Winter has been rather gentle this year, leading to a season of training in less gear than is usual for the grey months. Chance timing had it return with a vengeance coinciding in an apt fashion for this years Hagg Lake Mud Runs on February 18th, put on by the ORRC. Not currently in active marathon training at the moment, this was to be the longest run in months for me, and the mud, clay, and downed trees just made it a lot more interesting. Always a painful event for me personally, with great views and soft footing, the 25K has been a challenge and an escape each year I have participated.
Due to the low temperatures, I knew staying warm and dry before the start was essential. After taking a moment to get my race number, I utilized the covered shelter to pin it on my shorts and ensure my shoes were tied correctly so I wouldn’t lose them in the mud. I had a minor scare when I realized I had forgotten my cup in the car (this is a zero waste event and they asked participants to provide their own vessels) as people started to line up. I had time to retrieve it before the start and assembled with everyone in preparation.
The game plan for the run was simple, don’t push the pace and have a good time. I was hoping to run faster than last years 1:57 and break the top 5, but with so many variables in the day I hadn’t made it a concrete goal. I just knew I wanted to finish running and not succumb to a bonk. The last few halves I have done did not end well, and this event is a bit longer and has much tougher terrain.
To help break up the pack before venturing onto the single track trails, we made a large loop around the parking lot. A misdirection by a volunteer sent the lead group off course but it was quickly realized and they headed back over rather quickly. From there we went back across the start line and into some trials. As in previous years, the course got on the pavement and then a gravel road, but this time for a much shorter distance. From there we retraced our steps and crossed the start line in the original direction, heading off the pavement and into a long section of trail.
In my opinion the most difficult area of the race is the west side, consisting of a lot of clay and slippery areas. The most iconic area has been dubbed the ‘pig pen’, a slog through a trough of indeterminate distance, attempting to keep your shoes in balance in 2 to 6 inches of water on top of several inches if clay. Slippery and cold, it is fun if you keep your feet, miserable if you fall down. It was definitely a lot easier to cope with fresh, rather than tired.
After another stint on pavement, the miles before the dam are mostly mud. Varying in depth and viscosity, it took an alert eye, good balance and a fair share of luck to keep from falling in several places. There are a few bridges to cross, along with several inclines and declines. None are notably large, but maintaining momentum upwards at times is no small feat. My favorite part was watching snow fall in the forest. It was so peaceful and quiet, a scene I greatly enjoyed. Well placed cones made it easy to stay on course, in spite of the remote location and various trail options.
Luckily, it was not windy, making the dam crossing easy. Due to it’s exposed nature, it is often the most miserable part of the run if the weather is less than ideal. This was the second to last portion of pavement, as we dropped into the trails yet again. I preferred this section, as it was still muddy, but traction was still stable. I did manage to roll my ankle on a root, but ran on it until it felt normal again. Breaks in the trees offered tantalizing glimpses across the lake to the finish area. With only a few miles to go, I was starting to feel the effects of this run.
As we climbed up to the last section of pavement, a couple participants passed me. They were the first runners I had seen since about 3 miles into the run, making this a very quiet race for me. Even after stopping at one of the aid stations before the dam for gummy bears, M&Ms and eating peanut butter toast this morning, I was running out of energy fast. Slowing down was a necessity to ensure being able to finish, and I even walked a bit. Being fatigued and trying to run in mud is a tricky task, as I learned again, using trees for stability in the last section of single track. After crossing the line and collecting my socks, hat, and pint glass, I immediately headed to the food.
Feeling rather soggy, with mud from the knees down, I downed some soda, sandwiches and various sugary snacks to help recoup. The heaters and covered area helped protect from the elements, but the best way to feel better involved ditching the soggy clothes. This is no easy task with a layer of mud coating the shoes, socks, and lower section of the tights I had opted to wear. But once changed and wrapped in a heavy blanket, snacking in a much more mannerly fashion, chatting with the other participants, I felt about as good as it was possible to feel without a hot shower.
This is one of those events that really allow you to take a measure of your fitness level. No matter your speed, it’s going to be difficult and it will likely hurt. I didn’t hit the benchmark of previous years, but produced a pretty even effort that allowed me to finish in one piece and even break the top 10. Even as I tell myself while feeling the post race soreness that it was a miserable endeavor, I already know I want to return next year and take a measure of myself again. This event that the ORRC puts on is a benchmark in our area and I would hate to miss a chance to see where I stack up.
Hagg Mud 25K Leaders
- Eric Fischer 37, Portland 1:50:34
- Kyle Schenone 27, Beaverton 1:51:14
- Phil Padilla 31, Portland 1:53:30
- Marta Fisher 42, Portland 2:19:59
- Stephanie Spiak 45, Portland 2:23:51
- Melissa Federspiel 40, Portland 2:24:37
Find the complete results here.