Friday, August 3, 2012

Big Butts- 100k or die

      The Big Butts trail race is held at the end of July at Butts Park in Clinton, Mississippi. Obviously the heat is a major factor for runners who have the option of doing a 50k or the seemingly impossible 100k. I say this because no one had finished the 100k in the previous two years that the race had been held. The course consists of a 6 mile mountain bike loop that is done 5 times for the 50k or 10 times for the 100k. After the loops, you have to do a cruel section of totally exposed road in order to complete the distance. I referred to it as the “highway to hell.” Last year was my first attempt at the 100k, but after 5 laps, I was cramping so bad from dehydration, that my diaphragm would not even relax enough to allow me to breathe properly. Needless to say, I dropped to the 50k but was determined to get revenge this time around.

            Conditions for the 2012 Big Butts were similar to 2011 with a heat index projected to be 105. It had rained quite a bit the day before, so the air was extremely humid and so thick it felt like you were breathing butter. My dad and I arrived on race day and set up my own mini aid station. Because the course is multiple loops, racers come back to the start after each lap, so crew access is very easy. We brought a cooler full of cold drinks as well as a garden sprayer to cool me off after each lap. After learning from my mistakes last year, my plan was to not go out as hard, drink as much as I could force myself to, and have cold water dumped over me between laps once it got really hot. I knew that I had to stay cool and hydrated if I was to have even a prayer at finishing the full 100k. Race director John Brower added some extra incentive by offering a cash prize to the first person who finished.
            At a few minutes before 8a.m., John and his amazing wife Beverly gathered the 70 or so runners for some final prerace instructions and then said “Go!” Because we all started together, I was not sure who was attempting the 100k, but I knew there were around 20 of us stupid enough to sign up. I went out quite a bit slower than last year, trying to stay totally comfortable and not worry about position since we all had a long way to go. The first mile of trail has several really short steep sections I call “whoop de doos” because you run straight up then have a steep descent shortly after. These got pretty muddy from all the rain, so it was a bit slippery in the beginning. After a short shaded section, the course pops out on an old road for maybe ½ mile (it seemed to get longer with each lap). This part was exposed to direct sun, so it got HOT later in the day. We then turned back into the woods where the trail is gently rolling and fairly well shaded. There was an aid station with fluid only at the half way point, but I still had enough in my handheld on this first loop, so I didn’t stop. Just after mile 4, the trail goes across a powerline, back to the woods, and then right back out across the powerline. This part was also very exposed to the sun. The last mile, however, was probably my favorite, as it was very well shaded and ended with a slight downhill back to the starting area where the official aid station/check-in and all the crew were set up. I ran over to my dad who promptly yelled that I had not drank enough, and after seeing that my handheld still had some fluid in it, I knew this was true. He refilled my bottle, and I set off on the second loop with the intention of drinking considerably more. It is so crucial to not get dehydrated early on in this race because, once the sun really comes out, it is impossible to catch back up on hydration.
            Laps 2-4 were fairly uneventful. I managed to drink nearly 2 full bottles per lap but could definitely tell that the temperature was rising quickly. The one positive that I took from this was that it dried up some of the muddy sections, making them less slippery and preventing the mud from sticking to my shoes which makes it feel like you are running with weights on your feet. Each time I finished a lap, my dad would dump cold water over me and refill my water bottle. Up to this point, I had been drinking red or blue Gatorade diluted with lots of ice, and this seemed to be working well, so I stuck with it. On the 5th lap, I asked my dad to run with me to have some company. He said that there were 3 guys in front of me, 2 of which had signed up for the 100k, but that the leader decided to switch to the 50k. This meant that I had only one 100k runner in front of me. With half the race still to go, I just tried to run comfortably and let the race play out. About midway through lap 5, I caught up to the leader, a really nice guy named Chris. I ran the 6th lap by myself, and it was about this point when I started to get significantly fatigued and could feel the miles taking their toll on my legs. Those whoop de doos got pretty painful, especially the downhill sections.
          When I got back to the aid station at the end of lap 6, I saw that they had Chick Fil A chicken nuggets! I had never seen this at a race before, and they looked really good. They tasted even better, and I think I ate at least 6, something I would regret in a very short time. My dad dumped some icy cold water over me which felt amazing and said that he was ready to run another lap if I wanted. This was welcome news, so we set off to knock out the 7th loop. Another thing that I started doing to stay cool was stick ice cubes in my sports bra, and it worked wonders. Sorry guys, you’re out of luck on this one, unless of course you would like to wear a bra in which case I say, go for it. Less than a mile into this lap, my stomach started rebelling. Although the chicken tasted good at the time, it definitely was not easily digestible, and my stomach was letting me know it. I was pretty nauseous and could only drink water the entire loop and most of lap 8 as well. Thankfully, it settled down for the start of lap 9. It was about this point when I began to let myself believe that finishing the 100k was a legitimate possibility. My lap splits had slowed from about 50 minutes to somewhere around an hour, and I was spending a little more time wetting myself down after each loop, but I still felt decent. Also, runners were fortunate enough to get some cloud cover for a couple hours in the afternoon, which helped tremendously to cool things off. I set off on lap 9 with the thought that after this, I would only have one more loop plus a short road section to go.
            By this point, I think I knew the course so well I could have run it in my sleep. I had memorized where the mile markers were and just took it mile by mile. I also started to dread the road and powerline sections because they were so hot. Each time you left the shade of the woods it felt like the temperature went up 20 degrees. I could feel that my face was sunburned already. Coming down that last downhill into the aid station area to start my last lap felt great, but the thought that I still had 8 miles left was a bit depressing. Once again, however, my dad lifted my spirits by offering to run with me, although by now it was a combination of walking the first few steep uphills and running the rest. In the short time I stopped to refill my water and cool off, I stiffened up considerably, and it took a while to loosen up once I began running. The downhills were just plain torture on my knees, and I felt totally uncoordinated on all of the technical sections because I was so stiff. When we got to the powerlines, my dad told me that he was going to shortcut this section and would meet me back in the woods. He had done this on each of the 3 loops he ran with me which goes to show just how hot it was. After catching back up to him, I had less than a mile of trail left followed by the road section before this thing would be over. Unfortunately, when I popped out of the woods and headed out on the road, that last 2 miles of scorching pavement seemed pretty daunting. John Brower, the RD, surprised me just before the turn around by riding up on his mountain bike and keeping me company for several minutes before going ahead to wait at the finish. As I came around the last corner and could see the finish line, it all started sinking in that the race was almost over. John, Beverly, my dad, and several volunteers and family members of other runners were there to meet me. I am so thankful for all of these people who worked incredibly hard in super hot conditions with a smile on their face. I could not have done it without their efforts and encouragement. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to do the race, meet some awesome people, and enjoy my first ever 100k finish!

Below are some thought I took from the race as well as lessons I learned from doing an ultra in extremely hot/humid conditions (the heat index was 105).

·         having at least one crew person is essential to help keep you cooled off, hydrated, and fueling.

·         the best way to cool off is to dump icy cold water over you as often as you can

·         you MUST drink something containing electrolytes, not just water even if you supplement with endurolytes, salt tabs, etc

·         a cold towel/bandana with ice cubes in it helps a lot if worn around the neck, in your hat, or in my case, in your sports bra

·         going out too hard can ruin your race. it is important to save some for the later parts of the race and not get dehydrated early on because you cannot recover when the sun come out in the heat of the day

·         if your shoes get wet from dumping water over yourself, it is worth the time to change them. I did after lap 7 and felt a million times better

·         don’t sit down, at least not for more than a minute or two because it makes it that much harder to get back up and running

Huge thanks to John and Beverly for putting on one of the toughest races I have ever done! It is a first class event, well organized, and the trail was marked perfectly.
Race results

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pine Mountain 40 mile race

The Pine Mountain trail race is held in FDR State Park in Pine Mountain, Georgia, and is conducted by the GUTS running club. I did this race for the first time 3 years ago and really enjoyed it, so I decided to come back this year for the third time. I was happy to be joined by fellow teammates Sheridan Ames and Dreama Campbell as well as her husband Trey. My wonderfully supportive dad also made the trip to crew for me. Unlike most races which are held on Saturdays, Pine Mountain is on a Sunday, so returning back to the real world without a recovery day can be, shall we say, interesting because I’m usually hobbling around pretty badly.
Temperatures on race morning were much warmer than I expected, so I was able to start in just a Patagonia long sleeve tee and shorts. It was much colder in previous years, and I was thankful to have some relief from the cold, but little did I know that it would warm up so much that many runners, including myself, would struggle with the heat. At 7am, race director Sarah Tynes said go, and around 125 runners set off along a .5 mile stretch of pavement before turning into the semi dark woods. Thankfully, the sun rose within minutes of starting, so I chose not to start with a lamp, but those first few minutes on rocky single track were pretty tricky! I intentionally went out fairly hard because I remembered that the first 3 or so miles were pretty flat before starting the first and biggest climb of the day. As we started ascending, the sun rose and allowed for spectacular views from atop the ridge. I was careful not to look too long, though, because the trail is extremely rocky. Those sharp, jagged rocks that seem to just be waiting to bloody the knees of a runner who dares to look away. The trail follows the ridge before descending once again and then climbing right back up to the first aid station at mile 5.6. My dad was waiting for me there, but I still had plenty of fluid, so I said hi and kept running.
As we descended once again, it became clear that the leaves would again be a huge factor. Because this race takes place in late fall, the trail is so covered in leaves that it is almost hidden at times and blends in with the rest of the woods. You literally have to stop and look for flagging to know where to run. Throw in a whole bunch of sharp rocks under those leaves and you’ve got a dicey combination. I knew a fall was inevitable and just hoped it wouldn’t result in too much blood even though there is an actual award given out for “best blood”. I was able to settle into a nice rhythm and made good time to the next aid station at mile 11 where I refilled and grabbed some food. After each aid station, runners would descend, run a bit of relatively flat trail, and climb right back up to the next aid station. It was nice in a way to know that there would be aid and smiling faces waiting for me at the top of the hills, which seemed to grow as the day went on. I felt pretty good until mile 17 or so when I totally bonked. I had just about convinced myself that I was going to drop at the turnaround. The section leading up to this point is extremely technical with at least 10 creek crossing in less than 4 miles. Thankfully, after reaching the turnaround and running a short loop section, my spirits lifted, and I just tried to focus on running from aid station to aid station.
It was really starting to heat up now, and because of some tornado damage that devastated the area earlier in the year, several miles of the trail were totally exposed to the sun. The unseasonably warm weather also led to some nasty stomach issues for me, and I wasn’t really able to eat anything from around miles 22-34. I did my best to drink regularly but could tell that I was getting dehydrated. When I reached the final aid station at mile 34, my stomach had finally settled, and I inhaled a peanut butter sandwich made out of a honey stinger waffle. I swear it tasted like heaven. I knew we still had one good climb before a nice downhill and flat section to the finish. It seemed like forever to get to the top of that hill, but once the trail started to descend, I got a second wind and was really smelling the barn. With about 1.5 miles to go to the finish, I saw my dad waiting to run in with me. I still had a shot a breaking the female course record and was very thankful to have someone to push me to run hard in the final stretch. However, my stomach was not cooperating and I actually had to make an emergency stop with about .25 mile left. When I came out of the woods and saw the clock 100 yards across the field, I realized that I had the record by just over a minute. After crossing the finish line, I just laid down in the grass, exhausted and very grateful to not have to run another step. I feel very blessed to have had a good day and owe a huge thanks to all of the wonderful volunteers and the best personal crew man ever (my dad). Teammates Sheridan Ames and Dreama Campbell also had strong runs, and we all enjoyed cheering in each person as they finished a super tough course.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Duncan Ridge 30k

Saturday November 19 marked the day for the first ever Duncan Ridge trail race in Blairsville, Georgia. I had several friends going up to do the race, which had a 30k and 50k option, so I decided at the last minute to see if I could get in. The race was already full, but Robert Lewellen, the race director, was kind enough to let me and my dad sign up late. Not only was it a last minute decision, but I was also just coming off of cross country season at UTC where we run a 5k, and I had not run over 10 miles in at least 2 months. I did my best to ignore the blatantly obvious fact that I was, shall we say, less than prepared for a 30k trail race with over 8,000 feet of elevation gain.
The race starts at Vogel State Park and follows the Duncan Ridge Trail and Coosa Backcountry Trails. While the 50k is an out and back, the 30k is more of a lollipop. Race morning was chilly and overcast with temps predicted to stay in the 40s all day, so I stayed in the car until the very last minute. After assembling at the start line, Robert gave some last minute instructions to the 150 or so runners and set us off on what would prove to be a grueling course.
Runners follow pavement for less than half a mile before turning onto singletrack, so I went out pretty hard to avoid the congestion. We immediately started a small climb before descending all the way to the 3.5 mile aid station. I was doing my best to keep up with R/C teammate Sheridan Ames, and he was giving me all I could handle. Immediately after the aid station, the trail starts climbing. Before the race, Dreama had told me about this climb, saying something like "It goes on forever, is really steep in sections, really technical..." That pretty much sums it up. Every time I though we were at the top, I would turn a corner and keep going up. Finally, after something like 4 miles of ascending, the trail turns steeply down, the quad killing, almost worse than climbing kind of steep. At the time, I though to myself how much it would stink to have to come back up this way, not knowing at the time that we would do just that. After maybe a mile of downhill, I arrived at the second aid station which also marked the split for the 30k and 50k. Words cannot describe how happy I was to follow the 30k arrow down a dirt road for about 3 miles rather than the the 50k arrow that went right back on singletrack and up another mountain.
I did my best to make up some time on the dirt road, and it felt nice to be able to stretch out my legs a bit. There was a nasty headwind for most of it though, making my thankful that I chose to wear two layers and gloves. 3 miles later, we were directed back onto singletrack that of course went switchbacking up and eventually spit us back out where we first hit the dirt road. This is when I realized that we had to return the same way we came, which meant that I would indeed have to climb up those nasty hills I had run down. When I reached those hills, Sheridan and I both let out an audible sigh. My legs were just about toast by now, and I was struggling to stay positive mentally, so it was nice to at least have some company even if we were too busy breathing to talk much. The one plus on the way back was that runners get to descend the 4 mile section of trail that they had to climb on the way out. This was a nice chance to recharge, but I knew that the last 3.5 miles to the finish would be tough because the first 2.5 are all uphill.
I took a GU roctane and refilled my bottle at this aid station, the first and only time I stopped all day, so I felt decent going into the climb. It is much more runnable than the previous section, and I managed to keep a steady pace. After reaching the top, it is a fast downhill mile to the finish. When I popped out of the trail and onto the last stretch of pavement, I was relieved to be almost done. At the finish line, I was greeted by Robert and several other volunteers who all worked extremely hard to put on such a great, yet difficult race. I told Robert that, mile for mile, this was by far the toughest course I have run to date, and I cannot even imagine the 50k. Overall, it was a strong showing for the Chattanooga crowd with Dreama taking first overall female in the 50k, Sheridan coming in 5th overall, and Cathi Cannon also having a strong race. I would recommend the race to anyone wanting a challenge, but don't expect to set any pr's on this course!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Big Butts 50k

When I opened up the race packet for the Big Butts 50k and saw the giant pair of whitey tighty underwear in it with “Big Butts 2011” written on the back I busted out laughing and new right away that this race would not disappoint. Rock/Creek race team member John Brower puts on this race which is held at Butts Park in Clinton, MS. The course consists of a 6 mile loop that runners do 5 times for the 50k or 10 times for the 100k. There is a short road section at the end affectionately named “the highway to hell” to tack on the extra mile or two needed for 31/62 miles. When my dad and I arrived at the start on Saturday, it was already muggy, and the heat index was predicted to be over 105 degrees! As hot as it has been here in Tennessee, I don’t think I have really had experience running in this kind of insanely hot temperature for prolonged periods of time, so it was somewhat foreign territory. Add to it the fact that I originally signed up for the 100k, and any rational person would call me crazy.
Because this was a loop course, runners came back to the start every 6 miles, making it easy to set up your own personal aid station in addition to the fully stocked one already there and being manned by super sweet Beverly Brower. A few minutes before 8, John assembled everyone and basically said that it was hot outside so drink a ton. He also said that the course was impeccably marked, and if you got lost it would have to be intentional. After saying go, 55 or so runners set off in the woods to run circles all day in what would soon become an inferno.
My goal on the first lap was to get a good feel for the course and idea of how long each loop would take. The trail is primarily geared toward mountain bikers and had a few really short but steep hills in the first mile or two. After that it is pretty flat with only several rollers, almost no rocks, and largely coated in the soft pine needles that make for a near perfect running surface. There was one exposed asphalt section around mile 1.5 and a short powerline section around mile 5, but other than that, the course was well shaded. At least it seemed that way early on. A nice breeze was also blowing and the sky was overcast, which blocked the sun for the first couple loops. I finished the first lap in exactly 48 minutes and felt good. After a quick refill of my bottle, I headed out again. As I began the 2nd loop, I thought about my plan for the day. I decided that I definitely needed to drink a full bottle per lap and should probably aim for 48-54 minutes per lap for as long as my legs would obey.
Loop number 2 went by fairly smoothly as I drained all my fluid and finished in right around 49 minutes. I do remember noticing for the first time that it was really starting to heat up now and the sun had burned off most of the cloud cover. The wind had also mysteriously vanished, making the exposed sections of trail downright toasty. I was sweating a ton but felt like I was hydrating well and was pleased with how I felt on the 3 lap, but oh how quickly things can change! Heading out on loop number 4, I started feeling pretty queasy and it was all I could do to force myself to drink a sip of water every once in a while. I also had to concentrate on not puking when I took that sip. As if the stomach issues weren’t enough, I got some pretty nasty cramps in the intercostals muscles between my ribs as well as my abs. This had never happened to me before but they were so bad I could barely breathe. If you haven’t noticed, the wheels were coming off pretty fast now, and I did some reevaluating. I decided to run the 5th loop and make a decision of whether or not to stop at the 50k or keep going for the 100k based on my status then.
When I got back to the start to begin the 5 lap, my dad offered to run with me, and I was happy to have to company but not in a very good mood since I pretty much felt like do-do. By this point, I couldn’t drink much at all without seriously feeling like I would throw up, and the muscle cramps in my abs were getting worse. About half way through lap 5, I decided that I would call it a day at the 50k while I was still able to run semi decently. I knew if I kept going, things would just get worse, and it would turn in to a hike, something I didn’t want to do for 31 miles in 100+ degree heat. Coming out of the woods at the end of my last lap, I told Beverly that I was stopping at the 50k, so she directed me out to the “highway to hell” for my last mile. To be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I expected because there was at least some shade. I made my way out to the turnaround at 2 orange cones and back to the start/finish, thankful to be done and not have to run 5 more laps. I walked over to where my dad had set up our aid station and a very nice lady crewing for her husband offered to spray me down with some water out of one of those pressurized sprayers. It felt amazing, and after thoroughly soaking myself, I plopped down in a lawn chair with an ice rag over my head.
Although the terrain itself was not as difficult as a lot of courses, the heat more than makes up for it, and I can honestly say that Big Butts is one of the harder races I’ve done. John and his wife Beverly did an outstanding job putting on this low key event, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a summer time race, especially if you want to get some serious heat training!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Scenic City Trail Marathon

Just minutes before the start of the trail marathon and half marathon on Raccoon Mountain, a helicopter landed in the field at Laurel Point. I had no idea what was going on until someone told me it was there to take pictures of the 500 plus runners participating in the race. Although temperatures were a bit warm for most people’s liking, I love hot weather and was glad that the sun was out and heating things up. Shortly after 8 everyone lined up at the start, and Randy sounded the start. I knew that I would need to go out fairly hard on the 1.5ish miles of pavement before hitting the trail in order to avoid congestion when we got to singletrack. Although a lot of trailrunners don’t like running on the road, I was thankful to have this section to spread everyone out, and the crowd was really not a factor by the time runners reached the entrance to the trail.
I continued to run at a fairly hard pace in the first few miles because the segment from Laurel Point to the East Overlook is pretty flat, and I wanted to take advantage of this while my legs were fresh. I could barely see Lance up ahead and did my best to keep him in sight, fully expecting him to drop me before long. As runners approach the East Overlook and first aid station, there are a few decent hills that mysteriously increase in difficulty on the second loop, but aren’t so bad the first time around. I ran through the aid station without stopping because it was a little crowded and this was only mile 4, so I still had plenty of fluid in my hand held. The trail gradually ascends for about a mile before a long gradual downhill to the switchyard. I love this section and made an effort to run pretty hard on the descent. Unfortunately, what goes down must come back up, and once at the switchyard, runners reach the biggest climb on the course. Raccoon Mountain is advertised as a flat and forgiving course, which is true compared to other trails in the area. However, if you go into the race expecting there to be no hills, you are rudely mistaken. My plan was to take the climb moderately hard the first time around the loop and not push too much early on. It’s not very steep except for a few spots and is maybe .5 to .75 miles long. The good part is that once at the top, you get a nice downhill to the visitor center and aid station #2.
The volunteers at this aid station were awesome. Everyone was so encouraging and I swear they refilled my bottle so fast I barely had to slow down. From here, the trail goes down a few steep hills on what is by far the most technical section of the course. Something about these next few miles always gets to me. It’s like the Bermuda Triangle or something, and I always seem to have a low point here. I don’t know if it’s because of the 3 or 4 stinger hills that are fairly steep or totally mental but whatever it is, I always struggle on this part. Thankfully, I managed to come out of my funk before too long focused on reaching the point where marathoners and half marathoners split. Those doing the half take a right to the finish, and marathoners go left up a nasty hill to the third aid station. I could still see Lance every once in a while which was a mental boost, and I was happy to see my dad and Dawson at the aid station. I quickly refilled and crossed the road to re-enter the trail. This marks the start of the second and final loop. I was still feeling pretty good and hoped to be able maintain a decent pace on the second time around.
It was definitely starting to heat up by now, but the breeze helped a lot, and I never got too hot. I did make a concerted effort to drink as much as I could. Getting dehydrated really impairs your ability to run and leads to more soreness the day after a race, so I knew that it was important to constantly sip on the HEED from my handheld. I went through the East Overlook aid station for the second time where Sam and Leigh Linhoss were volunteering. It’s great to see familiar faces, and their encouragement was much appreciated. At this point, I broke the remaining sections up into 3 parts, the one big climb, the dreaded visitor center section, and the hill leading up to the last aid station. I did my best to only focus on the section just ahead rather than the total number of miles remaining. The climb up to the visitor center was definitely much slower this time than before, and I was glad to get to the top and start the downhill. I didn’t stop at the aid station this time as I was anxious to put these next few miles behind me. To be honest, I was just hoping not to totally bonk on this part, and thankfully, it didn’t seem as bad as it had on the first loop. Before too long, I reached the split and again took a left up the hill to the final aid station. I said hi to Dawson and crossed the road for the final 3ish miles of the race. Ironically, I was thinking to myself about how I hadn’t fallen yet when I tripped and did a full superman before nailing the ground. At that point, all I could do was laugh at myself and be thankful that I hadn’t hit any rocks on the way down. I glanced at my watch for the first time all day and made it my goal to get to the finish in less than 24 minutes if at all possible.
This last bit of trail is rolling with a few little hills. I was starting to smell the barn but also knew that I still had a fair amount of running to do before I was done. Once you reach Laurel Point, runners pop out of the woods on to pavement and make a lap around the parking lot before crossing the finish line. Randy Whorton was doing and awesome job announcing names of runners on the microphone as they were coming in, not to mention adding some additional funny dialogue J. As I crossed the finish, I was happy to see so many friends hanging out and cheering on all the runners. I am so blessed to be a part of such a great running community and have the opportunity to run with some awesome folks. Rock Creek and Wild Trails did a great job organizing this event and making it a great experience for everyone. After getting an ice cold wet cloth and something to drink, I hung out and watched as other runners finished. Huge congrats to all that ran and a big thanks to all the volunteers who worked just as hard!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Byrd Creek 15k trail race

My original plan was to do a semi long easy run over the weekend in preparation for the Rock Creek Scenic City Marathon on May 21st. However, when Mark Mason mentioned that he might go up to Cumberland State Park to do a 15k trail race, I decided that this would be a good tune up before next week’s race. This was just the 2nd running of the Byrd Creek 15k, and I didn’t know anything about the area or the course. I also don’t have much experience in distances less than a 50k, so my expectations weren’t very high, but it would at least make for a good tempo run. Because the race start is less than two hours from Chattanooga, Mark and I decided to drive down the day of, making for a very early wake up call. We left in plenty of time only to be stopped on the interstate for at least 20 minutes when a Suburban in front of us literally burst in to flames minutes before we got to where it was. We waited impatiently as the fire truck arrived and put out the fire, watching the minutes tick away and fearing that we might miss the start. Thankfully, it ended up not taking as long to get there as we thought.
After registering and talking a bit with the rangers about the course, it was time to head to the starting line where me, Mark, and about 50 other runners waited for one of the rangers to say “Go”. The first .5 mile or so is on pavement and goes down a pretty steep hill before entering single track. Mark always goes out hard, so I made it my goal to stick with him. When we hit the trail, I remember thinking how bad it was going to hurt to run back up that hill at the finish as well as how there was no way I would be able to hang with Mark if he kept up the current pace. There were mile markers along the course, and we passed the first one in 6:53 which may not be fast for some but is definitely a much faster pace than I can maintain for a 15k. We did slow down a tad and I tried to find a pace that I felt I could hold. The trail was absolutely gorgeous because all the plants have come alive and are in full bloom. I had no idea what to expect as far as terrain or climbs, so I just took everything as it came. The first 4 miles were fairly rolling with some pretty tough hills but nothing too awful. A lot of the trail was covered in soft pine needles, making for a near perfect running surface. However, there were a few rocky sections that were slicker than snot due to the recent rainfall, and I almost bit it hard on several occasions.
Mile 4 to 5 was mostly downhill and was a much needed break from the constant up and down we had been running. Somewhere around here there was also a small wooden swinging bridge across a creek. If you have ever tried to run across one of these, you know it’s comical. Each step is different with one sending you bouncing two feet in the air but not forward at all and the next shooting you forward like a rocket. This is by yourself, so imagine what it’s like with 10+ plus runners on the larger swinging bridges! From here, the trail steadily climbed back to the top of the ridge before descending once again. I passed the 7 mile marker and the second water stop where we turned on to a different trail to take us back to the finish. It ran right along a creek, so it was relatively flat but covered with roots, making it the most technical section thus far. I was taking such little steps to hop between the roots that it felt like I was in some kind of obstacle course or football drill where you have to step in those big tires. Around mile 8, we climbed one last time on the trail and ran for maybe another .5 mile before popping out the road for the home stretch. I remembered the hill that I had to make it up but it didn’t seem so bad since I knew it was at the end. After cresting the hill and making a right turn, I could see the finish area and came in at 1:12. A few minutes later, I found out that the boy who won intended to run the 3.6 mile race but took a wrong turn and ended up doing the 15k by mistake. My hat’s off to him for running a great race, even though it was about 3 times longer than expected J It was also his first trail race, and after speaking to him for a while, I’m pretty sure he will be back for more! All in all, this was a great, small town event put on by some very hard working rangers. The course is beautiful and challenging, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for cool low key race.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ouachita 50 mile trail race

Last Saturday I was fortunate enough to ride to Arkansas in the Rock/Creek race team 4 runner with Dreama and Mark to do the Ouachita 50 mile race. We managed to drive through some pretty nasty storms only to find out that they were much worse in Chattanooga. After a long 7.5 hour drive, we picked up our packets and headed to find something to eat. It was already after 8pm, and I was a bit worried about having to eat so late, especially with the early 6 am start time. My stomach and I don't always get along real well during races, so I try to do everything I can to avoid any problems, and eating an early dinner is one of those things. Unfortunately this was just not going to happen tonight. I just crossed my fingers and hoped things would turn out ok. As it turns out, I probably should have crossed my toes as well.
After settling in to our room, we went straight to bed in hopes of getting some decent sleep before the much too early wake up call at some awful hour like 4:30 am. Driving to the start in the pitch black dark, I realized that I completely forgot to pack a headlamp, as did Mark, so we could only hope that the sun would come out enough during the first 3 miles on the road before hitting the trail. A few minutes before 6am, Dreama and I forced ourselves to shed our warm layers and step out of the car into the cold and extremely windy air. The 3 of us lined up along with 150 or so other runners and waited for the start which was no more than the RD saying "Go"
The first 3 miles are on pavement to the visitor center of Maumelle State Park, and I went out at a pretty good pace simply to try to warm up. The wind here was brutal and I just about froze the whole time. I also quickly noticed that my stomach was definitely not quite right but there was nothing I could do now but hope it got better or at least not worse. Once we turned on to single track, the trail descends steeply then flattens out until you hit the major climb of the day up Pinnacle Mountain. I had heard horror stories about this. People said it was more like rock climbing and that there was no way you could run it. If you are familiar with blue hell at mt. cheaha, Pinnacle makes it look like a cake walk. I was literally doing all I could to step from boulder to boulder up an extremely steep slope. Having one hand occupied with my handheld water bottle didn't help the situation. It was a pretty cool section though and definitely added something unique to the race. I was also very thankful that it didn't come at mile 28 like blue hell does because i'm not sure that I could have done it then. Going down was almost as difficult, and a fall here would not have ended well.
This next bit of trail was really pretty and ran along the lake with some great views. The sun had come out by now, and being in the woods offered protection from the wind. Me and my stomach were still going at it, so I was not able to eat or drink like I should have for the first 15 or so miles when it finally settled down. Compared to the other trails in Arkansas that I have been on, Ouachita is much less rocky and hilly but still has some very technical sections and a lot of rolling hills. The course is an out and back, and by the time I reached the turn around, I was really feeling it. I knew I had not taken in enough fluids early on, and it was coming back to bite me. However, I did get a mental boost by hitting the half way point and knowing that I would get a chance to see some familiar faces on the way back. That is the part I like best about out and back races-you get to see everyone, those in front and those behind, and get an idea of where you stand in the race. I saw Dreama who was looking really strong and was glad to hear that she felt pretty good which was more than I could say for myself at the time.
The 8 miles of trail leading up to the turn around that you obviously have to do twice crossed more creeks than I could count. In fact, I tried to count but soon lost track. Due to the heavy rainfall, some of them were pretty deep, and one even had a rope strung across it. Needless to say, my feet were constantly getting wet but the northface singletracks I was running in drained really well. I eventually made it out of the section with so many stream crossings and was the final 10 or so miles. Knowing that I was getting somewhat near the finish lifted my spirits some, and I really looked forward to hitting the road for the final 3 miles. Remember the part where I said the trail descended steeply from the visitor center? Well on the way back, the trail ASCENDS steeply to the visitor center. When I popped out on the road, I was never so happy to see pavement in my life, even if it meant 3 hot miles with the sun beating down in full force. I picked up my pace a bit, and with about 2 miles to go, Stan Ferguson blew past me like I was standing still. He said that he had been chasing me for 22 miles to which I replied, "well, you caught me." He offered some encouragement and was soon way out in front. To be honest, this last part didn't seem to last as long as I thought it would. I rounded a corner and saw the pavillion which serves as the start/finish. Running across the finish, I was greeted by RD Chrissy Ferguson who was there to shake each runner's hand and give them a finisher award. Mark, who had run the 50k was also there to give me a hug. In all his humility, he failed to mention that he was the 1st place masters finisher, so congrats to him!
As I thought about the race and how my day had not started out so well but also didn't get near as bad as it could have, I was thankful for the opportunity to run such a pretty course with outstanding volunteers and support. The race was extremely well organized and trail markings were awesome. I quickly found my favorite post race drink, diet coke (perfect for rehydrating, I know) and plopped down in Mark's lawn chair to watch the other runners come in. Dreama took 3rd overall female and had an awesome race, so all in all it was a great day for the Chattanooga folks and rock/creek race team!