed of the race for me. Everything was tight, and this just pounded my lower legs and knees really bad. Oh well.
We crossed onto the main highway, which gave us a mile or so of relatively smooth sailing. One guy in a truck (stopped to let us cross) asked if I was the last runner. I’m not sure if that meant I was looking really bad or not, but happily, I was able to say “Oh, there’s a couple people behind me.”
At this point, I ran with one guy for a while. His goal was not to be last, which apparently is his goal every year. Normally, there is one guy he can count on being behind him, but since he wasn’t there this year, there was more pressure. He took off for a while, figuring he should make some time while he was able.
After turning onto into the park, where the hills really start, and grabbing a bottle of ice cold water, the fun began.
To summarize the next 6 miles: We went up. Time passed. We kept going up. It got cold. There was some massive ice on the side of the road.
I ran with Norman for a while. He had done this a number of times, and usually finishes around 2:40. For these, they say to take your average 1/2 marathon time, and that’s what you’ll do. Given that I did a 2:30 half last year, I figured that was my estimated time. Norm’s wife was a ways ahead of him. He’s completed a few marathons and a half ironman, and we had a good time chatting. A few miles later, I pulled head of him. Paused to take my pants off (because I was actually hot), and he caught up with me again. We hung together for a nice downhill section that’s put in just to mess with out minds. (And as a personal note of pride, that 30 second stop was actually the only stop I made the entire time.)
As we start heading uphill again, I did something I have never, ever done before in a race. I saw a group about a 1/2 mile ahead of me, and made them my rabbit. Now, I’ve never chased someone down in a race before. What made me think I could do it on this course, I don’t know. Let’s pause a moment to reflect on this:
Now, here’s the amazing part. As we continued to go around curves and what-not, every time I lifted my head, they were actually appearing to be getting closed. Every once in a while, one of them would turn around and wave. I’d wave back, since I knew they were waving to me just to tease me a bit.
With about a mile to go, I did it! I actually caught up to them! WhoooHoo! We chatted and then I even managed to pull ahead. One of them (“Jan”, I think) suggested to her friend that next year, they should plan of going up Kennesaw mountain more than once to get ready for this. Yeah sister, I can relate.
Well, we leapfrogged for the last mile, and at about 200 feet to go, I pulled away for the final time. I finished in 2:32, pretty much right what I predicted.
They had some chicken soup at the top that hit the spot. Hal and Jenny had baked cookies for the finishers, and Ryan managed to no eat all of them, so I had one. We drove back to the start for the awards.
Keith won in his age group.
Nicole won in her division too, but she had left not 5 minutes before they announced it. Since Helen picked it up for her, I tried to get her to pose for a shot in Nicole’s place, but since she has high morals or something, she wouldn’t. So here’s another picture of her.
That’s about it, since this has probably gone on too long. There were a number of good quotes and choice words spoken. Some of us didn’t have their best day. Others had a good time. We all froze. Return next year? We’ll see…
(All pictures from the race at photos.gonesomewhere.com. Oh, and I didn’t see a hog on the entire race. How disappointing.)