Hogpen Hill Climb

If you bike the gaps in North Georgia, you have at least heard of Hogpen.

I have never ridden it, but I can now say I have run up it. This was my first year at the Annual 18k Hogpen Hill Climb. This was also my first running race as a member of the Masters Division (40+).

The weather for Hogpen is traditionally bad, or so I have been told.

The start wasn’t bad. It was chilly but I opted for a short sleeved shirt and capri length leggings. I had arm warmers on but before the race I tucked them in to my sports bra.

I chatted with friends, milling about here and there. I was happy to be among friends, nervous to race.

Before the start there was a moment of silence for a runner who had been hit by a drunk driver on New Year’s morning while she was out for a run: Karen Ray. I haven’t said much about her, but this hit me hard. We weren’t close friends, but had been on the 2010 Georgia Team In Training San Diego team together. I got to be her mentor. And after the race, she gave me a gift. Which shows you the kind of positive and warm person she is. We didn’t see each other after that marathon, but were facebook friends, and followed and commented on each other’s happenings. She had run many races, including ultras, since our time on a team together. The moment of silence put my heart in the right place. I was ready to run. I knew I wouldn’t think of her as I ran, but thoughts of her before got me to the right place. Time to do what I love to do.

And with little more fanfare we were off.

It’s a small race with no timing chips so gun time is run time. I started near the front with teammates. Quickly a pack of them took off, and I spent the race alone in no-mans land: I passed a few people, had a couple of people behind me for the first 3-4 miles, but otherwise only saw those manning the water stations every mile and the few brave souls out cheering.

The first 4 miles are rolling. As told, I made hay while the sun-shined…so to say.

At around 4 miles, you start your climb up Hogpen. The first couple of miles aren’t bad. In fact, about mile 6.5 there is a descent and again I “made hay while the sun shined”: picking up my pace.

I remember looking at my Garmin at mile 7 and was a bit incredulous that I had gone the first 7 miles in about 58 minutes. I knew that the hill was yet to come, but I rarely run this pace on a regular training day. Huh?

Somewhere between mile 7 and 9, it got foggy and cold. I remember that my arms got cold, but felt OK. I really wanted mittens to warm my hands. My hands were cold.

One thing I recall was I enjoyed the fog as I couldn’t see what was next in terms of the climb. I very much had to run in the present.

Somewhere about mile 8-9 it got steep. Really steep. As in I was trying, but I couldn’t go fast enough to get my HR up past about a half marathon effort. As I trudged along I thought “Well, here’s another weakness to work on!” This race is a good one to point out any weaknesses you may have. I felt a little better when talking with friends after to hear they had the same issue. It’s a challenging climb along there.

At both outlooks up the mountain I saw the same group of on-lookers. I recognized them by their dog – a real cutie pie. The cheered me on and I smiled back. The second time I saw them they said they knew I’d be steady and strong, and was looking good. They also gave me my position.

Just after the mile 10 water stop, I passed another group cheering. They said “2 miles to go”. Wha???This is an 18k – not longer. I didn’t want 2 more miles! I immediately thought “Maybe it’s downhill” but it still didn’t appeal.

And so I trudged along. There was a little downhill section and I did my best, but I actually did OK on the uphills too. Not fast, but steady.

About mile 11 I spotted the Hikers signs you see on the Gaps meaning you are nearing the top. I didn’t know if this ended at the top, or went past (I still had the 1 mile left on my mind), but I gave a little internal cheer at this sign. Luckily, there wasn’t 1 mile left.

As I came up to the top I saw the finishing area (I think, it was hard to make out) off to the side of the road. It was hard to see, but I went for it.

And I finished. They handed me my finishing slip to write my name, numbers, age, etc. on. I tried to write but my hands were numb. My writing reminded me of my kindergarten efforts.

After that I wandered around looking for my friends, who also had my change of clothes. I hadn’t brought enough clothes for how cold it had gotten at the top, but at least they were dry.

We waited for everyone we knew to finish, huddling  and scurrying from place to place for warmth. Once the last person we knew was in, we hustled to the shuttle to ride back down.

It was a long day, but a fun day. I did challenge myself and did better than I thought, but also know where I could have done better. I was doubting myself at the suggested effort for the start. As I progressed I gained confidence, but the start is important. I also didn’t have a complete race mindset going in to this. Heck, I didn’t even wear my red sports bra that I wear for every race (the sports bra, by the way, is nearing 4 years old. And DeSoto no longer makes that model. Or have changed it enough I don’t consider it a replacement. And no longer make it in red anyway. The nerve 🙂 ).

Time to remember….a race is a race: running or tri, AND there is no room for self-doubt.




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