The Hungry Mother 25K is a trail race that takes place at Hungry Mother State Park in Marion. This year’s race was on April 13. I love the trails at Hungry Mother. They’re beautiful and challenging. The race consisted of a 15.6 mile loop that showcased the trails throughout the park. There was also a 50K option that consisted of two loops.
I woke up on race morning with a pounding headache. There had been strong thunderstorms the night before, and I hadn’t slept well. I took some Tylenol, and had my pre-race coffee and breakfast. Then I hit the road to make the 1 hour 15 minute drive to Marion. I felt unusually tired on the drive there, as if I had been awake for a long time. But once I arrived at the park and walked around some, I felt better. My headache was gone, too.
I picked up my race stuff, which included a technical t-shirt, socks with the race logo, and a collapsible reusable cup. I headed back over to my car and made my final preparations for the race, while talking with two other runners parked next to me. We then headed over to the start/finish area for the pre-race meeting. It was overcast and in the mid-60’s, with storms in the forecast later in the day. At 8 AM on the dot, we were off and running.
We started out down the road before heading onto the trails. From there, we immediately started climbing. The course climbed approximately 400 feet over the first 1.2 miles. I primarily hiked, knowing we would have approximately 3,500 feet of climbing total over the 15 miles.
Despite the fact that I was going at my own pace, I once again started to get really anxious here. I don’t know what the deal is with these races that start out with a climb, but I just start to freak out for no reason. This doesn’t happen during training runs that start out with a climb. I tried to calm myself down and told myself to just do my own thing and enjoy being on the trails.
After the first climb there was a long, mostly downhill stretch. I had fun running down the trails through here. Just before mile 3, we began another 300 foot climb over about a mile. Again, I hiked. And again, I felt nervous. What the heck. I was completely fine a second ago. At the top, I was rewarded with a few nice views of the lake and of Molly’s Knob, the high point in the park.
From here was another long downhill to the first full aid station, a little after mile 5. The volunteers were awesome, cheering the runners down the hill and into the aid station. They had water and Heed, and an assortment of food. I refilled one of my flasks and grabbed a triangle of PB&J. I try not to spend more than a minute in aid stations, so I thanked the volunteers and headed out. As I was heading back out on the course, so was a girl named Lisa whom I had spoken with before the race. We have run several of the same races, and had actually finished within a minute of each other at Terrapin.
So we left the first aid station together, crossed the highway, and ran through a campground area. The campground was pretty full and I wondered what these people must think of the runners coming through. Many of them were sitting outside watching us go by and cheering us on. Lisa and I were chatting away with each other, and one gentleman joked we must be feeling pretty good. And I definitely was.
From the campground, we headed onto the lake trail and over to the CCC trail. I hadn’t run on this particular trail before, and I enjoyed exploring something new. The trail was surrounded by rhododendron. We encountered another climb through here, and Lisa and I separated a bit. Once again, my nerves spiked as I began to climb. But I kept moving, and before long I came to the top and was rewarded with another downhill back to the lake trail.
The weather was still in the mid-60’s, but with the effort of running it was starting to feel warm. Luckily a small rain shower and a light breeze moved in, and it felt so refreshing. I ran along the rolling lake trail before turning onto a trail that climbed up towards the next aid station just before mile 10. It was a big party here, and the volunteers were so enthusiastic. They helped me refill both of my water bottles, and I ate one of my gels. Looming ahead of me was a grueling 1.5 ish mile climb up to Molly’s Knob.
This section of the course was an out and back. As I began the climb, I saw runners on their way back down. We all exchanged cheers and encouragement with each other as we passed. The trail climbs steadily and relentlessly for the first mile. Then, for the last half mile or so it gets even steeper. It’s the kind of steep where you want to stop and take breaks, even when you’re just hiking. I was 2.5 hours into the race, and definitely feeling it. But the view at the top was spectacular.
From there, it was back down to the aid station. The descent is so steep in some places that it’s actually kind of painful to run down. But I was determined to make up some time here. I rolled into the aid station a little before mile 13, refilled my water again, and drank a cup of Coke. The lead 50K runner arrived at the aid station at the same time as me, as he made his way through his second loop. He still had the out and back to Molly’s Knob to do, so he was about three miles behind me. One of my goals was to finish before the first 50K runner, so I headed down the trail.
My legs were really fatigued now, but I tried to continue to run a strong pace down to the park road and along the lake trail. This next part is where the race director shows a bit of his masochistic side. 🙂 You’re literally within sight of the finish line, but first you hang a right and run a 2 mile loop.
There were a few more climbs in here, and I was really ready to be done. I was 3 hours and 50 minutes into my run, and my A goal for the race was to finish under 4 hours. Finally, I hit a downhill and knew I was headed back towards the road and the finish line. I hit the road without about 3 tenths of a mile to go, and pushed to the finish. I crossed the line in 3:56:48, just sneaking in under my goal. The RD gave me a high five and excitedly asked what I thought of the course. I told him I thought it was a great showcase of the park’s trails. And although it was demanding, I also really enjoyed it. The pride he took in the race definitely showed.
Remember that lead 50K runner? Well, he finished just 5 minutes after me, smashing the old course record. He had an incredible race, and I’m glad I snuck across the line before him, hah! From there, I enjoyed the delicious post-race lunch, provided by Sister’s Cafe, and a complimentary beer from Wolf Hills Brewery. Perfection.
Overall, I was really impressed with this race. It was well organized and the course was well marked. The volunteers were so helpful and supportive. I can’t say enough good things about the race. I will definitely be back to run it again in the future.