|Nice swag, tech hat, tech shirt and finisher´s medal.|
Don't misunderstand my comments here, please. While this race was tough on account of its technical terrain with lots and lots of climbing, it also provided some of the most beautiful single track trails and vistas in the Southeast.
The first challenge began before I had even left my house on race morning. Even though I lived more than 2 hours away from the race start, I decided to drive up the morning of the race rather than stay at a hotel to save some money. I knew I had to be at the race start by 7AM at the latest in order to pick up my race packet, so I set my alarm for 4AM, giving myself an hour to get ready before leaving the house. Incidentally, I woke up at 3:45AM. I almost decided to turn around to go back to sleep when it dawned on me...Crap! Crap! Crap! I turned to my wife who was dead asleep as any normal human being would be at 3:45AM. "Honey? Is Chattanooga on EST or CST time?" "EST" she responded half asleep and not happy with me right now. "S___, f___, d___" (edited to protect innocent ears, but feel free to enter expletives of your choice in English or German). That's just great, so much for a relaxed start to an early morning that was going to be anything but to be gin with.
Pack your racing stuff (yes, I am that much of a procrastinator when it comes to packing), take a shower, have a coffee, get dressed, TCB. 10 minutes later, I was on the road to minimize the amount of time I needed to make up on my drive.
2 hours later, I arrived at Signal Mountain Middle High School, the venue for the 2012 StumpJump 50K. I had made this trip alone, but I expected to see many familiar faces from Huntsville and the surrounding areas. While I still missed quite a few of them both before and after the race, I did manage to meet up with Cary "Bartman" Long (once again, edited to protect you know who, the innocent. Cary, your actual nickname rhymes with Bartman, let's just leave it at that). Christy Scott, and Megan Nobriga has also arrived already and Christy's husband Tony was nice enough take a quick pic of all of us just before the race got underway.
There must have been a total of 800 runners lining up for the 11 mile and 50K distances and there really is just one way to truly capture all of that excitement at the starting line...you guessed it, via helicopter. Oh, you didn't? Well I didn't either until the downdraft of the chopper or whatever it's called messed up my perm while it was hovering above us, taking video footage and pictures. Very cool indeed!
As promised by the RDs, the race started on time and the first couple of minutes consisted of walking across the starting line. Thank goodness for timing chips, cause every second counts in these short distance events. Christy pretty much took, Cary tried to fall in behind her and I did the same with Cary. Megan settled into her own race pace pretty much rigght away, which really is the proper strategy for any runner, especially a first time ultra racer. Congrats on your finish, Megan!
Christy set a decent pace and at least to me it felt pretty fast. I was clearly not fully recovered yet from the Jewel 2 weeks earlier and it would become evident later in the race. Cary settled in behind her and before we knew it, we had hit single track trails working our way towards some beautiful vistas. I tried to stay relaxed and focus on just that. Having Cary to run with made time fly very early on and before I knew it, we had completed the first 10 miles. The scenery was beautiful and most of the trails were actually pretty runable, but there were some very technical sections. The rock garden comes to mind as well as some rocky and extremely slippery and slanted section of single track trail along the ridge.
We continued to maintain pace and I kept reminding myself to keep something in the tank for the final 10 mile leg that included the return across Suck Creek and Suck Creek Road, a course section that included a quad busting steep downhill section as well as the climb back out of that "gorge" (that's what I call it anyway). The final 10 miles were indeed the toughest part of the race for me. Exhaustion started to overcome me rather quickly 22 mile into the run. I started to barter with myself. "it's okay to walk some, especially the uphills. No need to run everything, you don't want to be completely spent when you get to the finish." Who was I kidding, I was going to be spent no matter what. I was spent already. My legs were heavy and now it was time to convince myself that if I moved just a little faster and I tried to run most of the smaller hills, I could be done sooner. Ahh, that sounded so good! I remembered Cary talking about some amazing cheeseburgers at the finish. When I arrived at the aid station at Suck Creek, I downed about 4 cups of Coke before moving on. It was time to dig deep, starting with this "little" climb out of here. I passed a couple of guys and was passed by a couple of guys during this section and I was wanting for it to be over. I enjoyed the scenery, but I really wanted to be done running.
I was lost in thought when out of nowhere, I got chicked! 3 miles to go and I am getting chicked? You've got to be kidding me! "Wait a minute, I know you. I've seen you before. You're from Huntsville, too! No way you're going to chick me now." It was Beth Barry and she was looking a heck of a lot fresher than me. Ugh, I gotta run. I started to push on the hill and Beth decided to walk. "Catch you on the downhill" she shouted. No way, I am going to run this pace all the way to the finish and no one is going to pass me. I passed another couple of guys that had just passed me minutes earlier and I was now on a mission...no more getting passed and no more slowing down. Then I came to the road crossing and a volunteer does the unthinkable. He shouts "just a little under 2 miles to go". Say what? This is a joke, right? You must be mistaken, I am certain I am almost there. I basically sprinted the last 15 minutes and I must have covered a lot more ground than that.
And them I slowed down....and Beth passed me...again...this time for good. I continued to move, trying not to slow down too much. When I finally turned left for the half mile road section to the finish, I was feeling much better mentally. My body was tired, but I was excited to be completing this race. I crossed the finish line in 6 hours 30 minutes and 9 seconds, exactly my goal time to the minute. Not as fast as I would've hoped for a 50K race, but the right pace during my recovery.
Thanks to a great team of organizers and volunteers, who kept this entire event running smoothly without any bottlenecks whatsoever, which is an amazing feat considering the distance and the large amount of racers. Thanks also to my fellow racers for adding entertainment and conversation to am amazingly scenic course and congrats to all finishers. Finally, a shoutout to Joe Fejes, who I had the pleasure of meeting very briefly before the race. I've been following his amazing ultra performances of late, especially his participation in the 24 Hour World Championships in Poland last month. Due in no small part to his performance, the men's US National Team was able to win the Bronze medal. I wish I had had more time to pick his brain before the race, but I'm sure that feeling was not mutual;-) No worries Joe, I will chase you down at the Pinhoti 100 next month (before or after the race, of course) to make up for that.