“Rock”n The Mount Cheaha 50K

Mount Cheaha 50K number 15, Christian Griffith

And just when you thought I couldn’t possibly have yet another emotional, exciting, entertaining and euphoric running experience…

The girls That Made Me Faster

Influence is important.

You know the general theme of my race reports this year. I’m trying to be serious with my training. I want to be fast(er). I want to keep pushing myself until I either explode, or finally get to the point where I just might be a real contender in the Masters ranks.

One of the ways I plan to get there is to continue training with two athletes who have had a major influence on me, both in and out of running shoes.

Amy Massey and Laura Hill are a couple of my heroes.

They are fast, smart athletes, who train with the kind of intensity and smarts that makes people take notice. If you train in our “area”, you know who they are. Mature, grounded, strong, confident – they’re really in another league compared to me, and I’m extremely lucky that they have accepted me.

Have you ever had friends where you sorta feel like the the little, dumb dog that’s always jumping up to the cool, big dog, just trying to gain their acceptance ‘cuz you respect ‘em so much? That’s kinda what it’s like for me.

Sorta how I feel around Laura and Amy

So when they told me that they were considering doing the Mount Cheaha 50K as their first ultra, I was ecstatic.

For one, I’ve done the race four times now, serve as its webmaster, love the RD and consider it one of my all-time favorite races in the southeast. Finally, there was something that I could offer them …at least, in terms of course knowledge and trail experience; and as a trio, we did a lot of training together:

You don’t know what you don’t know, and with me having had zero real running experience or training, being well-known instead as the king of “winging it”, this was really the first time I ever had any training with this kind of regularity and intense focus. It just comes natural to them – I just followed along – and became a stronger athlete in the process.

Cheaha was playing out to be extra special this year because not only did I have new goals for myself, but I was also just as excited to see what the speedster girls could do in their first 50K.

Couple all that coolness with the expectation of chillin’ with my usual suspects, Crazy Asian, Weezly Weazel, and Mad Mexican, and by Friday afternoon I could no longer contain myself.

I was ready to RUN!

No Prison Bus for Me, or, Riding Shotgun with a Mexican

Every Cheaha 50K I’ve run, I’ve ridden the prison bus to the start. It’s got cages inside, cages on the windows, is completely devoid of any kind of shock absorption, and crawls up the mountains like someone is back there pushing it; but this year, I was running my yap in the lodge and it filled up before I got a chance to get outside.

Rats.

But at least I got to roll out next to Vic’tah and the rest of the crew. Something about that Mad Mexican calms me when I’m nervous, kinda like I expect him to have all the right answers since he’s an ex-marine and LAPD cop – Vic’tah, the tactical genius.

Sweet Home Alabama to Aid Station 1

As the Lynyrd Skynyrd song dropped, 200 runners hit the trail, headed off into the Alabama mountain wilderness, ready to tackle to the gnarly terrain along the Pinhoti trail.

Having raced every single weekend since January 16, I was starting to feel some obvious fatigue. I feel I sorta “peaked” running the 3:13 marathon in Birmingham and simply wasn’t really recovering as quickly as usual. Add in a disappointing 18:54 5K the next weekend (while chasing a sub-18:20), and it was becoming obvious that my body might be crying out for some rest.

But I don’t do that very well, and instead, I had a very simple strategy for Cheaha — go out relatively hard, hold it for long as I could, and then just deal with whatever happens.

I busted into the trails at ~8:30 pace expecting that to feel easy.

Right.

Just shows I’ve been running too much road, ‘cuz those 8:30s, that early, jacked my heart rate instantly. I wasn’t quite sure if it was nerves or what, but I wanted to keep the leaders in my eyesight as long as possible, but…

No chance.

That lasted 5 minutes. It’s comical when I think I can do some of the crap I think I can do when clearly I can’t even come close, but anyway…

The heart rate did settle, …for about 5 minutes, until I hear someone hammering behind me on one of the fast descents just before the first aid station.

“Damn, who is that coming so hard?” I thought to myself, but I didn’t want to look back. “Screw it, if they’re gonna pass, they can pass me when we get to the road.” And I did my best to fight off whoever it was.

Once we hit the road, dude passed. It was Marcus Farris, and boy did I feel stupid. Dude is a uber-fast twenty-something who ended up taking 4th place overall, just breaking 5 hours with a kick-ass 4:59. Super humble, nice kid who is seemingly getting faster each and every race. Keep your eye out for this up-n-coming speedy youngster.

No need to stop at aid station 1, so I tossed out a few greetings and “thank you’s”, and made my way up the choppy, divet-filled jeep road towards the next section of single-track trail.

Aid Station 2 – Before the Fall

Now we climb.

And climb.

And climb.

It’s not that it’s a ridiculous grade, and 90% of it is runnable if you’re into that sorta thing, but it does wake you up and let you know you’re trail running for reals now. And while this early section does have some challenge to it, it also rewards runners with lots of beautiful views early on, and interesting forest throughout.

I must suck at fast descents, because just as eventual female 1st place runner, and new female course record holder, Sarah Woerner picked me off, I busted face-first. Bottle flying, chest thumping, knees scraping… it knocked the wind right outta’ me and I just laid there for a split second trying to collect myself as three dudes passed on by.

“Good thing you got that over with now,” dude says as he jumped over my heaving, contorted carcass.

I eventually picked myself up, wiped the dirt off of my watch so I could stress myself out over the 13:00 minute pace that was now showing, and started shuffling, trying desperately to shake that fall off and find my groove again.

Aid Station 2 – After the Fall

Somewhere near the 7-ish (?) mile mark, the trail dumps us out to another gnarly jeep road that climbs for about a mile. I actually found this refreshing as I was still shaken from the fall and climbing slowly was just fine by me. This climb can be a race changer, even that early, because some overly ambitious runners can hit this jeep road and find the long climb too challenging to maintain pace.

It’s happened to me, but not this time. I ran the entire climb, at a decent clip, and had recovered pretty well just in time to hammer the long descent into aid station 2.

I felt surprisingly strong on this descent, clocking a few 6:15 and 6:20 paces, while staying in complete control.

I rushed through the aid station in 30 seconds, quickly filling my water bottle and swiping some peanut butter pretzels for the long stretch ahead.

“What a minute, is that Annette Bednosky?”

Aid Station 3 – The Climb

“Ok, no way.”

“There is no way I should ever be anywhere near Annette Bednosky in a trail race.” I thought to myself, “she must be hurt.”

I stayed back behind her for the long series of switch-back climbs, but as we got to the summit, I blurted out, “looking for your legs, speedy?”

In retrospect, it feels like it was probably a pretty stupid thing to say, but I meant it in terms of surprise to be seeing her here, and not up running a 4:30 pace with Dink and “Shatter”field, but being the gracious, humble lady she is, she entertained my stupid comment anyway and we chatted a bit before I finally, but with hesitation, went on ahead.

It just felt wrong passing her, but I knew it most likely was short-lived.

It was.

Aid Station 3 – The Crawl

I have a love/hate section with this ridge at the summit. Sure, it’s mostly flat (if not a little downhill), but it’s sneaky-rocky. By “sneaky-rocky”, I mean those loose rocks, hidden under leaves, that if they roll out from under you, can spell certain disaster.

This goes on for miles. Very skinny single-track trail that gets progressively rockier and rockier all the way to the aid station. In fact, the last two miles is so ridiculously rocky it borders on obscene – at least for any kind of faster running.

Seriously.

The race becomes a game of “granite roulette” – step on the right rock, and you’re golden, …but step on the wrong one, and it rolls underneath you, throwing your leg out to side as you hurriedly try to collect yourself before getting hurled down the steep embankment to your left – Oh, but wait! While you were being all slick-willy trail runner dude with your fine side-stepping, you “side-stepped” another “wrong” rock and now you’re just spinning like a cartoon character just waiting to kiss the earth with a giant wet one.

Ah, Pinhoti trail love.

Having taken at least five good spills in this 6-mile section, I rolled into aid station #3, the halfway point, feeling very beat up, and with Annette (now with Laura in tow) bearing down on me quickly.

Aid Station 4

Remember my strategy? Go out hard, hang on as long as I can, and then see what happens?

Between aid station 3 and 4, we officially entered, “what happens.”

I was already stressed out with Annette and Laura hot on my tail. Sure this was all expected, and I’m well aware of the fact that they are better runners than me, but the little competitor inside still wanted to fight them off. Because of this, I pushed a little harder than I should have and once again, face-planted, this time squarely in front of Annette.

“That was a nice one!” she yells a couple steps later.

I just felt embarrassed.

We leap-frogged each other for awhile through some sunny switch-backs before she finally dropped me for good around mile 17. I knew Laura was back there, and yea, I wanted to beat her, too, but I also couldn’t help but be excited for her as she was obviously having a great day in her first 50K.

I rolled into aid station 4, mile 18, and saw a familiar face in Kirsten Nash Jones from the DCRR. This was nice and she took good care of me filling my bottle quickly while I skarfed some pretzels and staggered around looking for any semblance of my legs.

Here comes Laura. In and out.

Passed me before I could blink.

If you know Laura, you know her pacing skill, and I started to wonder how many others she’d be soon clipping off, all wondering, like me, where in the Hell she came from.

Aid Station 5 – the Creek Crossing That Wasn’t

I really don’t have much to say about this section other than, yup, I fell again. I was in my typical 20-mile low point and feeling lonely. Even though having Annette and Laura breathing down my neck for a few miles was stressful, it was at least entertaining. Right now, I was just feeling slow, tired, shot-out, and over-ambitious …and all I could hear in my head was DC Lundell on my Facebook page: “Dude, I told you.”

I must of looked like a crazy person swatting at thin air and yelling, “shut up!”, “go away!”

Ok, I’m kidding about that, I wasn’t really playing cuckoo, but dude is always on me about resting and I never listen. Although I was still having fun, I started to think he might be right, and swore that once I got home, I was going to factor more rest into my routine.

A technical descent, followed by the famous creek crossing caps off this section of nice trail running, but it was pretty anti-climatic. The creek was low and instead of the usual waist-deep, rope-assisted experience, we just hopped a few rocks and carried on with our day.

Aid Station 6 – The Silent Trail that A’int

This is a really cool section of trail.

After leaving the aid station, where I think I broke the world record for the number of orange slices consumed in under 45 seconds, the trail turns technical and cruises along the rushing creek. The heat was kicking in pretty good by now, and I was loopy as Hell, so I headed straight for the water.

Full soak, baby. Shirt, shoes, total head-dunk.

I felt like a million bucks after that, but opted to continue to keep the pace slow in anticipation for the upcoming long dirt road, and paved section, where I had hoped to make up some ground.

I did.

I hit the dirt road and ran 8:30-ish pace all the way to the jagged pavement turn, and expecting water at that intersection, I totally drained my bottle during that uber-long, hot stretch.

No water.

But luckily, a really cool dude who had to drop at mile 18 was sitting there and offered me his bottle of water. It wasn’t a lot, but it would get me one more mile to the next aid station at mile 28.

I drained it instantly, and shuffled on down the road.

Aid Station 7 – Blue Hell

At the end of the race, when people asked me how I did, I seemed to have a shy demeanor about me when relaying my time, and this is why:

I pulled a total punk move.

…like a little baby; and I don’t feel like I deserved reaching any of my goals in this race because of this bad attitude and wimpy approach, and quite honestly, it totally colored my entire race in my own head.

When I reached the last aid station, and looked my watch, it read, 5:01.

I was totally shot-out, especially now after running the dirt road pretty hard, and I let the upcoming Blue Hell climb TOTALLY psych me out.

I gave up y’all. fo’ reals.

I grabbed 4 chocolate chip cookies, and just started walking to the trail head with two other dudes who also seemed thrashed out.

All other times I’ve run this race, Ive at least run along the water of the blue-blazed trail until the nasty climb started, but not today.

I just walked.

I walked all the way down the trail, and once the steep climb started, I just approached it, too, like a little dejected, pathetic weenie. I don’t even remember what I said to the dudes I was with, but something really lame like, “well, I have no chance of getting my goal so %^$#! it”

…and they climbed on past me.

I apologize, dudes, if my negativity was way outta’ place in such a beautiful place. I suck sometimes.

I struggled miserably up Blue Hell. A couple of times, I just crawled along the boulders near the top, and I could not have climbed that stretch any slower. Not only did I feel like total crap physically, but I was embarrassed that I’d have to admit defeat publicly, and while that’s shallow as can be, it’s still an emotion I was dealing with…

I pushed up and out of Blue Hell and my watch read 5:38.

“Hmmm… can I actually still break 6? …Really???”

I knew there were a couple of short pavement climbs, and one more trail climb, followed by the winding single-track to the finish, but man, I just might have a shot if I run my ass off right now.

So I did.

And, by the time I hit the final stretch of single-track that dumped us out to the finish, I had passed those two dudes back up, and looked at the watch…

5:44.

Holy crap, I was gonna break 6 hours after all! Hell yeah!!! And I ran like I was racing a road 5K.

Heard the loud speakers at the finish line, and knew I was close. As I came up the road, I heard my name being called and looked up at the race clock and felt total relief.

5:46:54 – a 22-minute personal best for me from 2010, and obtainment of my goal of a sub-6 hour Cheaha.

But, I just didn’t feel worthy.

Why the long face?

No long face, but I can’t shake the fact that I gave up early. I might have shaved a few minutes had I run that flat approach to Blue Hell, and scored a sub-5:45, which would have been closer to my dream goal.

It just really bothered me. Still does.

I have a really hard time completely accepting the congratulations from people when I know how I approached that final section. I wish it wasn’t so. I hope it doesn’t make me sound ungrateful or too sensitive or whatever, but these runs mean a lot to me and I pour a lot of myself into them, and punking out just sucks to carry around.

All’s Well that Ends Well

But then, here comes Laura sipping a Coke and she’s all smiles, and I was so happy for her. She broke top-20, and we actually finished 20th and 21st respectively, and that is just flat-out cool stuff. Her first 50K and she smacked it around like her little b*&^!.

Then, unexpectedly, here comes Sean O, about to break six hours as well, Amy soon after, and all of a sudden, I no longer worried so much about my disappointment …the race had become all about everyone else, and I liked it better that way.

I stayed there, sitting on the rocks, and cheered in all of my friends, and shoots even people I didn’t know. I remembered how much fun I had doing that at Ghost Town, so I did it again.

It’s like a little secret. You get to relive the joy of finishing over and over and over, even if vicariously through others, and it feels almost just as good.

What Did You Learn?

I learned that the more I do these events, the more I become emotionally attached to the sport, the people, the organizers, the vibe, the stoke, the lifestyle, the dirt, the pain, the beauty, and the life that is ultrarunning.

’til the next one…

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Comments

Fantastic race report! Just researching for this year’s race. It’ll be my first 50k. Thanks for all of your great Cheaha info!

I’ve said f$** it on blue hell as well Christain. don’t even worry about it

Christian,

Congrats on a great race. You definitely earned it.

A big thank you for this site and all the work you put into it. Found you when I was prepping for Cheaha and your detailed reports helped.

Really appreciated you being there at the end cheering us on. First class, man. It was my first attempt at anything close to this distance, cramp-monster got me, but I finished and had fun.

See you next year!
Dan

[...] came into this race tired and not fully recovered. Just like the Cheaha 50K last week and the 5K the weekend before, my performances, while respectable, were not “my [...]

Hi Christian,

Great report! Love the detail and the heart you put into your racing and your reporting. This is my first time on your blog (I was googling Ghost Town and found it, yeah!), although you probably don’t remember our e-mail conversation a couple of years ago when you were kind enough to give me some info on the Keys 100.

Glad to see you are racing well – and taking advice from women :) Looking forward to future posts!

Carilyn

Great report Christian. I have to admit your quest for running excellence has motivated me to train harder. Good luck at the Keys 100.

matt

Christian,

I just read your report about your latest race. I am always amazed by your ability to make a person “feel” the hills and heat of a hard race. I’m the one (maybe there are others) who comment constantly asking you to write a book. I have something to say that may seem strange but please, hear me out.

I used to dislike country music. Sounded “twangy” to me. Then I heard Garth Brooks sing a tune and I got hooked. Most of my friends told me that he wasn’t really “country” and they were right. But he did get me into the genre and THEN I discovered the greats.

This is the part where you may or may not get me. I read a book years ago by Dean Karnazes. And I got enthralled by long long distance running. It got me into the genre and THEN I found out about Horton and Jurig and you. Dean made me run long……but your race reports made me take my first step onto a trail. And I’ve never looked back.

Thanks Christian, for all you do and talk about and write about. You touch many more people than you could possibly know. You are a “GOD” in West Virginia. You didn’t know that, did ya? Run long and hard my friend.

I really enjoy your race reports. Thanks for making them available. That was a really good run. Who knows? That walk by the water may have actually saved you a few minutes on your finish time.

I really enjoy your reports, Christian….they are honest! You know I’ve been in the sport of running now for over 36 years and ultrarunning for over 20 of those years. It took me a long, long time to learn to pace properly….but when I was just racing blindly I did set some personal bests that I never matched….so sometimes it’s not all that bad to” go for it”. Sometimes an even pace is the chicken way out ;-)

Good luck with the rest of 2011 and may our paths cross on some trail somewhere…
Steve

Eyez on the Prize Christian. You can’t expect to race every weekend and hit all you’re goals. You might, at best, be able to cherry pick here and there for a while, but eventually you’ll: get injured or burn out… Trust me, I’ve seen them come and go in this sport. I know it’s tough to miss an event, it truly gets in your blood. I get it, been there done that!

However, I’ve come to realize, for me at least, it’s incredibly more satisfying to focus on a few goal races a year that I truly work hard for. Eyez on the Prize! At first it was hard to let go and to have to hear/read about other people’s adventures at an event I could have easily gone to (like Cheaha this year) but it really doesn’t bother me anymore. I know what big goals I have, and I know that if I race too frequently I won’t be as sharp come goal race day. Enough said.

Anyhow, congrats on another finish at another ultra.

Nicely done brutha. It’s one thing to punk out on yourself during a race, it’s a whole other thing to punk out and not own it. So, congrats on recognizing it, finding the radness and the stoke-tank refill station in cheering other (slower runners like myself) into their own finishes, and figuring out ways to maintain that positive vibe in the future.
The demons are out there, constantly trying to land on my shoulder, but i figure people already think i’m crazy for being a part of this sport, so i’d rather be crazy with a goofy grin on my face than crazy with a grimace, so i just do my best to fight off the little devils.
Keep up the good work man, and get some rest! As for me, my first 50miler is this weekend…so we’ll see if i can keep the demons at bay.

Another good report…thanks for writting this stuff. And thanks for being at the finish to pump this slow ass up!!! I did what you did this race although at a much slower pace!! ( went out “hard”..blew up at 16 mi..did the head flopping legs screaming drill for a few miles semi recovered then got legs torn off at Blue Hell I was happy to ba able to walk up it) then did a monty python funny walk up to the top of Alabama sign. This was followed by a shuffle into the woods!!

Congrats on another PR. :)

Christian,

You continually amaze me! You have nothing to be ashamed of but I will allow it because I believe you can never expect too much of yourself :) — especially you…

Congratulations and thanks for the inspirational RRs! Never a dull moment :)

Juli

I thought that you were the cool big dog to jump around, Christian.

You’ve got a lot to be proud of for breaking a sub-6 on this rugged crazy course on the hottest day of the year so far. I’m not going to tell you to stop beating yourself up, because I’ve been beating myself up for a couple of rookie mistakes unbecoming of my 11th ultramarathon and I sort of know how it feels.

Mount Cheaha 50K is my favorite race and I had a blast for the second year in a row, although I did have some low moments and some Jim Morrison-style mood swings in the process. Thanks for your work on the website and thanks to you, Sean, and Wayne (my brother from another mother) for cheering me in at the finish. I’ll remember that for a long time.

Reading this report gets me pumped up and makes me want to step up my game, whether it’s learning how to run a fast ultra or learning how to write a race report that says twice as much with 25% of the word count. Congrats on rocking Mount Cheaha 50K in a big way.

Christian,
Great Race Report!!! Congratulations on a great race!!!! You have the macho “Y” chromosome thing down pat. Now try and unlearn that to bring out your inner “X” chromosome and celebrate your health with those you love and leave the negative comments with your foot prints buried on the trail.
Love,
Christopher
(PS I’m inspired by all that you have done and hope to be able to train more myself soon)

Christian,
Stop beating yourself. If you hadn’t walked that little bit, you might not have broken 6 and been 31st instead of 21st.

Interesting report as usual from a wild but interesting kid.

It’s all relative; but one thing is certain: ultrarunners and ultrarunning are great!!!

Great job Christian! I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet you. I recognized you from pictures I’ve seen but I’m fairly shy meeting new people so I didn’t introduce myself.

I’m from IL and I have to say that I was completely blown away by what the south has to offer. Most of the runners around here head west for ultra’s, but I knew from reading posts on the list that trail running in the South was something special. Like you I was awed by the women that ran. First of all there were so many! At races around here I might see maybe one or two other girls my age but there were a lot there on Sat and they were fast too. Sometimes I think the women around here are afraid to push themselves, afraid it might hurt. I’m humbled and jealous.

Anyway, great race report and congrats again on going sub 6 on such a tough course!

- Sarah

Great read and thanks for cheating me in. My Blue Hell experience unfortunately was similar. See ya soon.

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