Sept 7, 2014. Terri Hayes was putting on her last ultra in SC after a number of years of low-key, low-frills, donation-only events. I had completed my first ultramarathon here back in June of 2010 and was anxious to run it again. Partially to see how my feeling for it has changed after 12 other events, and also because the trails are so nice. I had no reference for "elevation" before this race, or the time it took, so it wasn't "difficult", it was just what it was. Now, maybe I'd have an idea.
This turned out to not really be a race or even an event, but a low-key run that you could do whenever that weekend, you just had to turn in a time that you kept yourself. I prepared myself for that by putting aid at the 17/21 aid station. There was aid there already, but it felt good to be safe about it.
So after leaving the house at 5:15am or so, with a stop for ice and water, I pulled into the Cherry Hill Campground parking lot and got my things together. I was using a brand new Ultimate Direction SJ 2.0 vest that had come the previous week (while I was in Juarez, MX working). My legs weren't completely fresh, having run the Wildwood 50k two weeks earlier. I've never run two races of this distance so close together before. When I did a flat 50k, followed by a road marathon 2 weeks later, that combination gave me IT band issues and severely hurt my running for the next 15 months. That explains the poor times and event gap in 2013.
Anyway - Terri was just finishing up the instruction for a small group, and they went and started. After a quick hello to Drew, I tied my shoes, and ran to catch up with the group, led by Joe Parker. Hadn't seen him in a while, but he looked comfortable out there. After dropping my vest off at the Winding trail intersection with the camping area, I hit the trail with my two Amphipod handhelds, heading down the 3 mile out-and-back section. I was in the back of maybe 5 or 6 runners for the first bit, but decided that I would run a little faster going down here and I went on ahead. I eventually saw 4 or 5 runners coming back that had started a bit earlier. and made it to the turnaround area (road) in 25 minutes or so. I was in the gravel looking for where the trail went wondering where exactly to turn around when another runner came upon me and reminded me that it was here. I knew, but just wasn't thinking. The other guy went on ahead as I walked much of the uphills. Legs just didn't seem to have much (even on some of the flats/downhills) and I was already worrying this would be a Very long day. I knew I was capable of walking it, but really wanted to run it somewhat well.
Saw some runners coming the opposite way, Joe, Drew, and then Psyche and Charles! Stopped and chatted for a few catching up some. Met Psyche here back in 2010 and have always enjoyed hearing of their many adventures! Finally got back to my vest as we turned away from the campground, went up a nice hill, and a sharp downhilll to Hwy 107. Terri was there with some Aid, so I filled my handhelds and crossed the road onto the Big Bend trail. At this point (~7mi/1:17), I was about 6mins ahead of my 2010 pace. The guy (in blue) was just ahead of me, and would be barely in sight for the next 3-5 miles.
Was running fine thru here as we headed to the river, and I tried to keep track of some times between bridges (I walked every one of them - I was not going down this time!). There wasn't any real issue of going off trail, but I was cautious about looking to see where I'd be going on the way back. The guy in front of me waited for me at one point to make sure, and then he was gone. I munched some and drank well, but it really wasn't too hot out. I did not take many photos as I knew it's easier on the way back (when I want to stop and break).
Kept moving and felt better on this section - guess it just took me a while to get my legs. Nothing too hard, but I did walk up anything with more than an easy upslope - lots of miles left. I did get a little off the main trail going by a campsite, but plowed ahead and ran back into/onto the trail.
I hit the sign in the parking lot (~14.8/2:56) 10mins ahead of 2010 and had the climb up to the road and the next aid station. I passed a couple thru here and eventually came upon a guy who was walking and holding his bloody hand. He had tripped and disclocated a finger, then injured it again in another fall. I walked with him the mile or so into the AS and made sure they were aware there of what was going on.
Dropped off my vest again (why run with it when you don't need!), got what I needed, and headed off down the trail. It felt good knowing I was now past the halfway, but finishing this 2 mile out (downhill) and 2 mile back (uphill) would put me heading in the right direction.
(Finally finishing this a LONG time later - so details may be lacking!)
The downhill went by fine and saw a few people, Made the turnaround (~18.8mi) in 24min (3:58 total). The uphill saw me start to feel it - a tight right hamstring so I took it pretty easy and came back to the aid station (20.8mi) in 43min (4:42). I took what had to be my longest break ever at an aid station, maybe 7 minutes. I ate, refilled, took some photos, really just took my time.
It must have paid off, because I moved very well thru the next section. This is where I had so many problems the last time with sore feet, sore back, etc. Now - a different story entirely. I knew it was to be short lived on this downhill section, but I made up a ton of time than on the way out (17 minutes vs 37 minutes).
The next section (the 5+ miles to the Big Bend trail) was still pretty good. I stopped for about 5 minutes to chat again with Charles and Psyche (gotta stop - why not?! It's Charles and Psyche!) and then kept on going. I power hiked as I needed and ended up about a minute and a half per mile slower than on the way out. I was a bit unsure of myself on the turn off the Chattooga trail (27.9/6:27), but soon recognized it and knew I was getting closer. That's when you really start to think about a finish time, but when you really don't know how much further, it's really just a constant guessing game. With a mile to go, I was on the very edge of cramping (left thigh). I got slower, but still had some running left in me. I was excited to be beating my first time, finishing this non-event, being in the woods for hours, being able to complete 31 miles - so much to be happy for.
Finish is a bit low-key, but that was fine. I was done and I was happy!
7:11:37, 12 minutes better than my very first ultra in 2010.
I was sore for a few days (legs, arch, calf) and had to travel for work, but got back out for a run after 4 days off.