Race Report: Forget the PR Mohican 50k

After training for 18 weeks, 539 miles and 22,675 feet of vertical gain, I finally completed my first ultra distance on Saturday, April 6, 2019. The weather was just about perfect for the Forget the PR Mohican 50k, which is held in northern Ohio’s expansive Mohican State Park each spring. While not everything went according to plan during the race, I still had an awesome time in a surprisingly beautiful part of my home state.

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The Forget the PR race starts and ends in the Mohican Adventures campground, taking participants on a rolling tour through the park’s dense forests and dramatic hills/valleys. The course gives participants nearly 5,000 feet of elevation gain across its 31 miles, so the “Forget the PR” nickname is truth in advertising for many participants (I actually just assumed that the published elevation profile was wrong; it wasn’t). It really is a visually stunning course, too, taking runners through towering forests, over rushing rivers and past a cave crested by a waterfall. Most of the race was run on single or double-track trail, with a few short gravel and paved sections interspersed throughout the course. There were some swampy sections, particularly in the “dam loop” portion of the course, but the race route was generally very well maintained. As importantly, the Aid Stations were well-stocked and well-staffed, although I would strongly encourage any participant to also carry their own water and fuel.

In short, this race had practically everything you would want out of a trail run in the Midwest.

The early ascents and descents in the race were particularly exhilarating, and easily as challenging as anything I encountered in Leadville. As someone who is still fairly new to trail racing, it became clear that the climbs and flats were my strong suit, while my descents were a point of very notable weakness. At times, it was downright shocking to see other runners bomb past me on technical downhills, seemingly flying in the face of death while I carefully plodded my way around roots and rocks behind them. If I’m going to become more competitive as a trail runner, I’m definitely going to have to improve my downhill game.

The race course is marked by flags, which are color coded due to the fact that 50k participants actually backtrack and then repeat a large portion of the course. In previous years, it sounds like orange and yellow flags were utilized to mark the various loops of the course. For one reason or another, the orange flags were replaced with pink flags in 2019, which had some unforeseen consequences for some participants (including yours truly).

For the first one-third of the race, I settled in with a pack of runners who had a fair amount of experience with this race. I never had a chance to visit Mohican State Park before race day, so it was helpful to learn about – for instance – the false summit on Big Ass Hill, which tricked unseasoned participants into picking up the pace far too early into that nearly 300-foot climb.

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Another participant took this picture of me (center) and two other racers blindly following the notorious pink ribbons on an unplanned detour. Note to self: ribbons are not flags.

Unfortunately, somewhere around mile 10, someone at the head of our pack missed a pink flag and started following pink ribbons instead. This led about 15 of us not only off the course, but off of the park’s trails completely. We ended up slowly bushwhacking our way through creeks and thorn patches for over half a mile before accidentally exiting the park. I wonder if those pink flags actually marked some kind of property line, because our detour took us not to a well-earned aid station but instead into someone’s backyard! This led to a mad dash back over our tracks to find our missed turn. We eventually found our way back to the course, but that detour ended up lasting a full mile (including several hundred feet of unnecessary vertical gain), meaning I wasted more than 20 minutes thanks to a single missed turn.

The detour also meant that I was out of water in my handheld bottle well before I was set to hit the next aid station, thereby throwing off both my hydration and my fueling plan. After running far too hard for the next four miles in an attempt to make up that 20-minute deficit, I crashed hard at the race’s halfway point. My shirt was caked with large salt deposits and my adrenaline rush was giving way to nausea. Not a good place to find yourself in when you still have 15 or 16 miles to go!

Running gave way to power-hiking for a good portion of the second half of the race, but I did eventually regain my composure and I was able to make up a modest amount of time in the final miles of the 50k. I had set myself an arbitrary goal of finishing this race in under 7 hours, but my detour made that impossible. While I personally hit the 50k point well before the 7 hour mark (at just under 6:40:00 if you remove my bushwhacking journey off course for a mile), I finally crossed the finish line in 7:04:47 with a full 32 miles and 4,777 feet of elevation gain under my belt. While it wasn’t a perfect day, I did complete my first 50k … and I got my first race belt buckle. All and all, that made for a pretty good day.

My GPS data for the 2019 Forget the PR Mohican 50k, including my regrettable trip off course. You live and you learn, I guess!
My GPS data for the 2019 Forget the PR Mohican 50k, including my regrettable trip off course. You live and you learn, I guess!

The campground’s facilities were very nice, particularly the conference center that served as headquarters for the race. The center had modern bathrooms and ample shower stalls available for participants to use after the race.

My wife and I stayed in one of Mohican Adventures‘ “Cozy Cabins” for the weekend, which put us mere feet away from the start and end of the race. Although quite small, our cabin was equipped with a mini-fridge, bathroom, shower, bed, eating space and even a television. We did bring camping gear for cooking, since there was no microwave, stove-top or oven in the cabin, but we also indulged in pizza and beer at the campground-adjacent Trails End Restaurant after the race. Everything about Mohican Adventures was super convenient, actually.

The race itself had a very nice post-race spread, offering well-earned burritos or burrito bowls and beer to finishers. The post-race vibe was great and the crowd support remained strong all the way through the 10-hour cut off time.

All of the race swag that we received – a tee shirt, hat, sticker and (of course) finisher’s buckle – was pretty great, although the buckle design differed from the one that the official Facebook page shared just a few days before the race. Maybe that was a top finisher or repeat finisher’s buckle? Hard to tell. Likewise, there were photographers present at various points throughout the race. Will participants get a chance to see or buy those photos? No idea.

That probably speaks to the only area of improvement that I see for this race: communication. This winter’s wet weather required some changes to the course – no river crossings, no hand-over-hand climb, etc. – and none of that was communicated before or even on race day. I heard multiple people ask the race director about the river crossings on the morning of the race. That could have been an easy addition to the “final instructions” email to participants. The same could apply to those pesky pink ribbons that took me and my fellow racers off of the course, frankly. I don’t blame the race for our mistake (I promise!), but the situation was obviously confusing and a “head’s up” could have been included prior to the start of the race. Quite a few things were left unsaid for a first-time, out-of-town participant like myself. I think the team behind this race did almost everything right, so I only offer this as my one point of constructive criticism.

I have some constructive criticism for myself, too. Most importantly, this race demanded more water than I could carry in a single handheld bottle. My mile-long detour would not have been quite so devastating if I was carrying an appropriate amount of water myself. I’m definitely looking into some kind of hydration vest or pack for my next 50k. Blindly following the runners in front of me instead verifying the course for myself was also a rookie mistake. That will definitely cause me to think twice next time. Finally, it quickly became clear that I need to work on my technique for descending trails before I sign up for my next ultra.

Me and my wife on the course of the Forget the PR Mohican 50k. Photo by Michael Semick.
Me and my wife on the course of the Forget the PR Mohican 50k. Photo by Michael Semick.

And I definitely think that I’ll sign up for another ultra. Considering that I had only completed a half dozen or so trail runs during my training for this race, I had a pretty great day at the Forget the PR Mohican 50k. Here’s to some R&R and – hopefully – a seamless return to training for next month’s Flying Pig Marathon!

My Race Kit/Gear:

Gear Notes:

  • This was my first ever 7-hour long workout, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my GPS watch and heart rate monitor both lasted for the duration of the race with plenty of battery life left to burn. Well done, Garmin and Scosche!
  • Portions of this course were a wet, muddy mess. My On Cloudventure trail shoes drained shockingly fast and my OVRC Fitsoks were dry in a flash. I had actually worried about running with wet feet for such a long distance. Those worries were completely unfounded thanks to these socks and shoes. This was (to me, at least) a technical course at times, so I wonder if I’d feel more confident on my descents in On’s Cloudventure Midtop? That’s likely to be my next trail shoe purchase.
  • I’ve worn my Tracksmith shirt and shorts to death and they still look good as new. I could have benefited from more pocket storage in the shorts for such a long race, but I experienced absolutely no chafing despite the extra-long distance.
  • My BOCO Gear Technical Trucker held up as well as ever. I actually expected that it would be trashed after this race. I was very wrong.
  • I’ve been running with the same Amphipod Handheld for almost my entire running career. It has gotten me through plenty of road races and I’ve gotten very creative in how I store extra nutrition in the bottle’s sleeve. That one bottle didn’t carry enough water for a race this long, though. I’m not sure carrying a bigger bottle – or even two bottles – would’ve been much more enjoyable, though. I really think I need a hydration vest or backpack for my next ultra distance.

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