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Bob Cawood: Algonquin 50K, the ‘Mud, Blood and Love’ race, pushed runners to the limit | COMMENTARY

The Algonquin 50k is a community-based, eco-friendly, volunteer-supported, nonprofit event whose mission is to promote, maintain and increase trails in Delmarva and to run on trails in Pocomoke City and the Pocomoke State Forest, which is famous for its Cypess Swamps. The race was held last Saturday.
The Algonquin 50k is a community-based, eco-friendly, volunteer-supported, nonprofit event whose mission is to promote, maintain and increase trails in Delmarva and to run on trails in Pocomoke City and the Pocomoke State Forest, which is famous for its Cypess Swamps. The race was held last Saturday. (Courtesy Photo)

In normal times, a 50-kilometer (31-mile) trail race is quite an undertaking. One must of course be trained and ready to race. Strategy is paramount at the ultra-distance, making sure you have all the proper gear and nutrition to go the distance. Any technical issue can derail a race quickly. So, a good runner plans, and plans, and plans. That is the physical end of it.

One must also be ready for the mental game, knowing that at multiple points during the race, one will not want to continue, whether it is due to fatigue, weather, nutrition or a host of other issues. The key is pushing through those low moments, which only last for a mile or two at most and are generally fixable, and working your way to the finish.

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But what if you took the same 50K, added in pandemic-related issues, a rain/ice storm and a course overwhelmed by flooding? Those low points may last longer than a few miles, making a runner feel as if the race is conspiring against you. As Benjamin Disraeli, 19th-century prime minister of the United Kingdom, famously said: “There is no education like adversity.”

Local runners had an opportunity to receive an adversity-based education at the Algonquin 50K, held last Saturday. The Algonquin 50K is a community-based, eco-friendly, volunteer-supported, nonprofit event whose mission is to promote, maintain and increase trails in Delmarva and to run on trails in Pocomoke City and the Pocomoke State Forest, which is famous for its Cypress Swamp. Its motto is “Mud, Blood and Love. Celebrate St. Valentine’s Day weekend suffering with us.”

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The trails are generally wet in the winter, and it is impossible not to get your nice new trail shoes muddy. The state park is part of the Great Cypress Swamp in Delaware, so those conditions are to be expected.

But what the runners faced this year was beyond normal. The rain and cold air settled in to make it a true test of a runner’s mettle. The flat nature of the course tempted runners to go as fast as possible, while the mud held them back, leading no doubt to frustration and a complete change of racing strategy to earn the coveted finisher award: a handmade ceramic mug.

And if that isn’t enough fun, the race also put on the Delmarva Ultra Challenge 100K (62 miles) for a few select participants. It takes place in conjunction with the Algonquin 50K and is quite a devious event, enticing participants with these words: “The less you know the better. Trust us. You will love it. What you will get is an epic overnight adventure that is unknown, challenging, fun and worth tackling. What you will not get is ... a huge cheering crowd, much/if any sleep, handholding, much love or a lot of whistles and bells. No one you know knows anything about this race.”

On Feb. 12, the invited DUC runners gathered at 7 p.m. and were advised of the course for the first time. An hour or so later, they were out there, running in the dark. They had to finish before the start of the Algonquin 50K, and then finish that race, too, in order to be eligible for a small trophy, a wooden duck. If you don’t finish the Algonquin 50K, you don’t finish the DUC. One can only imagine the runners going all night, and then having to navigate the rain, cold and slop the next day for the final 31 miles, knowing if they don’t finish, it was all for naught.

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Congratulations to all the runners who braved both races and , most memorably, finished. They include these fine local runners: A.J. Nealey, Kevin Grickis, Jeremy Turner, Jason Koenig, Karen Brown and Jimmy Wilson, who finished the DUC.

Spring Explorer Series & Live Give Run

In the current environment, virtual races are an outlet for runners wanting to plan for and finish an event, giving a runner a goal to work towards. A runner on the virtual racing fence can legitimately ask whether one can get the same thrill from a virtual race as a live race.

The answer is a qualified “yes.” Even at a live race, you are really only competing against yourself. Yes, there may be other people around, but at the end of the day it is you against the heartless clock. A virtual race is no different. In fact, in some ways a fast finish at a virtual run is more of an achievement, as you and only you pushed yourself to that finish time.

Charm City has an excellent opportunity to do a virtual race series around the local area called the Spring Explorer Series. From April 1 to May 31, prospective runners can participate in up to seven races run on the actual courses, on days and times of your choosing, in different communities around the greater Baltimore area, including Baltimore City (Lake Montebello, 2.7 miles), Inner Harbor (Promenade, 3.7 miles), Frederick (Baker Park, 2.6 miles), Bel Air (Ma & Pa Trail, 3.8 miles), Annapolis (Quiet Waters Park, 2.6 miles), Columbia (Centennial Lake, 2.4 miles) and Timonium (Torrey C Brown Rail Trail, 6.6 miles).

Each runners received special perks for finishing, including a sticker to show everyone what you accomplished.

If that sounds like too much, Charm City is also offering the second annual Live Give Run Virtual Race that will support two local organizations working tirelessly to help our community during the COVID-19 pandemic: Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, and the Baltimore Community Foundation COVID-19 Evolving Community Needs Fund.

There are four events from the 5K distance to full marathon, starting at only $5, and the race(s) must be completed by Feb. 28. This is a great opportunity for family members to get out there and do an event together while supporting good causes. Give one a try, how can you go wrong at $5 for a charity event?

HAT Run 50K and B&A marathon and half marathon

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the 32nd annual Hat Run 50 in Susquehanna State Park has been canceled. This mainstay of the local ultra-scene will be missed this year. A virtual event is under consideration.

The Annapolis Striders B&A Marathon and Half Marathon, a fixture of the spring road scene, is on hold and the club remains “hopeful that mid-summer there will be a change that will allow for large gatherings,” and the race to go on.

Running calendar

(All subject to government approval and compliance with COVID-19 restrictions)

Have a question or a comment or additional calendar items? Email Bob Cawood at rhbc@cawoodlawfirm.com.

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