Around 9:30 Saturday night, after completing my 60th mile, I learned that I was in first place for the men.
…and then I just stopped.
Woods Ferry 24-hour, …or not.
Li’l Weezy talked me into heading to rural, and I mean RURAL, South Carolina for a 24-hour event in the Sumter National Forest between Union and Chester, SC.
The goal was for Weezy to get in some good time on his feet for 24-hours in preparation for the Pinhoti 100 – his first 100-miler. And, my goal was simply to stay on my feet with absolutely no mileage goals what-so-ever. So many people have been there to support me, so I thought I could do double-duty here with the “Weasel from Winder.”
I’m not trying to hate, and I’m from SC, so I’m not even going to get started on the little town of Union, the fact that there is not a single quality motel within 50 miles, nor its lack of even one single healthy place to eat, nor the excessive amount of personally irresponsible residents.
I know it sounds like I’m being very critical, but that’s not it – it really saddens me to see 300+ lb people, eating fried chicken and apple turnovers, ankles and wrists swollen from diabetes. It’s very depressing. Makes you want to help. Grab them and say wake up! educate yourself because you are dying. …and worse, your killing your kids.
Is there even gonna be a race?
Just before dark, we ventured to the start/finish at Woods Ferry Recreation Center inside the forest, and upon arrival listened to all the camping runners worry about the possibility of getting shut down.
The pavilion area where runners were to start/finish each loop had already been setup with a Hammer Nutrition banner and all the aid supplies and food, but apparently this was against the rules of the park. The ranger wanted all the food and supplies removed by dark . Plus, if it wasn’t removed by someone, most likely the animals would be “removing it” throughout the night.
I don’t know what the deal was. I heard musings of “no permit” and “canceled race” and “what if this, and what if that”, and it was all making me a bit uncomfortable. My early experiences in Union were already pretty weird, the race scene was looking weird and on top of all that, I was very, very sleepy.
We went to bed feeling very uneasy that night.
Smooth as silk
I don’t know if anyone removed anything, or what ended up happening, but packet pickup was mellow, the RD chipper, and come 7:30 a.m. everyone hit the trails for 24 hours of trail running.
…however, this would be unlike any 24-hour I’ve ever seen.
Aren’t timed events supposed to be flat?
Granted if you know Terri Hayes, the race director, you know she is always one to shake things up a little.
Woods Ferry was no exception.
If you’re not familiar with the 24-hour (timed event) format, this quote from suite 101 sums ’em up well:
Most 24-hour races are “run as you please.” Runners run, walk, rest, or even sleep completely at will. Runners may also stop if they are completely exhausted or have reached their goal. All that counts in the race results is the total distance the runner covers. There is no penalty for stopping in less than 24 hours.
This format is a popular way to give runners the opportunity to experiment with different nutrition, hydration and other race-day strategies as typically, these races are low-key in nature and usually held on a short flat course containing somewhere between less-than-a-mile and 1.5 miles.
Not this race.
Purple to Blue to Yellow, and back
The Woods Ferry 24-hour consisted of a one mile approach trail, blazed purple, that carried runners to a sort of figure 8 loop connecting two interconnecting trail segments of ~4.5 miles each, making the entire loop 10 miles long.
Get all that? Here’s how it broke down:
- Purple trail: This section of trail was hacked-up, hard-packed dirt that gradually climbed for about a mile. The footing was a challenge because horses had torn it up wet and muddy, and then that mud dried with deep, hard divots.
- Blue trail: The blue trail starts out very runnable as gradual downhill, leading into a section of very steep downhill, before climbing out again about 500 feet. All the way to the yellow trail, this blue trail roller-coasters up and down constantly with lots of climbing and descending with some sections very steep.
- Yellow trail (I): This was easily my favorite part of the 10-mile loop. The yellow trail had a bit of everything with the early sections being nice, runnable pine straw covered single-track, some creek crossings, some short steep climbs and an aid station halfway through.
- Yellow trail (II): After the aid station, runners enter a power-line cut (some wimped out and took a graded gravel road outside the cut, but whatever). This cut section was pretty chewed-up, roller-coasting up and down, but I kinda liked it; and after a series of short hills, we entered some more nice, albeit technical single-track, and again roller-coasted throughout the woods. The final section of the yellow trail was very dry, very hard-packed and very mutilated by horses.
After the yellow loop, we had to redo the up-n-down sections of the blue-blazed trail before returning to the purple loop which took us back to camp.
That was one loop.
I sure would love to know the total elevation change of one loop. I’d guess 2000 feet of climbing and the same descending.
That’s a lot for a 24-hour loop race.
Although the course was much more challenging than I had expected, I really enjoyed running out there. It was a beautiful, sunny day crawling into the 80’s but never really got too hot.
I ran with Li’l Weezy for about 3.5 loops before he started to have a few foot problems and wanted me to push ahead. In a normal ultramarathon, this would be a given, but I was sorta out there for him, so I wasn’t sure what to do.
I pushed ahead, but it didn’t feel right.
I felt really good through 50 miles. I ran well, walked some hills in the later loops, and gained some additional confidence at that distance. In fact, Abi Meadows found me on the last mile of 50 miles, and we ran into the campground together at a strong pace.
But during the sixth loop, I found myself walking a lot.
I just don’t like that anymore. I know there are different camps in ultrarunning and walking is an accepted strategy, but for me and where I’m at with my training, I’m trying to walk less and less. I come to ultras to RUN, and I’m cool with walking severe inclines, but I want to run as much as I can – I believe it is the only way I’m going to continue to improve.
By the time I finished the sixth loop (60 miles), I learned I was in 2nd place overall, and first place male – all I had to do was continue for another 10 hours and I could win my first ultra race.
Around 10:30 p.m., I started the seventh loop, but found myself just walking the entire mile to the start of the blue trail.
Why do that?
- My buddy who I came with had already stopped at 50 and was just waiting on me.
- I was tired.
- I had achieved enough miles for it to be good training.
- I have an incredibly challenging race schedule coming up this summer.
- I will get absolutely NOTHING out of walking for 10 more hours.
So, I simply turned around and walked back to camp.
Giving up the potential win (who cares anyway?) but putting an official 100K in the training bank.
I was happy with my decision. It felt like the right thing to do.
I ran the entire 62 miles in the Asics Piranha II racing flat. A 4.4 ounce racing flat that has replaced the New Balance 152 in my “flats” arsenal. I truly believe lighter socks and lighter shoes are the key to blister prevention – at least for me. Not one single blister or foot problem at all.
I carried nothing but water and Scaps.
Nutritionally, I took a Vespa every ~2.5 hours, added some BCAAs twice, and ate real food at aid stations. For whatever reason, I did not feel like using gels.
Personal Change in Ultrarunning philosophy
It’s been building all year, but this weekend really solidified for me that my approach to the sport is changing.
I am continuing to get more and more serious with regards to my running performance. I want to be able increase the amount of time I run during races, and this includes hills. I learned that depending on fatigue level, I ran 25 to 45 minutes faster, over the 10 mile course, when I ran hills as opposed to walking them. Over the life of a 50 or 100-mile race, that’s a big chunk of time.
The key is both being able to run more, but also being able to recover from those efforts faster, and continue with a solid pace on easier sections throughout the rest of the race.
I simply want to get faster. Both in ultras and the shorter stuff. No limits.
The training continues with my eyes firmly on a sub-24 hour at the Keys 100-miler.
One month away…