Sunday, December 19, 2010
Dreama and I started off together down the road for a short time before making our way onto the single track that leads to the Bluff trail. It was still pretty congested, and this segment of trail is technical, not to mention being on the side of a cliff, which minimizes the opportunity to pass. Mentally, I was finally starting to come around and was happy to have made the decision to run rather than return to bed. Because of the recent rain and the fact that it was still below freezing outside, the bluff was covered with icicles that formed along rocks. It was absolutely gorgeous. To our left, you could see the view of the city below. This is one of the prettiest trails in the area. After passing Sunset Rock, runners continue to Point Park and go down the Mountain Beautiful Trail before turning onto the Hardy Trail which is a gravel road that leads to Cravens house and the first aid station at mile 8. This aid station was a bit crowded and because it was so cold outside, I had not used much of my gatorade out of my handheld. Therefore, I just ran through hoping to make up some time and get away from some of the congestion.
From Craven's house, we ran down another jeep road and onto the Guild trail before making a hard left onto the Jura trail. This is a really pretty section on single track that leads to the Gum Springs trail which descends very steeply towards the Nature Center. Because Covenant college is at the top of Lookout Mountain and the nature center is at the bottom, we had been running a general downhill for the better part of 4-5 miles by the time we hit the next aid station where I saw Wendy and Kris. It just so happened that another trail race was taking place at the nature center, using some of the same trails as the Lookout 50 miler, so several sentries had to direct people and make sure they didn't go off course. I saw Tyler and Mary here. Tyler said that the three lead women were about 10 minutes ahead, so I really had no expectations of seeing them at all. We ran along the river at the bottom for a bit before turning on to the Blue Beaver trail to begin our LONG 5 mile ascent back up to Covenant College. I told myself before the race that I was going to take the climb really easy because the last thing I needed to do was use a ton of energy so early in the race. Thankfully, I met up with Dana Overton, Michael Scherzer, and Ryan Muelmans around this point, and we talked a bit to make the first part of the climb pass by rather quickly. After a mile or so, we popped out onto the Skyuka trail which is very rolling but runnable for sure. Once you reach Skyuka Springs, the real beast of the climb begins as it is 3 miles of non stop uphill to Covenant. I have done this segment of trail a million time as part of the loop we call "Big Daddy" and no matter how many times you do it, it never gets easy. The first mile is definitely the worst, so I tried to break the climb into 3 sections in hopes that it would help me mentally. Ryan, Michael, and I were still together and run/walked the first part in pretty good time. I was feeling pretty good. I think knowing this part of the course was a real advantage. Before too much longer, the second mile was over, and we were back on the Bluff with only about a mile left to the top. Once you get to Jackson Spring, runners make a loop around a small lake by Covenant and then retrace their steps on the road back to the start which is also the 22ish mile aid station.
At this stop, I saw my Aunt Caroline who came out to watch as well as Vikena and her son, George, who was ringing a cowbell. He is adorable and seeing him ring the cowbell and cheering was a big mental boost. Caroline asked if I needed anything and said she would let my dad, who was working the Nickajack aid station, know how I was doing. After briefly saying hi to her and refilling my bottle, I headed off toward Lula Lake. The next mile or two of trail was very narrow and looked like it was new trail. It was really pretty, and I enjoyed being able to run somewhere I had not been. We then popped out in an open powerline area and ran along a dirt/clay road for a bit. I was pretty muddy, and this was the sticky kind of mud that stays on your shoes, making them feel like weights. Needless to say, I was more than happy to get off this road and back on the single track to Lula Lake. It is a general downhill for about two mile to the aid station at Lula Lake. Because there were so many leaves down, the trail was hard to follow at times, so I had to keep looking for the yellow flags marking the trail. After crossing a road and making a final descent, I came to the aid station where Dawson Wheeler was volunteering.
Dawson directed me toward a wooden bridge crossing a creek and leading back on to some single track. He pointed and said "Go over the bridge and through the woods" in a sing song voice which made me laugh and I set off in good spirits. From here, it is 6 miles to the Long Branch/Nickajack aid station. We ran along some trail that looked familiar to me from the Stage race that is here in the summer but it wasn't until I came out onto a gravel road leading up to Lula Falls that I really knew where I was. This realization was both good and bad. It was nice to have a general idea of my whereabouts but I also now knew that a nasty climb was just ahead. The falls are stunning with emerald colored water in the pool below and a good amount of water in the waterfall. After running down the road for maybe a half mile, the course makes a hard right onto this trail that is literally cut straight up the mountain. It is so steep that they put several ropes for runners to use to pull themselves up with. Once at the top, however, you aren't done climbing as it is a gradual uphill along the bluff for another mile or so. It was around here that I saw Natalie and Roxanned and got to chat with them for a bit. We then turned back and ran down to some very technical single track that looked like it had just recently been made into a trail. It followed a creek and was very reminiscent of a rainforest with lushy green plants everywhere. I remember thinking how pretty this part was but wishing that it was a bit wider so you could stride out more. We then turned uphill and climbed out to Nickajack road which you run on to the aid station. I was really looking forward to seeing my dad here and getting some of the grilled cheese sandwiches they had promised would be waiting here. Chad was manning the stove and quickly offered me some grilled cheese which did not disappoint. My dad asked how i was doing, refilled my bottle with gatorade and ran with me for a bit up the hill where we started a 4.5 mile loop.
After saying bye to my dad, I started out on this loop which was totally new to me. In fact, I think most of this section was pretty new in general. At first, the trail runs around a small lake with several houses before going into the woods. I felt like we were just winding around and around. It was very rolling and would climb up before descending to a creek and climbing right back up. Near the end of the loop, we merged back in with the Nickajack connector trail which I have run on before. When I realized where I was and knew that it was not far at all back to the aid station, I was relieved. I didn't need anything here, so I just checked in and made my way back towards Lula Lake the way I came. This was mile 38.5, and runners were told to make sure they had a headlamp here in case it got dark before they finished. I looked at my watch for the first time all day to see what time it was. I think it was like 2:15, so I decided not to pick up a light because I felt pretty sure I could make it the last 11.5 miles before dark. My dad ran with me down the road for a little while just to talk some and offer encouragement. It really helps to see familiar faces during a race, and I am very thankful that he was there. He also told me that Keving and Lance were doing well and that Leslie and Yoli were on the loop looking strong.
From this point, runners retrace their steps back to Lula Lake. I got to see some runners making there way toward Nickajack, including Chris and Rob. It's always cool to see friends out on the trail, and even runners you don't know because a simple smile and good job coming from anyone can do wonders for your spirits. If going up the trail with the rope was hard, going down it was just as hard, if not worse. It was all I could do to not lose all control and going head over heals down the whole thing. At the bottom, however, I got a second look at the falls. If you have not been here, it really is spectacular. Finally, after what seemed like much longer than on the way out, I reached the little bridge and the aid station. It's only about 4ish miles back to Covenant and the finish, so I was really starting to anticipate being done. Unfortunately, it's also mostly uphill, and running uphill on legs that have already run 46 miles is not exactly pleasant. To add to it, as I was leaving the aid station, I saw a female runner that I caught up to on the loop at Nickajack come in right behind me. She was looking really strong, and I thought she would catch me for sure. I have a pretty competitive streak in me and hate getting passed late in races. Early on when everyone is still settling into their pace is one thing, but after this long, it's just different :).
I tried to push it a little bit on the initial climb up to the road crossing. For whatever reason, I think I was expecting this section to be a lot worse than it actually was. Yes, it is mostly uphill, but it really isn't that steep except for a few parts, and there are some flat areas. I just kept trying to make myself run, however slow it probably was, and power walk the steep sections when I had to. After going through the wooded portion of trail that was covered in leaves, we popped back out onto the sticky mud road where my shoes again collected what seemed like 5 pounds of mud. Once again, I was relieved to enter back onto single track. This was the newish segment of trail that marks the last mile or so back to Covenant. I was smelling the barn at this point and just really wanting to be done. When I heard my dad yelling, I knew it had to be close. He said the finish was only about a quarter of a mile. I popped out onto the pavement and saw Byron, a great guy who I seem to see at almost every race. We ran together to the finish where I saw Mark, Wendy, Tyler, Mary, Caroline, Dee, and a bunch of others I'm forgetting.
It was still very cold, especially on top of the mountain where you are exposed, so we huddled around the fire talking for a few minutes. After changing clothes, my dad, Caroline, and I headed to get dinner. Overall, the day started out less than desirable with my having some serious motivational problems but it ended up being a really fun day. The course is beautiful, and I had a great time. All the volunteers worked so hard in the freezing cold to tend to our every needs, and I am truly blessed to have the opportunity to do these races.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Because we had a basketball game Saturday afternoon, I had to wait until after to leave for the race on Sunday. I met up with my dad, Dreama, and Shane to drive to Pine Mountain. We got to the hotel about 9:30 or so and didn't waste much time before going to bed. The race starts at 7am, making for an early wake up. The alarm went off at 5am, and after a quick breakfast, we drove to the race start in FDR state park. It was still pitch black dark and freezing cold outside when we arrived to check in and pick up our packets. Thankfully, there is a cabing where runners can hang out until just before the start.
About ten til 7, we were all told to head outside and up to the top of the dam where the race would begin. I kept my huge jacket and sweat pants on until the last minute before handing them to my dad. Race director Sarah Tynes said "Go" and the group of 150 or so runners set off along the road for about 400 yards before hitting the single track. It was still dark, so everyone had a headlamp, but because we were so close together for the first few minutes, I never even turned mine on. I went out moderately hard to try to get a decent position before entering the trail where it is really hard to pass. It was still frigid outside with strong gusts that chilled you to the bone. The forecast didn't look too bright either as the high was only going to be about 40 with a wind advisory and overcast skies all day. Oh well, at least I was moving enough to stay pretty warm, except for my hands which stayed numb for the duration.
I felt pretty good early on and ran with Shane and Dreama for the first bit. The trail is flat for the first 3 or so miles before climbing up to a road crossing. I think this one was manned but the others were not, so you had to pay close attention. After crossing, we ran along a gorgeous bluff overlooking the city below. The sun was rising and coloring the clouds all sorts of beautiful colors. Although I really wanted to look, the trail here was treacherously rocky, and I knew that if I took my eyes off it for long, I would surely bust it. For the most part, the course is very rolling. You climb a bit then descend again before long at all. It is very runnable but also deceptively hard because there are no extended flat sections. Also, the leaves were THICK to say the least. At times I swear they were at least a foot deep. You couldn't see anything below, so the only thing to do was just run and hope for the best. I don't know how many times I rolled my ankle on some hidden rock or root. When it wasn't totally covered in leaves, the trail was often like a small boulder field, very technical. There were also some really nice sections of soft pine needle covered trail that is a runner's dream.
I came through the first aid station at around mile 6 feeling good. I still had water and didn't need any food, so I just said hi to my dad and kept moving. Runners were still pretty close together, so I wanted to keep moving until we spread out a bit. The next aid station was in 5 miles, and I planned on refilling my handheld then. This section was rolling and leaf covered like the rest. At one point the trail got hard to follow due to all the leaves and I had to stop and look for the white tape used to mark the course. When Shane and I got to the 2nd aid station, my dad helped me refill with gatorade, and I was off again in no time. The GUTS people do an outstanding job at aid stations. Volunteers are always helpful and encouraging and have great food. I don't remember much about the next couple of sections other than it was a lot of up and down, a lot of rocks, but absolutely gorgeous.
I was still feeling pretty good when I got to around mile 19 at an aid station manned by Jeff Bryan and some other familiar faces. It was nice to see him again and here all the encouragement. He told me it was about 4 miles to the next aid station and that this section had 11 creek crossings. "Surely not," I thought to myself as I headed out thinking they must be exaggerating. Well it took about two miles before I realized that they were dead serious. This 4 mile stretch was probably the prettiest as it passes by several waterfalls that had a significant amount of water in them due to recent rain. However, you do cross over the same creek 11 times. It makes for pretty slow going, and I was starting to get a little down and could feel the miles in my legs. The aid station at mile 23 couldn't have come at a better time. Tom Wilson was there making grilled cheese sandwiches were amazing. Seeing everyone and eating some real food really lifted my spirits, and I set off on my way back to the same aid station I had come from at mile 19. The course is essentially an out and back with a slightly shorter route on the way back, so you hit most aid stations twice. I got to see several runners making their way out.
After passing through this aid station, I think runners take a different trail for a few miles before rejoining the blue blazed Pine Mountain trail. About mile 30, I was really getting tired. My legs did not like the uphills, and my mind was doing it's best to put me in a bad mood. I had run most of the day alone, but was now with two other guys who would leap frog me several times before ultimately pulling ahead. It was also around here that this really young looking boy blew past me like I was standing still. I asked him what on earth he was doing behind me and he replied that he had been running with a friend who decided to drop, so he figured he would pick up the pace a little. I swear he looked so fresh you would have thought the race just started. At one of the aid stations, my dad told me that the lead woman had taken a pretty nasty fall and hit her head. She was experiencing some signs of a concussion, and thus made the smart decision to stop. I asked if she was okay and he said he thought so, but it made me realize just how costly a bad fall on these rocky trails could be.
My dad said he may not see me at the next aid station, so I told him I hoped to see him at mile 35 and kept plodding along. For some reason, I didn't eat anything here and was absolutely starving and on the verge of totally bonking when I hit the mile 35ish aid station. Thankfully, they had some delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies which I gladly helped myself to. From here, runners have 2.9 miles to the last water only stop and then another 2.8 or so to the finish. I was still feeling kind of low when I met up with a man and started talking. His name was Ken and I found out that he is a history teacher in Alabama. I am planning on teaching, so it gave us something to talk about and pass the time. He said he wanted to beat 7:51 and asked if he thought we could do it. I asked him what our time was so far and after he said it was around 7:08 I replied that we should have no problem because we had gone a mile or so from the 35 aid station. For whatever reason, this gave me a goal to work toward, and I was able to pick up the pace a bit for the first time in a while. The 2.9 miles to the water stop are pretting rolling, but we ran fairly strong.
Once you hit this last stop, it's pretty much flat or downhill to the finish. I started pushing pretty hard now just wanting to be finished. Before I knew it, I heard my dad yelling and knew the finish had to be close. He said it was a little over a mile, and I started running about as hard as I could without totally blowing up. He ran with me and we passed two or three people in the last mile or so. I say "or so" because I'm pretty sure his estimate was a bit off. It was more like 1.5 miles but there is nothing I could do about it. Finally, I could see cars off in the distance and a clearing in the trees. I ran the last stretch to the finish followed closely by my new friend Ken, and we crossed in around 7:34, well under his goal of 7:51.
Overall, it was a good day. I definitely didn't feel 100% recovered but I also didn't feel horrible. The trail was prettier than I remembered but also more hilly than I remembered. I met the girl who won and set a course record by 17 minutes! As it turned out, she lives very close to me. Because it was still miserably cold outside, I quickly went in to the cabin to change clothes and get something to drink. Very shortly after doing so, Dreama came in followed by Shane. We chatted with some folks for a bit before heading home. I had a great time at this race and would definitely recommend it for anyone who hasn't tried it. I would also say be prepared to fall several times. It seemed like half the runners who came in had bloody, busted up knees, elbows, or even chins from taking a spill or two or five out on the trail. Nevertheless, they all had a smile on their face and no regrets for running a tough but rewarding race.
Monday, November 8, 2010
Start to Aid Station 1-6.7 miles
Before I knew it, the alarm was going off at 4:30 on Saturday morning. After eating some breakfast, we headed to Pine Glen campground where the race begins. It started at 6am, meaning runners had to wear a headlamp for the first hour or so. When we arrived, I went to check in and was informed that many of the race numbers had the wrong runner name on the back and I happened to be one of the lucky people who this applied to. There was supposed to be a live webcast, so if a number and name didn't match up, results would be wrong. After much confusion and chaos, I was issued a new number. As 6 o'clock quickly approach, runners assembled behind a chalk line drawn in the gravel by race director Todd Henderson about 5 minutes prior to the start. He said a few words while we all shivered in the freezing temps. I waited as long as possible to take off my jacket but eventually had to hand it off to my dad right before Todd yelled "Go" and runners slowly made their way onto the trail.
There was maybe 100 yards of gravel road at the start before we all turned on to single track. This made the first bit pretty slow going as runners were very congested, not to mention the fact that it's a 100 mile race, so you don't exactly take off at a full sprint. I just tried to stay relaxed in the beginning and not get caught up in how slow or fast we were going or how many people were ahead or behind me. The first few miles went by pretty fast, and I ran in a group of around 10 runners. We spread out a bit after 3 or so miles but it was still a very moderate pace that I felt comfortable with. I was feeling good as the sun began to rise and was happy to start thawing out. Before I knew it, I arrived at the first aid station, which was very crowded with runners and crew. I quickly spotted my dad who topped off my bottle with gatorade since the official race drink was HEED which gives me serious stomach issues. For some reason, I also decided to take off my windbreaker, hat, and pants because I though it had warmed up enough. However, this would soon prove to be a mistake.
Highrock to Shoal Creek- Mile 13.27
Shortly after heading back out on the trail, my arms got really cold. The sun had not been up for long and it was pretty shaded, so it had not warmed up much. Also, there was a fairly strong breeze at times which made things even more frigid. I thought about how dumb it was to shed so many layers that early. I should have only given up my pants and kept the jacked and hat, but there was nothing I could do about it at this point, so I tried to keep my mind off it and planned on picking it back up at the next aid station. Thankfully, runners continued to spread out a bit on this section which was very runnable. At some point, I met up with Dan Hartley and chatted with him for a bit. It was his first hundred as well, and we were both excited about the experience. The fall leaves were gorgeous, and I tried to look around at everything as much as I could without tripping. It had rained a decent amount the day before, so the creek crossings did have some water in them, and at one I managed to soak on foot. I really didn't want to start the race with wet feet but again, nothing I could do about it. I was happy to be feeling fresh and ran at what felt like a conservative but not too slow pace to the 2nd aid station at mile 13ish. My faithful crew man (dad) was waiting for me to fill up my bottle again and I got a long sleeve shirt to put on as well as my hat. Getting warm again really lifted my spirits as I headed back out on the trail.
Shoal Creek to Horseblock- Mile 18.27
As far as I remember, this section was similar to the last two-very runnable with some rolling hills. This early in the race, the miles seemed to fly by. When I got to aid station 3, my dad told me he was afraid I was going out too fast. This concerned me a little but I didn't feel like I was pushing the pace by any means. I told myself that I should intentionally slow down some because I had a LONG day ahead and the last thing I needed to do was expend too much energy on the front end. It is so easy to get caught up and run to hard at the beginning of a long race and not have anything left for the end.
Horseblock to Hwy 431-Mile 22.71
I think this is when the trail takes runners through a section hit by tornadoes last year. I is very open and totally different terrain than the pine covered single track we had been on. I ran for a few miles with several people I had never met, including a guy named Chris from Florida who was my age and also attempting his first 100. He looked really strong and ran ahead of the little group that had formed. This aid station was not accessible for crew, so I didn't see my dad, but I think it's where Mark Elson, a very nice guy from Georgia and GUTS runner, was working. It is so cool to see people you know at aid stations and can really keep your spirits up. I topped off my handheld with water and set off onto the trail once again.
Hwy 431 to Lake Morgan- Mile 27.66
To be honest, I don't really remember much about this section specifically other than it being some gorgeous single track that rolled along. There seemed to be a ton of pine trees on the Pinhoti trail, and when the needles fall it makes for some of the best running conditions one could ask for. The needles cushion the trail so it feels like you are running on a super soft surface and greatly reduces impact. When I got to the aid station, my dad and Trey helped me refill my bottle and sent me on my way.
Lake Morgan to Blue Mtn Rd- Mile 34.56
Just before leaving the Lake Morgan Rd aid station, I asked my dad how far it was to the next stop. He said it was about 7 miles which is not bad, especially given the cool temps, but there was no crew access. This meant I would have to wait until the next station before hopefully meeting up with him again. I was a good thing I didn't know what actually lay in store over the next 15 miles regarding crew. I tried to stay positive despite the slight downer it was to know that I would have to go a while without seeing familiar faces. It may sound silly, but I just can't say enough about how much of a mental boost it is to have someone waiting on you at aid stations. Nevertheless, I tried not to think about it and just relax, run comfortably, and enjoy the day. It had finally gotten sunny, so I was able to run in just short sleeves and arm warmers with shorts. This sections was one of the longest stretches in the race for me. I wasn't sure if it was mostly mental or if it was due to the terrain. I think it was a bit of both. I knew we had a big climb around mile 40, and I knew that I was not that far along, but I had no idea what mile I was at. In reality, there is a gradual ascent during this section of trail that makes it deceptively hard. After what seemed like forever, I popped out on a little jeep road where a few cheerful volunteers were waiting at the aid station. My only comment was that I thought I would never get here. They just laughed and asked if I needed anything. I topped off with water, got some food, and prepared for the next segment, thinking I would see my dad there.
Blue Mtn Rd to Bald Rock-Mile 40.94
During long races, I do better to not think about how far I have gone or how far I still have to go. It helps me to just run from aid station to aid station so the race is broken up into a bunch of little pieces. This means that a lot of times I have no idea what mile I'm at or what the next bit of trail is like. Perhaps not knowing that the first of the two big climbs of the race was just ahead. I was in pretty good spirits as I set off, and it wasn't long before the trail started climbing noticeably. This made me suspect that I was approaching the climb to Bald Rock, the top of Mt. Cheaha which is the highest point in Alabama. The Cheaha 50k finishes here but runners go up the opposite side of the mountain, infamously called "Blue Hell." My suspicions were confirmed when I saw a trail sign indicating that Bald Rock was ahead. The climb is probably two miles but the last .5 mile to a mile are by far the worst. Its super steep and rocky. I couldn't have run this part if my life depended on it, so I just settled into a power walk. I could see what I thought was the top WAY up the trail and tried not to think about how far I still had to go. At the top, a bunch of tourists were at the overlook, and I can only imagine what they must have thought about all the runners climbing up. We ran along a wooden boardwalk for maybe a 1/4 mile before hitting the aid station. As I was running up to it, I just assumed that my dad was waiting there, so I yelled ahead, "Dad I want my ipod." This must have sounded comical to all the volunteers as I was yelling out orders to my crew. However, it is even more ridiculous because when I got to the station, my dad was nowhere in sight. The only thing I could figure was that he was not able to get to me in time between shuttling cars and picking up Mark who would be pacing me later. This could have been a big let down but just then I saw Sean Oh, a GUTS runner, who was really encouraging and offered to help me get whatever I needed. I went over to the food and saw these amazing looking brownies and some other dessert bar. I grabbed some of both and headed off down the pavement, happy to be at the top of the first climb and knowing that I had a nice descent ahead. The brownies turned out to be better than expected as they had espresso beans in them for an added boost of caffeine.
Bald Rock to Silent Trail-Mile 45.25
Shortly after heading out on the road, I met up with a couple guys, one runner and his pacer. They were really nice and chatting with them helped pass the time. After maybe a mile on the road, we turned onto the trail going down Blue Hell. This part of the trail got its name due to the fact that it consists of all rock, very steep, so the only way to navigate is by the blue blazes painted on the rocks. I remembered how tough it had been to come up this part at mile 29 of the Cheaha 50k, and going down it at mile 41ish wasn't much easier. It is fairly short, probably around a mile, and then you run a gradual descent on trail out to the park at the bottom. Runners continue on the road and essentially run down the mountain. This road seemed to go on forever after reaching the bottom. For some reason, time goes by so much slower when I'm running on roads than on the trail. I really couldn't complain though because it was mostly flat, and I knew I had to be close to the next aid station where I thought my dad would surely be waiting on me. The road turned off to a gravel jeep road that again seemed endless but eventually brought me to the aid station where my dad and Trey were waiting. This time I got my ipod! I also changed from my inov 8 trail shoes into some Nike road shoes because the trail shoes were starting to hurt my toes and I didn't want to have to deal with foot pain for 55 more miles. Seeing my crew, refilling with gatorade instead of water, and getting some food all helped raise my spirits considerably, not to mention the fact that I now had some music to listen to. In general, I don't use my ipod while running trails, but for races that are this long it can be a good "pick me up" and help pass the time.
Silent Trail to Hubbard Creek-Mile 52.07
This part is all a blur to me. I do know that it was a longer segment and there was no crew access but I can't remember much else. I was thankful to still be feeling pretty decent and able to run fairly consistently. This was a mental confidence boost because I wasn't sure how my body would feel after 50 miles, and knowing that I still had 50 more to go was intimidating to say the least.
Hubbard Creek to Adams Gap-Mile 55.34
This segment went by pretty fast because it was only about 3 miles. I do remember getting very hungry because I had not eaten much at the last aid station. It was around 6pm I think when I got to the Adams Gap aid station. They were blaring music so loud I could heare it from way off which gave me false hope of being closer than I was. My dad and Mark were waiting for me there. I put my windbreaker back on because it was starting to cool off quite a bit and also picked up my hat and headlamp as the sun was going down. This aid station had Mcdonalds hamburgers. I have not had a hamburger in at least 5 years but let me just say that burger hit the spot. I could have eaten 2 or 3 if I had stayed there any longer, so it was probably a good thing that I didn't hang around.
Adams Gap to Clairmont Gap-Mile 60.29
Shortly after leaving Adams Gap, the sun started setting, and I had to turn my head lamp on. There was not a cloud in the sky, but the moon was also not visible, so it didn't provide any light. The stars were gorgeous, and I took a minute to just look up at the sky. I was starting to really feel the miles at this point and was definitely not moving as fast as I had been. However, I knew that I needed to keep up a good pace to stay warm in the cold night air. I did the best I could to navigate the trail in the dark without tripping over the numerous rocks and roots hiding under the fallen leaves. Mark and my dad were again waiting for me at the aid station. I was afraid of getting really cold overnight, so I put on my pants and a long sleeve top under my windbreaker. Looking back, I am very glad I did this because it got extremely cold, especially along the bluff where an icy breeze was blowing almost constantly.
Clairmont Gap to Chandler Springs-Mile 65.44
When I got to Chandler Springs, Mark was dressed and ready to pace me through mile 85. I was already exhausted and lonely, so seeing him and knowing I would have some company was a huge lift. I gave him a big hug and we set out into the cold night. Lucky was also here waiting to pace Dreama and I was glad to hear that both she and Sal still looked and felt good which was more than I could say about myself.
Chandler Springs to Porter's Gap-Mile 68.78
Mark and I talked a lot at first about the race thus far and the conversation was nice to have since I had been running alone for most of the race. When we first set off I told him that I was not moving fast. This became clear when he started out slightly in front of me and pulled way ahead in about two minutes. It was not his fault as it is really hard to gauge how fast to go when pacing someone, especially in the beginning. I said "You're leaving me" and he looked back and we both just laughed. From there on, we figured that it was best for us to run side by side if possible or have him run a little behind me so his light could help me see the trail better. Before I knew it, the three miles to Porter's Gap passed and we arrived at the aid station.
Porter's Gap to The Pinnacle-Mile 74.53
My dad told us at Porter's Gap that this segment included the second of the two big climbs. I knew it would be tough based on what other runners had said. People who had done the race before all agreed that the climb up to Pinnacle was much harder than Bald Rock. I wasn't really dreading it because I knew that I would just have to power walk and there was no point in dwelling on how hard it would be as this would just lower my spirits. Me and Mark once again set out. The trail rolled along until mile 72 or so where we began the climb. It's not bad at first, but then it gets pretty steep, and the switchbacks keep coming and coming. Every time I thought I was near the top, I would round the corner only to see another set of swithcbacks. I was starting to feel a little bonky at this point and could not have been happier to see the lights of the aid station which was run by the GUTS crew. Mark Elson was at this aid station as well as Jason Rogers and some other familiar faces. They were cooking up fried egg and cheese sandwiches. I normally hate eggs in any form, fried, scrambled, boiled, etc. but for some reason that sandwich looked really good, so I tried it, and it tasted so good that I inhaled it in less than a minute. Jason told us that we would continue on a jeep road for a short period before turning back on to single track and climbing some more. "What?' I said, "You mean we're not done climbing?" I could not see how we could possibly go up anymore, but I was oh so wrong.
Pinnacle to Powerline-Mile 79.53
Jason's information proved to be very accurate when Mark and I hit the single track and climbed yet again. It wasn't very long but seemed worse than it probably was. I managed a slow jog on the flats and downhills and power walked the uphills until we reached the powerline aid station. By now it was downright frigid, so the chicken noodle soup the volunteers gave us hit the spot. There was a fire as well but I knew that if I stopped or sat down I would not want to get back up, so I got moving as quickly as possible. Even though we were only at the aid station a couple minutes, I could tell that I cooled off a lot, and it took several minutes for me to warm back up. This aid station was not accessible to crew, so I didn't get to see my dad here and would have to wait until mile 85 before meeting up with him.
Powerline to Bull's Gap-Mile 85.63
If I remember correctly, most of this section was on jeep roads. It was actually kind of nice to be able to run without constantly focusing on the ground to keep from tripping. The road also allowed me to run a bit faster and make up some time. It was pretty rolling but no major hills so I slow jogged most of it. When we rolled into Bull's Gap my dad was there but I soon noticed that he was in the middle of changing a flat tire on his car! I went over to the aid station to get some food and headed out to avoid getting too cold again. My dad was supposed to have relieved Mark of his pacing duties here and run with me to the finish. However, he said it would be a while before he finished changing the tire, so I headed off alone, hoping he could join me at the next aid station.
Bull's Gap to Rocky Mt. Church-Mile 89.63
Not 3 minutes after I set off, I heard a runner come up behind me and looked back to see Mark. He said he wasn't going to leave me alone out there cause it would mess with my mind :). I was so thankful that he was willing to pace me for this next portion of the race even though he was dealing with some lingering injuries. By this point, it was all I could do to shuffle jog the flats and downhills. I like to call it a "wog" because it is somewhere in between a walk and a jog. We ran a mix of jeep road and single track for this part. The single track was pretty technical and rocky, making it difficult to move at a steady pace. My coordination was shot, so it was all I could do to keep my balance. Mark and I eventually popped out of the trail onto yet another gravel road where the aid station was located and my dad was dressed and ready to run with me to the finish.
Rocky Mt. Church to Watershed- Mile 95.21
I don't know if it was just me but it seemed to have gotten considerably colder over the previous hour. Before leaving the aid station, I put on my big furry mountain hardware winter coat. Yeah, I was that cold. My dad, meanwhile was in shorts with a few layers on top and no gloves. I honestly don't know how he stood it. We started off down a jeep road that was not marked near as frequently as most of the others. Towards the end of a race when I'm real tired, I get extra paranoid about being off course, so this was not helpful. My dad ran ahead a bit and saw a flag which eased my mind a ton. We talked a lot at first about how I was feeling and how his day had gone. He had been up as long as all of us running and had been working tirelessly to cater to me, Sal, and Dreama's every need. I am so grateful for all he did, and now he was out in the cold running with me! I "wogged" when possible and power walked when I needed a break. This worked well and we were making decent time until maybe mile 93ish when I all of a sudden had this incredible urge to just lay down and take a nap! Up until this point, I hadn't felt sleepy at all. I've heard lots of stories about people falling asleep on the trail and wondered if I would struggle with it. I didn't really think it would be a problem since I had made it this far, and it was about 4am. However, I was now literally falling asleep on my feet and swerving all over the trail. I don't know how close I came to asking my dad if I could just lay down for a few minutes. We hadn't spoken in a few minutes and he noticed me swerving and asked if I was ok. I told him it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. Its kind of like when you are driving and get really sleepy and can't focus. I remembered that I had an espresso gu in my handheld which had caffeine in it, so I took that hoping it would help. I also told my dad that he was gonna have to tell me a story or talk to me so I would wake up. Thankfully, the combination of caffeine and conversation did the trick and I felt a lot more perky after a few minutes. We reached the next aid station which was very small. The two volunteers were super nice and told us it was 5 miles to the finish. I knew that at least 3 of these miles were on gravel road or pavement, so that helped to break it up a bit. At last, I could see the finish getting close and realized that I might actually make it.
Watershed to finish at Sylacauga Stadium-Mile 100.59
The first part of this last section took us through a grassy area and across two dams. My dad commented on how he bet it would be a really pretty view in the daytime but seeing as how it was still pitch black dark, I wouldn't know. There was a good bit of frost on the ground which indicated just how cold it really was. After crossing the dams, I think we entered some single track for a short time before coming out onto a jeep road. This road gradually got more smooth and looked like it was pretty well traveled, meaning we were getting closer to civilization. I saw several fences and farmhouses which made me start to anticipate hitting the pavement. This might not have been a good thing though because it made the time go by really slow. However, we did finally pop out onto pavement. A police officer was at the intersection directing us to take a left and continue down the road. At first I though she said it was 4.5 miles to the stadium which terrified me. I looked at her and said in shock "It's 4.5 miles away?" Thankfully I had misheard her and she replied that it was only 2.5 miles away. You may think that by this point 2 miles wouldn't seem like much, but it was huge in my mind and I think I would have cried if it really had been 4.5 miles. I got a temporary surge of adrenaline and starting jogging better than I had been. My dad told me that I was moving faster and that he could no longer power walk and keep up with my attempt at a run-so encouraging :). Unfortunately, my temporary surge faded pretty quick, especially since the road was a gradual uphill that you could see forever. It felt like we were on that road way more than 2.5 miles. I kept looking for stadium lights off in the distance. Eventually, I could make them out and this gave me one final boost. I started jogging a little faster and came up on the final turn. We made a left and went for a short way until entering the school property beside the football field. Runners make their way across a little wooden bridge which had frost all over it, making it slicker than snot, and then hit the track. You run half a lap to the finish line. Hitting that track was the greatest feeling. I got really emotional and was almost crying with joy as I rounded the corner and ran the straight away to the finish where Jeff Bryan was waiting to meet me with the belt buckle for finishing. I gave hime a huge hug and stepped off into the grass to greet my dad who had cut across the infield. I honestly can't describe the feeling at that point other than an overwhelming sense of relief and joy. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to do this race and the support of family and friends to help get me through it.
After having a few days to reflect on the experience, it still has not really sunk in but I can think of a few things that I learned or that really helped me during the race:
1. I am so blessed to have had this opportunity and I thank God for getting me through it. There were so many times out there when I was feeling pretty low and saying a prayer or just reminding myself of how He had given me the ability to even be out here was really helpful.
2. Having a crew is a huge help. My dad, Mark, and Trey did an awesome job of getting me whatever I needed, anticipating what I might need, encouraging me, and making sure I was doing ok. It saved me a lot of time at aid stations by not having to get in drop bags, wait to fill up with fluids, etc.
3. When the temps are cold, it is best to always carry an extra layer, even if you don't think you need it because I got cold really fast on several occasions and wanted more clothes.
4. Approaching the race with the perspective of running aid station to aid station really helped me as well. It makes the idea of running 100 miles much more doable. I never let myself think about how much farther it was to the finish, only how far until the next aid station.
5. Having a pacer is a huge emotional lift, and I was so glad to get to run with Mark or my dad from mile 65 on. Looking back I think these miles are exactly when I needed someone. The combination of the dark, cold, and fatigue was hard to deal with but having somebody with you makes it doable.
6. Volunteers really make a race great. They put forth so much effort, work crazy long hours, and are always positive, encouraging, and uplifting.
7. There will come a time in the race, at least for me, when I can't move that fast anymore, so I think that running how you feel early on, even if it means a little fast, is ok as long as it is within reason. This helps to bank some time for the later parts of the race.
8. I had a bunch of times where I was really hurting, tired, and just sure about what I had gotten myself into, but it is imperative that you don't dwell on these thoughts/feelings. No matter how tired you think you are, you can always do more than you think you can.
9. Thanks to all the more experienced runners who gave me such great advice and words of encouragement leading up to the race-Kris, Randy, Susan, Rob, and a bunch more I'm forgetting.
10. I am forever in debt to all the family and friends who have supported me in my love of running and worked tirelessly during the race. This was truly an awesome experience.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
The race starts at 6:30am, so runners need a headlamp for the first hour or so. Saturday morning was very cold, but it was supposed to warm up so I started in short sleeves and shorts with arm warmers. When Susan said go, the group of around 35 runners set off. The first mile or so is on pavement before veering on to single track, so the pace was pretty fast from the start. We ran flat for a bit then climbed up to the first aid station at mile 3.5ish. This is basically the beginning of the climb up Cross Mtn. which is just plain brutal. It's long and steep, so I just tried to accept the fact that it was going to take a while and I would do my best to power walk up most of it. I really had no choice in the matter, though, because I couldn't have run up it to save my life. Near the top, the sun was beginning to rise and you could look out and see a gorgeous pink sky and the view of the valley below. With the fall leaves in full effect, it was breathtaking.
The next aid station was around mile 5.5, and is deceptive because you want to believe you are at the top of the climb but boy was I wrong. We continued up for a bit longer before running along the ridge to Aid station 3 at mile 7.5ish. I really liked the fact that the aid stations were pretty close together, and the fact that it's an out and back course means you hit all of them twics. The volunteers were great and alway eager to help runners get whatever they needed. I filled up my handheld here for the first time and got ready for the 6 mile stretch to the next checkpoint. I was running with a man I met who was very nice and we were moving at a pretty good pace down a hill when I took without a doubt the most impressive fall of my short running career. It was one of those where you just know it's gonna hurt. I was falling forward, flying through the air and somehow landed flat on my back, water bottle rocketing off into the woods. I just laid there for a second to see if everything was ok and asked the man if he saw my bottle. Thankfully, he was kind enough to retrieve it for me and we were on our way.
After getting to the bottom of the hill, the trail kind of pops out at an old logging road. I followed it without thinking twice and ran for a good mile or so before realizing that we had not passed any flags or ribbons. I didn't want to accept the fact that I had taken a wrong turn but was afraid to go any further, so the two of us turned around and ran back to the intersection where we realized that we should have gone straight across a creek. I felt really bad for leading him off course since I was in front at the time, and I was also very mad at myself for losing so much time. It always seems like more than it is but getting lost in a race just stinks, and it was totally my fault because the course was extremely well marked. I did my best to stay positive and try to make up the ground I had lost. From this point, the trail winds along the creek for a bit before climbing up a very rocky stretch that seemed to last forever. It was here that the lead guys passed me on their way back. They were absolutely flying!
When we arrived at the next aid station, I saw Susan and to my surprise Dreama. She decided to stop due to some pretty nasty heel pain, and I felt bed for her because I knew she could have had a great race. Runners now continue on a gravel road for about a 1.5 to the last aid station then turn off on grass for about half a mile to the actual turn around. I saw Sally, a very fast runner who I met for the first time at packet pick up on her way back from the aid station and Sal as well. Mark was just behind them, looking strong and in good spirits. We had to grab a playing card at the turn around and give it to one of the volunteers at the aid station. This is the part of the course where an elk was grazing last year, but she was not there this time. After handing over the card, I made my way back along the gravel road, which is very rolling. I got to see Wendy as well and she looked as fresh as ever. After passing through the checkpoint where you enter back on trail we retraced our steps, getting to go down the long hill, and it was around this point that I caught up to Mark and we ran together for a bit. Unfortunately, after running down and flat for a while, we then got the privilege of ascending up the back side of Cross Mtn which we had come down on the way out. I remembered a series of very steep railroad tie stairs on the way down and thinking that it was not going to be fun when we had to go up them.
To say the least, this climbed sucked. It's very steep in parts and seems to go on and on, especially when you've already run about 20 miles. Finally, I covered the 6 miles to the aid station where I filled up my almost empty bottle. Again, I had convinced myself that this was the top and again I was painfully mistaken. We had at least another mile of climbing before reaching the top. Around here, I heard my dad yelling and was so grateful to have him there to run the last bit with me. I also saw Sally here and we ran together for a bit down the mountain. The good part about the course is that runners get a sweet downhill near the finish that was the awful climb at the beginning. I think the climb didn't seem as bad because it was in the dark, and the downhill was a welcome site. Near the bottom is the final aid station with about 3 miles to go. From here it's pretty much flat or downhill with only a few small hills left. I was really tired at this point and just ready to be done, so when we popped out on the pavement with about .5 mile to go I was relieved. In no time, I could see the finish line at the shelter and everyone waiting there to cheer us on. Susan was there to shake our hands.
After finishing, I can honestly say that it is one of the most beautiful, challenging courses I've done. It is organized extremely well, great course markings, awesome aid stations and volunteers. I have no complaints whatsoever and would recommend it to anyone. I will definitely go back. My dad ran back to meet Mark, Sal, and Wendy, and we all headed out to get some much deserved food.
Monday, September 6, 2010
A few minutes before 7, Terri gave a description of the trail and course markers, saying that we would be running a figure eight type loop at the beginning followed by one large loop. The trail was blazed white and orange ribbon was placed at major intersections. Easy right? Surely I can avoid getting lost? When 7o'clock rolled around, Terri simply said "Go" and we were off. This would be the longest race ever for Wendy, Yoli, and Warren, so I was excited for them and knew they were all going to do great. The trail started off by a lake which we ran around before a short section on the road and then on to some great single track. The trail was covered in pine needles and gently rolling for the most part. It was very runnable.
Unfortunately for me, I had some serious stomach issues in the first five or so miles and had to stop so many times I just quit counting. It did eventually calm down and I caught back up to Dreama, Warren, Randy, and Roxanne who came to run a bit with him. We cruised along through a couple of aid stations at a good pace with Roxanne leading the way. There were several occasions, however, where the trail dumped out on gravel road for a bit and you had to watch extremely closely for the entrance back on to single track. I think this is where a lot of people got lost and ended up with some bonus miles. I would later learn that Wendy was one of these people, but she pushed through with a much better attitude than I would have had and posted a beastly 60 mile day, close to doubling her longest run, so huge congrats to her!
Randy, Roxanne, and I ran together through aid station 4 and a little further before splitting up. The trail continued to roll along as I passed through aid station 5. At this point you run out to aid station 6 and then turn around and basically run the outside loop in reverse. I got to see the guy in first place and he looked like he was cruising, easily ahead of the next runner. Kris had hiked back a ways and was a welcome sight as I neared the aid station. Terri was here and offered a bunch of encouragement as I set back out in the opposite direction to run the last 20 or so miles. I was starting to feel the miles at this point and just wondered how the rest of my day would go. Kris again helped lift my spirits with some more kind words, and I was eager to see the rest of the Chattanooga crew on my way. Dreama and Warren were running together, and I saw them in not time at all, followed closely by Yoli and then Mark. I was expecting to see Wendy soon and just before making it back to aid station 5/7 I saw her. She told me she had gotten way lost which made me feel for her. Getting lost just stinks, especially in a race of this distance, and can really mess with your head. She seemed to be in good spirits and was running well, so I hoped that the rest of her day would be better.
Shortly after seeing Wendy, I met up with a man who I later learned was Andy Bruner. We ran together for a bit, including through a terribly confusing intersection that he luckily knew exactly which way to go. Andy then took off and I only saw glimpses of him from here on. The next aid station was unmanned, so I just filled up with Powerade and headed out. At the number 9 station, they told me I was around mile 40 which more than I thought, so it was a mental booster. My legs hurt but I was still able to run pretty well and felt like I could have a good day as long as the wheels didn't completely fall off. I reached the last checkpoint where the volunteer gave me some vital instructions about turns. He said it was 5 miles to the finish, but it was more like 8, so the course that was advertised as 52.5ish actually turned into around 56 according to most people's GPS. This last section went on forever! I thought for sure I was off trail once when Andy came flying past me. He had apparently taken a wrong turn about a mile back and said that we were going the right way. Finally, I popped out on the road section before going back around the lake and to the finish. Overall, I really enjoyed the race. The trail was awesome-soft pine covered for the most part with lots of shade and rolling hills that don't seem so bad at first but get pretty tough near the end. After changing clothes and chatting with some folks for a few minutes, we headed out to get some much deserved dinner. All the Chattanooga guys did really well. Huge congrats to Warren, Yoli, and Wendy for finishing their longest race to date!
Sunday, August 15, 2010
The triathlon had five waves of swimmers, the first three being men, the fourth all women under 40, and the last one being women over 40 as well as relay teams. When it came time for my wave to get in the water, I really felt the butterflies. The course was like a rectangle around 8 or so buoys, and some of them looked SOO far away. I just knew I would be dead last and get run over by the last wave. Regardless, it was time for me to get in. The air horn blew, and we were off. I am horrible at navigating while swimming, so I did my best to just follow the people in front of me to keep from swimming off into the middle of nowhere, away from the buoys. This worked for most of the race but did manage to take the long way around several buoys and almost missed the last one. As expected, many of the 40 and over females caught up to and passed me but my only hope was to catch them on the bike or run. After what seemed like an eternity, I got back to shore and glanced back in the water to see if there was actually anyone behind me. Thankfully there were, not many, but enough to keep me from feeling totally demoralized. We now had to make our way about a 1/4 of a mile uphill to the transition area. At this point, the hill that I had been dreading seemed like nothing simply because I was ecstatic to be out of the dang water. I was so happy that I decided not to even bother looking for the sandals I had stashed to run up the hill in. Just moving on to the next leg of the race was a huge mental boost.
Once in the transition area, I did my best to get my bike shoes on and get going as fast as possible. I knew that I had a ton of ground to make up and did my best to hammer from the start although my version of hammering is by no means fast. The bike course is pretty challenging with lots of long rolling hills that are just steep enough to really make you hate them. The wind was also fairly strong at times but nothing too awful. I started passing a few riders here and there and also saw at least two people walking back with flat tires. I felt bad for them because it must be such a disappointment to have your race essentially ruined by a mechanical failure, especially so early on. As we left the main area of the park, I kept catching women every couple of minutes and even a man once in a while. My main goal was to try to pass anyone in my age group, which I could see by the age written on their calf, and to not get passed by anyone. Surprisingly I felt really good for the whole bike leg of the race and caught quite a few people without getting passed by anyone, but you should also remember that there weren't that many folks behind me by this point. I even saw two men on mountain bikes racing and thought about how tough that would be. Because the ride is an out and back, I got to see everyone ahead of me. This is cool because I think its neat to see how crazy fast the leaders are and also to see friends competing. I got back to the transition area for the run a bit faster than I expected which was another mental boost and just wondered how my legs would react to trying to run after going all out on the bike for over an hour.
After putting on my running shoes and racking my bike, I took off out of the transition area only to have some guy ask me if I had my race bib. "Oh shoot" I said out lout as I realized that I had forgotten to pin it on. Most people have a race belt but of course this bozo doesn't so I had to fumble with safety pins for the first minute or so of the run. I was very thankful that the man reminded me before I had totally exited the transition area and thus didn't have to run back far at all to retrieve the number or take a two minute penalty for not having it. The run course takes you down a long gradual hill across the dam and onto a bike path that is pretty shaded. My legs felt like bricks for the first 1.5 miles or so but eventually loosened up. I still had the goal of picking off as many people as I could. This helps the time go by faster for me, too, because I just keep looking ahead and trying to catch anyone I can see. The heat was really becoming a factor by this point, so a bunch of people were cramping up or just getting overheated. I was thankful that the majority of the run was very shaded. After staying on the bike path for about 3 miles, we popped out on the road for a short time and went through the parking lot at the lodge before getting back in the woods and running around the lake and back to the dam. The last mile is the same as the first which means we now had to run up the long hill, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be or remembered it as a little kid when trying to ride my bike up it. I knew I was really close to the finish and tried to pick up the pace a bit in hopes of catching a couple more people. As I rounded the corner and entered the finish area, it was great to see and hear everyone cheering all the racers and see my dad and grandpa there. Overall, I had a great time and really enjoyed my first real triathlon. Dreama, Lance, Leslie, Lisa, Cecelia, Nik, Chris, and Spider all did great as did a ton of other Chattanooga folks. After hanging around for the awards Dreama, Lance, my dad, and I headed out to run a bit on the trails and check out the falls, making for a great day.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
It was still dark when we set out around 6 a.m. on the Rock Creek segment of the Cumberland Trail. We would be running the Upchuck 50k course which is in my mind the hardest, most technical 50k around including Mtn Mist and Stump Jump. I forgot my headlamp so the first few miles before the sun rose were pretty hairy as I followed closely behind Dreama so I could see. I was still pissed to be running at this horrible hour and wanted nothing more than to be back in my bed. Finally after the sun rose, my mood lifted a little but it was still a while before I even though about having a conversation on the trail. The Rock Creek segment is definitely the easiest of the three parts of the course and is also the shortest at between 8-9 miles. We all made good time here and made it to the start of the Possum Creek segment in much better spirits. There were also a ton of blackberries around here that everyone gorged on.
The Possum Creek segment is probably the most challenging part and lasts around 10 miles. We did not have any aid at the end of the Rock Creek segment meaning that everyone had to carry enough fluids and nutrition to get them through 19 miles. I had a waist pack and one hand held which would have been plenty except that I filled both containers with HEED. I can drink it when it's cold, but after HEED gets hot it transforms into HEAVE, as in take one sip and feel like you are going to puke. As the weather warmed up significantly while we were running the Possum Creek trail, my HEED got so gross I was having to force myself to sip on it, but it made my stomach so queasy that I was unable to eat anything in the first 19 miles. I felt ok until about 2-3 miles left and then knew that I would need to get a cold gatorade and some food at the Jones Gap gas station. My dad and Trey would be meeting us here to run the Soddy segment with us to the finish. We got to the trail head around 10:15, just minutes after Dreama had predicted, and found both guys waiting on us. Unfortunately, Mark had been having some bad leg spasms and decided to call it a day here, so he drove Trey's car back to Dreama's house. The rest of us headed up to the gas station to refuel where I promptly inhaled a power bar and a pack of crackers, forgetting the story which gave this course its name (Upchuck 50k). I could tell that I was much more tired than I had previously realized and feared that the last 13 miles would not be pleasant as my stomach was still feeling weird.
As we started off running, my legs simply did not respond. I felt like crap from the beginning of this last section and had major stomach issues for the first 5 or 6 miles. This probably exacerbated my dehydration from earlier in the day as well as depleted me of any nutrition that I had taken in. Dreama, Tyler, Trey, and Sergio went ahead a bit and my dad ran with me for a while before I told him that he could go ahead and run as he was feeling pretty good. After what seemed like forever, my stomach issues resolved, but not enough for me to be able to think about taking a gel. This section may not be as hard as Possum Creek, but it is no cake walk. There are substantial climbs and very technical sections including two creek crossing with boulders so big its more like rock climbing. Near the end, I could hear music from the July 4th festival going on in the valley and though we had to be really close. WRONG!!! I swear I heard that music for an hour before popping out at Hotwater Rd. where we would run down the mountain and back to the finish at a church. This last part went pretty fast as the others waited to make sure everyone knew the way. By this time, it was downright hot, especially on the exposed road. My stomach was completely jacked and I was running on empty, so seeing the church where the car was parked felt amazing. There were people everywhere with funnel cakes, BBQ, snow cones and any other kind of fair food one can think of. Although the last 13 miles were miserable for me, I am so glad to have gotten to run 31 miles with great friends. We all changed clothes and headed to Moes where we wasted no time stuffing our faces.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
On Thursday me, Sal, Mark, Dreama, Tyler, and my dad, Carl, met up to make the drive to Pennsylvania for the Laurel Highlands 77 mile trail race. Mark was thrilled to have rented a mini van for the trip which allowed us to store all our stuff and still have room to sit. The drive took about 10 hours, so by the time we checked into the motel, everyone was beat. On Friday, we explored the little town of Ohiopyle where the race starts. It's a pretty cool place right next to a river and is literally no more than 2 blocks from beginning to end. The race would be run on the Laurel Highlands trail which is a 70 mile point to point route. The extra mileage this year was due to a detour because a bridge was closed (more on that later). Friday evening we drove to the finish and pre race dinner to pick up our packets and find out any extra info about the course. It was then time to get some much needed rest for the long day ahead.
Because the race began at 5:30 am, we were all forced to get up at the butt crack of dawn to get ready. 4 o'clock came way too fast, especially for someone like me and Mark who aren't really functional until lunch time :). The six of us scrambled around the room getting organized and eating breakfast until it was time to walk to the start. About that time, my dad, who signed up for the 50k and was going to drive to catch the bus to the start, said that our race started in a different place than we thought and he would just give us a ride over there. We were all relieved that he noticed this instead of us walking to the wrong place and risking missing the start all together. After dropping us off, my dad drove to where he thought the bus ride left from (again more on this later).
Start to Aid station 1- 11.6 miles
The five of us running the 77 mile race stood around anxiously awaiting the start. This would be the longest race for me, Dreama, Mark, and Tyler, so we were all a bit nervous and really had no idea what to expect. Mark told everyone, "See you tomorrow" and before we knew it the race began. After running about a mile on the road to the trail head, runners enjoy a relatively flat, wide section before making a sharp left up some really steep stairs. The trail continues to be pretty rolling and very runnable until another significant climb at miles 2 and 4. This is all just a lead up to the monster climb up to the bluff at mile 6. I was very nervous about this as I had heard all kinds of horror stories about how terrible it was. Well, the stories weren't that far from the truth as the two mile climb was extremely steep in section and just kept on coming. Me and Dreama took it really easy to avoid trashing our legs early in the race and were able to make it to the top without much trouble. Tyler and Sal were way ahead already and Mark was just behind. The only issue I was now facing was the hydration pack I chose for the race which was a waist pack that was way too bulky and bouncing around everywhere. I knew after the first five minutes that I would be ditching it at the first aid station in favor of my handheld. After reaching the top of the climb, the trail became pretty rolling and very rocky at times. The pack was driving me insane so I was thrilled to finally reach the first aid station and get rid of it. By the way, if anyone is interested in a North Face lumbar pack I would be happy to let you take it off my hands.
Aid Station 1 to Route 653- 19.3 miles
Shortly after passing through the first aid station, the trail climbed a hill and I heard someone yelling "Go Sarah." It sounded oddly like my dad's voice and when I got to the top, I saw that it was indeed my dad. I asked him why he wasn't doing his race and found out that he misunderstood where the bus left from and missed it. I felt really bad for him and know he must have been really frustrated but I was also thankful that he would be there to crew for us the whole race. I told him that I ditched my pack and was now obviously running with just a handheld which is what I prefer to do. However, I knew that because three sections were at least 11 miles before aid, I would have to be very careful to stay hydrated. This next 8 miles was not very pleasant for me because my stomach was not cooperating as usual. I also go to a tough spot mentally around mile 15, so I had to deal with that as well. Although we had already climbed to the top of the bluff, the trail was anything but flat from this point on. It was constantly descending back down and ascending very steeply up again with no switchbacks to ease the climb. The trail was in very good shape, though, and really pretty. Ferns and Mountain Laurel covered the area around and provided a gorgeous view. Just as i had drained the last of my powerade, I reached the second aid station which was the 1st checkpoint and end of the first leg for relay teams. I refilled as quickly as possible which was very fast given the awesome volunteers and grabbed a pb & j quarter and headed back down the trail.
Aid Station 2 to Seven Springs Resort Area-26 miles
This section was very tough if I remember correctly with lots of steep climbs and rocky trail. I finally came out of my bonk and felt quite a bit better mentally, so at least this was a positive. In this section we ran past a shooting range. Shots were going off constantly and I saw two deer running terrified. One ran right across the trail between me and another man. We climbed for what felt like forever up a steep hill before popping out at a clearing by the ski resort. After reaching the aid station, I once again refilled and grabbed some food before starting off again
Aid station 3 to Route 31- 32.3 miles
My IT band had kinda been bothering me throughout the day but not to the point where it really slowed me down at all. However, when I stopped at the aid station and then tried to walk down the trail, it locked up so bad that I literally couldn't move. I tried stretching it and making myself take a few steps but it was excruciating. For a few minutes I seriously thought my day might be over. Then another runner came up and gave me an aleve out of her pack. I was so thankful that she took the time to ask how I was and get in her camelback to give me some medicine. After taking it, I made myself continue walking (if you can call a hobble a walk) and it eventually loosened up enough to where I could run. I was relieved that I wouldn't have to stop and also realized that from now on, I couldn't stop moving and bending my knee without it locking up again. This would mean that I would have to go through all the remaining aid stations as quickly as possible. The trail continued through some woods for a short time before reaching a clearing by a lake. This was the highest point along the Laurel Highlands trail, somewhere around 2900 feet. I could see the ski lift and slopes at the resort which was kinda cool and helped you realize just how far we had climbed. The bad part was that this section was totally exposed and really hot so I was thankful when we once again entered the woods. I don't really remember too much about the rest of this section except that it rolled along with some nice parts that didn't have too many rocks. I did get to run with a girl on a relay team for a mile or so. She was very nice and just said that she wasn't used to running trails, so it was a completely new experience for her. She also said that there were quite a few teams doing the relay, but there was no way to tell who was doing that or running solo. Our conversation made the time pass pretty quickly, and before too long, I reached the next aid station.
Route 31 to Hickory Flats Road- 44 miles
Because this was a checkpoint for the relay teams, the aid station was pretty crowded. The volunteers were great though and filled my bottle really quickly. It was at this point that I saw Sal at the end of the table. I knew this couldn't be good because he is super fast, so anytime I see him during a race it means something is wrong. I asked if he was ok and he said no. He said his back and hamstrings were killing him and he was done. Sal is one of the toughest people I know so if he admits to hurting you know its gotta be bad. I told him I hated that he couldn't keep going. That is the thing about long races like this; you never know when your day might end early. The people at the aid station told me it was 6 miles to the next water stop and 20 to the next food station. This confused me and seemed off because I knew that we had drop bags at the mile 44 station which was only 12 miles away. As I ran down the trail I wondered if the lady just told me the wrong thing. I had a feeling that there must be a water only stop in about six miles and then the full aid station after 12. Sure enough, after running through some more steep, rocky, fern covered trail for about six miles, I came to a gravel road and saw several people sitting there with and cooler and some ice. It was a good thing too because I was running low on fluids and welcomed the ice cold water. As I started to head back into the woods, they stopped me and pointed me down the gravel road. "Ugh," I now remembered. "This is the start of the 7 mile detour that is all on gravel or paved roads." In some ways getting out on the road is nice because you can kinda run brain dead without having to constantly look down to keep from falling. This positive is soon outweighed by the pounding and full exposure to the sun. Also, up until now, runners had enjoyed seeing yellow blazes every 100 yards or so to ensure them that they were still on the trail. However, the road had no such blazes and only a yellow stake on the side of the road every half mile or so which made me very paranoid about getting off course. At one point, the gravel road split with absolutely no markings so I just had to guess and hope to see a yellow marker soon. Fortunately I did right before I was about to have a mental breakdown. The road went downhill for what seemed like forever which only made me think about the uphill that was surely coming. We turned on to a bigger paved road for a bit and had to constantly watch for cars that seemed to be paying no attention to the fact that there were a hundred or so runners on this particular road. My dad had parked on the side which was a surprise to me as I was not expecting to see him until the next aid station. He gave me an ice cold gatorade and dumped some water down my back to cool me off. Later on after the race, he said that this road section really killed people because it was so hot and long. Runners were apparently stopping and asking him for water so much that he had to go to a gas station to buy more. I told him that I though Sal had dropped but he said that he was running with Dreama. This was encouraging because I know how much Sal wanted to race and also that if anyone could get him through, it was Dreama. I continued running down the road and talked to a super nice guy named Chris for a while to help pass the time. We then started to climb, and I mean climb. It felt like uphill for at least 2 miles before getting back on to a gravel road that was once again a gradual ascent. Finally, after turning a corner for the millionth time expecting to see an aid station, my wish came true.
Hickory Flats Road to Route 30- 52 miles
Just as I was coming in to the aid station, I saw Tyler leaving. I asked him how he was feeling and he said good and started off. This aid station had our drop bags, so I got in it to get a clif mojo bar because I was starving. I had never tasted one before but it was actually very good. I saw my headlamp but decided not to take it because I knew my dad had one and i could get it from him. He was not at this station but was stopped at a road crossing a few mile ahead, so I just planned on telling him to have it for me at the 52 mile mark. Unfortunately, I forgot to grab any gels to carry with me, so I would have to save the two remaining in my handheld pouch for later. I decided not to change socks or shoes despite having some hot spots because I was afraid of what would happen to my IT band if I stopped. This was definitely a risk because I could feel some blisters forming but I just hoped to keep my feet dry the rest of the way and not make them any worse. This next section of trail is kind of a blur to me except for the increased size of all the ferns and mountain laurel. At times, it was so thick on the sides of the trail that it grew over and you could only see a path about 6 inches wide to run on. It also meant that the overgrowth was constantly brushing up against me legs and leaving tiny little scratches that really started to irritate my skin. The trail kept on dropping way down and climbing back up but I do remember one section that had a nice covering of pine needles which make for very cushy running on sore feet. It was around here that I caught up to Tyler. He said he had been feeling pretty good until a few minutes ago when he started to feel crappy. Thats another thing about long races. There will be times when you feel like you could run forever and then just like that you feel like you can't take another step. Fortunately, it usually just takes some time for the mood to shift once again, so I wished him luck and made my way ahead, fully expecting him to catch me very soon. When I saw my dad, I told him that I hadn't taken my lamp from my bag so I would need to use his and he said that would be fine. After running along the next few miles, I came to the aid station at mile 52.
Route 30 to Route 271- 64 miles
My dad was waiting for me here as I filled my bottle and grabbes some food. When I said I needed the lamp, he said he didn't have it with him. "Huh" I thought, "but I said I would need yours." This is a classic example of the infamous "Woerner miscommunication." He apparently understood that I wanted his headlamp but didn't realize that I would need it here because it was almost 6 pm and I had 12 miles to the next aid station. I could probably make it before dark but wanted to be safer rather than sorry. He said he would hike in from the 64 mile stop and give it to me if it looked like I would need it. "Okay," i said, feeling a bit relieved. As I started off again, another more concerning realization hit: I had to run 12 miles with one handheld of gatorade and I completely forgot to get any extra food, so all I had was one gel. "Oh crap. This might not be good," I thought, especially given the fact that it was pretty hot and humid and I had been drinking about a whole bottle every 6 miles. I immediately started rationing my water, only taking a sip after each mile marker. I looked at my watch and decided to take my gel at around 7:15 which would hopefully be about midway between aid stations. This section was very overgrown for most of the way. I started cussing the waist high ferns that blocked my view of the trail underneath. It wasn't long before I also started cussing the mountain laurel because every time I saw it, it mean that there was a climb. I was running very low on water at this point and seriously thinking about drinking out of creek if I came to one, but I never did. At one point, I caught up to a runner and was so desperate that I asked if he had any spare fluid. He said barely so I told him nevermind. It was my own fault for not carrying more and I wasn't about to take anyone elses. With about 3 miles or so before the next aid station, I calmed down a bit and felt like I would definitely make it there with some daylight left and without being too dehydrated. About a mile later, I saw a lady running down the trail toward me. She asked if I was ok, and I said yes but that I needed some water. She immediately told me to open by handheld and gave me both of her bottles stored in her fuel belt. I was so grateful I almost started crying. This was the second time today that someone had helped me out tremendously. She said that I was about twenty minutes from the aid station and she thought my dad was up ahead. I thanked her again and started down the trail, saying yet another thank you prayer to God for him watching out for me. Sure enough, I saw my dad in a few minutes, and he gave me an ice cold powerade that hit the spot. We ran to the aid station together where he gave me the head lamp. As it turned out, I hadn't needed it for the last section, so all was good. I ate quite a bit at this aid station because all I had eaten in the last 12 miles was one gel. The volunteers said that there was another stop in 6.5 miles. My dad told me he probably wouldn't see me there because he was going to wait on Dreama, Mark, and possibly Sal to see how they were doing. I told him to say hi to them for me and headed off once again, feeling for the first time like I might really fininsh the race.
Route 271 to Gas Line Dirt Road- 69 miles
Because it wasn't quite dark yet, I ran with my head lamp off for a half hour or so until the sun went down and I had to turn it on. I knew that the dark would slow me down quite a bit so I was glad to have gotten pretty close to the finish before needing my light. When it did get dark, my progress slowed slightly because I had to be very conscious of my footing. I had not fallen yet which is extremely unusual for me (I typically fall on every run no matter the distance), and I wanted to keep it that way if at all possible. The trail was still very rocky so I had to pick my way. I did keep jamming my left big toe on rocks to the point that it really hurt and I could tell that the nail was probably coming off. Also, after dark, I got super paranoid about getting off the trail, so I would look up constantly for a yellow blaze which made me stumble on rocks below. Around mile 68 the trail popped out on a gravel road marked with glow sticks. I remembered another runner talking about this and how it was awful because it was a long uphill for at least a mile. However, I almost welcomed the road because it allowed me to once again run brain dead for a while. It seems like when its dark, you don't notice slight uphills as much as when its light because you can't see that far ahead, so I ran most of this section. I could see the glow of the aid station off in the distance, and it appeared to be pretty close, but I swear it felt like I ran forever before the lights got any closer. Finally the tent came into sight and a man ran out to greet me and ask what I needed. He said that they had grilled cheese sandwiches and for some reason that sounded amazing. When the volunteer yelled ahead that I wanted one, another man said, "Sorry, we're all sold out." This little bit of humor helped to lift my spirits some, and when I actually tasted that grilled cheese sandwich, it was the best one I've ever had. The workers refilled my bottle while a ate a little and said that it was 8 miles to the finish. This was a little depressing because I thought that it was only 6.5. You might think that 1.5 miles would seem like nothing after running 70 but its kinda the exact opposite. At that point, 1.5 miles can seem like an eternity. Nevertheless, I couldn't change it or move the finish line closer, so I tried to just accept it and stay positive.
Gas Line Dirt Road to Finish- 77 miles
Shortly after running out of the aid station, I saw the 62 mile marker which confirmed the volunteers information about the distance to the finish. The actual trail is 70 miles long but the race was longer due to the road detour. It was a few minutes after 10pm, and I really wanted to get done by midnight, but I knew that I would really be pushing it. I decided to just focus on reaching the next mile marker and trying to do so in as close to 15 minutes as possible. However, for the next few miles, the trail was very up and down with some pretty significant climbs. They really slowed me down, and even when I could run on the flats and downhills, it was not fast by any means or stretch of the imagination. I knew that the trail had to start descending soon because we were still up on the bluff and the finish was at the bottom in a valley. At one point, I looked to my right and could see the lights from the city of Johnstown way below and figured I had to go at least that far down but that it couldnt be too far away. When the descent finally came with about 3 miles left, it was less pleasant than I hoped. The trail was more rocky than it had been all day, making it very difficult to pick my way down without taking a nasty fall. I kept hitting that same toe over and over, and it now hurt so bad that it was throbbing. The trail descended for about two miles before flattening out a little bit and becoming much more runnable. Shortly after passing the 69 mile trail marker, a few people were walking toward me to cheer runners on. One lady said, "the finish is a quarter mile away. Push it!" I knew this couldn't be right because I had just passed the 69 mile marker and I also was in no condition to "push it" anymore than I already was. In a few minutes, though, I started to hear the glorious finish line music and could see lights not too far ahead. Thankfully, the trail became very smooth in this last little bit, so I was able to run without paying too much attention to my footing. As the lights came into full view, I heard my dad yelling my name and saw the finish line. Crossing that line at about 12:25 was one of the best feeling of my life. After 18 hours and 54 minutes of running, I was done. I was overcome with emotion and had to hold back tears. My immediate thought was to thank God who has blessed me with the opportunity and ability to run this race and share in the experience with some awesome friends and family. I looked up to the sky with a finger pointed up and said thank you. My dad was right there to greet me with a hug, and the RD handed me the finishers award, a replica of one of the mile markers with 77 engraved in it. They send and engraved plate with your name and finishing time to put on the marker which makes for a very unique finisher's prize.
After finishing, I went over to the food/drink tent and got some green tea which actually tasted pretty good. I have never been to a race where it was offered. After downing that I promptly asked for a much healthier mountain dew :) and walked over to the folding chair my dad had set up by the finish. In less than 20 minutes, I saw Tyler coming in to the finish looking strong. We gave each other a high five and sat down for a few minutes to watch some other runners come in before hobbling over to the van where my dad had set up a shower bag. After running 77 miles, one reaches a new level of grossness, so I looked forward to at least getting some of the grime off, but when I felt that ice cold water hit me I wasn't sure if I would be able to. My dad quickly informed me that I wreaked and he couldn't drive back with us smelling like that so I had no choice but to get back under the water to wash off. It felt ok after a few minutes, and getting a clean pair of clothes on felt wonderful. My stomach had now settled to the point that I could think about eating, and me and Tyler had what I feel was the best bowl of chili I've ever tasted. We both just sat there in the chairs at the finish soaking it all in. Soon after, however, I heard someone yelling for Carl Woerner. I think my dad was still at the van so I stood up and said that I was his daughter. There was apparently a phone call for him, and when I took the cell phone, it was Sal on the other end saying he was at the mile 64 aid station and was pretty sick. My dad arrived and I handed him the phone. A few minutes later, he said that Sal was going to have to stop because he was dehydrated and throwing up. A car brought him to the finish where he sat down and tried to munch on some ice. Runners continued to make their way across the finish line, and a few minutes after my dad hiked in to meet Dreama, I saw them both coming. Dreama did an awesome job helping Sal in the middle of the race and finished up strong. She was walking around like we had only run 7 miles and not 77. A little while later, my dad once again walked back to meet Mark who finished with a group of several guys. Mark had suffered from some pretty awful stomach problems and was unable to eat for most of the race. I honestly don't know how he managed to finish because I know that I wouldn't have been able to. He definitely wins the tough guy award for the day. With everyone now back at the finish, we slowly got our stuff together and waited for everyone to take their turn on the shower. At about 5am we left, almost 24 hours after this incredible journey had begun. This was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. Here are several last thoughts I have about the race and some lessons I learned.
- First and foremost, I thank God for getting me through it.
- My dad was an awesome crew and worked tirelessly for 24 straight hours making sure that we all stayed hydrated and had plenty of food.
- Having a crew provides a great emotional lift and is in my opinion essential in this race.
- With 3 sections of 11 miles or more between aid stations it is imperative to stay hydrated and have plenty of nutrition.
- In a race of this distance, you will bonk at least once and probably more, but doing your best to stay positive and trust that you will come out of it is the best thing to do.
- Thanks so much to the two kind people who helped me when i needed it most- Suzanna with the Aleve and the lady in the blue shirt with the water whose name I didn't get.
- It's impossible to predict what will happen during the race because there are just so many different things that can go wrong. This race had 125 starters and only 58 finishers, so anything can happen.
Link to results