17 February 2018


View from the lodge at the race start/finish line.
Initially, I had signed up for the half marathon distance of this inaugural "local" event. But as race day approached, I realized that I needed to build up to 90 miles that week. While I've knocked out plenty of 25+ mile solo runs in the past, I enjoy the ultra trail running scene a lot more than solitude, so I decided to step up to the 50K distance to reach my 90 mile weekly goal. This would mean my third ultra in 4 weeks, but I hadn't really raced any of them aside from the first one, my local favorite Mountain Mist 50K. With that said, I was excited to run the first edition of the Eagle Ridge 50K put on by the folks behind RunningLane. It was taking place in Lake Guntersville State Park, an area and trail system I had never run before. I figured at worst, it would be little rollers. After all how much elevation could there be with the highest point being just above 1000ft. Boy was I wrong about that one.
View from the lodge at the race start/finish line.
My wife had signed up for the half marathon and with both distances starting at 8AM, we decided to get there about an hour before race start to get oriented. The parking lot was slowly filling up as we arrived at the state park lodge just after 7AM. The race would start just outside the lodge and with plenty of time to spare, we walked into the lodge to check out the location and catch up with friends.
View from the race start/finish line.
My plan for the day was pretty simple. Cover 31 miles, don't push too hard, don't get hurt and be able to walk after finishing the race. After all I had another run to put in on Sunday:-) I was hoping to find someone around my pace and stick with them until it became too difficult, i.e. my legs and mind got tired, at which point I'd slow down and finish out the race, hopefully on one piece.

While there were lots of familiar faces, I had no idea of anyone's plans for the day. Trying to stick with Craig Smith for as long as I could seemed like as good an idea as any. Until last year, we were teammates and some similar results in various events. When the race started, about 5 or 6 runners took of in what seemed to be an all out sprint. All but one were running the half marathon, but I didn't really know that at the time. It allowed me to settle into a pace pretty early on as Craig and I ran together at a comfortable pace. Part of the lead group was Tim Pitt and to be honest, I could not believe how fast he took off. There was no way I could have chased him down if I had wanted to at this point, he seemed to be on a mission. It wasn't until about 3 miles into the race after Tim took a wrong turn before catching back up to us that he shared his "racing plan", bomb the downhills and run whatever else you can until you cannot go anymore, love it! 

Tim, Craig and I ran together for the first 15 miles before we started to stretch out a bit, Tim , then me, then Craig. The race course consisted of 2 full squeezed figure 8 loops followed by half a loop to make up the 31 miles. It wasn't easy either. While it was all runnable trail surface aside from a short "rock garden" around miles 9, 22 and 28ish, there was some serious elevation gain with GPS and altimeter readings varying widely from 4700-6100 feet of gain. I suspect the true gain to pay somewhere in the middle.
Cruising early on before the climbing started.
As Tim began to push a little on the downs again, I decided to back off and try to run "comfortable" or at least a pace that I had hoped I could maintain. I ran by feel, never checking my pace. The second loop climb was the toughest mentally as I realized I had to do it all over again and my legs had already done plenty of running. I could no longer see Tim in front or Craig behind me, so I just kept chugging along. I would see runners here and there on the course, but never really knowing where they were in the field, how far they had gone or even which race they were in. It did not matter, it is always great to see fellow trail runners in a race, encouraging each other as we pass.
One of the few "water crossings".
The course had very little water on even with all the rain that had fallen during the week. Not surprising, since there are barely any flat spots on the course to even collect water:-) Overall, the course actually had a great flow, surprisingly so when once considers the elevation profile. The scenery was pretty, but overcast and mist somewhat impeded the views of lake Guntersville. The entire course was basically single track trails, which was fantastic and a lot of fun. I may actually have to go out there again to do some training runs. It is well worth the 60 minute drive to me.

Back to the race, once I completed the second full loop, I was actually a bit reenergized, both mentally and physically. I knew I only had the short loop left, half of it mainly downhill followed by the final climb to the finish. I chugged a couple of cups of Coke at mile 26 before moving on to push to the finish. I tried to sustain some kind of pace, no matter what that meant, just keep moving. I had no illusions of catch Tim. The only way that was going to happen would have meant he was sitting on the side of the trails taking a break. When I finally made that last right turn at the top to head to the finish, my wife had patiently waited to see me in. One final sprint across the timing mat and I was done. Tim had deservedly taken the overall win and I actually could not believe I had managed a 2nd overall finish.

Thanks to the race director and all of the volunteers that worked their tails off on this day to allow us to be out there having fun. I can't wait to see how the course changes next year to incorporate even more of the single track trails available in Guntersville State Park. Congrats to all that toed the line today.
At the finish line with RD Will Rodgers and fellow runner and 3rd Overall Craig Smith.

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