Race Report - 2019 Savage Gulf Trail Marathon

3/16/2019 07:37:00 PM

The Stone Door at the rim of the gulf about 2 miles into the race.
Initially, the plan was to camp out at the park the night before the race, but temperatures in the low 30s had me reevaluate that idea. Instead, Rick Rawls and I opted for an early Saturday morning drive to Beersheba Springs, Tennessee to run the 2019 edition of the Savage Gulf Trail Marathon, arguably the gnarliest and most scenic trail marathon in the continental US. We arrived with plenty of time to get our bibs and catch up with fellow runners and friends from near and far that had descended on this beautiful little slice of nature that had been carved into the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau.
Another one of the more spectacular natural features of this race.
Lots of friendly faces I was glad to have a chance to catch up with. I had no plans for the day other than try to settle into a sustainable pace early and get my miles in. Even better, if I could just latch on to another evenly matched runner to pass the time. To ensure that I wouldn't go out too fast or run too fast in general I had decided to take my GoPro along to take some video footage of the amazing race course. I usually reserve picture taking and similar activities for races of distances longer than 100K. While I may not race anyone but myself, I do try to work a little harder in the shorter distance events, so there usually isn't really time to slow down and smell the roses. However, since I had run this event twice before, never really taking the time to really take in the views, I wanted to make a point this time around to do just that...and what better way to capture the experience and views than with a video camera.
All of the photos in this blog post are grabs from the video I captured with my GoPro Hero 7. A full edited version of the actual video can be seen at YouTube. Check it out. I'm sure you'll put this race on your to do list, once you've gotten a glimpse of this beautiful course.
Just three guys out for a run.
Luckily, my buddy Yong Kim from the Nashville area was running this race as well and since we've been running a fairly similar pace in recent runs and races, I figured he would be just the guys to try to follow. To be fair, he's run this course nearly 30 minutes faster than me in the past, but he "assured" me he'd barely been running much distance in recent weeks. Oh, how gullible I am. Turns out, this was his last long run before the Boston Marathon, where he has intentions of running sub 3 hours. This explains, why he dropped me like a bad habit about half way through this race.
Yong Kim tackling the steep decent through the stone door.
But let's back up just a bit. I lined up in the second row at the start line. Yong and I figured we'd hang back just a little and see how things turn out. We didn't want to get stuck in a train of runners when it was time to descend into the Gulf through the narrow steps of the Stone Door after about two miles into the race, so we made sure we weren't too far back. 
One of the many beautiful creek crossings.
When we got the "go" signal, we settled in about 10 spots back from the front. To be honest, I had serious doubt that ALL of the runners ahead of us would be able to sustain what felt like my 5K road race pace, so I wasn't really to concerned to be back slightly further than expected. Again, I had no expectations other than maybe squeeze in just under my previous PR, which I had run 2 years earlier in pretty terrible weather conditions. 
One of the many suspension bridges along the course.
I kept my GoPro close at hand as we took off. Yong and I kept a steady and comfortable pace. Once we made our way through the Stone Door, we started picking up the pace on the technical downhill. The rocks were dry, allowing me to run faster than usual on and through these tricky sections. We kept a steady pace and started to pick off a couple of runners already. 



I continued to run by feel, sometimes I would lead, other times Yong would lead, but it felt comfortable the entire way. We kept cruising and I felt pretty good. We climbed out on the other side of the Gulf after having covered about 12 miles of the race. I still felt pretty good, when one of the aid station workers (all Tennessee Park Rangers, by the way) informed us that we had about 8 miles to the next aid station. This would include 6 miles of rolling singe track trail along the rim of the Gulf before dropping down into the Gulf for 2 miles before hitting the next aid station. I was felling great...until Yong confirmed that we were doing well and that we should be able to cover the next 8 miles in about 70 minutes. Say what? I kept my feelings to myself and just nodded. I fell in behind him, but after about a mile or so, he steadily pulled away. I knew my leg turnover was no match for his and I just had to let him go. I continued at my own pace making sure to just keep moving. 
Did I mention suspension bridges.
It's easy to slow down while you're running my yourself and not even realizing it. You just kind of fall into a slower rhythm without even realizing it. To avoid just that from happening, I kept reminding myself that there are still 3 runners ahead of me and who knew, one of them may just slow down or blow up and I wanted to be there if that happened. This way, I also ensured that I kept moving at race pace. Unfortunately for me, fortunately fortunately for them, none of the runners ahead of me crumbled:-) 
I kept focusing on moving, running as much of the final big climb as possible. This course was challenging even for the most experienced runners. The climbs are tough and the downhills are steep and technical. Runners need to watch every step. There is no such thing as just falling forward and flying downhill on this course, not if you want to stay in one piece. When I finally topped out at the top of the final climb, I had about 3 miles left to the finish. A final 5K and a final push to the finish. 
Yup, there were a few suspension bridges.
When I finally crossed the finish line, I had managed a 12 minute course PR. Not bad considering I was taking video along the way. Of course, the weather conditions were perfect. So perfect, in fact, that Nathan Holland finally got his sub 4 hour course record along with his third win at this race. Impressive on all accounts.
This is probably the most technical trail race of the south east mile for mile.
It seemed most runners had had a pretty good day, which was to be expected considering the near perfect conditions. If you haven't run this race, you should. And if the scenery isn't enough, consider that this race supports the Tennessee Park Rangers and their efforts. In fact, the race staff consists entirely of park rangers from all over Tennessee. What better way to give back to the guys and gals that maintain the places we all consider our playground.
"Smooth" single track:-)








Our feet stayed dry most of the way, which is hard to believe considering the rain we've had in recent months.



Most of the time, the rocks were not arranged as nicely as in this photo:-)








The third most popular feature of this race course, the waterfall, was definitely flowing.







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