Lashed, Splashed and Crashed at Cheaha 50K

Dood.

For this trail jockey, the theme of the 2010 Mount Cheaha 50K was eating dirt.

Mount Cheaha 50K website logo

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.

Halfway home

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.”

No chance.

By the time I crested and looked down the trail, I could no longer see her – AND – I got passed by someone else.

“damn.”

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.

Cheaha 50K knee scrap

Bottles-flyin’, knees-skidin’, thorn-ripping falls that took a lot of the fight out of me during that technical stretch.

Thorns at Cheaha

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.

Relief.

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?

Blue Hell

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.

Step up.

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.

“Rats.”

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”.

Thanks to…

Ultrarunning is the best sport in the world.

…next to surfing.

Addendum: Blister Fun

Popping the Cheaha 50K toe blister

…or, watch the video:

Mount Cheaha 50K race results

2010 mt. cheaha 50K race results

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Comments

Oh i know how painful the cramps could be but then I would like to congratulate you still for finishing the line. Job well done!

Christian, someone sent me a link to your site. Great reading and very motivational. I am no where near ready for ultras yet, but I really love reading your blogs!!

PS – when I am feeling as though I am running too fast in the beginning, I have started to tell myself

“Hold, Hold” I keep repeating it… it has helped in 2 races…

Great, great race report. Sorry about the second half of the race, but we have all done it. At least you had a PR on the course.

On a MUCH lesser scale, I went out too hard in a road 1/2 marathon, and had to really shuffle to the end – I had blown my legs out… So, we have all done it. You have to learn from it.

Nice report as usual. And now I feel like I am not nearly banged up enough….I could be a lot faster if I’d be less careful….I never even wiped out Saturday…. so once again you’ve inspired me!

Nice report Christian – every time I read one of these it energizes me for my next race and reminds me why I’m so drawn to this sport! And I see you finished only 4 minutes behind the “Schickmeister” – great job!

Good job with pushing to the end. I find with each race I pick-up a nugget of experience to use for the next race. I’m hoping after enough of these, I will start to see a difference with my performance. Keep on pushing the limit – Wouldn’t want to live any other way.

Thanks for the advice Christian, I’ll check out those lists, and I’m definitely going to keep running ultras. I can barely push out of a chair still today on Monday and the busted big toe(thanks vibram fivefingers) from jumping rocks at mile 22 isn’t helping either, but already I feel the trails calling me back.

Thanks again,
Scott McAliley

@Nevels – thanks dood – but your time makes mine look like I walked.

5:30-ish right? Nice work dude. Liking your blog too. Glad to see more peeps writin’ up their stories.

Solid time, man. Great time on a great course with great people; who could as for more?

As always, I enjoyed your report (especially the gnarly blister pics… awesome), and I’m really looking forward to see what you have to say about Barkley…

-nevels

@Paige: Thanks Paige. I gotta try to keep’em short if I want people to read. {wink} especially, when I’ve run the race before and wrote before.

It will be fun to continue to review past reports as I grow in the sport.

Good stuff, dude, and this WAS indeed a freakin’ short report, wow! ;)

In my humble and slow opinion, that is a rockin’ fast time on a course that sounds like hell…and so does that blister!

Nicely done, Christian!

Hi Scott – wow – sorry to hear about the cramps.

Honestly, I believe it’s just a matter of continued participation in ultras, coupled with some quality recovery. There are so many things we don’t know about you, so it’s hard to offer much advice beyond that.

Good job on your finish and I suggest you join the ultrarunning@yahoo.com email list or the Dartmouth College Ultrarunning List email list – both of which are full of smart, experienced ultramarathoners.

Cheers!
Christian.

I enjoyed your post Christian, and I enjoyed the first 8 miles and the finish of the Cheaha 50k. The 23 miles in between were torment because of leg cramps that began immediately after aid station #2. This was my first Ultra. And my longest run before this was 17 miles. I’m trying to find some answers as to why I cramped up. I want to continue trail running long distances, but I never want to feel that pain again in my life. I found your page while searching for the 2010 results, and I’m hoping you or one of your readers may have some answers. I’m 39 and I’ve never cramped in my life. I just began trying to do some long distance running several months ago, and it was going really well. In prepping for this 50K, I ran 15 to 17 quite a few times, twice on the Pinhoti – no cramps. I drank tons of water, ate lots of bananas, and took a lot of supplements for the last week going into the race. I just did it for extra precaution. I actually wasn’t even worried about cramping. I was more concerned with oversleeping and missing the race more than anything else. What happened to me? In case anyone answers, here are a couple more facts. At the 8 mile point, I squatted down for about a minute, trying to find something in a supply pack that a friend brought to the aid station. Could that have triggered something? Also, I had begun getting some strange and severe pain on the insides of my shins during long practice runs, and I didn’t want to go into this 50K with that so I didn’t run at all for 3 weeks prior except for a 2 mile run one week before the race. Was that too long without training? I’m new to long distance and new to cramps, so any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks again for your posts. I enjoyed reading your 2009 Cheaha 50K post as well.

Scott (9:04 this year/would’ve been closer to 8:00 without the cramps/shooting for 7:30 next year)

Christian,
Awesome Dude!!! I even liked the last line about Surfin.
Keep Up, Be Great, RunninLikeCrazy,
Remember this line, I stole it, but I want you to have it for the Barkley. “I make DFFL look good”

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