IntroWow! What an awesome race! Several of my friends had a really good day today and I congratulate them! A few guys that I trained with for this race put a beat down on me today, namely Mark Freeman, Justin Hulsman, and Marcus Farris.
Big thanks to Fleet Feet in Huntsville and Dink and Suzanne Taylor for pulling off another excellent event. Also, the volunteers deserve a big "Thank you!" For some, this was at least a 12 hour day. THANKS!
The folks at Huntsville Track Club continue to amaze me by having results posted already! Results are available here. David Riddle won by over 10 minutes in an amazing 3:58:30 . Dewayne Satterfield won the Masters and was 2nd overall with 4:09:09. Dewayne takes tough to a completely different level. The women's winner was Dana Overton in 5:21:09.
I ran a 5:21:48. That earned me 32nd overall of 247 finishers, which means pretty much nothing.
I had no idea what to expect today. I had 4 days with no running and little sleep leading up to the race (sound like an excuse?). This was my first attempt at racing a 50k. I knew the course would be a mess. I knew that I was unprepared for the climbs. I also knew that I was unprepared to run beyond 24 or so miles. All of those things were factors (excuses) today.
At the start I wanted to stay near the front pack to be sure I didn't get stuck behind slow runners on the trails. That meant clocking the first mile in 7:15 with no warm up. Even so, I was stuck behind some slower folks going down Walnut Hill. It's a tricky descent, but there is no need to stop like the people in front of me did. Anyway.
As we climbed up Mountain Mist trail to the South Plateau, I settled into a rhythm with Ragnar teammate and CM Marathon training partner Justin Hulsman. There was a guy running near us who would alternate grunts and "woo!'s". I was glad to pass him.
Along South Plateau and Family Bike Trail, John Wiygul joined Justin and me. We had some good conversation and a few laughs. I was conflicted here about how fast to run. I didn't want to use up all my gas, but these are the only fast miles on the course. We ended up running them in the low 8's, which was probably not fast enough. Make hay while the sun shines, so to speak. Still, though, we hit the first aid station really close to the plan at 53 minutes. Just before the aid station I saw Eric Fritz for the first time. He had a great day today, smashing his 5:30 goal with a 5:24!
The First Major Climb
Warpath Ridge is one of the funnest descents anywhere! We flew down this hill! I don't know how many people we passed. They were all courteous enough to yield. Justin commented here on how quickly we descended and how I had become lighter on my feet since we had last run on trails.
Along Power Line/Flat Rock, I had a slip and an almost fall. I was completely horizontal with hands and feet on the ground. No knee or elbow hit the ground, so I wasn't down! That was the only time all day that I came close to falling, which is a bit surprising given the conditions today.
What goes down must go back up, and K2 was just up ahead. Justin and I ran this behind Marcus Farris. He climbed very smart! Walking much of it and running the less steep sections. At the top, we passed Mark Freeman who struggled a bit with the climb. We used Goat trail to recover from the climb, and probably should have run this a bit faster. We hit Aid 2 at 3 benches still on plan at about 1:40.
On Through Stone Cuts
This section of the race was fairly uneventful. Marcus, Justin and I were just running along with some interesting conversation. Where else in the world would a 19 year old and a 26 year old let an old geezer like me hang out with them? Also, along this section I met Mark Fisher who ran a sub 3:10 at Rocket City but was struggling with injury and blisters today. Another fun descent and then on to Aid 3 behind schedule a bit at almost 2:35. I realized that Cold Springs up to Fearn was a portion that I had rarely, if ever, run in daylight!
Based on the way I felt and the split at the aid station, I knew 5 hours was not to be today. I started battling cramps at about 14 miles, and I spent the rest of the day running on the edge of calf cramps. I would push as hard as I could without cramping.
To the Bottom of Land Trust
Marcus really opened his lead on us past Aid Station 3. It was good to see George DeWitt and Carl Smith and other friends at Aid 3. Justin was now leading the way up Tollgate and High trails. I was starting to struggle a little, so I was glad that he was setting the pace now. It would force me to run harder whether I wanted to or not.
But the cramps. Ouch. My legs just wanted to seize up.
I was curious about how Bluffline trail would be. When we hit it, Justin started flying on the descent. I stayed right on his heels and it was awesome fun! It wasn't as slippery as I feared. This year, I have grown to just love the technical descents. I have room for improvement, but I've come a long way on these in just a few weeks. I had to have that today.
Along this descent, we passed Eric Schotz. I've never been ahead of him at any time in any race. Ever. I sure had no business being ahead of him 20 miles into this race. I knew he would pass me back. I am not near his class.
After the descent, my legs refused. I had to walk or cramp. Justin entertained the idea of staying with me, but I insisted that he go on. That was the last I would see of him until the finish line. I walked unless the terrain went downhill, then I ran. I continued this until Eric Fritz caught me again. He asked how I was doing, and wanting some company, I sucked it up and stayed with him to Aid 4. I hit Aid 4 way behind schedule at almost 3:15. Now, 5:30 was my new goal. And given the way I felt, I thought that was ambitious.
One could argue that this race doesn't begin until Aid 4. I sure felt awful to just be starting a race!! I'm not sure how I lost Eric Fritz here. I don't remember if he went ahead of me or if I went ahead of him. Somehow, I was ahead of him at Waterline, but I honestly don't remember passing him.
Railroad Bed is one of the most miserable trails to run. The sharp rocks! The tricky stream crossings! I had been running it at about a 9:30pace during training runs, but all I could muster was an 11:00 pace. This was a lonely stretch. There was nobody in sight. I came up on some stranger and passed him.
Alms House Trail mixes very technical sections with very runnable sections. Again, all my legs would do was 11:20 pace. Oh how I wanted to go faster, but could not. I passed another stranger on Alms House. Then, near the end, as expected, Eric Schotz came flying by. I had no chance at all to even think about giving chase. I kept him in sight as we turned on Waterline, but he was moving!
I caught up with Mark Freeman again here and Eric Fritz was close behind. This was the first time I remembered seeing Mark since K2, but obviously I had seen him since I passed him there and I was catching him here. I stayed on his heels up Waterline. We were both struggling. We spoke of the potatoes that we hoped would be at the next aid station! Also, we commented that all the practice climbing this still didn't make it easier! This is simply the toughest climb in any race I've ever run. Lake Trail at Mount Cheaha is not this hard, in my opinion.
Waterline totally defeated me. I hung on to keep moving to the next aid station. And the potatoes were there!!! I caked them in salt which I so desperately needed. I hung out too long at this aid station. Mark continued. Fritz continued. I stayed and chatted. I was hoping a slight rest would help. I knew that I had to go, though. So off I went after about 2 minutes. The clock said about 4:10. 5:30 was attainable. If somehow I could avoid cramps, 5:20 wasn't out of the question.
Either Railroad Bed or Natural Well is the bane of this race. Perhaps both are. However, on that first slightly downhill section, I had been training at a sub 8:00 pace. Hah! My legs would do no faster than 11:00. This was getting frustrating! I wanted to go faster. I know I can run faster. But if I do, my calves seize.
Along this section, the women's runner-up, Kellie Smirnoff, passed me. She was running strong and was the women's leader at this point. I congratulated her and encouraged her to stay strong. I tried to stay close, but my legs wouldn't let me. I noticed that logs and rocks definitely slowed her down. As the trail was getting more difficult, I was able to catch her. She mentioned to me that she is a road runner and this was her first trail race! WOW!!
As we hit the nasty, technical descent from Natural Well, it slowed her down terribly and she courteously let me pass. I was reluctant because I've never been able to run this section well at all. But today was different! I have no idea how or why, but I was able to run this descent! It wasn't great, but it was BY FAR the best I've ever done on this section! I passed Ryan Meulemans here, but I knew he would get past me on the flats at the bottom, and told him so.
And Ryan did. But before he did, Dana Overton, the overall women's winner, passed me. She was running very strong! I tried to stay close, but I just could not. The flats and the ups were just more than I could do. I struggled along the bottom of McKay Hollow.
I was both dreading and wishing for the Rest Shelter climb. I knew it meant that the end was near. I knew it meant that there would be much less mud. But I also knew that it would be a near impossible climb given my cramps and fatigue.
And the climb began. And continued. And continued. I decided to really push. It hurt. The end is near. I passed Eric Fritz and a couple of others near the bottom of this climb. I gained considerable ground on Dana Overton. I ran. I walked. I ran. I walked. I was really giving it all I had. I was going better than most on the ups at this point. At the top, I was less than 10 seconds behind Dana. Could I avoid being chicked?
To the Finish!
Nope. I tried, but she really opened up her lead on South Plateau. I said to myself, run at marathon pace! You can hold MP for less than 2 miles! It's easy, runnable ground. It may as well be road! Run! I ran at about 7:30 pace for about a half mile, and just blew up. I clocked this mile over 9:00. That's not hardly MP! :)
Oh well. I tried. All I wanted was the finish line. I was tired. I couldn't even run a 9:00 minute mile. I was done. I crossed at 5:21:48, the first guy to be chicked. :) Congrats to Dana. She is tough. Very tough.
At the finish, it was great to see lots of friends there cheering the finishers on. Scott Michael was there. It was good to be reunited with Mark and Justin. Patrick Fagerman had an absolutely amazing day and broke 5 hours. Wow! Every time he sees me, he reminds me of our battle at the Huntsville Half Marathon and he reminds me of the outcome. :) I'll have to find a way to come out on top if I find myself in a battle with him in the future! We had some good natured trash talk.
After some solid food and a change of clothes, I hung around with Scott waiting on Matt Davis and Lanier Greenhaw. Matt deserves some big props here. He trained hard for this race and had much of his hard work hindered by sickness the days before the race. I could tell he wasn't well on the ride over. I wondered whether he would DNF or even DNS. But he gutted it out and refused to quit. He probably tolerated a lot more discomfort than I did.
It really is difficult to describe the energy that surrounds this event. The crowds in the lodge, the excitement, the cheers, the known difficulty, the camaraderie, and the fantastic organization all make this a unique event.