14 November 2020

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Can't see the forest for the trees:-)
This year has been largely defined by a global pandemic, i.e. COVID-19 also known as the Corona Virus. Since March 2020, I've witnessed more race cancellations than your average trail and ultra runner should witness during their entire lifetime. But all kidding aside, while some states are still avoiding ANY and ALL public gatherings, some states have slowly allowed outdoor events to take place again, under special restrictions of course, in an effort to prevent the further spread of the virus. Thankfully, the Upchuck 50K takes place in one of those states allowing these events as long as they fulfill certain heatlh and safety precautions.
Anxiously awaiting the race start after enjoying yet another most entertaining pre-race roll call from "RayJay".  

Initially, I was going to drive my camper van to the location for the race finish on Friday evening and spend the night right there in the parking lot of a municipal sports park. However, those plans were squashed shortly after 11PM, when an indescript maroon SUV pulled up right behind me (the ONLY other vehicle in the entire parking lot) with his headlights shining straight at my van. After sitting there for about 10 minutes, clearly trying to decide whether my vehicle was occupied or not so they could proceeed to attempt to rummage through my van for valuables, I decided to let them know my vehicle was indeed occupied by shining my cell phone screen into their direction. 
Can you spot the trail?
While that did the trick and they pulled out of the lot, it also ended my "desire" to boondock. Instead, I drove down the street to a nearby motel to finally get some sleep. While I'm sure car camping is neither encouraged nor allowed in that particular park, I had hoped that I would be ok to do so. Anyway, lesson learned:-)
Cool rock overhang. Am I the only one worried about these things collapsing on you when passing underneath? 
I pulled into the parking lot once again on race morning to pick up my race bib and catch the shuttle to the race start of this low key point to point 50K on the Cumberland Trail. While there aren't any mountains in the area, this race still features more than 6000' of vertical gain. Add to that the limited number of aid stations (one at mile 7 and one at mile 18) and you have yourselves a true old school trail ultra.
Blue sky + Fall colors = Beautiful trail run
Matt Sims, the RD for the Upchuck 50K, limits race entries to 75 total, which not only adds to the low key feel of the event, but it's actually what attracts many of us to this event. I have only done this event twice now, but it already feels like a trail family reunion. There are always "new" runners from all over the Southeast there to participate, but you will also recognize many of the faces of local and regional runners, who return to this event year after year after year. Granted, the sweet Patagonia swag definitely doesn't discourage participation either. However, if you are looking for big fanfare or any handholding then this event is not for you. Pay close attention to the trail flagging or be ready to run some extra miles on limited fuel. This is not a deterrent for many of us but rather the attraction.
The water was flowing along the entire course.
Due to Covid, race packet pickup had been moved to race morning to minimize the number of gatherings. The race shuttle AKA school bus AKA "Covid Capsule" (RayJay quote) left promptly at 7:30AM for a 8AM race start at a trailhead 15 minutes north of Soddy-Daisy, our current and race finish location. This year, runners were shuttled in two busses rather than the usual single bus in order spread runners out more as another Covid precaution.
Upon our arrival at the trailhead, runners slowly assembled for the traditional pre-race roll call by "RayJay", but not until being called out and embarrassed for peepeeing in the woods. After another memorable roll call, runners were sent off onto the gnarly Cumberland Trail to complete this year's Upchuck 50K, a point to point trail race, where runners cross multiple streams and rockhop across leave covered single track trail wjhile climbing more than 6000 feet. But runners do get the luxury of two aid stations along the way, one at mile 7 and one at 18. This means you better pack enough calories and fluids in your pack to avoid bonking or getting dehydrated.
After both falling and having my shoes go untied (rookie mistake not to double knot the laces) less than a mile into the race, I caught up to Ryan Meulemans and a group of runners, whom I would stick with for the majority of the first 18 miles. Once we rolled into mile 18, 3 hours 8 minutes into the race, it seemed the group finally stretched and just like that, I was on my own. I moved pretty well up until this point. However, it seemed running 3 ultras in the previous 8 weeks may have started to show some residual fatique. 
Bright fall colors.
I was able to run a good bit over the next five or six miles, but by the time I had a measily 10k to go I was done. I slowed to a shuffle and soon after I just walked. I started checking my watch every minute. It was a struggle. Calf cramps started to rear their ugly head. I popped SCaps like gummy bears and eventually gor them back under control. However, I had slowed so much that I had now run out of fluids as well. What had looked like a massive PR at mile 18 now looked like I may not even match last year's time. By the time I finally popped out onto the final road to the finishline with 1.5 miles to go, I tried to pick up my pace. In the end, it just wasn't enough. I missed last year's time by exactly one minute.
In the end, I got exactly what I came for. A good laugh at the pre race roll call, a fantastic time in the woods and more laughs at the finish line BBQ with my trail family. I can't wait for registration to open again to be out there to run hard and laugh even harder. Until then, check out my race video here to get a better feel for the race:

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