08 April 2017


View of the beautiful Big South Fork Cumberland River, our race location.
Yamcraw 50K, what a cool name for a race. I wondered what that name stood for. I had never been to Kentucky for an ultra before, but this race came highly recommended (thanks Doug Daniel), so I signed up. On Friday, Rick Rawls picked me up at my house and we started our 4 1/2 hour road trip to Stearns, KY near the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

I had booked a hotel 30 minutes South of the race start, but we arrived early enough to head to packet pickup first, so we could sleep in just a few minutes on race morning. We picked up our race bibs, they took my money for additional race swag and then we headed towards our hotel on a quest for some decent prerace dinner. As it turned out, that quest was more difficult than the drive up here or the actual race itself. The healthiest and nearly only choice (other than KFC, Taco Bell and Hardees) was a Pizza Hut. Rick and I split a veggie pizza and were served a few extra breadsticks, because they were out of the only halfway healthy food option, salad.

By 9PM, we were back at the hotel, race kit for the morning laid out and ready to turn in for the night (Cary Long, our hotel neighbors two doors down recreated that infamous Pinhoti hotel stay from a couple of years back and just outside our door, folks were using pressure powered torque wrenches to get their quads ready for the morning, but who needs sleep anyway, am I right?).

I got up with enough time for a quick shower and a cup of coffee before leaving for the race start. Runners needed to show up at Stearns Heritage Hall in time to get loaded onto school busses that would shuttle us 1.5 miles down the road to the actual starting line. While waiting for the shuttle, we had a chance to find our fellow Huntsville runners and reconnect with other Southeast runners. I also caught up with the only other German ultrarunner I know in the area, Olaf Wasternack, who's just coming off an incredible performance at the Run4Water 24 Hour race in Tennessee the previous weekend and attended this event to support another buddy of mine, James Suh, who made his return to trail racing in the 20K race. Alway great to catch up with friends and some of the Nashville area runners.
The entire Huntsville crew at the actual race start (Jerry, myself, Rick and David).

Once we gor on the shuttle busses and arrived at the starting line, we managed to get everyone together for a pre-race group picture. Jerry was going to pace his brother in-law while David, Rick and I were using this race as another training run leading into our goal races this summer (UTMB, Western States and Fat Dog 120, respectively). We all line up somewhere in the middle third of the field when the race director signaled the start. Over 300 runners had registered for the 50K and close to that number toed the starting line. While I have the tendency to get swept up in the energy of trail races, I made a point of actually starting slow and steady. 

Beautiful waterfall, one of the many natural features on this race course.
Pretty soon after the start we entered a trail that started the descent towards the Big South Fork Cumberland River or one of its smaller branches. As we made our descent, we passed through a natural stone house and passed alongside massive rock walls. I was afraid that we had already seen all there is to see on this course in the first 2 miles, but I was wrong. Instead, we would continue to come up on different natural features along the course. I was truly spectacular. While I wasn't smart enough to bring my phone or a camera, luckily I have friends that did. Most of the pictures in this post are courtesy of Wonda Abbott, David Holiday and Rick Rawls. Thanks again for letting me use your pics.
Feeling great early in the race.

Even though we were running at a fairly relaxed pace, Rick and I started to pick up runners pretty early on. We continued at a comfortable pace. This was way more fun than running at the edge for 31 miles. The miles ticked by and I continued to feel great. Every aid station was not only well stocked but also well managed my lots of volunteers. I refueled with my usual organic Honey Stinger gels along with banana pieces and pickle slices. My effort continued to be steady. I knew we would have the harder miles still ahead of us in the second half of the race. 

The only one of many many creek crossings that required a guide rope.
The first half of the race only had one major climb that started around mile 5 and was done by mile 7.5. However, the second half had 2 major and 2 minor climbs. the fun started around mile 19. By that time, Rick had started to deal with some hydration issues and decided to fall back a little to recover. The creek crossing above was the only one requiring a rope, but there were a lot of awesome creek crossings, too many to count. Early on these were rather cold, but later in the day, these crossings felt quite refreshing on my feet and legs.  

The race course would lead runners under a waterfall and massive rock overhangs multiple times.
As I started the first major climb of the second half of the race, I was still feeling great. I alternated between speed hiking the steep climbs and running anything with less grade. I would continue this method for the remainder of the race. Even with the walk breaks, I would still pass a runner or two. As I reached near the top of the climb, I passed another runner who informed me in passing that there were just 3 runners ahead, apparently. That couldn't be right, I responded, but he reassured me. Damn it, this is a training race, why did he tell me this. Now I gotta keep moving to at least hold my spot. 

We ran long stretches along beautiful Big South Fork Cumberland River.
Well, so much for a training run. However, once I reached the aid station around mile 27, aid station volunteers let me know that third place was 12 min ahead. Oh good, no way am I going to try to chase a 12 min lead over the 7 remaining miles. It never occurred to me that someone may be chasing me...until half a mile later. I heard some rustling and turned my head only to see another runner maybe a tenth of a mile behind me. Great, now I have to let him pass or run hard for the next 6 miles as not to get passed. Of course, I opted for the latter. I am way too competitive to "let" someone pass me this late in a race without a serious effort.
Another beautiful course section.

By mile 31, I had lost sight of him, but no more than .5 miles later, I spotted him behind me on one of the switchbacks. Running was no longer "comfortable" and I actually had to push to avoid getting passed. As I turned off the single track trail towards the finish and stepped on the Yamacraw bridge, I took one last peek behind me. He was now out of sight and I was finally able to relax for the final 200 yards.

Closeup of the course section above of what looks like a natural arch or stone cutout.
I finished in 5 hours 14 minutes, fourth overall and first master. The RD welcomed each runner crossing the finish line with a high five and a hug. More than 260 runners would finish this awesome 33 mile race that featured 3,600 feet of elevation gain on mostly smooth single track trails. Rick finished 9th, David Holliday 40th, and Jerry succeeded in pacing his bro in-law across the finish line. Happy faces all around.

Can you ever have enough pictures of a waterfall?
If you enjoy ultras or just trail races in general, put this one on your calendar immediately. It sells out quickly and for good reason. The RD and his crew of volunteers are second to none, the aid stations are well stocked, the course is mostly single track, there are miles along the river, tons of creek crossings and more natural features like waterfalls, caves, rock walls and rock overhangs than you can count. In addition, the race offers the 10K and 20 distances along with a 50K. To top it all off, 50K runners get to run 2 miles for free since it is officially 33 miles:-)

Perfect weather made for a great day and I will most definitely be back to run the Yamacraw, no doubt one of the most beautiful race courses in the US. Thanks to Fleet Feet Huntsville, Altra and CEP for providing me with the gear necessary to participate in these awesome adventures and thanks to Nuun Hydration and Honey Stinger for fueling me to another successful finish.

Arguably one of the most beautiful race courses in the country.

This marker guarantees beautiful vistas and smooth rolling single track trail.

Awesome shot of the Yamacraw Bridge in Blue Heron, site of the race finish.

Finishing atop the Yamacraw Bridge.

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