Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon Race Report

“It’s Only a Marathon”

Hear something enough times and you start to believe it yourself.

Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon logo sticker

For weeks, while my wife would try to plan our weekend around Saturday’s Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon, she would constantly refer to it as “just a marathon”.

Friends and co-workers, used to hearing my ultra stories and thus always expecting something unusual, also sorta’ shrugged this off as, “just a marathon?”, “that’s a training run for you.”

Next thing you know, as it got closer and closer to race date, I almost, for second, started thinking this way as well.

Maybe longer than a second.

Long enough for Karma, God, Jah, Buddha, or whomever to deliver a nice dose of reality on race day…

…Twisted Ankle is no joke; and far from “just a marathon”

The Trail Racing Social Club

Ok, there’s no “social club”, but the family of trail racers across the Southeast is pretty small, especially at marathon and ultramarathon distance; and with each new race, and each new event, I meet more new people and see many familiar faces.

This Twisted Ankle Trail race was no different. There were race directors from two of the most challenging 50K races I have ever done that were running this race; there was a GUTS member or two, and even some folks who travelled all the way from Boulder, Colorado to get in some burly, east coast trail action.

I continue to meet more and more people who may not have met me in person, but stumbled upon the blog to read my race reports. This is so cool. It’s a great way for me to meet and connect with trail runners, and the feedback I get from many of the runners always makes me feel extra special.

My writing is one of the ways for me to give back to the race community by sharing my stoke for the experience, a detailed description of the course for runners, friends and family, as well as a resource for race directors to point athletes who might be interested in running the race in the future.

So, let’s get to it!

What is Steep?

The Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon started as most trail races do: A little encouragement from the race director atop a picnic table, some jokes and sarcasm regarding difficult sections of the race, and a smattering of warnings and safety information to make ya think a little…

Then, “go”

The first part of the marathon meanders along a short .5 mile stretch of pavement, taking runners along a dam, and around the perimeter of a nice big lake. This is a sort of stretch-your-legs-out kind of beginning that allows front runners to bolt ahead, and everyone else to settle into a groove before…

…that hill.

You read it about it on Marathon Guide and it’s usually the first thing people like to discuss regarding this race. I am here to tell you that yes, it’s a bitch.

Here’s how the climb breaks down:

How steep?

To me, shockingly steep. I don’t understand how anyone NOT wearing trail shoes made it up some of those muddy sections. Many people were forced to use trees for support and as anchors to push up to the next section of trail.

I felt like I was doing one-legged squats.

It was a tough climb, but I loved it, and was very pleased to find the first aid station at the top of the climb chock full o’ PB & J sandwiches. Yum.

A Chance to Recover – Not!

For most people the short gravel jeep road section was a place to recover a little and shake out the hamstring tightness induced during the climb – but not for me.

I hate gravel. I wear a low profile, New Balance 800 trail shoe and my feet get hammered on gravel. Unfortunately, I began to suffer during this portion of the race – waaaay too early to begin suffering – and was keeping an eagle-eye out for the single-track trail.

The gravel section is pretty short, maybe a couple of miles, before you make a hard left back onto some beautiful single-track.

This section started out with some very nice rolling sections before taking a deep and steep descent to the bottom of the mountain. This was fun. As usual with technical, fast descents, I took off and really enjoyed jumping from rock to rock, sliding around, and working hard to prevent a gnarly fall or two.

This is the fun stuff.

This is also where we started seeing the front runners on their way back UP this descent – that’s when it occurred to me – Oh S%^&!, we gotta come back up this thing.

“Oh, well – I’ll deal with that later…” {wink}

I’m not sure who the front runner was, as he ended up winning the race, but Dwayne Satterfield was in second place, and it was cool slapping hands with him and watching him cruise up such steep terrain with what appeared to me to be effortless ease. Same smooth cadence all the time.

That descent lasts a good two miles, but it’s a fast pace, and at aid station two, I was feeling much better and chatting away, shouting-out to friends, and joking with aid station volunteers.

But, I couldn’t avoid it. Time to climb back up from which I came. …damn.

Ridge Running

After aid station three, we entered what I believe to be the most beautiful, surreal portion of the trail. In my opinion, this is true trail running.

More $%#@! Gravel

Ok, so you can tell I don’t like gravel. This shouldn’t deter you from the race however because many people like sections like this and can open up on them – I am just not one of ‘em.

We hit this long gravel section, that feels like it goes on forever, but really only about a mile and half, which is fully exposed to the heat and the afternoon sun. I had been running about 3 hours and 15 minutes when I hit this gravel, just in time for the 12:00 noon sun to bake my body and brain.

Ok, I’ll tell the truth – I hated this section – and although the watermelon at the turn-around aid station was refreshing, I wanted food – and I was grumpy that I had to turn around and do the gravel portion again.

Oh, and a significant portion of this gravel section is a very, very steep climb.

Limited food, strong sun, 80 degree heat, long gravel road, uphill climb – I really started to suffer at this point.

Saved by the Single-Track

What can I say? I dig me some single track.

The minute I got to the top of the gravel hill and hit the single-track, I came back alive.

I started to pass a few people at this point as I was feeling really good. It was now almost 20 miles into the run and I was pepping up. Finally!

I really enjoyed running back through this better part of the trail. I motored up the hills, continued to pass people and ran hard on what little downhill was presented to me. My feet were destroyed from the gravel, but for the most part, my legs and hips were still strong, and this made for a very nice run along the ridge as I started to think about the finish.

A Downhill Finish – or Is It?

Oh what a glorious race director. I both cursed her and praised her throughout this entire race, but definitely loved her after the last aid station, with only 3.5 miles to go and 1.5 of that was fast, technical downhill.

Yea, it beat me up.

Yea, my feet and quads were screaming.

Yea, I fell.

But, I knew the bottom was near, and I couldn’t wait to finish this beast.

Then, I got to the bottom.

A sign read, “Less than two miles to go”.

Hell yea – let’s go – and I did my best to pick it up.

There’s a small section where you run through an area with lots of people camping – they were aware of the race and offering encouragement. This is nice. Especially since I ran 80% of this race completely alone.

Crossing the Finish with a Little Finesse

The race director isn’t gonna make the finish easy though – nope – she wants you to hear the finish excitement for about 2 miles before you actually get there.

This is some of that mental torture that trail race directors seem to enjoy. (but so do we obviously)

A trip back around the same lake, and the dam which we ran around in the beginning, plus a little road section and another damn gravel climb, albiet short, and there’s the bridge – one of the coolest finishes of any trail race I have ever done.

You step onto the bridge which stretches all the way across this large lake, and halfway along the bridge there is a woman with a microphone who calls out your name, and everyone at the other side begins cheering for you. I had to get my man on and bust out a little attempt at a sprinting finish.

It felt great. 5:45:42 – which is right where I wanted to be.

The Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon is NOT just a marathon. Besides being much more difficult than any road marathon could be, the race runs more like a 50K. …A challenging 50K at that.

You like it tough? Come run the 2009 race. I know I’ll be there.

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Comments

Great read Thanks.

Oak Mountain is very runnable and lots of single-track …it’s similar but not a lot.

I just ran this one but only the half. How does this terrain compare to Oak Mountain? I’m thinking of the Oak Mountain Mud Run Half in a couple of week.

Oh how I wish I’d found your blog BEFORE I ran the TA today!!! My running partner and I are on our long drive back to Raleigh after TA kicked our butts (2 hours + slower than previous marathons). I’ll be checking you blog Christian, before I sign up for another trail marathon. This race is SO different than a regular marathon they can’t even be considered the same sport! I think in a few days I’ll be able to say I enjoyed it… :-)

Thanks for the informative report. TA 09 will be my first trail marathon and until reading this I thought that my training was sufficient, now I am not so sure. O well, I’ll just have to rely more on enthusiasm than physical ability.

Christian -

Great, great race report. I came across this AFTER i signed up for TA 2009. This will be my 7th marathon (or so), but my 1st trail marathon. This might just get intersting….

I’m a running IDIOT, so I am absolutely pumped about this race. The sicker, the better!!

Hope to shake your hand at TA.

Chris

Christian – great blow by blow. I did the race in 06 and in all the same ways, it was every bit as difficult for me as for you – one of the toughest runs Ive done, including several 50K’s and even a 100 miler. Havent had the guts to go back… Maybe in 09. Stay strong brother. MK

I was wondering when you’d lose the run50miles tag. :)

Nice work on the website.

Christian, TA is a hoot, ain’t it? Thanks for your high-fives along the course. I read your kind words on the Rogue Runner site, and wanted to thank you. Truth be known, YOU inspire me more than you could ever realize.

I thoroughly enjoyed all 7:10+ HOURS (a whole 2 hrs. longer than my worst marathon time) on that awesome course, and I now realize my purpose in races… when folks pass me, they can think, “Whew! At least I won’t be out here as long as HER!”… and they feel refreshingly invigorated.

Life is short, so I thank God for allowing me the gift of spending that day running through His creation with a buddy (with whom I shared imaginary pizza & smoothies), past rarely seen wildflowers (including those tall grasses where the people of Liliput hid & shot miniature arrows at our ankles)– and just hanging around awesome athletes like you.

Thanks for sharing another great report, even though everyone’s going to read it, and TA will fill up even faster next year. “Lord willing & the crick don’t rise”, I plan to be there… maybe even “shave” my time to 7 hours! ;o)

Good report! I wanted to do this one but went to the beach with the family instead.

Thanks for writing it up. Good info for next year. I don’t like gravel either.

hahahahahahaha

I can definitely see why those runners switched from full to half after becky’s bluff, although that was the most difficult section of the whole race, so maybe they were a little hasty…

Reminds me of a quote I stumbled upon once when learning about ultrarunning:

“NEVER make a race decision on an uphill”

…it’s good advice.

Very cool report about the twisted ankle I really enjoyed it! You were spot on. I did the half (1st trail run) but the 3 people I was with did the full and on our long ride home they commented on everything you wrote about the run, especially the #@!#& gravel roads! Also talked to a few runners at the finish who had signed up for the full but after Becky’s Bluff opted for the half instead.

Aron

Hi Christian,

I’m the woman with the microphone ;-) This is a really great race report – I remember your finish, and congratulations again! I’ve done this “just a marathon” too, so I know how you feel. Off to bookmark your blog – looking forward to reading more!

Jenn

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DeWayne:

puhlease …you hit those trails in a manner I could only aspire for, but …I’m a’spirin’ anyway.

Thanks for checking in and checking out the report.

You ran a sick race my friend – I just don’t understand that level of ability.

Much respect.

If you happen to come back, let me know what’s next fo ya…

dirk:

you mean, the screaming hams and crying quads.

{grins}

thanks for reading.

Christian,

Great report as usual. You looked strong on the single track. It amazes me how the “marathon” kicks my butt every year. I love it. Keep on brother…

great report. felt like I was running, even the crying hams and screaming quads.

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