16 February 2019


Proud Buck at Guntersville State Park on race morning just before the start.
I ran the inaugural event in 2018 and this year they announced a slightly changed course with more vert. My goal was to match last year's finishing time, which meant staying under 5 hours. Anything else would just be icing on the cake. I had nearly 50 miles in my legs already from a week of training, so I wasn't sure how my body would respond. I decided very early not to try to stay with Brandon and Justyna Mader, who were leading the charge for the 50K distance along with 3 other runners. I chose to hang back instead and wait to see how my legs would feel on the second and slightly shorter final loop of the race.
Solid group of trail and ultra runners right there:-)
As mentioned, the race consists of two loops with a short challenging lollipop loop basically sandwiched between the two loops for 31 miles and nearly 6000' in total vertical gain. Overall, the course is very runnable with only a couple of short technical sections. I chose to run the downhills fairly aggressive while holding back about 20% and run all uphills that weren't too steep.

My nutrition plan consisted of one gel per hour and at one bottle of fluids (both electrolytes and calories) between each aid station except the first one. The plan worked out extremely well. My "start slow and see what happens" strategy worked out extremely well as well. By the first third of the race, I had caught up to the fifth and fourth overall runner, who self-admittedly had started out too fast. Once I came past the start/finish area to start my second and final loop, a volunteer informed me that I was less than a minute behind the runner in third overall. One mile later, I passed him as he had decided to take a walk break. I pushed until he was out of sight before settling into my comfortable pace again.

I was now running in third place. I figured Brandon and Justyna would be miles ahead by now and as I was able to confirm after the race, there were indeed way ahead of me. While I have the tendency to get too comfortable when no other runners are around, I did still had the goal of breaking 5 hours, so I continued to keep my cadence up. To my surprise, I caught up to Brandon with about 5 miles to go, but only because he had been walking due to an injury. I checked in with him before continuing in. Thankfully, he was able to finish by walking it in. I was lucky, but thankful to take the overall win for the men, while Justyna crushed it taking the overall win by a large margin and setting a new overall and women's course record.

My training for the US Grand Slam of Ultrarunning continues, hopefully with the same steady results and improvements in endurance necessary to make it through this summer. Thanks to Will Rodgers, RunningLane and the entire crew of volunteers that took such great care of us runners. Lake Guntersville State Park is a great venue for a 50K trail event.
Don't get to be on top of the podium very often.

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