Race Report - 2022 Frozen Falls 50K

2/05/2022 03:30:00 PM

Me crossing one of the many hanging bridges you encounter while running the Frozen Falls 50K.
Anther weekend, another training race. In an effort to kickstart my 2022 training cycle, I once again started to load up my weekend's with many local trail and ultra races to serve as my long runs for the week. I am ramping up towards some major adventures starting in June and after basically being in hibernation since October (Moab 240) this is the most effective way for me to start increasing miles while not getting caught in the rut of solo long runs, which can be quite boring, to be honest. 
I found out about the inaugural Frozen Falls 50K just a couple of days before race day. It is put on by my good friends at RunningLane and takes place at Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee. This was my very first time to the park and it is absolutely beautiful. It had everything, lake, waterfalls, cliffs, and most importantly, sweet single track trails. RunningLane put on a total of four race distances for the day, a 10K, a half marathon, a 50K and a 50 miler. I opted for the 50K distance. 
My buddy Jerry had reserved a campground for us, which meant I could make the drive up the evening before the race rather than jumping out of bed at 4AM on race morning to make the 2.5 hour drive. Temperatures dropped to near single digits the night before the race, so I was thankful to be sleeping in my camper van. Jerry ultimately decided not to make the trip, so I got my race kit ready and turned in early.
I didn't sleep great and was up for good at 4:30AM. Just as well, I made some fresh pour over coffee before sitting down to tape my weak right ankle. This tape job has been keeping me ankle roll free for the past 2 races and did so again on race day. It took me 8 months to come up with a way to prevent ankle rolls, hopefully this continues to hold true. It would be 16 degrees at the race start, but I still chose to go with shorts, just like I did at Mountain Mist 50K 2 weeks earlier in similar conditions. I opted for a long sleeve tech shirt paired with my Patagonia Houdini plus a pair of gloves with hand warmers and a buff. 
I went with my UltrAspire Legacy 2.0 race west, my current favorite for races of up to 100K. It provides plenty of space for anything I need up to this distance. For nutrition, I carried a total of 5 Spring Energy gels. Canaberry, Awesomesauce, and Koffee. I enjoy these flavors all day as does my gut. For breakfast, I ate a Wolfpack. If you haven't tried Spring, you should. All natural product without the sugar highs/spikes.
On my feet, I went with my favorite CEP merino socks coupled with a pair of Altra Superior. Some folks may want more cushion under their feet for rocky trails, but for this race, they were perfect. Lots of control, which is really important on icy trails with a weak ankle. For anything over 50K, I would have chosen a pair of Altra Lone Peak or Olympus for sure. FYI, you want a trail show that drains well and with the numerous creek crossings we dealt with, having a fast draining shoe was key, especially with temps in the 20s. Warning: Don't ever use a Gore-Tex or similar trail shoe in wet conditions. Only use them in cold, dry, snow conditions. They generally do not drain as well and will keep your feet wet, when temps are either hot of freezing cold. All that was left to do was to apply some Squirrel's Nut Butter and I was good to go. BRRRRRR...
The short walk from my van to the actual race start was so cold, I actually ran to it rather than walk just to get warm. The race starts on the south side of a damn and runners pass the main aid station and finish line located at miles 6/13/16/31/33/50 on the other side of the dam after less than a quarter mile before entering a mix of walking path and single track. The race starts with a six mile lollipop loop before sending 50K runners on a 10.5 mile loop. After the first 16.5 miles, runners are then sent back out to do the lollipop loop for a second time before running a shortened version of the larger loop for their second time.
All distances basically run different variations of that course and its loops. I'm not a fan of multiple loops, but this course really was beautiful and worth the trip. I will say, a slight dusting of snow followed by frost the day before definitely enhanced the beauty of an already spectacular state park.
Right from the start, a handful of runners took off at a rather quick pace. I had no intention of chasing anybody today and quickly settled into a pace more sustainable at my current fitness level. I wasn't sure exactly how many runners were ahead of me, but it didn't matter. My goal was to keep running the entire 50K without bonking or redlining and without walking anything without a serious incline. Don't be fooled, while the course may appear to be flat, I recorded nearly 3500' of vertical gain over the full 50K distance. I assume that estimate to be fairly accurate considering my watch contains an actual altimeter.
Looking at my splits for the day, there was only a slight decline in my mile splits. However, what was most exciting to me was the fact that I spent less than 5 minutes combined at all aid stations. I'd call that an extremely efficient aid station strategy and it's probably the least amount of time I have ever wasted at aid stations. Early on in the day I shared most of the first loop with one other runner as we took turns lading each other around the course. We left the 16.5 mile aid station at slightly different times and basically didn't see each other again until the finish. 
The course has a multitude of impressive and awe inspiring features. Some really cool suspension bridges as well as some amazing cliff/gorge views and, of course, a massive waterfall, along with beautiful creeks/rivers. These views are easy to miss, however, and I encourage runners to be aware of their surroundings and to take a step off the trail to enjoy these views rather than just pass by possibly without realizing these views even exist.
During the entire day, I was only passed once, which meant that my pacing strategy was spot on and was only surpassed by one runner:-) I'm pretty sure he managed to run negative splits, which is impressive in any trail ultra. I was just glad that I didn't fall off my pace much and that I didn't walk anything other than the steepest of inclines. 
Due to the low temps and dusting of snow the previous day, runners were cautioned to walk the bridges and to be aware of icy sections in general. This was sound advice, but didn't prevent me from slipping on a paved path just mere minutes into the race. I did manage to catch myself and it did imprint the need to stay 100% focussed through the day.
If I had to pick a favorite section of the course, I'd have to say the first 6 miles. However, the entire course flows really nicely. There are some short steep sections, but there is also a lot of flowing single track trail and a couple of road sections that allow runners a short reprieve from having to be 100% focused. Those flowing sections are undulating and very runnable. In short, this course allows for some fast times, even with 3500' of gain. 
My race strategy played out as planned. I took in 4 gels and drank about 4 bottles of fluids. I used some salt every hour and the biggest struggle as to force myself to hydrate as the temps were so low, thirst was not really a good indicator for fluid needs on this day. I supplemented my fuel with one quesadilla at mile 16.5, but that was it. My stomach presented no issues as per usual and when I finally crossed the finish line, the clock showed 5 hours and 10 minutes. I was beyond happy. My A goal for a perfect day was 5:30. To be clear, there are no A goals for a training race other than covering the distance, but I need a carrot...as long as that carrot doesn't drive my race. I ended up 4th overall and 1st Master overall, which is way better than I could have hoped for. Another successful training week has come to a close. 
See you on the trails! And don't forget to put this one on your 2023 race calendar! Final note: Special shoutout to my favorite ultra couple and sweeps, David and Shannon Dye!







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