Last Saturday my hubby Bill and I woke up before dawn, walked the dog, then set off for Elkton, Maryland and my phavorite race of the year, Phunt.
The weather forecast was ominous; snow changing to sleet and freezing rain threatened to make the race a slog and the drive home (a little over an hour) treacherous, but we signed up for this race 13 months ago with the understanding that winter weather in Maryland is not always optimal for running.
Or maybe, like many trail runners, you consider snow, sleet, and freezing rain optimal race weather.
We arrived at the registration hall, picked up our race bibs and goodies, met some of our friends (including this lovely lady from Prague), and waited for the race to begin.
At exactly 9:00 we were lead to the starting line (using the most circuitous route possible, according to tradition), given some last-minute instructions, and at the sound of the official starting horn, were off.
Snowflakes began falling right on cue. I saw the first ones floating lazily down before the sound of the horn stopped reverberating through the woods.
I worried about deteriorating footing as the snow stuck to the trails but the predicted three to five inches turned out to be nothing but a few flurries. At 25 degrees and overcast with a light northerly wind and relatively dry trails, conditions for this year’s Phunt were perfect.
Bill and I fell into a comfortable pace as we ran on a gravel road for the first section of the race. Runners quickly sorted themselves out and the pack thinned well before we turned onto wooded singletrack.
The trails at the Fair Hill Nature Center are not especially gnarly by trail running standards, but there are rocks, roots, and rolling hills, along with at least one climb that certainly gets your attention.
The first aid station, decorated to look like the M*A*S*H set, was at mile 4.5. Volunteers, dressed as soldiers or doctors, dispensed crackers, candy, orange slices, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bananas, pretzels, Gatorade, Tailwind, beer, and Jello shots to runners along with encouraging words.
Bill and I grabbed some crackers and orange slices, along with some water, decided to forego the Jello shots, and did not linger too long at the aid station. We trotted off munching our goodies.
After the first aid station, we came to the first of several stream crossings. The streams were narrow enough and the rocks strategically placed so we could keep our feet dry by hopping across the water from stone to stone.
The second aid station, located at approximately mile eight in a park pavilion, featured most of the food and drink found at the first aid station, plus hot broth (either vegetable or chicken), pierogies, grilled cheese sandwiches, and bacon.
I took a pierogi and dunked it into the hot chicken broth. The warm broth felt like heaven going down and warmed me up from the inside. Bill opted for a grilled cheese. We lingered just a little longer at this aid station, then set off once again, fortified for the next section of the race.
We passed more stream crossings, traversed more singletrack with roots and rocks, walked up the steepest climb on the course, and headed into the third and final aid station at mile 11.
The theme at this aid station was “Hollywood“. Volunteers dressed up as movie characters. There was a mermaid, a blonde bombshell, and of course, the obligatory reference to Forrest Gump. The fare at this station was similar to the first.
By now, Bill and I were both getting tired. My hamstring, although in much better shape than last year, began hurting and I had trouble picking up my left leg.
I was worried about falling. Several years ago at Phunt, I tripped over nothing somewhere in the fourteenth mile and wound up flat on my face on the forest floor, embarrassed and gasping for breath.
After winding back and forth in seemingly endless S-curves, we finally saw the gravel road ahead of us and turned to climb the last hill on the road.
Bill resolved to do a 30-second walk/30-second run combo up the hill, but I believe I may have sabotaged him and stretched out the walking portion for more than 30 seconds at a time.
We crossed the finish line in 3:24, good enough for third place in my age group and fourth place for Bill. After picking up our official phinisher’s medal we joined the party inside the activity hall.
Along with loud, celebratory music and hundreds of happy, tired trail runners, the party featured French fries, hot dogs, vegetable lentil soup, and chili with all the fixings, plus all of the food found at the aid stations. There was beer, soda, hot coffee, tea, and mudslides to drink.
Bill and I refueled, changed into dry clothes, and stepped outside to make the trek to our car just as the snow began in earnest. As we drove home, snow changed to a mixture of snow, sleet, and freezing rain, making driving hazardous.
We made it home slowly and safely, thinking about the conditions facing 25K runners finishing after we did and those running the 50K.
Once again, Phunt lived up to my very high expectations. I love the course, the excellent race organization, the aid stations, the enthusiastic volunteers, the $40 registration fee, the after-party, and just the whole vibe of this race.
If you’re looking for a January trail race in the mid-Atlantic region, you can’t go wrong with Phunt. Of course, you’ll have to sign up for the 2022 version of the race. The 2021 race is already sold out. You can, however, get on the wait-list and hope for the best.
You can find the places I link up here.