Chattooga 50K Race Report

When You Finish a Race in Your Underwear, There’s Got to be a Story

Chattooga 50K Finisher award

As I rolled out of bed at 3:30 a.m. for the drive the South Carolina, I knew it was going to be hot. I pulled up the Weather Channel on the laptop and saw the 95 degree high temp warnings, and thought I was prepared.

I was not.

Not for that heat.

For me, and many other runners, The Chattooga 50K was a race full of pleasure and pain. A whirlwind of emotions, physical struggle, and mental fatigue; yet, all wrapped up in a package of incredibly beautiful single-track trails, diverse vegetation, varied running terrain, enthusiastic and helpful volunteers, and ultrarunning icon veterans from all over the southeast.

This is easy

I am learning that this is usually the first sign of trouble. The ultrarunning Gods seem to enjoy making things seem too fun, too nice, too pleasurable in the early stages of race, …just to shock ya later on with a firm and healthy beat-down.

The first few miles of the Chattooga 50K was mostly a slight downhill grade, along some technical terrain of roots, loose rocks and a heapin’ helpin’ of fallen trees. To our right was the river – the Chattooga River, I think – and to our left was a very steep wall of either mountain rock or vegetation. The single-track trail was tight and technical and although we were moving slowly, didn’t leave much margin for footing mistakes.

“This is so damn nice”, I thought to myself as I trotted along, overlooking the rushing river, and dancing across the rocks and roots.

Sandwiched Between Two Chicks

Get your mind out of the gutter…

After a period of confusion about which way to go, I found myself in a group of people much faster than myself. This is where I met Kathleen, from Tennessee, who, runs like a gazelle and I think ended up as the first place female. She held the pace ahead of me while Robin, from Atlanta, whom I suspect scored third place female, ran in the spot behind me.

Now what’s a manly-man to do?

I knew the pace between these two speedy girls was too fast for me, but quite honestly, I enjoyed running and chatting with them, so I did my best to keep up.

That didn’t last long, maybe one mile, and soon Robin asked to pass, and her and Kathleen were off to the races at a pace much more suitable for front-runners.

Long and Slow vs. Short and Steep

The Chattooga course was not the most difficult course in terms of brutal climbs, but there was some stretches of climbs that while not super steep, were very, very long. After leaving the turn-around aid station, about mile 16, there were some climbs out of that section that appeared to be two or three miles long.

Just long, steady grinds with limited relief.

Up to this point in the race, around the halfway point, everything was peachy. I was strong, running well, and while I wasn’t on pace for PR, I was close, and ready to give it a valiant effort.

And, then, the meltdown began…

My God, It’s Hot

During those long climbs out of the turnaround aid station, between miles 16 and 22, around 10:30-ish, the heat began to suck the life out of me.

In the six mile trip from the turnaround to the last aid station I suffered a couple of good falls, complete with mouthfuls of dirt, a few cuts, and ran out of water about four miles into it. I suffered through the last two miles to that last aid station with no water, which on a normal day would be easy, but on this day, it was downright dangerous.

I started seeing spots and getting dizzy which is something very new to me, but little did I know it was only going to get worse from here.

The Last Aid Station

I stayed at the last aid station too long, but I was still making great time and a PR was still looming as a possibility, although my condition had deteriorated greatly and it was only getting hotter and hotter.

The aid station volunteers were reporting 95 degrees, and I still had ten miles to go, but I figured if I fueled up, drank plenty, and rested just an extra 5 minutes, it would pay big dividends in the end.

hahahahahahahaha. whateva’

So Much for a PR? Hell, So Much for Sanity

I left that aid station and enjoyed about two miles of downhill, easy running.

Woo Hoo! …PR here I come!

I got to the end of that downhill section, entered back into the rolling, technical trail sections, and was trotting along easily…

…when everything went haywire…

I couldn’t focus. My eyes simply bounced around and I was seeing multiples of everything.

“What the hell?”

I stopped running. I shook my head around a little. Nothing. Nada. I couldn’t focus and now I was seeing stars and spots again.

I was more than a little frightened. I tried to walk, but was misstepping so much that I was afraid I would get really hurt if I didn’t chill out.

“This sucks”, was all I could think. “What is wrong with me?”

I sat down, took two S! Caps, ate some Clif Blocks, and finished off my water over about a 5-10 minute span.

That did the trick, at least allowing me to move forward without seeing double and triple, but not exactly “quite right”.

I started slowly running for about ten minutes, got thirsty again, and realized I was out of water – I had finished it off during my “episode”.

I started cussing like crazy and felt very helpless. Looking back, it probably wasn’t that bad, but at the time, with my brain in a state of mush, it was very traumatic. I had a slight bit of fear for my ultimate safety since I was completely alone, out of water, wandering around in a confused state, and very freaked out.

I just kept moving. When all else fails, one foot in front of the other.

I could hear the river, but this only served to frustrate me more since I was running along a ridge, with a steep, gnarly drop off of thick vegetation, and there was simply no way to get down to the water. AAARGH!

Eventually, although it seemed like hours to me, the trail meandered close enough to the river for me access it, and I plunged my entire body, wedged between two rocks, right in the river – shirt, shoes, shorts and all, and laid there like a dead man for about five minutes without moving a muscle.

I drank directly from the river until my belly was bloated, and then filled up my Nathan Backpack/Water Bladder.

Who Needs Running Shorts Anyway?

The entire race my running shorts were driving me crazy. Since I’ve lost a bunch of weight, they don’t fit me like they used to and they constantly fall down during downhill running sections. Since they were caked with dirt from all my falls, I took them off, scrubbed them along a big rock with rushing water, and somehow lost control of them only to watch ‘em take off down the river.

I was in no condition to try to chase them down – not that I could have anyway – and there I stood in my green, spandex-y underwear all nut-hugged and ass-squeezed.

“Well, at least they won’t fall down anymore”, I thought, and pulled myself out the river, pleased-as-punch to have liquid, but no-so-pleased about running in nut-huggers.

All I could think about is, “How am I going to explain this at the finish?”

Land of the Lost

While the water was a life saver, I was still not quite right, and I kept getting myself lost on the trail. All I had to do was follow the white blazes – how hard is that?

Apparently, too hard for me.

I got lost about four times, one time almost killing myself on a steep incline, where I slipped, went sliding down a steep wedge, heading straight for a v-section of exposed tree roots at a good rate of speed, and at the last second caught myself with my arms and shoulders just before my leg got wedged into this precarious situation.

Thank goodness for my upper body strength – If I wouldn’t have caught myself with my arms first, I surely would have broken, or severely damaged my leg.

And then, finally, other people!

Susan Donnelly and a guy name Rich, I think, ran up on me at about three miles from the finish. Together as a threesome we also managed to get confused, and I got so frustrated with the getting-lost thing, I let them go on and laid back down in the river.

Two minutes later, they were back. They went the wrong way. {grins}

I got out of the river and followed them again, hoping to get the hell off of this course. Times be damned, I just wanted to finish, alive.

Rich dropped back behind me, and Susan pulled ahead, and somehow, in that short moment of time that I was alone again, literally less than a half mile from the finish, I took another wrong turn, went another half mile in the wrong direction, and went all the way to Kings Creek Falls.

“Hey wait, there weren’t any waterfalls in this race…”

You can only imagine the flurry of cuss words that left my mouth as I stood there, realizing I was lost yet again, and in so much pain that trying to collect myself and figure out what I did wrong seemed impossible.

I just wanted to lay down, give up, and go to sleep.

How did I get lost – again – so close to the finish line?

I trotted back the way I came, and sure enough, saw my missed turn.

I was again, out of drinking water, and so eager to finish that I just took off as fast as I could run, across a wooden bridge, up the white blazed trail, towards the voices, and finally, finally finished the race… in eight hours, six minutes and some change.

…standing there in my underwear, I tried to explain…

But, it wasn’t working.

Everyone got lost at some point or another – no sympathy for Christian.

I sat down, ate three Subway sandwiches, and waited for my buddy to finish – he finished fours later, just missing nightfall.

When we left, very near dark, there were still six runners out there the course …or, off-the-course, as the case may be.

I hope everyone made it back safely.

Pleasure and pain.

Chattooga 50K Garmin Data

This is the data from my Garmin. I know it’s not accurate on the total elevation gain/loss since it showed:

Total elevation for the Chattooga 50K as reported by Garmin 405

Here are the maps, which are much more accurate:

Chattooga 50K Profile

I loved the race.

The course was simply stunning. Sections of this trail are some of the most beautiful anywhere.

This was great training for me, both for heat training and for training in simply keeping it together to the finish. While I got frustrated, I never “lost it”, and only have myself to blame for getting lost as much as I did.

Interesting Chattooga 50K tidbits that made this race special for me:

Who’d a thunk a 50K would go that long?

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Comments

Hi, I am going to run this race in two weeks, my first ultramarathon (much less marathon) but this elevation is scaring me, can you e-mail me at alhockey001@aol.com with info on the course. Thanks, alex

Ah, there it is. Good for a second read & still illicited a hearty laugh… in the middle of class (I’m a high school history teacher.). I can’t imagine the thought of seeing my shorts floating away! That’s like the recurring nightmare people have. If it had to happen, the ultra crowd would be the most understanding. Much better than doing that on your lunch break & coming back to work, huh? :) Good stuff!

Thanks for the great race report! I just stumbled across your blog while searching for more information on the 2009 Chattooga run. I have already signed up and this will be my first 50k. Any logistical tips for getting to the start or staying on the trail without getting lost?

Thanks for the great blog. I have enjoyed the reading.

[...] For about four miles I suffered worse than I suffered since the Chattooga 50K. [...]

Wow, I might have been at this one if I hadn’t had scout camp. Really missed an epic run.

Congrats on the finish. Excellent write-up as usual.

Enjoyed your race report a lot, Christian. I like to follow the ultrarunners’ adventures, and I can even count myself among this wonderful group, though only just. Thanks for sharing both the hardships and the joys of your race. It just goes to show that there’s always good with the bad, but some humbling experiences with even the seemingly “easy” runs/hikes/walks. Good luck with your next ventures.

Excellent race report, made me snort out loud. It was a good thing that you wore the nuthuggers, huh? Now, that would have taken some explaining.

Mental note to self: Tell JB that maybe we should provide suspenders at next year’s SweetH20 creek crossing.

Thanks for sharing another adventure, Christian. You’re the epitome of perseverance.

Nuthuggers! hahaha….that made me laugh out loud (“LOL” as the kids would say)

Great race report…way to hang in there!

Great report – thanks for sharing as always!

– Greg

PS You are a really good photographer :)

Glad to report 3 more runners made it out of the woods soon after you left and just before dark with an 11:57 finish, including ‘Dad’ from Columbia and Mike from Greenville. Enjoyed meeting you, Christian. All the participants and volunteers were a pleasure and it was a great day despite the conditions. Thanks for starting a new fashion trend!
The other Mike from Greenville

Awesome effort, Christian! Way to tough it out. Enjoyed the report!

What a brutal race, hardest experience of my life! I dont think i tore up the trails, they tore up ME!!!! I got lost 4 times too!!!

Kate

Ok Victoria …I see some funny stories on your blog as well…

{wink}

Ben – lucky you with the camper. Happy go-lucky me trotted right on up to the falls.

nice falls, at least, but at the time – not so nice discovery

thanks for chiming in. Good job!

coach spencer – thanks

BTW, I enjoyed your post on “why we run trails”

Cheers!

The thought of the underwear finish had me laughing out loud! Great report. Sounds like brutal conditions.

Ben – dude, I don’t think it matters which races we do, we seem to be spennt regardless of hardest, longest, most difficult, etc…

crazy how that works.

Petra – you are absolutely right. Each race teaches me something new.

I’m the perpetual newbie.

Hee hee. That was a funny story…

I was a couple hours behind you and only had a couple minor diversions until the campground near the end. couldn’t find the trail for the life of me but a camper pointed us up the road to the parking area. If you haven’t done Jay before (I see it on your schedule) – I did it in 2005 and I thought that was the HARDEST thing I had ever done – and it took an hour longer yesterday than that. I did Twisted ankle last year – it was warm but dry and it pretty much whooped my butt too.

This report has it all – pleasure, pain and nuthuggers. It almost makes me want to take up ultras…

But seriously, well done for coming through that in piece and just short of your shorts… A hard race that hits you sideways with its obstacles has a lot to teach you!

Bedford!!!!!!!

LV’s a comin’

I can’t wait – hope your training is going well and again, great job at MMT.

Let’s hope I can get there at Superior.

Cheers brutha’

Jean – you don’t want to see me in skivvies, bro, but yea, I think someone got a photo at the finish.

…but I’ll NEVER post it.

looked like super short bike shorts – scary dude.

Christian,

Great report and it sounds like a great course. I laughed my ass off reading the report especially about literally losing your shorts. I can empathize with the frustration of getting lost on a course (I spent 30 minutes “lost” at LV last year). Good job on the tough finish.

Wow, Christian, what an epic run! Great report, too bad it’s missing pictures! ;-)

31,000 ft elevation that does not seem right at all indeed. Did you get this from the Garmin 405 or 205/305?

Jean.
Farther Faster

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