Race director Robert Lewellen described this course as possibly the toughest 50K in the southeast. This was enough to get my attention. I guess I will never learn!
I came into this race pretty comfortable with my training. I knew this would be a tough day with tons of climbing so I placed no time goals or pressure on myself. My gear choices for this race would prove to be both good and bad by the end of the day. I wanted to experiment with the use of trekking poles and thought this course would be perfect testing grounds. With my hands tied up with the poles I needed to utilize my Nathan hydration pack for fueling. My ultra running experience while using a hydration pack to date as been horrific... why did I expect today to be any different?
I loaded the pack down with two liters of Gatorade and a handful of Gu's and Scaps, etc. Arriving at the starting line I knew I was carrying more weight than I should with a 4 mile climb in the first seven miles of the race.
The race started on time and me and my buddy, Tim Worden, cruised out of Vogel State Park trying to stay in front of the majority of runners. The race would turn to single track after the first quarter mile and we did not want to get log jammed in. Tim and I knew we would have our own demons to deal with all day and both understood we would run our own race. I never anticipated we would split from each other so early but I guess I pushed forward early on due to adrenaline.
The thing with a single track course is that you can easily get sucked into running a faster pace than expected. With runners on your heels you keep on plugging away. I passed quite a few runners early on as the downhill sections were very easy for me and I just let it flow. Aid station #1 was around mile 3.5 and AS#2 was about 8 miles in just after the major climb. With cool temps and 2 liters of Gatorade in the pack I cruised through both aid stations without slowing down. This was part of my plan however the other part of the plan was to be drinking some of that 2 liters rather than just hump it over these mountains all day. This error would catch up to me on the back half of the race.
I had no idea how many runners were out in front of me since so many made the turn for shorter 30K race. I wondered how Tim was doing with this being his first ultra. A tough choice for a first ultra but with the trails we train on I was confident in him. The climbing was tough for sure but I felt my training had me well prepared for that. The most challenging part of the course for me proved to be the leaves and how difficult it made the descents. Aid station #3 came and I stopped to refill my pack and grab some grub they had on the table. I'm not sure how much fluid I drank up to this point but I was getting way behind on intake and not even aware of it. I hate using a pack for this very reason because I never drink enough. I'm usually to conservative fearing I will run out and never really knowing how much is still in the pack's bladder.
The turn around point was only 2.5 miles from this aid station but it proved to be the longest 2.5 I can remember. My spirits were still very high though as I had yet to run into the race leader heading back and new I must be doing pretty well as far as positioning goes. As the leader comes into sight I start counting each runner that I cross paths with till I get to the turn around point. I figured at the half way point I was running somewhere around 15th-20th position out of about 70 starters. It felt cool to be running this well but my body was starting to declare that it could not keep up with my enthusiasm. Oh yeah why should it when I failed once again to properly fuel it during a race!
I started to get those ever so familiar muscle twinges that come with dehydration and muscle fatigue. I mistakenly considered this was the toll the climbing was taking on me rather than a hydration issue. I stopped for a pee break around mile 20 and was surprised to see my urine was dark orange to light brown. From here on my race went all to hell! I started getting passed quite often as my running became very uncomfortable for me. The discomfort I was feeling was in the bladder and in my junk! I did not panic but I was very concerned. For the last 12 miles of the race I had a constant feeling like I had to urinate but I could not even make a drop. I starting trying to up my hydration but it seemed the damage on this day was already done. I just wanted to get this race over with and drink a beer!
I spent the last several miles just really mad at myself for all that had gone wrong with what should have been one of my best race performances. I got "chicked" in the last 1/2 mile to add to my frustrations. I shuffled along into the park and crossed the finish line with the satisfaction of finishing the toughest 50K in the area but still completely frustrated with the way it all worked out. I crossed the line in 33rd place with a time of 8:37:52. With about 70 starters only 54 finished before the cut-off. The winning time was 6:10 which is slow by 50K winning standards which only proves just how challenging this course really was. My Garmin showed just over 10,000' of elevation gain spread over 31.86 miles. A good day or a bad day I still walked away with the opinion that this was the toughest 50K in the southeast!
I changed out of my cold and soaking wet clothes into something warm. I grabbed a few micro-brews from the cooler to have ready for Tim as he crossed the line to celebrate his first ultra. I was of course also hydrating heavily with the proper fluids to try bring me back to normal. The four hour ride home for Tim and I was a tough one after a long day in the mountains.
I highly recommend this race for those sadistic folks like myself that search out those extra challenging races. You will not be disappointed by how well this race is put together. I can't end without stating how awesome all the volunteers were. I left the race forgetting that this was it's it first year... it was run that well!
As soon as Tim and I got in the truck we both said this was a one and done race. In true ultra spirit I decided about two days later I must return in 2012 and correct where I went wrong and tear this trail up!
Note to self... don't procrastinate on writing these reports! There was so much more detail to be shared about this race but I'm ready to move on to the next adventure.
The trekking poles used were Leki Micro Sticks. I plan to put together a review of these in the coming weeks.
Tim Worden's podcast about the race
My Garmin Data