Race Report - 2014 Savage Gulf Trail Marathon

3/15/2014 10:00:00 PM


Cool tech shirt logo and a bandanna with trail map to boot:-)
This race was a last minute decision. I had already registered for a local 10 miler, when Cary convinced me that this Savage Gulf Trail Marathon is not to be missed. When I finally googled the location and saw the pictures, I immediately went to ultrasignup.com to get registered.

I decided to take Friday afternoon off, so I could join Cary and a group of folks from Huntsville, Franklin and Chattanooga at a primitive group campsite located right at the start and finish line of the race at the Stone Door Ranger Station at Savage Gulf State Park. Folks brought a ton of food for a pre-race cookout and luckily, or so I thought, I wasn't going to have to set up my own tent, since Cary invited me to stay in his tent. I'm not sure if my memory left me for a moment or what, but it didn't remember Cary's favorite bodily function when I agreed to share the tent with Sir Fartsalot.

Cary assured me the next morning that he didn't relief himself of any post-digestive particulates in respect of me. Honestly, I don't remember much from that night, my memory is extremely hazy. I think Cary unleashed a silent but deadly Blitzkrieg of flatulence on me, putting me out of my misery for the rest of the night and allowing him to indulge in his favorite activity at will.

There were about 15-20 of us camping out, but there could only be one winner of the "most wicked tent" competition and that prize went to Daniel Lucas and his "floating tent". If you think this is one awesome way to camp out, give Daniel a holler or look him up on Facebook. He is a redistributor for these awesome shelters.

Winner of "Coolest tent" at the pre-race campout.
My alarm went off at 6AM and 30 minutes later, I had packed up my sleeping bag and other gear and was ready to get my run on. Packet pickup started at 7AM and by 7:50AM, folks were lined up at the starting line rearing to go.

A musket was fired to signal the start of the race and 80 or so runners took off on one of the toughest, prettiest and most challenging trail marathons in the country. After barely a mile into the race, runners were greeted by this view to our right as we were running along a ridge (many of the pictures below courtesy of Sarah Coleman).

Amazing views while running along the ridge line.
One only had to turn their head to the left or right to see one amazing vista after another. I would've continued to take mental pictures of the scenery, but trail runs apparently require one to keep their eyes on the ground on front of them.

Another amazing view from the ridge line.
After just 3 miles, we arrived at the top of Stone Door, the namesake of the area and the ranger station. While this was the most prominent site in the park, there were lots of other amazing sites along the race course.

The entry just above the Stone Door.
This natural rock crevice represented the start of our descend to the bottom of Savage Gulf.

View from lower section of the Stone Door.
While I appear to be holding up everyone behind me, there were actually just as many runners ahead of me:-) This was just the warmup for our quads.

Leading the train down through Stone Door:-)
Most of the race course was pretty technical in nature, either you were climbing or you were navigating moving rocks and boulders. The picture below shows one of the few flat non-technical sections of the course. Considering the difficult and technical nature of this course, I decided to start the race as conservatively as possible without being slow. I had set an "A" goal of sub 6 hours, but wasn't really expecting to hit that. My "B" goal was to beat Cary's time from last year;-) Nothing like a little healthy competition (heck, unhealthy works for me, too). If all else failed, just finishing without bing in pain or misery was my "C" goal. I decided to hang with Tony Scott, who was running pretty solid for not having run much the last few weeks. Cary was somewhere behind me. I figured he was running a smarter race than me. I actually felt on occasion that I was holding on to Tony rather than run with him. But 9 miles or so into the race, I decided to pass Tony to run on my own for a while.

One of the few "flat" sections of the course.
There were some runnable sections and some ups and downs before I came upon the next and probably most popular site on this course. Throughout the race, I had to cross multiple suspended bridges across various creek beds, but this bridge was a little different.

Suspended bridge crossing with view of waterfall.
Once I stepped onto the bridge and turned my head to the right, I saw a beautiful waterfall. The flora and fauna was completely different in this little area, which I presume is due to the high level of moisture in the air.

Kodak moment #1.
As I crossed the bridge and turned my head to the left, I saw this trail uniquely carved into the wall. If you ever wondered why people run trail races and spend hours on end in the middle of nowhere, this is the reason why. Places like this always remind me why i do this and as soon as I cross the finish line, I am ready to look up another awesome place to run at.

Kodak moment #2.
The many suspension or hanging bridges all along the trail are another unique feature of this race. How can one not have the biggest smile on their face.


One happy runner!
As I neared the final 10K distance of the race, I was starting to run really low on energy. I knew I had another major climb left and my GPS watch had played a trick on me, showing me 2 mile more than I had actually run. That meant my pace was actually much slower than my watch was showing and that I had 2 more miles to run than I thought. Argh!!! I finally got me over this mental hump when my watch stopped getting a GPS signal altogether. What the heck, so I decided to just focus on the time, I was 4 hours into the race and I had about 2 hours of hard running left, if I wanted to finish in under 6 hours. Since I didn't know the actual remaining distance, I just tried to keep effort steady. I would reassess my goals once I arrived at the final aid station at the top of the last big climb with 4 miles to go to the finish...or so I thought.

Beginning of the climb to the finish.

When I completed the final climb and saw the aid station, my watch showed 5 hours 32 minutes. Oh well, 6 hours was out of the question now. No way was I going to run 4 miles in 28 minutes. And then the ranger at the aid station said the words that would ring in my head for the next 26 minutes "Only 2.9 miles to go to the finish and all of it runnable." Whaaaaa? Oh crap! If I've got anything left in my tank, I can actually break 6 hours. So off I went, passed one runner, then two and then there was Will Barnwell standing there waving and telling me "Just 1.5 miles to go! Get it done!" I barely had a breath left to say thanks. I kept pushing...longest 2.9 miles ever. And then the trail finally dumped me onto the final .15 mile road section to the finish. And who do i spot just ahead of me, Marc Davis. It's on! Unfortunately, he heard me huffing and puffing behind him and I had to concede victory for 29th place to Marc. Well done, Marc!

The finish area had plenty of food and I didn't see a single runner that didn't have a big @$$ smile on their face. A huge thanks goes out the the entire staff of rangers, who put on a top quality event. If there is just one thing I would suggest for next year, it's finisher's medals. A trail marathon of this magnitude "deserves" a finisher's medal. I am glad Cary convinced me to sign up and I am already rearing to sign up for next year. I see a 5:30 in my future:-)

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1 comments

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