The Chattooga River 50k took place Sunday June 6, 2010 as part of the Ultras on Trails race series. After a decent sleep, I woke at 4am, gathered my things, filled up with water, Gatorade and drove the hour and half down to Mountain Rest, SC and the Cherry Hill Rec Area on Hwy 107. Saw Sam from the Chattooga training run as I walked up to get my bib (577). Didn't have a lot of time to get nervous before the 7am start, which was a good thing. About 10 minutes before the scheduled start, Jason pulled up, Dan appeared, and I finally met Psyche. Terri gave out last minute instructions/directions
and I was very thankful I knew the majority of the course.
I knew Jason wanted to beat his 9hr time from 2009, and he was planning on an 8hr time today, so I said I'd stick with him. I find training runs for the most part are more difficult by yourself, but the benefit is that come race-day and you happen to run with someone (or many different people), it isn't quite as difficult. Started at 7:05am and we headed off from the campsite Terri was at and turned onto the Winding Stairs trail. Our initial 'pack' had Aaron and Jason,
as well as Wayne (Weezy), and another first-timer, Mark settled in behind me on a very comfortable pace. It was certainly an entertaining group and kept my mind from thinking about too much of anything. Was a fun group of guys to be around as we passed a waterfall and made our way down to the parking lot/turnaround. The leader came thru about 7 minutes before the turn that we hit at 36:38. The 3.5 mile trek back was obviously going to be more uphill, and more walking - but that was the plan all along as there was still a Long way to go.
This trail was more overgrown (and I hoped that I wasn't running in Poison oak or anything else I am allergic to) than any of the other trails so you really had to watch your step and pay extra attention in the spots you could barely even see the ground. Being out on the trail was very nice and I was already wishing I could do this more.
We made it out at 1:23:25 (all times are approximate!) and I finally got to experience an aid station. Sam was there helping out and we were in and out in one minute flat.
- even with the photo!
I pretty much just filled my hand held 20oz bottle with water as the next aid station was ~7.5 miles away.
Next section was the Big Bend Trail and I could never get tired of this route. Took a pit stop (only one of the race) early on and caught back up quickly. Was enjoying the company so much and the miles were just going by, that I wanted to hang on to it as long as possible. Our group was pretty much still together for this whole section, so they all got to take in my fall on bridge #1 at about the 8 mile mark. This same bridge I fell on Years ago and knew it would be slick, but my left foot still just went right out from under me - BAM! Luckily - I didn't go off the bridge and wasn't hurt any worse more than a deep bruise. I knew there were 2 more bridges, and even though I had a recommendation to do it Pete Rose style the next time, I chose to walk - and still almost slipped. I haven't mentioned yet that it was Humid. The trail is 100% shaded, but it was still going to be a warm one.
My mind is still a little hazy on when exactly I ran with certain people. When other people made their pit stops on this section, I kept moving forward (following Aaron?). I had a moment of "should I wait?", but thought 1. keep moving while you feel good, and 2. they'll catch me eventually. Hit the Foothills trail in 1:54:42. Ran much of this ~5.5 mile section with Terry. Was a pleasure to chat with him and again, kept the mind off other things, like there was still 18+ miles to go. Some people may mind conversation during a run, but I generally enjoy it and Terry was no exception. He was hoping his IT band would be calm for the duration, so as he started to take it easy, I moved ahead, passing a couple of others as well before the second aid station. (The leader came by as I was heading back up to Hwy 107, only a good 5 or 6 miles ahead of me. There were some very large gaps between runners heading the opposite direction. Anyway...)
Not getting competitive, but after going along by yourself for even just a little while and you see someone ahead, you try to catch them for the company. It just so happened that I was still feeling really good. I had been taking S-caps every 30 minutes (as I remembered) and Gu every so often as I drank out of my camelbak.
So at 3:41 into the run, I hit Aid Station #2, and Sam was there again, being super positive (Thank you!!) and taking another photo for me. I actually got food this time - potatoes, peanut M&M's, pretzel bites, potato chips, PB&J triangles; yes, all of that. There was more, but I was set for the moment. Filled up on water, stuffed more food into my mouth, and took off for the 2 mile out and 2 mile back section. Terry must have passed me while I was eating, refilling, photo taking as I came up on him soon. As I was moving faster, I went by and was solo for the rest of this section. More familiar ground and beautiful terrain
with a seemingly similar profile as the very first section, downhill before turning around and heading back up. We were looking for the first bridge with ribbons on it. 28 minutes into this section, I was there. 4hrs and 10 minutes overall time elapsed. Kept reminding myself that this was More than the halfway point of the race. 35 minutes back out (Jason and others were only 10 minutes behind me at this point) to the aid station and I was still feeling very good.
(If you couldn't tell from the smile on my face after 4:45). Maybe it was More food I scarfed down. Same as before, but more. The 3 minutes I took at this stop an hour beforehand was probably more like 5 here. I did not want to leave. Aaron had been ahead of me the whole time but was having some issues. He mentioned the next person out of the aid station would be in 20th place. Huh? No way...Didn't really matter to me at that point, but it did get into my head later on.
Important note here: Hats off to ALL of the volunteers - they were all very kind and gracious and there is no way any of us would have done this without them. I thank them every chance I get and I hope everyone else does the same.
I knew the next section back to the Big Bend trail was long and tough. It didn't help that soon into this section (around mile 23 I'd guess), I kicked a root hard with my right foot. I sure could feel my second toe throb. Soon after, I guess all the time being on my feet caught up to them and the bottoms got tender, so I was working harder to avoid any root I could. I was also extra careful going over any downed trees, this being a very mild example of a trail obstacle. So the 5+ hour mark was the start of my "low" period, from about Mile 24-29. I was trying hard to run where I should and maintain a decent pace when I did resort to walking (uphills). Once I got to the river (for some reason, I kept thinking we ran by the river for a longer stretch), I saw Dave again after taking a breather in the water. He obliged me with another photo . I was Very tempted to soak a bit, but I knew I'd get as much, if not more, benefit from company, even if he was faster and I'd lose him soon. (Plus, I am not too familiar with running in soaked shoes). He did pull ahead soon enough, but just as he was out of sight, he stopped to make sure I didn't miss the trail turning off (the one we almost missed during our training run) - so more thanks to him for that.
I got my first muscle cramp in this section too - my left quad. It would tighten up and I'd breathe through it. After 5 minutes or so - it disappeared.
Another way I calmed myself down during this section (and the whole event) was repeating "slow and steady (like an ocean current)" that my friend Kristen emailed me Saturday (Thanks!). My thoughts of course drifted to my daughter Cecelia and her babbles these days, my wife and her support for my running, songs from the concert I went to Friday night...anything and everything to take my mind off running and being tired.
One last photo of the river before turning away and heading up. The last set of stairs I came to - I just didn't want to climb any more.
We vaguely knew how much time this section would take, and I got to the Big Bend junction at 6:38. I knew breaking 7 was out of reach, but 7:30 was extremely likely. It was also in my head that finishing in the top 20 sounded good and I started to feel much better. It just felt better to run than to walk.
After a mile or so, I came upon Byron Backer - one of the well-known local ultrarunners. We chatted just a little and I felt honored to be there. I've held a fascination for these runners who have been doing this for so long and their achievements (finishing!) is both amazing and motivating. The humidity was too much for him this day and I kept going. My 2 liter camelbak and 20oz water bottle were both empty soon after, but I didn't feel like I was without it. Had some strength on this last section before hitting Hwy 107 and there was Dave again. Followed him up the hill to the entrance to the Winding Stairs trail and passed him as we made the turn back to the campsite.
I was going to Finish!
And I did - in 7:23:16!!
I am an Ultramarathoner!
Got my finisher's medal and high fives from Sam and basked in it all.
Post race report to follow!