For this trail jockey, the theme of the 2010 Mount Cheaha 50K was eating dirt.
Chasing goals again
I just can’t help it.
I can tell myself, “I’m just gonna chill, and enjoy this one” – but a few days before a race, I become laser-focused and usually decide that “dammit, I want to go out hard, and PR this race.”
I just can’t help it.
I truly love all the ultra camaraderie, the time in the woods, the spiritual this-n-that, …but as I race more and more, I feel such a strong urge to do better than last time. If for no other reason than to give me feedback that my training is working.
If I can keep chipping away at that clock like this, someday I can honestly say I’m a competitive athlete, and I’ll like that.
Progress is the best personal award.
Especially when I look at where my fat ass came from.
Montrail brings out the speedsters
Being a Montrail series race this year, the Cheaha 50K brought out some fast runners. 24 Hour National Team runners Annette Bednosky and Jill Perry were in attendance, and from what I understand, battled it out to the finish.
The usual Alabama/Georgia hotshots, Dink Taylor, Dwayne Satterfield, John Dove, John Nevels, Sally Brooking, Spurg, Dana Overton, etc… were all in attendance.
I was in town with Atlanta locals “little sleezy weezy” and “SeanO”, and a new pal Paul Carrington from Bradenton, Florida. All first-timers on this course (but me).
I was wondering if I could possibly be ready to run the Cheaha 50K in under six hours. When I started running ultras three years ago, I ran the 2008 race in 7:20, then last year I ran it in 6:40, so it only seemed natural that in 2010, I should shoot for a better time.
I decided I’d be happy with 6:30, but if it was a good day, I was going after a sub-6 (or, under six hours)
Having completed that goal at both my other trail 50Ks this year, I was hoping for a three-peat, but realized it would take a REALLY good day for me to get it at Cheaha since it’s quite a bit more difficult than the other two.
Race to aid station 1
I started too fast.
The first 3 miles is rolling, pine-covered heavenly single-track trail that begs for a little opening up. It’s not my fault, blame the nice, mellow trail.
I felt fantastic.
Ran every hill to aid station 1, passed a lot of people, and most likely was running in the top 25 pack.
Just who did I think I was?
Visions of grandeur.
Jeep road+single track+jeep road to aid station 2
The stretch to aid station 2 is definitely where I made my mistakes. I was running with runners I had no business being in the same race hemisphere.
But, when you feel good, you tend to disregard the stupid, I suppose.
This stretch of the Cheaha is .25 mile jeep road, which dumps runners into a significant climb on the Pinhoti trail, and lots of up-n-down single-track that I would have walked much of back in the day – but this year, “I ran mos’ta dat sh*t!”
Hill training works.
I found myself in the company of Sally Brooking, and ahead of last year’s female winner, all of which is a HUGE mistake. Not belonging anywhere near these women, I knew the fatigue foreshadowing was painting an ugly picture for me later in the race.
After the miles of single-track, Sally blasted past me on the long jeep road. I found myself pushing hard down that stretch, but watching her widen the gap continuously.
By the time I hit the 9-ish mile aid station, I began to wonder if it was going to be possible for me to stay anywhere near Sally. I knew if I did, I was guaranteed a sub-6 …but if not, it would be because I fell apart.
I fell apart.
The stretch to the halfway point (aid station 3), feels really long.
The initial climb is pretty rough, but man, I kept those eyes on Sally.
“Just keep her in your sights, dude.”
By the time I crested and looked down the trail, I could no longer see her – AND – I got passed by someone else.
It went downhill from there – literally and figuratively.
This section, after that initial climb, is very challenging. There are really no brutal ups-n-downs, but the loose rocks, hidden under leaves, force a slow grindy rock-dance and makes for a flurry of cuss words.
I took a series of five falls back in this section.
Bottles-flyin’, knees-skidin’, thorn-ripping falls that took a lot of the fight out of me during that technical stretch.
Unable to take advantage and Schicked Again
After the halfway point, the trail becomes very runnable.
The ridge terrain clears up (except for lots of blow-down), taking runners along creeks and small falls, and if you have some gas, you make up some time in these sections. It’s really nice trail running and is easily one of my favorite parts of the course.
But I just couldn’t take advantage.
My legs were dead.
And all the people I had no business running ahead of started passing me – Dana O., Jason Spruill and of course, that dirty dog Rich Schick.
I got Schicked again.
Ten miles to go
By the time I hit the infamous water crossing, I was at my low.
“Manly men are jumping from rock-to-rock”, says the volunteer.
I lowered myself into thigh-deep, freezing cold water, in 35 degree temps anyway, and as more of a safety thing than anything else. My head was swimming, my legs were dead, and if I jumped, I may of just slipped, banged my head and floated on down to Florida somewhere.
I was out of gas.
As true illustration of such, five feet from the aid station, I fell again – “bottles-a’flyin’…”
I think they felt sorry for me groveling around in the sand.
The trail after the water crossing is rugged, with gorgeous waterfalls, and rolling single-track. I started to come back to life here, passed a dude, and slowly started to pick it back up when the terrain smoothed out to leafy ridges again.
But, I still lost a lot of time on the trail before that water crossing.
E’rebody hates the road
I usually HATE the road in trail ultras.
In the past, I have been known to dislike this particular dirt road+paved road combination to the final aid station, but this time, it felt great.
I could run brain-dead now.
I could close my eyes even.
I was hurting pretty bad.
I ran that road with what-felt-like a little zest, and hoped I was making up for my dreadful sloth on the ridges miles back.
Could I still make it?
It’s just hard.
I thought about the Barkley course and wondered, “man, if it’s harder than this climb, over twenty miles, I’m gonna get slaughtered.”
It’s one of those climbs that you don’t want to talk on. You don’t think. You certainly don’t look up.
You just watch your feet.
Step up, again.
You know you’ll get there so you just keep going, focusing on your breathing, trying to keep the heart rate at an acceptable level, and just marching on.
It’s just plain hard.
Finding that finish line
A challenge for my buddy “little sleezy weezy”, but I’ll let him tell that story on his own blog.
But if you follow the flags, you find yourself on more road, a bit more climb, and then some more fun single-track that carries ya back to the lodge, and an awaiting clock…
…that in my case, read 6:07:51 as I rounded the corner to the finish.
I didn’t get it.
Not the dream goal anyway, but I did get a Cheaha course personal best by shaving 32 minutes off last year’s time, and a little validation that my hard work is paying off.
All my close buddies and GUTS friends all came in, and I sat outside and waited for all of ’em (except Jason, sorry dude).
I knew 90% of them were Cheaha first-timers and I was eager to see their “finish faces”.
- The course volunteers
- The aid station folks
- Todd and Jamie Henderson
- Our great southeastern running community for all your support and encouragement as I stumble through the sport.
- Sean O for driving
- Little Weezy for being my constant source of entertainment
- Paul for being a cool stranger – turned friend.
- My wife for managing the family while I travel around doing fun stuff
- My boss for all the support and flexibility he doesn’t have to offer, but does with a smile.
Ultrarunning is the best sport in the world.
…next to surfing.
Addendum: Blister Fun
…or, watch the video: