Before the Race
I have been injured and I haven't been training. So, in addition to running gingerly like a school girl in a tutu, I'm out of shape because I haven't done any hard workouts since November. I just wasn't prepared for this race. I had taken two weeks off and then tapered for the week leading up to the race. I was very stale, both mentally and physically.
The thought of just sitting this one out and volunteering instead of running crossed my mind. Knowing that I wouldn't be able to compete at the level I expect was discouraging. How do I approach this? Do I just run as if I'm prepared and see what happens? Do I let up and just have fun? Ugh. I was so confused going into this. I decided to just run at a 5 hour pace and then see what happens.
Because of the indecision, I didn't really mentally prepare the evening before like I usually do. I had some vague idea of when I'd hit the aid stations, and that was about it. I didn't eat a normal pre-race dinner. I did the math to figure out the absolute latest that I could sleep and still get to the race just in time to check in and start. That time was 6:30.
I set everything out for the race the night before as usual, except for my shoes. I didn't set out my shoes because they were still wet from a muddy trail run earlier in the week. I had set them on a rack underneath a ceiling fan to dry out. I'll just grab them before I leave and they'll be dry. They were dry, but I forgot to grab them. Yep. I'm that absent-minded.
I mean, to run a race, all you really need is clothing, shoes, and your number. Everything else is just fluff. How could I forget shoes? Well, I was driving along and thinking about the race, doing the most mental preparation I had done for this race! I'm not sure what triggered this thought, but something did right as I crossed the Jeff Road and University Drive intersection. MY SHOES ARE AT HOME! The time... 7:09. NO WAY I CAN GO BACK HOME AND MAKE IT ON TIME FOR THE RACE!!
So, I called my lovely wife. I was afraid I was going to make her mad. (Really, I'd be mad if someone woke me up at 7:00 AM on a Saturday asking me to bail them out of their own stupidity.) She was incredibly gracious! She didn't call me dumb or anything. She didn't complain or yell. I do not deserve her as a wife. Truly. She just got out of bed, woke the kids up, got ready, grabbed my shoes and headed toward the mountain. I turned around and headed toward Athens. After I met her, I took the shoes and knew I'd be late.
The only good thing about it is that I got premo parking! Someone had left after the start. I hopped out of the car (I had put on my shoes at at red light on the way.) ran to the check-in desk where Ronnie Nelson quickly said, "We got you!" (It helps to know people.), and took off! 8:00, 8:15, what's the difference? In my haste, I forgot to get my S Caps. That will factor in later.
It's a good thing I know the course. There wasn't anyone in sight, obviously. I was running about 7:40 pace on the road thinking about how to make up some time. I was sticking with my 5 hour pace plan. On the descent down Walnut Hill on Cold Springs trail, I caught the pack. This is unfortunate. I would have preferred to have caught them at the bottom. People were literally sitting on their bottoms and sliding down the hill. I couldn't believe what I was seeing! I explained that I had a late start and did the best I could to run by, but it was crowded and slow. I was courteous and did most of my passing off of the trail. It was tough running!
As I hit Mountain Mist trail, I couldn't believe how beautiful the mountain was today. It was completely snow covered. The trails were covered in snow and the beauty was just breath-taking. I've never been so proud to welcome people to my home course before. On Mountain Mist Trail, I met up with Keith Hallmark, the RD for Black Warrior 50k. We chatted it up about his race for a bit. I'm still unsure if I can run it or not, but I'd really like to. If you can, run the Black Warrior 50k or 25k. That is one of my all time favorite events. I digress.
The rest of the journey to Aid 1 was fairly uneventful, except that I used a lot of energy passing people. I ran a little with fellow Limestone County runner Glen King. I also met several people from all over the country, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. This race draws them in.
At the aid station, I barely slowed down enough to top off my water bottle and thank the volunteers. 1:10 gun time, 55 minutes "chip" time.
Immediately after Aid 1 is one of my favorite descents on any trail anywhere. But it was very crowded. Just before the descent, I saw and spoke with Josh Vinson who asked why I was this far back. He got a kick out of my story. I also chatted with Ragnar teammate Shawn Barber. Then, I kinda recklessly started flying down the descent weaving in and out of more timid runners. I nearly crashed with several trees, but descents are so much fun.
At the bottom, I ran along with a couple of strangers until Power Line. Running their pace forced me to reign it in after the quick descent. On Power Line, I passed them. I was thankful for the cold temperatures to keep this trail from being so muddy. I moved along passing folks until the K2 climb. Here, I stayed behind Randy McFarland and Linda Scavarda and chatted with them until the top.
On Goat Trail, I met Carly Koerner from Oregon. We chatted a bit about the National Championship game and the competition at the front of the race and the conditions of the trail and the weather in Oregon and on and on. We both blazed through the Aid Station with a water top off only. 2:03 gun time, 1:48 "chip" time.
On to Fearn
I ran with Carly for another mile or so and then I left her. This was my first mistake. I was really surprised by how good I felt 12 miles into the run. But I knew that the race hadn't begun. From here until the turn on Mountain Mist was a very lonely 4 miles and I struggled mightily. I should have stayed with her.
After the turn on Mountain Mist, I caught up with fellow Limestone County runner and Athens Sunday morning 10 miler regular Lanier Greenhaw. He was already struggling with cramps. I was beyond ready to slow down, so we ran together to Fearn. Again, the course was just absolutely beautiful. There was a stretch where we were walking, and there was a camera lady snapping pictures. Wait! We begged, we're running now, take pictures! Delete the ones of us walking! She obliged. Too funny.
I had icicles forming on my beard. One of them was about 1.5 inches long. It was funny to look at. At the aid station, everyone was commenting on it! I said that I needed a picture because I was afraid that my wife would make me shave after this race. Greg Gelmis obliged and got a really nice shot of the frozen beard. That's Lanier over my left shoulder.
3:02 gun time, 2:47 "chip" time.
Enter Land Trust
I left the Fearn aid station after a couple PB&J squares and a pretzel. I knew I needed salt and I knew the cramps were coming. Ugh, I forgot my S Caps. Still, I continued running Toll Gate and High Trail. I settled into a pack and ran their pace until Bluff Line. Bryan Campbell was in this pack and we chatted a while. At Bluff Line, I again let it go on the descent. I flew down, passing people like crazy. I felt fatigued, but still wasn't too bad off. I left Bryan behind here. Again, a mistake.
I heard some noises up ahead. Am I coming up on someone else to pass now? I don't see anyone... Then I ran by an electronic skeleton! Perfect given the race mascot! Nice touch! But to make him speak, someone must have been here recently... Sure enough, I caught some people.
But now, my legs are starting to hurt. This isn't minor pain, either. Ouch. Spasms and cramps. 20 miles in and I'm done. I don't know how I'm going to get through the next 11 miles. I gut it out until the Land Trust Aid Station. I beg for salt there, but there's no salt or S! Caps. I eat a couple of banana pieces and a pretzel hoping the potassium will help. Even now, it was too late, though. My legs are done. 3:47 gun time and 3:32 "chip" time. A fall apart is in my immediate future.
On to Waterline
Railroad Bed trail is the death of me in this race. My legs are hurting bad. I need to lift my legs for this awful rocky section. I just can't. I'm toast. My goal just now changed from run as fast as you can to finish the race with as little additional suffering as possible.
I need to lie down. Seriously. There was nowhere to lie down. Snow is everywhere. I continue looking and looking. Eureka! There is a large rock with no snow on it! (I have no idea how it got there, but I was so glad to see it.) Right next to the rock is a tall tree. Yes, I did it. I lay down on that rock and propped my feet straight up against that tree. I lay there for nearly 20 minutes. It felt SOOOOOOO good! The people passing kept asking if I were OK. Yes, I'm fine. I'm hurting, but I'll live. I even joked that the race wasn't difficult enough for me so I needed to do an ab workout here.
When I saw Lanier coming, I got up and ran with him. That break was magic for my legs. I knew, though, that to press too much would do me in again, so we both ran easily through Railroad Bed trail and Alms House trail. Toward the end of Alms House, Lanier tripped but didn't fall on a rock and that triggered another cramp for him. He slowed but seemed to be ok and I kept going.
When I hit Waterline, I walked the whole way, but I did walk rather quickly. I was walking along with a couple of ladies, one from Chattanooga and one from Atlanta, each running their first ultra. They did AWESOME! They stayed with me until the hand climb part of Waterline where I opened a lead. This climb never gets easy.
At the top of Waterline, the pain was back in my legs. I just gutted it out to the aid station where I knew there would be salted potatoes. I ate mostly salt and a little potato and stayed here WAY too long. 4:55 gun time and 4:50 "chip" time.
The Last 10k
My legs are killing me. It hurts bad. I need to lie down again. How can I finish with the least amount of pain and suffering? I found a spot before Natural Well that was dry enough to lie down on and prop my feed up against a tree again. People passing were nearly mocking this time. It's OK, I deserved it. "Look, that guy crashed again!" Yes, I did. Nearly 20 minutes later, I got up again.
I struggled through the muddy nasty trail. Tom Holt from Athens caught me from behind here. I could barely move and I just let him go. I continued to struggle down the nasty rocky un-runnable descent past Natural Well. I slipped on an icy rock and fell and bruised my hip pretty good, but got up and kept going. My hamstring had not started hurting, and I had vowed that injury would be the only thing that would keep me from finishing this race if I started. I don't remember ever covering this part of the trail slower than I did on this day. I was so glad to see the bottom and the turn to McKay Hollow trail.
Here, I met Kris Strope. We ran "slush mile" and "Rest Shelter Climb" together. He obviously felt better than I did. I hadn't run with Kris in a long time, so it was good to run and chat with him. We ran pretty good on this part of the trail. At the top of Rest Shelter, I saw Tom Holt again, and cramps were really getting him. Kris decided to stay with him and I continued on.
The Finish and After
I crossed the finish line in 6:30 gun time and 6:15 "chip" time. This was far and away my worst race performance ever. I understand why. I'm not angry or disappointed, but I was a little embarrassed about my time after the race. I did what I could do. I was unprepared and it showed. I wasn't unprepared because of laziness. I was unprepared because of injury. I'm not ashamed now.
I mailed it in and stopped pushing so that I could recover in time to begin (again) Boston training. I saw no need to keep pushing knowing that I wasn't going to have a good finishing time. I think it was a wise decision to back off in the second half.
After the race, I saw lots of friends waiting on me. Shane O'Neill came in after me, but neither of us have any idea when I passed him. If I had known, I would have hung with him to have company till the end.
Several of my friends had great races. I'd like to give a shout out to some who had amazing performances.
- James Falcon absolutely blistered the course going sub 4:30 with a 4:29 and 11th overall. I'm amazed by his performance! James, you're out of my league.
- Brett Wilks showed his manliness on the trails with an awesome 4:42.
- Marcus Farris went sub-5:00 with a 4:56.
- Eric Fritz ran a personal best Mist with a 5:15.