13 April 2019


It's been a busy three months of training and long solo runs have not been very high on my fun list, so I was looking for another 50K race to serve as my weekend long run. I had failed miserably at this particular race, the Oak Mountain 50K, two years ago. It was time for some sweet redemption. Nah, who am I kidding, I was actually pretty worried I would suffer the same fate as last time. Why? Because just like 2 years ago, I was in the midst of some high mileage training trying to get ready for a big event, or several big events this time around.

I know I know, you're not supposed to be racing to train, you're supposed to train to race, but I do not get paid to do this thing, I run trail because I love it. I love trail races even more than just running trails. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy long self-supported runs just as much, I had done it quite a few times before, spectacularly beautiful solo runs and spectacularly mind-numbing solo runs. However, I had mapped out a fairly long training cycle to get ready for this summer and I want to save most of my mental strength for my actual goal races. 

These shorter ultra distance trail races are my way of getting a supported long run in. Yes, I usually get sucked into running a lot faster than I want or should, but I always have a lot of fun and that's ultimately why I do this sport...to have fun and to see amazing places...if that means blowing up spectacularly every once in a while, so be it:-)

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Oak Mountain 50K in Pelham, Alabama. It takes place in Oak Mountain State Park just outside Birmingham and has some seriously beautiful and seriously challenging single track trails. But don't make the mistake and believe that this is an easy course. It's definitely one of the top two most difficult 50Ks in the state of Alabama.

Paul Morris and I drove down to Birmingham the night before the race to get a proper night's sleep . The Oak Mountain 50K is a fairly low key event and packet pickup only takes place race morning, so we didn't have to worry about that and instead just grabbed some spicy Thai food. Luckily, this gamble did not "backfire" :-)

We arrived at the race pavilion with plenty of time to mingle and catch up with fellow runners and friends. Race Directors extraordinaire Todd and Jamie Henderson always put on solid events and for the 20th anniversary of this one, the actual race founder got us started and racing off into the woods. 

The Oak Mountain 50K has anywhere between 4000-5000 feet of vert and much of it seems concentrated in the first half of the race as I so painfully discovered 2 years ago, when I blew up epically after having run just over half the race distance. What followed was a slow slog to the finish. I was determined not to repeat history.

I decided to start slow and tackle each of the early hills conservatively and put my weight vest hill hiking training to good use. As a result, I was able to keep my heart rate low and sustain a constant level of energy for most of the day. Within the first 3 miles, I had passed a couple of runners ahead of me. By mile 10, I was running in fourth place overall, still maintaining a comfortable pace. I ended up sharing some miles with Sarah Woerner as well after hitting one of the more spectacular places along the race course, the Peavine Waterfalls.

I caught up to the runner in second place after about 15 miles. The runner in first place was about 5 minutes ahead and as it turned out, he had a pretty great day himself. Rather than me being able to close the gap, he continued to extend the gap by a couple of minutes between every aid station. On that note, congrats to the winner on a strong performance.

By mile 20, I was running closer to my max pace and rather than try to chase the race leader, I was hoping to be able to break 5 hours. Unfortunately, the final 6 miles of the race, although very runnable, felt more like 8 miles and when I crossed the finish line the clock showed 5:05 hours. This was still way better than my expectations, both from a time and placement perspective. Lucky to have been able to spend another Saturday running in the woods.

Below is a short clip from the race:

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