25 March 2017


It's runnable, they said...not much climbing, they said...yeah, right!
I knew I was pushing my luck by toeing the starting line of my third trail marathon and ultra event in as many weeks, but this was just going to be training anyway, so what could go wrong, right? Even though I had been running ultras and may other events for better part of the past 7 years, I had never run the Oak Mountain 50K in Birmingham, Alabama. It was only a 2 hour drive from my house, but other local events always seemed to take priority. Either another event took place on the same day or it was just too close to something I had already done or was about to do. This year was no different. In fact, my good buddy Cary Long (RD for the McKay Hollow Madness 25K in Huntsville, AL) tried until the day before the race to sway me to run his event, instead:-) However, never having run Oak Mountain, I really wanted to get a finish at that race. My goal this year, with a couple of exceptions, is to see new and different races in new and different places. I don't really have any race streaks other than Mountain Mist 50K, so this would be one more race off my list.

Runners eagerly listening as the RD casually gives the signal to start.
Because I had traveled for work and races quite frequently the last month, I decided to make the 2 hour drive on race morning, which meant a 3:30AM wakeup call, ugh. By 4:30AM I was on the road giving me plenty of time to get to the Oak Mountain State Park before the 7:30AM start time. While there were calls for severe weather rolling in around lunchtime, that never really materialized. Instead, we ended up with warmer than expected temps.

Slowly strolling into the aid station at mile 21, ready to beg Todd and Jamie for a ride back to my car.
For some reason, I wasn't really having a great feeling about what lay ahead, but some familiar faces and friendly banter at the starting line changed that. In fact, once we took off running I started to feel even better. No one seemed to be pushing the pace and I was sitting comfortably in 6th or 7th place for the first third of the race, running at a somewhat comfortable pace, never really pushing too much and not checking my watch at all for any pacing info. I was running by feel.

The Oak Mtn 50K (really 33 miles) course is very scenic, but it is also deceptively difficult. My altimeter watch showed nearly 5,000 feet of elevation gain and first mile or so was straight up, or so it seemed. In fact, there was a lot of up and very little down in the early stages. I ran along with one of the local runners, who had run many many Oak Mtn 50Ks before and he was giving me some course info, which was very much appreciated. However, it did not safe me from the day I was about to have. We dropped into a waterfall gorge before climbing out to the second aid station at mile 14 or 15. I though I was feeling ok, but after chugging some coke and moving on, things quickly changed. We ran along a beautiful ridge line (you run that area about 3 times on different stretches of trail) and I knew we would be descending pretty soon before entering a course section along a nice winding creek bed that would allow for some easy running. Unfortunately, by mile 15, the wheels had come off hard and fast. As I arrived at the bottom of the descent, I was reduced to a walk. No pain or anything, just complete exhaustion. This was a problem as I wasn't even half way in.

Having a chat with John Dove and Todd before "deciding" to continue on.
I continued to walk for the next 4 miles or so meticulously planning on how I was going to ask Jamie and Todd Henderson for a ride back to my car. They are the RDs of one of the best 100 mile races in the country and they were manning the next aid station. This was a training race, but I saw no benefit in walking for another 4 hours just to cross the finish line. I came up with plenty of reasons not to continue, BUT there was that one thought in the back of my head...come on, you've never DNF'd a 50K and you have never finished this race before. Regardless, I told myself, this is pointless. As I strolled, yes strolled into the 21 mile aid station, I grabbed a chair while Jamie kindly filled my hand bottle with coke. I was glad I was done, I started chatting with Todd, who assured me that I could and should continue, as was Jamie, but I just wasn't feeling it. John Dove rolled in, stopped for a chat and moved on. Then came Jon Elmore, battered and bloodied after a hard fall at mile 8. He had never run this race and was determined to "walk it in" if need be to get the finish. Damnit, I guess all it takes is a familiar face and some encouragement to make you suck it up and just get it done, even when the day turned out to not at all be what you expected.

Instead of a perfect training race, I got to share some time on the trails with Jon, both of us having a rough day, but having a fun 2.5 hour conversation while covering the last 12 miles, walking and ultra-shuffling. At the end of the day, we both got to spend more time on the trails than we originally expected, we both got to cross the finish line, and we received our finishers awards filled with deliciousness. There is always lessons to be learned about yourself and that usually happens when things don't play out as planned.

Finisher's award filled with the good stuff.
Thanks to an awesome RD along with amazing volunteers, including the BUTS crew, for making even a rough day enjoyable with a beautiful course and fantastic support.

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