Race Report - 2014 Coldwater Mountain 50K

8/23/2014 10:00:00 PM

Great t-shirt and master's and finisher's awards.
Ain't nothin' cold about the Coldwater Mountain 50K
I don't think I have ever committed and signed up for any race as late as I did for this one. After realizing on Wednesday before the race that I needed a long run on Saturday, because my Sunday was already booked with other activities, I decided that it was much more likely for me to finish 31 miles in a race than it would be for me to get out there on the hottest day of the year to run 31 miles on my own. After all, I had nothing to loose, every race prior to November is just part of my training for Pinhoti. I just needed the miles, no need to worry about being race ready or tapering or anything.


I chose to drive down to Anniston, AL on race morning rather than spend money on a local hotel the night before. That meant getting up at 3AM to make the 2 hour drive to Coldwater Mountain, the location of the inaugural Coldwater Mountain Half Marathon/50K/50M races. All of the trails on Coldwater Mountain are fairly new with some of them not even showing up on trail maps, yet. They were specifically designed by mountain bikers for mountain bikers to create a pristine MTB trail network that would be on the top of the list of any rider in the Southeast. Having run a large chunk of these trails this weekend, I think they might have succeeded in that endeavour. Not only that, these trails definitely lend themselves to to a variety of foot trail races as well as Todd and his crew of volunteers proved this weekend. The banks in some of the turns and the bumps required some getting used to, but there were some truly spectacular views from the mountain top whenever the trails led you along one of the mountain ridges. It was fantastic and you should come and check this one out, especially if you live in the Southeast.


I arrived at the top of Coldwater Mountain at 6AM sharp with an hour to spare before the race start. There were already quote a few runners up there with a couple of them having camped out the night before. Great idea, if you are comfortable with primitive camping (e.g. no water, power, etc.). I managed to find a parking spot close to the start, which is very important for after the race (e.g. as little walking as possible to make it back to the car). Todd, his wife and their crew were already out there setting up and getting things ready. Just like every other event run by Todd, this one was flawlessly set up as well. I picked up my race number and started mingling and catching up with folks. There were quite a few Huntsville runners, so shout-out to Christopher, Josh, James, Megan, Emily, Melissa and Mac, who actually helped me out with some water during one of my many water shortages during the race. Congrats to all of you for getting it done in some seriously tough conditions!


I also managed to catch up with Margaret and one of her buddies and I met some folks I hadn't run with before. It really felt like a family affair...in an awesome...not the uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner kinda way where you had rather stayed home to watch the Lions game on TV, but I digress. I was eager to get this thing going, I guess I don't usually arrive an hour before a race, so it felt like eternity until we finally started. I really hadn't decided on a race plan until the night before, after all, I was here for a training run. Yeah right! I can never ever toe a start line and not at least attempt to race...at least a little. I knew not to try to hang on to Owen Bradley, an ultra runner stud from Birmingham, who I'd seen win multiple events this year against some serious competition, including Strolling Jim 40M in under 5 hours. If you are familiar with that race, you know it's no joke and this guy can run. Looking at other runners in my age group, I fully expected James to be running strong, but I didn't know how much he'd trained, so I finally just decided to come up with a goal pace and try to hold it as long as possible before slowing down. I knew it was going to be extremely hot and humid, but I had trained in this weather all summer without ANY problems, so I felt even a 50K PR should be possible today. Well, that didn't quite happen.

As we were getting ready to start the race, I was sizing up my "competition". I decided to push the first couple of miles and then settle into a pace that I felt comfortable with holding for a while. After that, I would just play it by ear. When Todd signaled the start of the race, I did just that. Owen took off as expected and I decided to stick with a small group just behind him. There were a couple of half marathoners and another 50K runner besides me in this small group. We stayed together for the first few miles when the two half marathoners took off. I stayed with the other 50k runner, Suman, whom I'd seen at other races before and finally officially met at this event. A couple of miles later, still feeling pretty good I decided to push ahead on a short climb. Suman stayed just behind me for a while until I lost sight of him for a bit.

I continued to run my race feeling pretty good. The hills were rolling and this course was by no means flat, but I kept a steady pace, following my training mantra of running every hill. However, unlike in my previous events this year, I started to feel the running after just 15 miles. I figured it must have been the heat and humidity actually getting to me this time around, so I dialed back my pace. Before I knew it, I was actually walking a hill, what the what? That really bugged me, but I was just feeling flat. I had been holding a pace of just under 9 minutes until this point, which I should've been ok with...had it not been for the humidity on this day. I clearly underestimated the humidity. I had felt a false sense of confidence regarding the summer heat, because I had not struggled with it all summer and here I was, at mile 16, quickly running out of water (I was carrying two bottles, which should've been sufficient), continuing to slow my pace. I just wanted to make it back to the finish area at mile 20 before I had to start a final 11 mile loop in reverse direction. I was confident that I could knock that out easy. When I arrived at an unexpected unmanned aid station at mile 18, I chugged some water and warm coke, filled up my bottles and started the approx. 2 mile climb back the start/finish area. 

I was ready to get back there, refuel and take care of the final third of the race. When I finally made it to mile 20, Josh and Christopher had finished the half marathon (congrats!) and were still hanging out. Josh was kind enough to help me with my gear, refilling my bottles and trying to get me refueled and back out there, when suddenly my toes started cramping. THAT should have been a sign for me of things to come and to try to address the issue more aggressively right away. Unfortunately, I didn't. Instead, I put in my ear buds and cranked up the volume on some AC/DC. There isn't anything I've encountered over the final 10 miles of a race that some AC/DC can't get you through;-)

I was in great spirits and started hammering the downhill section back to the unmanned aid station. When I arrived, the Japanese race contingent (4 or 5 runners) was getting ready to make the trek up to the start/finish area. When I started to run again, my left quad started cramping immediately. Oh great, I thought. That hadn't happened since Laurel Valley 3 years ago, when I foolishly opted for an untried salt source instead of relying on my tried and true SCaps. That wasn't the case this time around, so all I could figure is that I needed to double up on my SCaps and try to drink even more water. Before I knew it, both of my calves were cramping as well as were both of my quads, which meant I was reduced to a walk on both climbs and descents.

I tried to shuffle on flat sections and walk everything else in hopes that the cramps would subside eventually. In the meantime, I was eating SCaps like candy (the after race tally showed that I had consumed 30 SCaps and 6 Endurolytes) and guzzling down what water I had in an attempt to make the cramps go away. To no avail. I was reduced to a slow walk. I now had 8 miles to go and Suman had long ago passed me for second place. It was only a matter of time until the rest of the 50K field would pass me. My initial first half average of 9 min pace was quickly approaching 12 mi mile overall pace and still slowing. Before I knew it, I was moving slower than at the Silver Rush 50 Miler in Leadville, CO last month, and that was a 50 miler at altitude with serious climbing.

Cramps were so bad that I had to opt to leave a rock inside my left shoe for the last 2 hours of the race, because any attempt to remove it resulted in severe calf cramps. I was ecstatic when I finally made it to the 27 mile aid station. I guzzled down a couple of cokes, took 4 Endurolytes, munched on some potato chips, hoping that this would finally help me get rid of those ridiculous cramps. I knew I had 4 miles to go. It would be a death march at worst, but I knew I was going to finish this thing. I was struggling a bit mentally trying to accept the way this race had panned out for me. My training had been going so well all summer and here I was, unable to run a single step for nearly 2 hours.

Miraculously, not a single 50K runner other than Suman had passed me. That did confirm to me that I wasn't the only one out the suffering and struggling with the heat and humidity, but it was of little comfort to me at the time. I started to question my training, my nutrition, pre race decisions, etc. No matter, I had 4 more miles to go, so off I went to get it done. No luck, the cramps were still there, so running was still out of the question. Every time I tried to run, I would stumble and cramp like crazy, so I continued my death march. When I finally spotted the finish line just above me, I was elated. I managed a short shuffle across the finish line before sinking into a chair under a cooling tent. The finish line clock showed a time of 6 hours 44 minutes and 45 seconds. Wow, just a mere 2 hours below my goal. However, when Todd told me that I had won Male Master overall along with placing third overall, I was pretty happy. A tough run, but a great training experience nonetheless. After all, it's all about the Pinhoti 100 in November.

When I finally checked the results on ultrasignup.com I noticed that overall winner Owen Bradley ran 4 hours 45 minutes, which is arguably slow for him. Apparently, ALL of us were affected by the external conditions. While talking to other runners after they finished, we all agreed that the weather conditions made this one of the tougher ultras for sure. But Todd was prepared as always with the local Fire Department at hand to assist runners in distress if needed as well as a cooling tent and a huge tank of cold water allowing us runners to take a quick "shower" after the race, which was a welcome reward.

Thanks again to Todd, his wife Jamie and all the other volunteers that stayed out there for hours just to help us runners succeed and congratulations especially to the 50 miler runners, who had to endure this heat and humidity a heck of a lot longer that us 50k and half marathon runners:-)

I do plan to be back next year for sure, albeit hoping for cooler temps. The location is fantastic for these races and the event will only grow from here. I absolutely loved the familiar atmosphere and camaraderie, which is something folks are now used to from all of Todd's events.




One happy trail runner receiving award from RD Todd Henderson.

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