January 2006
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Day January 28, 2006

The Hogpen Hill Climb

in north georgia every january is a short race of epic proportions that intrigued me: the hopgen hill climb, a 17k road run with 2500′ of elevation gain. originally this weekend was supposed to be the odyssey one-day xtreme ar, but this race got postponed 1 month due to permitting. of course i couldn’t just sit around, so i thought a good butt-kicking would be perfect.

hogpen gap is well-known within the cycling community as one of the infamous climbs on the 6 gap ride through north ga. all i’ve heard is how tough it is to ride and how when running this race, you may as well just walk the hills. factor in the unpredictable winter weather (sometimes ice at the top prevents the normal course from being run), and i knew the day would be memorable no matter the outcome.

the week leading up to the race wasn’t a great one, so i wasn’t expecting much on race day.my legs were whooped in spin class wednesday and i skipped my thurs morning run due to a severe lack of sleep (caused by getting some race marketing stuff ready for the trailblazer party friday night – oh yes, and that would be the friday night before the race, and yes i did have 2 pints of beer…) on the other hand, my training in the month leading up to the race was great: i had lots of time on my feet, bi-weekly trail runs with some good hill practice, and a ton of elevation training on the weekends.

race morning: january 21st
first i check my email to see if daniel & hunter had finalized a meeting place (teammates that were to be joining me for the run, then we had planned some biking in the area). i see a lovely email from 2:30am, saying they were sadly not going to be able to join me due to some extended partying that night (and the fact hunter had bowed to the porcelain god a good bit too). so i headed on up alone (my roommate sandy caught a ride with some of her running group). the weather leaving atlanta wasn’t too bad, but reports of rain loomed. temperatures held steady in the 50s as i headed 2 hrs north to helen. the racers gathered in the festhalle to avoid the drizzle and chill outside. i began to wish i had worn tights instead of shorts.

the race started at noon and we wound our way through downtown helen for a few miles of rolling terrain. we took a right turn onto richard b russell highway and this is where the fun began. miles 3-6 definitely had an increase in elevation, but we found relief in some nice downhills. my strategy so far was to keep a steady comfortable pace and conserve my energy. (what pace i was on, i have no idea – not very good with figuring that out yet). it was during mile 7 that the first significant hill came and people around me began walking. i still felt fine and tried my best to keep a decent running gait, vowing to walk if i slowed to the pace of the walkers (that’s just goofy when you see a walker & runner at the same pace – but it is a mental game at that point).

around mile 8.5 i felt a funny flutter in my heart then felt faint and my vision narrowed. i had no choice but to walk, trying to shake off the feeling. (i’ve had it before, but some tests then showed nothing abnormal… still a bit unsettling though). after about 5 minutes i crested a hill and started a light jog on a long flat area just below the ridgeline. here the wind was picking up, the drizzle pretty constant, and the fog rolling in. feeling ok, i continued running up the next hill – surely we must be getting close to the end. a few more turns, a few more climbs, and soon some parked cars came into view. some onlookers cheered us on – 100yards to go! then the next group said 200yards to go. argh! the fog was so thick now i couldn’t see up the hill and had no idea how much further. a youngish looking girl passed me here – dang! i wanted to kick it up a notch, but still nervous from the earlier spell, kept myself in check. soon some police lights came into view and the finishing clock. 1:46:12…wahoo!

i ended up talking with the girl that passed me and found out she was in the next age group lower… we were both hoping for solid end results. meanwhile, i looked around for craig, someone sandy had met at the party friday night that had offered me a ride down (the race was point-to-point, so people generally hitch ride with each other to get back to the start). no signs of craig yet, so i hopped around trying to stay warm. i saw someone take the last orange that i was craving, so i bartered my peeling services in order to enjoy some (his fingers were too cold to do so). right when my shivers began setting in, craig arrived and we escaped to his wife’s warm car.

back at the festhalle, i immediately changed into warm clothes and helped some other make a fresh pot of coffee as we waited for the results to arrive. finally they arrived…. and i ended up placing 2nd in my age group!

the afternoon was completed at a nearby mexican restaurant where i met some adv racing friends that had been biking in the area.

shown are a few photos taken by bruce tolbert.