This race was Saturday May 3rd and held at Oconee State Park in SC. I hadn’t been to the park in about 10 years (back when I was hiking and not running), but my 1st 50k in 2010 shared a few miles of trails with this race.
I had trained a little better for this one (one 14 and then two 19 milers at Paris Mountain) than I had at El Paso, but went in not knowing how I would fare.
The 6am start meant waking at 3:20am and making the 90 minute drive, with a quick stop to get fresh batteries for my headlamp. It was too bad the start wasn’t at 6:30am when headlamps wouldn’t be needed. Anyway – everyone congregated around the visitor center prior to the start and I saw some other ultra runners I knew (Marty, Michael, Tiana, Jason/Sully, and Wayne/Weezy).
My headlamp was giving me fits, not working, then working. When it was time for the race to start – it decided to not work, so I stuck it in my pocket and ran on. There was a line of runners ahead (and behind) and I kept near the one right in front of me and did the best I could to not trip. It took a lot of concentration, and I picked my feet up more than normal to compensate. It was a bit congested, so I was actually able to walk up some of the inclines as fast as others were running. After a mile or so – the guy in front of me took a walk break and I sped ahead to get behind Michael – a friend from our weekend runs at Lake Conestee who was running his 1st 50k (after missing Harbison with the flu). I came thru unscathed and after about 25 minutes, headlamps weren’t really needed anymore.
I ran at a somewhat easy pace, but those first 5-6 miles are always slightly uncomfortable as I get settled in. We hit the first aid station around Mile 4 in 48min (with Merle and Lester volunteering – thanks guys!) and I picked up a few chips and cookies and walked out. Michael caught up shortly and we kept on going together. Nice runnable trails with the sunbeams trying to come in thru the leaf-filled trees. There were definite spots/hills to walk, but never lost contact. It had mostly spread out by mile 3 or so, and we’d see others every now and then, either passing us, or being passed. We were just enjoying the nice soft trails (and dodging the few roots out there) and chatting. Michael graciously offered to pack my headlamp into his backpack.
Next aid station was near Mile 9 at 1:52 with Scott, the co-RD helping out), and we got there and refilled and took in some more food. This was the gravel road we were to go down. We set a comfortable pace, not opening up at all really and just relaxed. A few people passed us and were quickly far ahead. We just kept going down and around another bend and down some more. We went running down for 28 minutes (~3 miles). That is the longest constant downhill I think I have ever run. We were glad to see that section end, but we knew coming back up would not be fun and I already expected to walk every bit of it!
We were now at the Winding Stairs section…a ~3 mile climb up to the next aid station and turnaround point. We had been wondering when we would see the leaders coming back, and after 2:40?, we saw the lone leader come flying down by us. He had a good lead…and we still had no clue how far the turnaround was.
I was starting to feel better thru here and at some point, pulled a bit ahead of Michael (and would run alone for the remainder of the race). There were still a few runners within a few minutes of me by the time I got to the turnaround (in 3:04). I stepped back to get a picture and promptly cut a gash on my shin from a stump/post. Took a little extra time to fuel up, pour some coke into my mouth (it is a cup-free event!) and grabbed a handful of chips, etc before walking out. All the aid stations were wonderful and were quick to help refilling my two handheld water bottles.
Almost 16 miles in and now I was going downhill and I ran pretty much all the way down to the road – with a few picture breaks as Drew (missed him at the start), Michael, Marty, and Sully/Tiana/Weezy came upon me. Then there was the road. This one female runner was ahead of me. I was walking at my normal quick pace and would get closer to her. Then she’d run a section, then walk again. I would get closer to her again. I got as close as about 20secs from her before she ran and was gone! (Impressive!). I had found a great hiking stick after the first mile and that helped me tremendously. Once I hit the aid station (at 4:27) at the top of the hill and got some more fuel in me - I was on my way. Pretty much ran solo the rest of the way in. Note I said "ran". Yeah - for the first time in who knows how long - I was running pretty well on flats and downhills. Legs didn't hurt at all, just a little fatigued. I was so happy about that, but still surprised. I wanted to run as much as I could while I felt that way. Once I got to the last aid station (back to Merle/Lester, in 5:35), I was doing the math in my head about when I could finish. It seemed I was running better than I expected, but if it took 48 minutes coming out, I was going to finish with a ~6:30 time. I was a little dejected as I went along, but then I really had the feeling I hadn't run this part of the trail before. I knew we went around the lake, but this was different and there was no lake. Once I got to the lake, I knew I was close. I still walked a bit as my legs didn't want to move at times, but I still felt I finished quite strongly. My wife and daughter were right there at that finish to give me that extra boost. (I was lucky they were there, my wife thought I had started an hour later than I actually had). Finish time of 6:04!! My 3rd fastest out of now 9 50ks.