Oak Mountain 50K+ Race Report

Simply tons of fun

For this trail fanatic, “Tons of fun” is the best way to describe the Oak Mountain 50K race course.

Varying terrain throughout with challenging ups-n-downs, rocky trail sections, periodic crushed-gravel-speedy-sections, thin single-track, nice views, interesting rock croppings, and trippy trees — all the things that excite devoted trail runners.

Although it may not have been in my best interest to run this race after completing 52 miles just last weekend, I did it anyway, and had a great time, with some great runners.

Getting right to it

The first section of the Oak Mountain 50K, to me, was the most challenging. There were a lot of ups-n-downs, in rapid succession, which makes it difficult to get into a running rhythm; furthermore, you’re fresh, which makes running the hills attractive and “seemingly” easy.

That’s 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 appreciation of this relentless concept having run the the Superior Sawtooth 100, and getting my butt kicked by a similar “relentless hill” phenomenon.

See, here’s the deal: when there are definitive, steep climbs in a race, 99% of the field is going to power-hike these beasts at some point. While they might be difficult climbs, runners do get the opportunity to recover a little during these power hikes, and in the case of the other two Alabama races mentioned above, are usually presented with a lot of runnable ridges where a running rhythm can be set for a significant number of miles.

But through much of Oak Mountain, you are presented with hill climbs that make you say to yourself, “ahhh, that’s not so bad, I’ll just shimmy on up this one.”

Then another one.

Then another.

Then another.

Next thing you know, you’re running a lot of little hills, and they are slowly chipping away at you, making the energy expenditure add up to big hills. …a sort of trick-er-ation.

Because I’m stupid

Up, down, around a lake, and I’m feeling fantastic!

Running everything, chatting to people, scurrying up hills…

Hit the first water spot, then climb a hill, run down, dip into a moist, humid gorge, cross a crazy, rickety swinging bridge, and…

…and oh, NO!

Chafe.

“already??!!”

Dammit. I’ll never ever learn.

Packing for the race the night before, I had run out of compression-type shorts to wear underneath my Race Ready shorts, and just figured, “ah, no worries, I’ll be fine.”

So stupid.

And, to make matters worse, when I ordered my Race Ready shorts, I ordered medium length, thinking they would be, well, medium length.

Evidently, Race Ready and I have much different views regarding “medium length”.

…much to the heckling enjoyment of my friends, I might add.

I’m showin’ so much leg in these things, that when I returned home from the race, my step-fella’s sleep-over friend asked me why I was wearing my boxers… {sigh}

So anyway, I started chafing 4 miles into the race, so you can imagine how the remaining 30 miles felt down there. One thing about chafe – once it starts, it never, ever leaves your mind the entire event.

You can shift your shorts around, run with a wider gait, bob and weave around with your hips, but you aren’t escaping it.

Period.

Seven miles of a slice of trail heaven

I loved the section after the first aid station. After a significant climb, and meeting “Summer”, a buff female runner with all kinds of torque who passed me like I was standing still, we were presented with some really nice trail running. Gorgeous, rocky single-track, all really easily runnable and just too damn pleasant.

I was hurting a little with the chafe, plus of course, I went out too fast, and started to fall a couple of spots in the pack; but, I knew “this too shall pass” and simply charged right on through the low point.

As we neared aid station #2, about 14 miles into the race, I missed a sharp left in the rocks during the Peavine Falls approach descent, and started running across a bridge and up a hill, before I realized no one else was around.

Doh.

But, a more coherent female, who, by the way nipped at my heels all freakin’ day, pointed me in the right direction, and I was back on track.

The only really tough climb is here at Peavine Falls, where runners actually climb straight-up, parallel to the waterfall, using hand-over-hand techniques, random branches, creative footing, and any other strategy in a hill climbing repertoire.

Rolling into aid station #2, I had a grin a mile wide.

Running through the sky

After the second aid station, the course runs along a nice creek before beginning a long, gradual climb to the highest point in Oak Mountain State Park.

Running around up here was my kind of running – very technical, short, steep ups and downs, loose rocks, …you know, …all kinds of potential danger. I really love it gnarly like that.

Sometimes, I think I actually growl out loud on sections like this.

I definitely cuss.

After running a mile or so, maybe more, on the mountain top, runners are rewarded with a blistering, technical descent, where I got smoked by some shirtless kid who came outta’ nowhere.

I must’a been slow on the rocks above, because he literally came out of thin air, blew by, and was gone just as quickly.

Chatting with mountain bikers

After aid station three, about 21 miles into the race, we began a very long, gradual five or six mile ascent, back to the Peavine Falls aid station.

The first few miles travel up a wide and rocky mountain-bike trail with lots of creek crossings. As I scooted up this section, I came across many mountain bikers struggling to get up the hill. They were either geared too high, and working too hard, or they were geared too low and peddling like cartoon characters.

Whatever though, they were all really nice and supportive, and very curious about the race. Some were particularly chatty …where I was not.

This is where I met Alan. Alan has a nice family, but I digress…

Just before getting off this bike trail, and ascending a gorgeous section of the Green Trail, I looked behind me and there she was… that girl that steered me correctly at Peavine falls, nipped my heels coming into aid station three, and really pretty much stayed right behind me the whole race.

It stressed me out, so I pretty much ran hard the whole way back to Peavine, to the last station, hoping to shake her. {hey – it’s ok to be a little competitive}

It’s all gravy from here

It sure was.

I came alive here, but that’s typical for me since that’s “how I do”.

I go out too fast, then I struggle, complain, make excuses, and doubt myself all through the middle of the race, and then wake up, like an excited kid on Christmas, towards the end.

The last 6.x miles of the race is fast and furious. It’s primarily downhill the entire way. I didn’t believe it when I heard it, but it’s 100% true.

I flung my body down the hill and let gravity do all the work.

Smelling the burgers

This is a great way to end a race. Lots of downhill and flat-ish running, knowing you are getting closer and closer to Miller Time, and savoring that mental and physical state of anticipation at being close to the finish, while managing some hard running, with a fatigued and battered body.

I swear I smelled the burgers before I saw or heard the finish line.

The trails were winding all over the place, sorta making you feel like you weren’t getting anywhere, and thus adding to the finish anticipation that much more.

But coming around one last corner, I could see the road and the pavilion and the race clock (6:34) and the cones, and I got that feeling that I hope every race finisher felt – complete satisfaction.

It wasn’t my speediest time, but man, I had a blast!

Notes and noticeables

The Oak Mountain 50K is a great race on some incredible trails.

I really had a great time at this race. I had so much fun running these trails – even chafed – and I’d love to come out to Oak Mountain again, race or otherwise, and play some more on those beautiful trail sections.

Especially the Green Trail.

Below are some of the things that made this race special:

I’m sure I forgot some things, and you’re probably sick of reading by now anyway; but, this is a race not to be missed.

If you don’t run ultras, this right here is one good reason to start.

It doesn’t get much better, or more pleasant than running Oak Mountain.

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The race is rumored to be 33 miles instead of the typical 50K distance of 31 miles, but I didn’t wear a Garmin. If anyone knows the actual distance, please email me.

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Comments

Why cheap mugs for finishers. A simple medal will do.

[...] the first aid station, there is a boatload of downhill. Similar to the last six miles of Oak Mountain, but at Chattooga, you gotta come back up after ripping al that [...]

Dude,

I’m Allan….the guy you passed coming out of the North Trailhead toward Peavine falls at mile 21-22 or so. What ‘s up? Found your blog and was entertained. You’ve got a knack for writing. On to business…

How do you train for these races? I ran it in just over 7 hours (which is 10 minutes SLOWER than last year) even though I bumped up my road miles culminating with 3 marathons in a month. I HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO RUN SINCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am still sore. I will finally get out tomorrow for a few miles and see how it goes. I do trail run every Tuesday for at least 11 miles, but this still kicked my ass! I think I started too fast (as usual). Any tips or tricks? What’s your weekly mileage? How much of it is trails? I want to do better next year and maybe even try the Pine Mountain 40 miler. Any info would be nice. Thanks for your time! And thanks for talking to me on the road

It was nice to meet you too! I thought the shorts were okay! Maybe they were medium to normal height humans! One hell of a good time. See you next year.

Fun to read, as always. Had to laugh at the shorts (sorry).

Crowder’s Mountain? It’s not on any of my calendars. Didn’t know about it. Hmmm . . . my sister-in-law lives in Charlotte . . . Hmmmm . . .

@everyone – Thanks for the kind words.

@Sonia – I fixed your name in the blog.

@Keith – I used your name as opposed to “the big dude that talked CrossFit with me”

@David – dude, great pics. I wish I took the time to shoot photos along the course.

Hope to see lots of people at Crowder’s Mountain!

Great to meet you last weekend….I had some vaseline and glide at the North Trail Head aid station…I wish you’d seen it and maybe slowed down the chaffing…ouch!
I’ve got several pictures of you I’ll get out soon!
Sonia aka Sonya

Christian,

I came across your blog/website the other day while I was looking for a way to convince myself I should run instead of constantly trying to make time for cycling. I must say I am a convert. Since my wife and I had three babies arrive, at once, the only kind of exercise I get in is a run, it is really difficult to ride with three babies in tow. My solution was to buy a jogging stroller, triple wide, and start running again. I just wanted to say thanks for giving me a reason to put my training to good use. My babies get extra long naps these days, in a stroller, and my wife gets a break. I get to look forward to running a 50K in 12+ weeks.

By the way I don’t know the full distance at Oak Mountain, but I have ridden that mountain so many times I can do it in my sleep. Once upon a time I hiked Most of the trails in the park in one day, but that is a different story. Great view from Shackelford point.

Thanks for the great adventure,

David Chandler

Another great report! Good to see you in the morning and if you weren’t so fast, I’d have seen you at the end. My group was making the same wrong turn at the falls. I went over the bridge and came back thinking, nope, that’s not it.

As for the chafe, I saw body-glide at the aid stations. That might’ve helped. But, dude, make a list. And check it every time. I do not like chafing.

But I agree with your thoughts on the hills. Deceiving, they are.

Okay, now, what’s up *next* weekend?

Nice report, you freak. (Didn’t Pop ever tell you that bad knees run in the family? I’ll be speaking to the gods to request preservation of yours, since you use them so well.) The chafe brings a laufe.

Hey, Just wanted to say awesome run. Oak Mountain is
not easy.

Charlie T

What an awesome report! How do you manage to write so comprehensively after running 33 miles? You amaze me!!!And, it is so easy to get lost in the vast beauty of Oak Mt. I love it there!

I agree. I ran Oak Mountain as my first 50k. Couldn’t have picked a better one to start my ultra career

Great report… love the photo up top with the beer glass.

Congrats on another great finish! Sorry to hear your new shorts rubbed you the wrong way.

Hey, Christian, at the last aid station I spoke with the RD’s dad and a very knowledgeable volunteer. He said that by using topology maps that he has it marked at 32.45. He said, jokingly or not, that the RD keeps the official distance a secret.

It was nice to meet you yesterday and talk about Cross-fit and your other races. I definitely have some of your races on my to-do calendar now and I will look more into some CF competitions. Have a great season and I will see you around sometime this year.

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