On Friday, my dad and I headed down to Cove Lake State Park just outside of Knoxville for the Cumberland 50k. There was a good group of folks from Chattanooga going down for the race, Dreama, Mark, Wendy, Sal, and me, so I was really looking forward to a great day with friends. This race also had a special meaning becase last year I had to quit by mile 4 due to what I later found out was compartment syndrome that resulted in my having surgery about 3 weeks later. Therefore, I was determined to come back this year and finish the race that my dad and Dreama said was gorgeous and very challenging. After picking up my packet and chatting with the race director, Susan Donnelly, who is an accomplished runner to say the least and a great RD, my dad and I headed to dinner before settling in for the night.
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.