Black Warrior 50K Race Report

Woo Hoo! My first official Ultra is in the books. 50th place (out of 75 starters) – 7 hours and 9 minutes of pleasure mixed with pain. I feel physically sore, but mentally fresh. I feel giddy but a little more grown-up. I feel a little less attracted to objects and gadgets and more focused on experiencing and living. The race changed me for sure. I suppose everyone’s first changes them. Here is my story:

I was sitting inPizza Hut in Moulton, Alabama bouncing off the walls, stuffing my face with carbs and blabbing a mile-a-minute to veteran ultra runner Bill Terlicki …and the waitress(es) …and other patrons …and generally anyone I came across.

“Dude, I’m so excited…”,

“I gotta finish. If I gotta crawl and walk on my hands, I am finishing
this race…”

“If I am out there until everyone leaves, I’m finishing this race…”

And like a good ol’ experienced runner Bill catered to myhyperactivity with a big smile and supportive comments like, “you’ll do great” and “you’ve got it wrapped up”. …that really helped. Here’s a big “Thank You” to Bill Terlicki for hangin’ out with the “noob” and offering loads of support and insight.

We went to the race site, met the RD, picked up our numbers and blabbed a bit more. The race begins with a pretty meaty 2.6 mile climb up a gravel dirt road before dumping out to 28 miles of mostly single-track and we decided to follow the hill to see how bad it was. I dunno – I suppose seasoned ultra runners eat hills for breakfast so it may not seem like too much, but for me it was an awfully intimidating way to begin a 31-mile jaunt.

I would end up thinking about this hill for the next 12 hours. …Just ask Bill. {grins}

“Damn, that’s a big-ass hill…”

For those that always say they never really sleep that well before an ultra – I say right on. I tossed and turned and even dreamed that my wife showed up and kept me in the bed until noon. …That kept freaking me out, but I suppose I could have worse dreams than hours under the covers with my duchess.

I stuck to my “limited race plan” and showed up at the start in layers of running shirts, tights (I still hate saying that) and shorts for a 32 degree start – it never got above 39. I liked looking at all the other runners. Everybody looked so much like runners. …either that, or looked like mountain-folk. Rugged, well-trained mountaineer types. I don’t have calves that look like balloons. I am not as lean as a race horse and I certainly don’t have the stereotypical and efficient “runners” physique. I suddenly felt like such a city geek. I suddenly felt “out of my league”.

Before I could really get too worked up over it, the RD said I few things I couldn’t hear and just like that they were saying, “on your mark… get set… go…” – and that was that. I was running …up
that damn hill.

I watched the veterans charge up the mountain like Angelina Jolie was standing on top, but I just started out really, really slowly with little mincy steps.

~3 miles later we entered the mountain forest single-track and the course instantly became beautiful. It’s so cool how trail running creates so much visual stimuli that you can easily get lost in the moment and forget that you are actually running a race. It’s easy to forget about the race element of the run when you’re diggin’ on the scenery.

I guess I’m one of those runners that’s in it more for the experience than the race because I found myself really interested in those around me. There were some really rugged older guys that were running together and I couldn’t help but ease-drop on some of their interesting conversations – they oozed of ultra experience and I found out later, along the trail from a completely different runner, that one of those gentlemen was 65 years old and running in his 108th ultra. …oh, and at that point he was ahead of me. Humbling.

A lot of people were crabbing about the mud and conditions of the trail, but I wasn’t too bothered by it. It was really muddy and my 1060s were cashed, but it sort of added to the gritty grind of the whole event and drove home the “trail ultra” element in a stronger way. One really cool thing was the frozen waterfalls that turned into 12-20 foot long icicles and the ice-cold stream crossing that would numb my painful feet.

Around mile 17, aid station 3, I started to walk some of the uphills while running the downs and flats. I think at my stage of ultra development, I could benefit from employing this strategy even earlier in the race. Carrying the ego-driven desire to run the whole thing is not a sensible approach for my level of development. Trail running proved to be much harder than road running. Different muscles.

As expected, the Clip2 kept me well-fed throughout the race. I never had one single problem with energy or nausea. I  just couldn’t’ eat at the aid stations. Nothing looked good to me. I would grab a couple of Fritos or a piece of banana, but eating just didn’t seem like something I wanted to do. The Clip was working perfectly and I didn’t want to monkey with nutritional success. In fact, Clip made friends with another runner —- I don’t think this guy is on the list, but I approached a guy near mile 18 that was also running his first Ultra. He looked terrible and said he felt worse. He felt like he needed protein …like everything was breaking down and he was eating Ibuprofins. I told him my name and recommended that he raid my drop-bag at mile 22 and combine 2 packets of Clip in his water bottle. He had a more muscular build like me and I expected that just boosting
some quality calories would help this guy recover a bit.

He thanked me and off I went… {remember that as I continue my report}

I ran pretty much alone from miles 6 – 26. I would come across the occasional interesting character, share some pleasantries and then keep on scooting along – but mostly I was just concentrating on keeping it together, enjoying the nature and discovering myself in new and different ways.

I caught up to Bill at the last aid station and we ran the final 2.6 miles together sharing stories of what we experienced along the way. Then, as we were running, I hear footsteps behind me and I turn to see the dude I encountered at mile 18. He was all bright-eyed, full o’ pep and trottin’ along easily. He comes up beside me and says, “Hey Christian, thanks so much for the drink stuff. It saved me. …and with that, he took off. He got 49th place and a large part of me was really stoked that I, the noob, helped somebody in their race — but of course as he darted off ahead a small part of me said, “damn, I would have gotten 49th…”

We hung around, watched some others finish – ate some burgers – and talked story with a few folks before heading back to the hotel. I collapsed in the bed in my dirty, muddy clothes and just laid there. I spent the whole night sharing my experience with my close family and friends and basking in the glow.

I wanted to write a race report like all the others I have read detailing each mile of the course and the conditions and all that technical stuff – but that’s just not me. My report is probably lame by report standards by I run these races for the experience. For the mental slide show that I play over and over in my head.

July 10, 2006, when I weighed 236 lbs and could only manage 3 or so miles,  I made the proclamation that I was going to run an Ultra. I have trained hard as hell and have run a series of 5K, 10K, half-marathons and a marathon to get here and I finally did it. I broke my ultra-cherry and the excitement was everything I thought it would be and more.

…but I’ve basked long enough and this report is sort of my way of capping off the ultra birth and beginning the drive for 50 miles. Mississippi 50, here I come.