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COLUMN

HUFF expecting record field at Chain O'Lakes

Flooding, change of venue result in growth

Tuesday, December 18, 2012 - 9:26 am

“Only with endurance athletes,” would be the answer. The question: “How can a trail race that moves to a tougher course and conditions grow at a record pace?”

It shouldn't come as a surprise, given the spirit of The HUFF 50K and its 16-year history, but the expectations for this year's HUFF on Dec. 29 have me shaking my head in disbelief.

Race founder and director Mitch Harper has reached a quick conclusion as to the race's increased popularity.

“The mindset for many runners, especially those age 30 and under, has changed. They want tougher courses, greater challenges,” Harper said. “A lot of our finishers last year, especially the relay runners and one-loopers, were waving their arms at the finish, celebrating.”

Oh, yes, last year's HUFF, how can we ever forget?

Those who were there, the first year at Chain O'Lakes State Park, feel a tingle in their toes just thinking about it. And if you missed it, just type in “HUFF 50K water” at www.youtube.com and you'll see a 98-second video of runners wading through deep water in sub-freezing temperatures. More than 10,700 views have been logged on that video, and there are others for you to view.

“Runners were so excited (at the finish), saying how the race was so much tougher than any 'Warrior Dash' or 'Tough Mudder' they've run,” Harper said. “We will have one of the 10 largest ultramarthons in North America this year with 450 runners.

To recap the 2011 race, The HUFF 50K (roughly 32 miles) moved to Chain O'Lakes, near Albion, after 15 years in Huntington County. The 50K course now consists of two 15.67-mile loops and the one-loopers and three-person relay runners run a mostly different 10.7-mile loop.

Even when dry, the trails are much tougher and technical than the Huntington course, which included long stretches of road. Add last year's flood and Harper had an instant hit.

Due to the popularity, the field in all three events (50K, one-loop and the relay) have almost filled. There are fewer than 50 spots remaining for the 50K.

Online registration will continue at www.veepraces.com until 11:59 p.m. Dec. 26. Packet pickup will be 5:30-8 p.m. Dec. 28 at Camp Lutherhaven, just west of the park. This will include a pasta dinner. Packet pickup will also continue on race morning beginning at 7:30 near the start at Sand Lake.

While the course is tougher, The HUFF's amenities are better: Three aid stations on the course (hosted by Team Bird, Three Rivers Running Company and Paul Knott) will provide all the most popular ultramarathon food and drinks. The finish area will have all the great soups the race has been known for.

Amenities don't consist only of food. Harper said safety procedures have improved as well thanks to a vast network of ham radio operators throughout the course. Parking is also much better than in Huntington and, unlike last year, park fees have been included in the entry fee.

Harper and the nearly 100 volunteers have everything covered. Except weather.

“Last year's flood was only the second time the park had flooded in its 50-some years,” Harper said. “I don't think we'll have that problem again.

“But, there is always the possibility of a big snowfall. That would make the trail very interesting.”