This was my third year at Surf the Murph. Two years ago it was the site of my first 50K and my induction into the ultramarathon distance. Last year I tried for a repeat, but after a big year with my first 50 mile race I just wasn’t up for two loops of the course, and DNF’d after 25K. Since I knew my running this year wasn’t up to snuff I only signed up for the 25K, and was very happy I did so.
The weather all week had been calling for rain on Saturday, and wow did it deliver. To make sure we got a decent parking place we arrived 90 minutes early for our start. We grabbed our bibs and then went back to the car to relax. I leaned back the seat and started to doze off just as the heavens opened up in a torrential downpour. I felt very sorry for all the 50 milers and 50K runners who were stuck out on course in the storm. I don’t know how long I slept, but when I awoke things had calmed down quite a bit. When we headed to the start the rain had slowed to a slight drizzle, and throughout the day it wouldn’t amount to much more than a steady spring rain.
We launched at 8am, which is an hour later than I’ve ever done at Surf, and it meant that I didn’t need a headlamp. That was a nice welcome change as I usually have to stow it within a few miles once the sky lightens up. It was one less thing to carry which was fine with me. I had already overdressed and had to stuff my extra shirt into my pack within a mile from the start. I was thankful for my Outdoor Research hat as it is waterproof, and the brim kept the rain from dripping into my eyes.
The first part of the course is very hilly, and so I made the decision to go out nice and slow (a change from previous years as well). I ended up averaging around 14 minute miles for the whole race, but starting slow meant that I could pick up steam later in the race. I had some of my fastest miles at 11 and 12. I was feeling good at that point and decided to burn some excess energy. I wasn’t able to keep it up long, but it felt good to get a little faster for a bit.
However, the big story of the day was the mud. In the past, this course always has some level of mud, but due to the recent rain the entire course was completely covered. This is one of the muddiest runs I’ve ever done, even beating the 2015 Spring Superior 25K where I came back covered up to my knees. Surf added in a ton more puddles of standing water, which kept your legs a tiny big cleaner, but meant that you were plodding through water for hours. By the time I had hit mile 13 my quads were burning from all the prancing I had to do, leading with my toes to avoid getting my shoe stuck.
This year the beaver dam was once again bigger and more flooded than ever. The race organizers put down some boards to help with crossing along the top of the dam, which helped a little bit. Unfortunately, every step was not solid, and at one point I sank in up to my knee. I really feel like the park needs to do something about this section. It’s a part of a regular marked trail but it’s simply never going to be passable ever again (apart from the dead of winter) without destruction of the dam and massive ground mitigations. They need to either put up a real bridge or move the trail to a different location.
One of the the unique things about Surf is that all of the distances (apart from the 50) are very long. In order to make 3 loops equal 50 miles, each loop is actually 26.7K. That amounts to over a full mile beyond 25K, which after a long muddy day, feels like forever. Even though I know the loop distance, and have run it multiple times, I always get grumpy when mile 16 hits. I want the loop to be done, even though I know exactly how long it is. I need to figure out something in the future to stop myself from getting so pissed about something that I know right from the start line.
I came across the line in 4:07:43 (Strava time), which isn’t my fastest ever time, but it was better than last year by about 7 minutes. I found some friends and said hi and then went to watch for Lisa to cross. She was only about 15 minutes behind me and I got to cheer her across the line. In fact when she saw me it made her realize that the finish was just around the corner I was standing on and that she could still make her goal.
Once we got our medallions of wood we headed to the fountain to get cleaned up and then to the car to get changed. Even walking around the start/finish area you could tell that the conditions were getting worse and worse. I know many people were dropping early due to the intense mud fest. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a nice mud run, but this was extreme, and I couldn’t imagine going out for even one more loop, let alone 2. Huge props to those who were able to get it done.
Once we wrapped up it was time for our traditional burger at Five Guys and then home to get cleaned and showered. Thankfully, I’ve run this race in years where it’s been beautiful, with lots of dry running. If this was the first year I had ever been to this course I would be leery about coming back. However, I know that next year it could be a totally different scenario, so hopefully I’ll be up for at least one loop around Murphy-Hanrehan.