Ronnie Nelson came over to my house and we rode over to Bankhead National forest today for the Black Warrior 50k. I hadn't spent much time with Ronnie before, but I absolutely enjoyed the company today. He's encouraged me a bit along the way, and it was good to visit. We'll have to do that again sometime!
I had no idea what to expect today. Black Warrior was a "B" event on my calender. It's part of training for another event. And I honestly don't feel like I'm in the best shape right now. I was probably in my best shape about 2 or 3 weeks before Rocket City, and I haven't been able to get that same mojo back since then.
I've been battling some negative thinking and some lethargy. I didn't really taper for this race except to move my longer runs to earlier in the week to have two recovery days before the race. Top those off with some stress at work, a sick wife (I almost didn't run today because I didn't want to leave her at home.), and not enough sleep, and I had some excuses for a poor performance today. I was ready to use them if necessary. :)
The Quick Results
Dewayne Satterfield, of course, won the 50k in an amazing 3:54. There aren't enough superlatives to describe what Dewayne is capable of. I don't know who won the 25k, but I heard he did it in something like 1:33. That's faster than I thought possible, and probably a course record, but I don't know for sure. I'll post a link to complete results when they're available from the Shoals TRAC website.
Oh yeah, me. I came in 3rd overall in 4:47. No excuses necessary! :) But let me say that the 25k was the most competitive event of the 3 today. 3rd overall is mainly of luck of the draw because the real fast folks were running the 25k. I was faster than all but 2 who ran the 50k today only because nobody faster showed up. I do know my place. Still, though, 3rd overall at an Ultra is something I'm a little proud of!
The Character of the Race
Let me say that Keith Hallmark really knows how to put on an Ultra. This race has a very low key feel. The hospitality is true southern hospitality at its finest. Grilled burgers!?!? Hot dogs. Red beans and rice. Brownies (and very good, gooey ones) with or without nuts. Thats EXACTLY what you want at the end of a 50k! AWESOME!
If you're the type that needs someone near you during the run and needs people cheering you on along the way, this is not the event for you. It's lonely out there. As I came in 3rd, I think there were 2 people clapping, and maybe they were finish line volunteers!
The people hanging out after the race were great. I remembered that from last year. I met so many new people today and got to visit with several friends, too. This race draws from all over the South.
The First Six Miles
Enough babbling! I normally like to talk about the people during the race, but I basically ran 26 miles completely alone today, so there's not much to talk about there! But how about that weather!?!?! PERFECT!
The 50k, 25k, 5 mile, and 50k relay all start at the same place and at the same time. The race starts up the worst hill on the course. It's on the road, so it's runnable, but it is a tough hill, especially to start on. It gains almost 300 feet in 1.25 miles, then levels off, then gives back about 100 feet before hitting the trail. I knew that lots of folks would jump out ahead of me early. I had no way to know how many of them I was competing against. I decided to just let them go.
Along this 2.6 mile stretch, I ran about 1.5 with Eric Schotz. We agreed that every one of them except Dewayne were 25k runners. At that point, though, it was just wishful thinking! I told Eric that I wanted to try to hang with him as long as I could, but that I knew he would leave me sometime. That sometime was as soon as we hit the trail!
After we hit the trail, I heard James Falcon and Kathy Youngren chatting behind me, so I chatted with them for a bit. Then, we came up on a headphone wearer who had some difficulty hearing our request to pass. Rude. After that, I didn't hear from them again. I passed 7 people on the way to the first aid station. I didn't know any of them, and I don't know if they were 25k or 50k runners.
On to Aid Station 2
I went quickly through the aid station. After leaving here, there are two miles until the 25k and 50k split. I saw a couple of folks in front of me that I wanted to reel in. I didn't know if they were 25k or 50k runners. I caught and passed the first, then ran along with the second and learned that he was a 25ker. Enjoyed chat for a mile or so until we separated.
That was the last company I would have during the race. It got long and lonely.
After crossing the creek, the course climbs up to an open field. Here, I could see Eric Schotz up ahead, but I didn't do particularly well on this climb, so I lost him. I couldn't see anyone behind me, and that didn't change for a long time.
Coming into the aid station, they told me I was in fourth place. I really couldn't believe that! That gave me a huge boost!
The Yellow Loop to Aid 3
I had heard that this portion of the course was the fastest. It was definitely the driest. This course rolls. There is almost no flat portion at all. Knowing that I was in fourth gave me a ton of energy, though. I was cruising along! But I paid a price and started to slow a bit before the next aid station.
Dink was working this one and told me that I was in fourth and only about a minute behind Eric Schotz. I knew he'd finish stronger than me at this point, though. How far back was fifth?
The "Trip" to Aid 4
After leaving, I thought I'd continue to push a bit. Could I catch Eric? I was cruising along and hurting, and I remembered a line I read in Jack Daniels' Running Formula. "If the pace you're running feels uncomfortable, try speeding up before you try slowing down." Why not try it? I did, and it was WORKING!!! I couldn't believe it!
Then, out of the blue, I fell. I have no idea how. I didn't see a root or rock, I just went completely horizontal on the ground and slid a few feet. When this happened, my hamstring cramped up, too. I wanted to get up and continue my brisk pace, but my hammy declined. So I eased into a 9:20-ish pace. Then, my fast miles were over.
At aid 4, they told me I was in third! What?!? How could that be? I was in fourth and hadn't passed anyone? The other one ahead of me was on the relay team! WOOOHOOO!!!! The problem? Ouch. I'm hurting. I'm battling cramps and fatigue. How far back is fourth? I can't let him catch me!
The Toughest Part
From Aid 4 to the road is the worst part of the race! It's the most technical, and it's hilly. Remember that hill at the beginning? Well, we have to get to the top of it somehow and the trail leads us there. And I ran out of water. I was PARCHED!
From mile 22 through mile 27, I was struggling BADLY. Where was fourth? I remember running a 10:30 mile and thinking, "I have no idea how I can run any faster." I dropped a couple of 11:00 miles, a couple of 12:30s, and a 13er, too. How has 4th not caught me?
The Road to the Finish
I was so glad to leave the trail and hit the road. With only 2.7 miles to go, I was hoping to skip the aid station. But I was DRY! I had to get some water. Still in 3rd! Eric is about 11 minutes ahead of me, they say. I don't think I can make up 11 minutes in 2.7 miles! I stayed too long here, but it didn't cost me, fortunately.
As I topped the hill, I turned around to see if fourth was behind me. I really hoped he wasn't so that I could coast in. But he was! He was back somewhere between a quarter and a half mile. And he was pushing! So, I did what I had to do. I ran the last two miles at 7:00 flat to make sure that if he caught me, he was going to have to run low 6:00s. If he can do that on the last two miles of a 50k, he deserves the win. OUCH!!!! Luckily, most of that is downhill!
They told me at the finish 3rd overall! 4:47:35 It was real!!!! I was hurting as badly as I ever remember hurting after any race. I walked around deliriously for a few minutes and then just lay down on the ground. Some of the volunteers were worried about me, but I knew this pain would pass. Every time I tried to get up, I had to lie back down. After about a half hour, I was able to stand and sit again. OUCH!!
I know that luck of the draw is why I was in 3rd overall. This same finishing time last year would have gotten me 10th!!! But luck counts. I came in 3rd in an ultra! I'm considering that a significant accomplishment! I'm keeping that 3rd place award!
I do consider this my best performance to date. I ran hard. My goal was 5:00, and I beat that soundly. And did I mention that I got 3rd overall? My best finish in any race ever yet!