Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon Race Report

“It’s Only a Marathon”

Hear something enough times and you start to believe it yourself.

Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon logo sticker

For weeks, while my wife would try to plan our weekend around Saturday’s Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon, she would constantly refer to it as “just a marathon”.

Friends and co-workers, used to hearing my ultra stories and thus always expecting something unusual, also sorta’ shrugged this off as, “just a marathon?”, “that’s a training run for you.”

Next thing you know, as it got closer and closer to race date, I almost, for second, started thinking this way as well.

Maybe longer than a second.

Long enough for Karma, God, Jah, Buddha, or whomever to deliver a nice dose of reality on race day…

…Twisted Ankle is no joke; and far from “just a marathon”

The Trail Racing Social Club

Ok, there’s no “social club”, but the family of trail racers across the Southeast is pretty small, especially at marathon and ultramarathon distance; and with each new race, and each new event, I meet more new people and see many familiar faces.

This Twisted Ankle Trail race was no different. There were race directors from two of the most challenging 50K races I have ever done that were running this race; there was a GUTS member or two, and even some folks who travelled all the way from Boulder, Colorado to get in some burly, east coast trail action.

I continue to meet more and more people who may not have met me in person, but stumbled upon the blog to read my race reports. This is so cool. It’s a great way for me to meet and connect with trail runners, and the feedback I get from many of the runners always makes me feel extra special.

My writing is one of the ways for me to give back to the race community by sharing my stoke for the experience, a detailed description of the course for runners, friends and family, as well as a resource for race directors to point athletes who might be interested in running the race in the future.

So, let’s get to it!

What is Steep?

The Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon started as most trail races do: A little encouragement from the race director atop a picnic table, some jokes and sarcasm regarding difficult sections of the race, and a smattering of warnings and safety information to make ya think a little…

Then, “go”

The first part of the marathon meanders along a short .5 mile stretch of pavement, taking runners along a dam, and around the perimeter of a nice big lake. This is a sort of stretch-your-legs-out kind of beginning that allows front runners to bolt ahead, and everyone else to settle into a groove before…

…that hill.

You read it about it on Marathon Guide and it’s usually the first thing people like to discuss regarding this race. I am here to tell you that yes, it’s a bitch.

Here’s how the climb breaks down:

  • It begins innocently enough as wide double-track that feels pretty steep, but negotiable. Some people were even attempting to run this portion of the climb for awhile – but that didn’t usually last long – at least amongst the mid-packers
  • After about .5 miles, the climb becomes a little tighter in width, a little muddier, a little more technical, and a lot steeper.
  • After another .5 miles or so, you make a very sharp left turn, and read a sign stating something along the lines of VERY STEEP, CAUTION, and other common warnings seen on and near the Pinhoti Trail.
  • And it wasn’t lyin… the last .3 or so, is very, very steep.

How steep?

To me, shockingly steep. I don’t understand how anyone NOT wearing trail shoes made it up some of those muddy sections. Many people were forced to use trees for support and as anchors to push up to the next section of trail.

I felt like I was doing one-legged squats.

It was a tough climb, but I loved it, and was very pleased to find the first aid station at the top of the climb chock full o’ PB & J sandwiches. Yum.

A Chance to Recover – Not!

For most people the short gravel jeep road section was a place to recover a little and shake out the hamstring tightness induced during the climb – but not for me.

I hate gravel. I wear a low profile, New Balance 800 trail shoe and my feet get hammered on gravel. Unfortunately, I began to suffer during this portion of the race – waaaay too early to begin suffering – and was keeping an eagle-eye out for the single-track trail.

The gravel section is pretty short, maybe a couple of miles, before you make a hard left back onto some beautiful single-track.

This section started out with some very nice rolling sections before taking a deep and steep descent to the bottom of the mountain. This was fun. As usual with technical, fast descents, I took off and really enjoyed jumping from rock to rock, sliding around, and working hard to prevent a gnarly fall or two.

This is the fun stuff.

This is also where we started seeing the front runners on their way back UP this descent – that’s when it occurred to me – Oh S%^&!, we gotta come back up this thing.

“Oh, well – I’ll deal with that later…” {wink}

I’m not sure who the front runner was, as he ended up winning the race, but Dwayne Satterfield was in second place, and it was cool slapping hands with him and watching him cruise up such steep terrain with what appeared to me to be effortless ease. Same smooth cadence all the time.

That descent lasts a good two miles, but it’s a fast pace, and at aid station two, I was feeling much better and chatting away, shouting-out to friends, and joking with aid station volunteers.

But, I couldn’t avoid it. Time to climb back up from which I came. …damn.

Ridge Running

After aid station three, we entered what I believe to be the most beautiful, surreal portion of the trail. In my opinion, this is true trail running.

  • This section continued to roll up and down nonstop for about seven or eight miles.
  • The ups were rather steep, and so were the downs. Either your hams were screaming or your quads crying, but there was very little straight away.
  • The trail was rocky, rooty and had these strange plants that grew right over the trails forcing you to run through them. They’d scratch your legs, get stuck in your shorts, and itch like crazy.
  • There were sections of thick leaves covering hidden rocks and roots that made for some interesting and unexpected trail negotiation.
  • In the sections where it was generally flat, runners could really open up and make up for some of the slow climbing.
  • The trails along this ridge were tight, muddy, and technical – woo hoo!

More $%#@! Gravel

Ok, so you can tell I don’t like gravel. This shouldn’t deter you from the race however because many people like sections like this and can open up on them – I am just not one of ’em.

We hit this long gravel section, that feels like it goes on forever, but really only about a mile and half, which is fully exposed to the heat and the afternoon sun. I had been running about 3 hours and 15 minutes when I hit this gravel, just in time for the 12:00 noon sun to bake my body and brain.

Ok, I’ll tell the truth – I hated this section – and although the watermelon at the turn-around aid station was refreshing, I wanted food – and I was grumpy that I had to turn around and do the gravel portion again.

Oh, and a significant portion of this gravel section is a very, very steep climb.

Limited food, strong sun, 80 degree heat, long gravel road, uphill climb – I really started to suffer at this point.

Saved by the Single-Track

What can I say? I dig me some single track.

The minute I got to the top of the gravel hill and hit the single-track, I came back alive.

I started to pass a few people at this point as I was feeling really good. It was now almost 20 miles into the run and I was pepping up. Finally!

I really enjoyed running back through this better part of the trail. I motored up the hills, continued to pass people and ran hard on what little downhill was presented to me. My feet were destroyed from the gravel, but for the most part, my legs and hips were still strong, and this made for a very nice run along the ridge as I started to think about the finish.

A Downhill Finish – or Is It?

Oh what a glorious race director. I both cursed her and praised her throughout this entire race, but definitely loved her after the last aid station, with only 3.5 miles to go and 1.5 of that was fast, technical downhill.

Yea, it beat me up.

Yea, my feet and quads were screaming.

Yea, I fell.

But, I knew the bottom was near, and I couldn’t wait to finish this beast.

Then, I got to the bottom.

A sign read, “Less than two miles to go”.

Hell yea – let’s go – and I did my best to pick it up.

There’s a small section where you run through an area with lots of people camping – they were aware of the race and offering encouragement. This is nice. Especially since I ran 80% of this race completely alone.

Crossing the Finish with a Little Finesse

The race director isn’t gonna make the finish easy though – nope – she wants you to hear the finish excitement for about 2 miles before you actually get there.

This is some of that mental torture that trail race directors seem to enjoy. (but so do we obviously)

A trip back around the same lake, and the dam which we ran around in the beginning, plus a little road section and another damn gravel climb, albiet short, and there’s the bridge – one of the coolest finishes of any trail race I have ever done.

You step onto the bridge which stretches all the way across this large lake, and halfway along the bridge there is a woman with a microphone who calls out your name, and everyone at the other side begins cheering for you. I had to get my man on and bust out a little attempt at a sprinting finish.

It felt great. 5:45:42 – which is right where I wanted to be.

The Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon is NOT just a marathon. Besides being much more difficult than any road marathon could be, the race runs more like a 50K. …A challenging 50K at that.

You like it tough? Come run the 2009 race. I know I’ll be there.

Running Into One Tough Schedule

Welp, I’m either extremely eager, or completely crazy …maybe a little both; but if you peek over there to the right of the page, under Upcoming Races, you’ll see one tough and gnarly race schedule. Here’s the skinny…

Jay Marathon Has My Name Written All Over It

Jay Marathon Stream Crossing

If you know me, this does not surprise you:

Racer Director’s Warning: The Jay Marathon, (33.0 miles), is considered by our own participants to be the hardest marathon ever put together for it’s distance; This is a trail marathon, and using the word trail is stretching it. One section is actually a bushwhack from flagging tape to flagging tape, and another section will take you on a deer trail leading to a mountain brook. You will run in the brook for about 3 miles. At mile 20 you will cross a 50-foot wide river in order to reach aid station # 6. Only the adventurous, experienced trail runners and fit atheletes should sign up for this race. You will get wet and very muddy, and you are likely to end up with scratches on your legs.

Need I say more?

I will be running this race with my sometimes-training-partner Sean, who is much faster than me, but also has less ultra experience than me. Officially, this will be his first ultra, and I look forward to participating in this event with him.

Sprinkle in Some Additional Crossfit Certifications

Man, with all these Crossfit Certifications I’m after, you’d think I was seeking a career as a fitness trainer.

I’m not.

I am interested, however, in knowing and understanding the very best in Crossfit methodologies and training techniques. As a level 1 certified Crossfit trainer, I have much better knowledge and experience with regards to popular movements such as the squat, pullups, pushups, situps, but also the lesser-known, and most productive such as the snatch, clean-and-jerk, push press, burpee, rings and medicine ball training.

By the end of summer, in addition to my Level 1 Crossfit certification, I will also have my Olympic Lifting certification and the Crossfit Running and Endurance certification.

I really enjoy combining strength training with endurance training. It’s a unique skill set with regards to training focus, and one I expect will continue to provide continued fitness and performance gains.

Back to Laurel Valley | a Spiritual Journey

August 9, I will again head up to Rocky Bottom, SC for Claude Sinclair’s Laurel Valley White Water Run. Last year the Laurel Valley was so special to me, that the sentiment is difficult to express in just an update paragraph. If you’re interested, my 2007 Laurel Valley experience pretty much tells the tale.

Oh, and from Claude’s web site as warning for this race:

Don’t put yourself in danger by trying to tough it out. There’s other ways to prove your man/womanhood. I have hiked this course two times and have run it twice. This year while most of you are out there running I will be sulking because I will not be out there with you. But common sense tells me that I am not ready (again) this year. When I first hiked this course in three days I knew that it would someday be the most scenic run/walk in the Southeast. And to myself and many who have completed LV, it is. You will not be disappointed but be certain that you are ready. As for you and your heirs, there is no one to sue as you assume total responsibility for trying this.

After reading that, how could you NOT run it?

This is one tough race – mostly run by, as one runner says it, “crazy mountain men and women”.

I know many of the participants and can verify this to be true. {wink}

Running 100 Miles, or 36 Hours, Whichever Comes First

Superior Sawtooth 100-Mile Trail Race

It was bound to happen, just perhaps not quite this soon; but the check is cashed and I am officially registered for the Superior Sawtooth 100-Mile Trail race.

And true to fashion, this race ranks in the top 10 of difficult 100-mile races in the country. Some of the race highlights include:

  • Point-to-point 100-mile race on 100% single-track, technical trail
  • 20,200′ of total climbing elevation
  • 20,000′ of total descent
  • Only about half the people who start the race, finish it
  • Incredible beauty – some say the most beautiful race in existence
  • 36-hour time limit

Naturally, I am very excited. I don’t care if I have to crawl through the entire night, I am going to finish this race and get that 100-mile ultrarunning accolade.

Back for Sweet Revenge at Mountain Masochist

Mountain Masochist 2008

No, I am not being cocky. I know better…

But, I am after some sweet revenge at the Mountain Masochist 50-Mile Trail Run in Lynchburg, November 1, 2008.

Mountain Masochist is the one race in 2007 in which I prepared the most for, and the only race I did not finish. My first DNF.

What makes this an even harder return is the fact that I am not “in love with” the course. It’s a lot of gravel jeep road, more so than single-track trail, and I have learned that it’s simply not my favorite terrain. I love the gnarly, technical trails — the jeep roads can become boring to me, kinda like road running.

BUT, that’s why I have to go back. For one, I feel the need to redeem myself on the DNF. That doesn’t make me proud. Second, it’s a difficult mental challenge, arguably more difficult than running it blind last year, because I already know I don’t love the terrain.

Racing Here and There for Training and Fun

Lastly, I expect to run some events purely for training benefit and enjoyment. Races like the Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon in Summerville, Georgia and a handful of 10K races will serve as fun, no-pressure ways to improve my running, while making the training a little more fun, exciting and social.

Wish me luck – and keep coming back to see what’s next.

Cheers!