Lucky Day at the Mount Cheaha 50K

Blood, mud, crud, and a 44 year old trail running stud

Dink Taylor wins the Mount Cheaha 50K with Dwayne Satterfield right behind and Gaw’ga boy Mike Cosentino bringing home third.

I can’t believe I almost skipped the Mount Cheaha 50K race this year.

Having registered and committed to a local half-marathon trail race with a friend, I just couldn’t get that whispering monkey off my back… “you’re lame – you’re gonna’ miss one of the best southeastern ultra races around, and all for a big-name-sponsor, easy and local short race.”

Then, came a little cyber-taunting by the race director – ouch…

But, the icing on the cake was a comment from one of my GUTS running idols simply stating, “I can’t believe you’re having a hard time making a decision….it’s a no brainer!”

That’s it, I’m running Cheaha.

{yes, peer pressure is that effective on me}

The setup

“but, it’s an ultra”

- Todd Henderson, Race Director, talking about the rain during Friday night’s race briefing

I thought a lot about those four words throughout this year’s 50K race.

It did nothing but rain for two solid days. No breaks. Straight-up, downpour, all day and night. I drove out of Atlanta in the rain, throughout the state of Georgia in the rain, entered Alabama in rain …and slept through an entire night of solid rain.

Woke up to rain.

In fact, not having any rain gear at all, I stopped at the local convenience store and bought a roll of duct tape and a box of garbage bags to build custom rain gear while I rode on the bus to the starting line.

I was preparing for a fight with mother nature.

But, as it turns out, the buses were delayed getting up the mountain to take the runners to the start, and this was going to cause the race to start a few hours late.

This was a good thing because just like that, once we got ready to start the race, the rain stopped.

And the runners took off.

Humility is not my strong suit

Sure enough, I started out too fast.

The first part of the race is heavenly. Pine covered, sorta-rocky-but-still-fast trail that rolls up and down before a steep and fast descent into the first aid station. This is a really nice section because it’s so runnable at time when you’re feeling fresh and strong.

I was happy to finally be running, and enjoying some conversation with John Dove about my upcoming Cascade Crest 100 miler. But, then I realized I was talking to John Dove!!! …what in the h@#$ was I doing anywhere near the pack where John Dove was running.

Then, Sally passed me.

“oh man, I’m an idiot.”

Yup.

At the first aid station I showed up hot, nauseated, sweating like crazy and feeling like I just ran a fast 5K for time.

It would take me twelve miles to recover from that mistake.

Frustrated on the Pinhoti

The first few climbs on the Pinhoti trail are challenging and beautiful. The pine straw beneath your feet, gorgeous panoramic mountain views, and unique, mossy rocks, make this section really nice.

I was happy to be on the trail, but I was still feeling the effects of my early mistakes.

You know the feeling.

People are passing you. You just can’t find the fight. Your legs feel heavy and non-responsive. Climbs feel harder than they should …and {grrr}, now somebody else passes.

“On your left!”

You wanna check’em. Not because your evil, but because your grumpy and frustrated you can’t pull it together.

In a race, anything less than feeling great is aggravating because you just don’t know to what degree these feelings might continue to deteriorate.

But, “it’s an ultra”.

I dropped way back.

Like Matt Carpenter

Ok, maybe not, but after that first Pinhoti trail section, runners descend the mountain down a long, hard-packed (and sloppy) dirt jeep road to the second aid station.

It felt good to glide downhill, so I just kicked in the gear with a slight ankle lean, and let gravity do her job all the way to the bottom of the mountain.

I felt like I was running very fast, and hoped to make up some time; but I knew recovery was still going to be a challenge with the next section starting with that brutal, switch-back climb.

Alone in the wilderness

For the next seven miles, I ran alone.

After the climb, I was pretty much passed by all the front and mid-pack runners, and was probably leading the back of the pack, which meant – alone.

The trail between miles 10 and 28 are some of the most runnable, sexy trail anywhere.

I settled into a smooth cantor and enjoyed the silence of the trails and sorta enjoyed not having a chatty-cathy around …or to be being one. It gave me a chance to really enjoy nature and soak up the beauty of the mountain trails.

It gets challenging near the third station with lots of nasty, loose rocks, but you’re happy to get there because it means you’re halfway home.

Trail conditions that only an ultrarunner could love

The conditions were quintessential “ultra”.

Many of the steep hills turned into mini-rivers from all the rain. We ran up and down full-on, rain-made tributaries. Throughout the race, I couldn’t help but wonder how sensitive-feet people were dealing with these wet conditions.

Last year, we crossed maybe 4 or 5 creeks where my feet might have gotten a little wet.

This year, every significant creek was thigh deep, with many of these new, “just-popped-up” creeks weighing in at ankle-to-shin deep as well.

My feet stayed wet the whole race.

Lotsa jumping, avoiding, side-stepping, and rock-hopping, which was funny because it never worked and you still found yourself sock-deep in some kind of slop.

But, “it’s an ultra”.

By the time I rolled into the third aid station, and half-way point, I was starting to bounce back.

Keeping that dude in your sights

And then it started.

I started seeing people ahead of me and wanting to the reel them in. I wanted to take back some of that ground I lost early on in the race, and this, and the next, sections are good places to do that. Some people were starting to slow and fatigue, and I took advantage of my early slow period to push a little harder at this stage.

I think I passed anywhere from 20-40 people in that little crawl from the back of the pack to mid pack.

The trail through aid station #4, up to aid station #5, is a lot of fun, rolling ridge running that is exactly the type of terrain I think about when I think “trail running” – rugged, but runnable, cambered trail that requires concentration but allows for a little speed.

And just like that, I arrived at the famous river crossing that rushes so hard, it requires rope assistance.

Cool.

After a struggle through the rapids, bashing my shin on a rock and cutting my arm on another, I stepped up on the other side and rolled into the aid station a bloody mess.

My shin, my arm and my hand were all bleeding, and the water made it look even worse.

But, “it’s an ultra”.

I declined medical assistance, and started grabbing chips and soda and cookies for the trip to the last aid station, mile 28, and the start of Blue Hell.

Staying in stealth mode

I rushed out of aid station #5, at 22 miles, still hungry for standings improvement and chasing my Cheaha race course personal best.

I met Eric and Matt from Athens, Alabama by falling flat on my face on some gnarly technical trail.

“what’s up guys? Congrats on your first ultra.”

I continued on past the Athens boys and reeled in a few others until I came upon Jeff Bryan.

Jeff saved me as I was now ready for social time. I was coming unglued a little, and he’s a comical guy that kept my mind off of the fatigue of pushing hard during the second half of the race.

At about mile 25, we hit a dirt road section that looks, and feels, very long. That section is followed by a road made of some jagged and uneven concrete, that beats your tired legs to death.

But, “it’s an ultra”.

We rolled into the last aid station, grabbed some Coke and Little Debbie Oatmeal things, and began the ascent to Blue Hell.

Yes, it’s harder than waterline

Blue Hell is harder than Mountain Mist’s waterline. Let’s just settle that right now.

It goes on forever, it’s steep, and it’s relentless.

We passed two guys, puking their guts out halfway up the climb. We later heard of other lunch-losers along that rocky climb during various times in the race.

I wonder how many people hurled up Blue Hell, after all?

I easily could have. That %$#@^ is hard.

But, “it’s an ultra”.

So Jeff and I, silently, ate that mountain one small step at a time.

Happy to get that handshake

One of the things that I like most about finishing the Cheaha 50K race is shaking the race director’s hand at the finish line.

I just think that’s the classiest thing an RD can do.

6:48

Thirty-two minutes faster than last year’s race, and quite well considering how awful my first fifteen miles went coupled with the challenging conditions. I believe I squeaked into the top 30%, but won’t know for sure until the results are posted.

It just goes to show you that you should never give up. Things can, and most likely will, get better if you just suffer through it and amend your run strategy accordingly.

Thank you’s a-plenty

The volunteers were exceptional. “Thank you all!”

The race was very well organized from the pre-race meal (with those killer meatballs), to well-stocked aid stations, to the post-race chicken soup and everything in between.

Don’t ever make the mistake of skipping the Mount Cheaha 50K.

You’ll regret it.

p.s.

Todd, please share with your Dad that I’m stoked that he’s running and progressing so well. I expect to see him next year on the starting line.

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Comments

I am facing my first 50k in 4 weeks. Never even ran a marathon before. Why bother? An Ultra is BETTER! LOVED this fantastic race report! Really inspiring, entertaining, and enlightening at the same time. NOTE: People are STILL reading this even more years later (re: one comment back in ’11)! Thanks!

Steven

Fantastic report! Great race! I know I’m reading this years later, but I’ve been contemplating doing Cheaha for a few months now and this entry certainly is great encouragement. I’d love to know what kind of long training runs you put in leading up to the race.

I love your writing. I feel like I just ran it. I can’t believe how fresh my legs feel.

[...] the thing about Oak Mountain. It might not have the serious climbs of Mountain Mist or Mount Cheaha, but it does have a lot of these “seemingly” easy climbs. I feel I have a very unique [...]

nice job of kicking butt. sounds like you’re in good early season shape.

Congratulations on your Cheaha PR, Christian! No easy feat in those conditions, I’m sure — making it all the sweeter!

I was thinking about you and Tony while I ran in that piddly-liddle “easy and local short raceā€¯ that you had originally entered. (Are you talking about the one at Fort Yargo?)

Well, the next day I sat down to read your report & rest my pitifully aching legs. Gosh, your report sure did serve me a big piece of humble pie!

Another good one! My favorite line: “Then, Sally passed me.” Going out too fast for sure. :) Way to man up and overcome the tough start! I did the Yargo race but next year, Cheaha.

Great report, as always. Fun times had by all. I think Jeff ran with everyone out there at one point or another….didn’t I see him towing the line between Dink and DeWayne at the start. :)

Glad you came out to run!!

Great report man as always. Congrats on a great run! 6:48 is killer… I ran that course the 1st year the race was held in much similar conditions in 6:47:42 and considering the conditions I thought I had a very strong day. Isn’t that a fun course? I love the fact you’ve cataloged all your races in great detail from day one. It’s fun watching your improvements and your love of the sport.

Anyways, the Run Across Georgia is very intriguing… I certainly am not a multi-day long distance kinda guy, but I certainly hope I can find someone I can crew. Southern Georgia is a great place to hold a race like that, I’m glad someone has taken up the challenge of putting on such an event.

Comical guy? Some of that was serious! :) It was a pleasure to finally meet you and to run with you. The pleasant company reduced Blue Hell to Blue Purgatory. We weren’t going great but at least we weren’t the ones worshipping the gods on that hill. You did us proud by getting your sub 7 and it was great to play a small cameo roll in your adventure. Too bad we couldn’t stop at that last aid station and enjoy the “scenery” a little longer. Body shots anyone?

Great report again this year, Christian. Good to meet you out there between miles 22 and 23. Nice strong finish. Matt and I made it! Hopefully I’ll see you there next year.

Great report! I am so bummed that I had to skip it! Sounds like it would have been way harder than last year. Great job on shaving that much time in nasty weather.

Christian, great report. You described it well. As I was running out there, I kept asking myself what all the poor folks were doing for fun (you know, the couch taters)

Mike

Wow! That’s awesome. Great time improvement (for an ultra :) !
Glad you enjoyed the rain. It was really coming down.

Nice work C-$. Really impressed with your YOY improvement. Sounds like a good time was had by all.

Rockman

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