Sunday, March 1, 2009
Mount Cheaha 50k: Race Report
First, let me say that this is a GREAT event. I cannot overstate how helpful the race volunteers were. The course was perfectly marked. Props to Todd Henderson for doing such a GREAT job directing this event. The aid stations were all VERY well stocked with Vaseline, ibuprofen, muscle ache cream, gummy bears, M&M's, pretzels, PB&J sandwiches, Hammer gels of all flavors, HEED, water, Coke, Mtn Dew, oranges, bananas, and (my favorite) roasted potatoes with salt to dip them in! I'm seriously not exaggerating the aid stations. They were insanely stocked!! Those potatoes were amazing! GREAT IDEA!
The race started almost immediately after the 40-45 bus ride to the starting line, an hour and a half late at 9:00 AM. An interesting thing about this race is that it starts with the start of the song "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynard Skynard. Being a native Alabamian, I think that's a great way to start a race! The race starts about 50 yards from a single track trail. So, if you want to make any time during the first 3 miles, you better be in front! This is my only complaint about the race. There needs to be at least a mile or two for the packs to form. I was miserable for the first two miles of the race stuck behind some 15-16 minute milers. Finally at about 2.4 miles, I had all I could stand and bounded past a line of about 6 or so of the slow pokes. Well immediately after that, there is a steep, but short hill. So I had to go a little faster than I wanted up that hill. Then, there's a sharp descent that is VERY runnable. So I let it go and flew down that hill at about a 7:40 pace. That may have been a mistake. We passed a few runners during this time, and caught another pack just before the first aid station. We spent about 20 or 30 seconds at the aid station and that was BY FAR the shortest aid station stop of the day. There was a train passing, so arriving earlier would have done no good. A water bottle refill and a couple of pretzels later, the train was past, so off we went on to a dirt road that let the packs form again.
That gravel road section was short and we were on the trail again. This trail was uphill, gaining all the elevation we gave up in the third mile. The trail spit us out on another dirt road for about 2.5 miles The first 1.5 miles was very much uphill. This led to the second aid station, which we hit in 1:35. Pretzels, gummy bears, and PB&J. Yum.
Then we hit another uphill trail section. Along this section, we met someone who came all the way from Houston, TX to run this race! Also, along this section, near the top of this climb, there were some simply breathtaking views! It rolls for about 3 miles at the top of this mountain. Then we descent quickly to a very small creek crossing. Then it turns uphill sharply to roll around the side of the mountain. This is about 13.5 miles into the race. This was the first time I noticed that I had a big lead on my buddy, so I stopped to wait a bit. It was also the first time that I noticed that I was getting tired. I was ready for the next aid station, which came at about 14.5 miles. Those were the best potatoes ever!
After the aid station there was a welcome descent, except that it was the most difficult descent yet. I think it was on this section that I saw someone take a NASTY spill. He hit a slippery rock, and I mean he BIT IT! He got right back up, and was okay. He didn't even bleed! I'm sure he feels that fall as I type this, though. I noticed a significant amount of blood on the rock, so he wasn't the first to fall on that rock. The course rolls to the next aid station at about the 18.5 mile mark.
From this point on, the course really begins to show its teeth. It is very technical from here to the finish. The second half is killer! It rolls down to a creek crossing, which I thought was significant. The water was above my knees, for sure. Just before this crossing, I saw another fall. It, too was a nasty one. I went back to check on him, but he was fine and got up and kept running. Then, about 2.25 miles later, we came to the creek crossing that this course is famous for. There is a rope tied from tree to tree to use when crossing this creek. The water is very rapid, and it is above waist deep. And that water was COLD!! It actually felt good on my legs that had 22 miles on them! I wanted to stay in the water longer! This portion of the race was well staffed. It's obviously dangerous, but help for anyone who got in trouble was plentiful. There are also many pictures from this. I'll post some when I get them. The nice lady taking the pictures said that she would make them available. These were playing on a slide show at the finish of the race. That was a GREAT slide show! Everyone was entertained!
The aid station just after this creek is the lowest point of the course. So there was a LOT of climb left! Again, potatoes and peanut M&M's really hit the spot! It's almost 6 miles from here to the next aid station. The first three are on trails. Along this section, I met Christian, the author of an excellent race report from last year. Read it here. Then, the next three miles are on rolling, but mostly uphill roads. The first 1.5 or so is on a dirt road and then the rest is on a paved road, leading to the final aid station. It was on this section that I got into unchartered territory. I'd never run farther than 26.2, and now I had eclipsed that. This aid station is at the bottom of the steepest and longest climb on the course, and at mile 28. Yay for peanut M&M's!!!
This next section of the race, Lake Trail, has a nickname, Blue (Insert King James translation of Hades here). I can honestly say that I don't think it earns that nickname. Sure, it's steep. Sure it's at mile 28, when you've already run a very difficult course. It's difficult, to be sure. There are warning signs all over warning you of how steep this is. According to my Garmin, this trail gains 900 feet in 0.9 miles. Then, it spills you onto another uphill trail that gains another 200 in a half mile. It's brutal! I don't mean to understate this hill, but I won't call it by its nickname. Lake Trail doesn't do it justice, though.
I would argue (and maybe I'm being a bit of a homer here) that Waterline is more difficult than Lake Trail. Waterline has a gradual incline before the steep part. That runnable section drains you before the climb. Lake Trail has rocks and roots almost arranged as stair steps. Waterline is a more rugged and technical climb on the steep part. Both are difficult, but I give the nod to Waterline.
At the aid station, I knew that 7:00 would take some effort. We had walked much of the past 6 miles, and we wouldn't be able to take it that easy on the last 3 and finish under 7:00. So, I pushed my buddy just a bit. I hope we're still friends! At the top of the hill, there's about 2 miles to go. My Garmin was just a little behind, so I though we had 3 miles to go, so I was worried that we wouldn't make 7:00! Some of those miles are on paved roads and some are on easy single track trails.
We met up with Andy, a Hunstville runner, at the aid station and did Lake Trail to the finish with him. I kept telling them how close we were going to be to 7:00! We met 2 or 3 other runners on the roads and trails. I kept telling everyone how close we were to 7:00! I kept trying to push them! I hope I wasn't too annoying, but I had sub-8:00 miles left in me if that's what it took! Not everyone else did, though. I was encouraging everyone I saw to "reachdown" and dig deep to break the 7:00 mark. I probably was just a little annoying. I was just a bit too cheerful to have just run 30 miles and climbed Lake Trail.
The last trail puts you on the road that goes about 0.25 miles to the finish. There, I saw Leigh and the girls! They ran the last 0.25 with me! That was AWESOME!!!! I was so glad to see them there. Leigh is amazingly supportive of my interest in running. The kids enjoy it too. I love you, Leigh!
After the race, a couple of those runners found me and thanked me for pushing them at the end so that they could break the 7:00 mark. That was neat, and I'm glad I could help.
There was much Mellow Mushroom pizza (YUM) at the end, and a long drive home.
Congratulations Matt! 6:52 on a BRUTAL course! You're an ultra marathoner now!