While coming back to Cleveland was not my first choice, I've certainly been trying to make the most of it - and that, of course, includes finding places to run. Luckily, my hometown must have realized I was coming, because no sooner did I arrive in town, but there was already the perfect running opportunity set up for me, practically in my own backyard!
The Debbie Hudacko Memorial Runs are in their 26th year - amazing longevity for a race series, and after participating, I can understand why! The "gimmick" here is that it is a hat trick of runs: three races, back to back to back, providing a unique challenge to runners of all levels for a total of ten miles covered throughout the morning. All proceeds from the races go towards a scholarship fund in honor of Debbie Hudacko, a young teenager who died of a brain-stem tumor in 1990.
We rode in style. And tried to channel the car on the course.
Once again, I was joined on the course by my father, who despite being twice my age usually kicks my butt at these events! We headed out bright and early for the 7am start, kicking off the day with a five mile run through the North Chagrin Reservation, the local branch of the Cleveland Metroparks. I practically grew up in these parks, but had never participated in a racing event through those woods; it was exactly what I needed to be passing such familiar childhood haunts as the Buttermilk Falls overlook area. A reminder that this return home, while heartbreaking in many ways, was also a return to many things that I have always treasured.
I haven't run nearly as much as I should have since coming home, and it definitely showed. I dropped behind my dad just before the end of the second mile, largely due to stomach pains as I have yet to figure out what kind of pre-race meals my stomach can handle. Fortunately, I had come prepared with a packet of Bloks in my belt, and after nibbling on a couple of those, my stomach settled and I was able to pick up the pace for an enjoyably solitary loop in the course, winding through the trees before turning back towards the finish line. I never really "caught up" to my dad, but I did catch sight of him again about a mile before the finish line, and realized that I had made up a surprising amount of time - enough to actually make my goal of finishing in under 50 minutes!
A little muddy, but a beautiful day
for a nice outdoor run!
Crossing the line in 49:07 gave me a whopping 15 minute break before the start of the second race, which was a 5k along the newly laid path near our shiny new public library. Between races, we had to switch bib numbers, and were able to grab some incredibly juicy slices of watermelon before lining up for the next race. I had thought having time between races would actually make it easier to cover the full distance, versus running ten miles straight as I'd done a few weeks prior on the Towpath. I was wrong.
The start of that 5k hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn't think I had really pushed all that hard in the five miler, so it might have been the 15 minute rest period that made my first steps feel like I was slogging through a giant mud pit! Every step was difficult and painful, for at least the first half mile, and dad felt pretty much the same way despite once again leaving me in the dust. After a while I (sorta) found my groove again, but it was not a pleasant run. Beautiful scenery, yes. A lovely trail, certainly. An enjoyable experience, not so much. Still, we slugged it out and managed to finish (31:55) with about seven minutes before the start of the third and final race. We quickly changed bibs again, grabbed another slice of divinely moist watermelon, and rushed back to the same starting line for the two mile run.
...which started with no notice! Suddenly we were just running again! The 5k had started a few minutes late; the race directors were eager to get back on schedule and keep things moving. Starting this race was the hardest thing I've ever done, physically. We followed the same path as the 5k but I don't think anyone was paying attention to the scenery by then! Even dad finally had to slow down a bit, and we really took it easy for the entire run. But run we did, and we both crossed the line at a pace faster than a walk (though only slightly), and I even had just enough gas in the tank to "sprint" the last 50 feet (22:45) so I could beat my dad in at least ONE of the three races!
Exhausted, sore, and hungry, we headed back for the pavilion where they were just starting to announce awards. While they were presenting overall finisher awards, I took the opportunity to hop on the massage table to take advantage of the free sports massage therapist the race had brought in for the day - always a nice touch. She rubbed my legs out perfectly, and I dismounted the table just in time to find out I had won an age group award! I've never won an actual award at a race before, so I was shocked to hear my name announced as the FIRST PLACE finisher in my age group for the 5k! My time had not been very impressive (more than three minutes slower than my PR) but I'm certainly not one to turn down an athletic award! Especially if it is likely to be my ONLY award... I grabbed my little plaque, one last piece of watermelon, and we headed back home to celebrate - by which I mean, lay around all day waiting for feeling to return to our legs!
Boom. Bling. Sorta.
Organization: This is probably the smallest local race I've ever run, but with three courses and finish lines to manage, the hat trick probably took a lot of logistical effort. Packet pickup was available day-before or day-of; we opted for day-of and had no problems whatsoever. Each race would require a separate bib, but without chip timers it didn't really matter which bib was worn for which race, and the check in staff did a good job making sure hat trick runners knew the full scoop on their bibs. From what I could see, everything was well marked and properly labeled for the staff to keep every runner well organized in any of the runs, and I was impressed with how smoothly the finish line operated. Someone was ready at the clock to record number and time as I approached, and there was someone ready at the end of the finish area to tear my timing ticket off my bib for backup timing. Course marshals and aid station support were well-placed and communicative, and I loved having a person at every mile marker to give me my splits and keep me on pace!
The Course(s): I particularly enjoyed the five mile course through the Metroparks, but the 5k and two mile path had its own highlights. The park trail was very well marked and easy to follow, even when we went off the paved path and through the trees. The shorter races were simple out-and-backs on the only path available, but they still took the time to mark the course and put out aid stations and timers. All three races were relatively flat, though a bit winding, with the exception of a long gradual slope in the long race and a sharp downhill-uphill to go under a bridge in the shorter races - that uphill on the way back in the two mile race was easily the hardest course section all day! Overall I enjoyed being out in the woods and I really like the new path by the library (for the shorter runs), and think the courses were definitely good choices for all three runs!
I have no idea who ended up with 551.
The Swag: Last minute sign up fees were only $32 to participate in all three races - making this hat trick cheaper than most local 5k races would be - and had been even cheaper had I been able to put this race on my calendar in advance. While the race wasn't chip timed, which saves considerable cost for the organizers, all participants did receive nice t-shirts and lots of post-race food (clearly I enjoyed the watermelon, but there were plenty of other goodies too). The shirts, while not exactly tech material, were not 100% cotton and are probably really comfortable for a lot of activities. Anyone who finished all three races also received a hat trick HAT! Because that's super clever and a unique little touch! Free massages are also a great benefit, and with the level of organization provided by the course staff/volunteers, the lack of chip timing wasn't even an issue. Overall and age group awards were provided for all three races, and any proceeds went to the Debbie Hudacko scholarship fund - I was very happy with the value I received from this race, and with the little haul I got to take home!
The Bottom Line: VERY glad I participated in this one, but I do not think *I* will be doing it again - only because I'm a wimp and I did not handle the rest periods very well. For anyone else, the hat trick is a fun challenge and definitely a good way to breathe new life into your race schedule, especially if you feel you're getting a little stale on local races. Oh who am I kidding? It's for a great cause and it's cheap and well-run, I'll probably do this one again next year! I'm such a sucker for local races!
I'd never heard of a hat trick run before - has anyone else done something like this? What were the distances? How did you manage? Any tips for better recovery between races when you only have a few minutes?