14 May 2022


I don't remember whether it was after one of my Georgia Death Race, H9 or Cruel Jewel 50/100 finishes, but I had sworn to never step foot on the Duncan Ridge Trail again for another trail race. I was 100% done with this trail, so when I found myself back at Camp Morganton in Georgia on Saturday morning at the starting line of the 2022 Cruel Jewel 50 Miler, I wasn't sure what had happened. 
I could blame my buddies Paul Morris or Jeff Morgan for suggesting it in the first place, but that wouldn't be fair. They just provided the excuse to do this again. I figured the timing would be perfect for a final hard effort tuneup race for my Tahoe 200 Miler a month later. 
I arrived at Vogel State Park, the finish location for the Cruel Jewel 50 Miler, Friday evening around 6PM, still in time to pick up my bib and race swag. The Cruel Jewel 50 Miler is a point to point race that starts at Camp Morganton and finishes at Vogel State Park after 56+ miles of challenging terrain with approx. 15,000' of vertical gain. Most of that elevation gain comes from a 20+ mile section on the Duncan Ridge Trail, lovingly referred to as the Dragon's Spine. Race organizers shuttle runners in comfortable coaches from the finish line area at 6AM on race morning to make the 1 hour drive to camp Morganton. This gives runners about an hour leading to the 8AM race start to finish their race prep, catch up with fellow racers and share some encouraging words with some of the Cruel Jewel 100 Mile runners that would arrive at the turnaround for the out and back 100 mile distance while we were waiting on our race to start. Having done the 100 before, I felt sorry for them considering what still lay ahead of these badasses. But I also knew the tremendous feeling of accomplishment that awaited these runners once they made their way back to the finish line at Vogel State Park, but not until enduring the same 50 miles again plus the infamous 6 mile out and back that added a couple of thousand feet of extra vertical to really make them earn it.
Paul, Jeff and I shared a campground at Vogel State Park that allow room for both Jeff's Camper and my camper van. After picking up my race packet, I headed to the campground to get my gear ready and to fix some simple sandwiches for dinner before getting some sleep ahead of my 4:30AM alarm. I planned out my nutrition for about 12 hours of running as I fully expected to rely on aid station foods later in the day to change things up. I loaded 12 Spring gels (Canaberry, Awesomesauce and Koffee) into my UltrAspire Zygos 5.0 vest. For fluids, I prepped two bottles with Nuun electrolytes, relying on fluids from the aid stations.
 I would also carry some basic layers as well as trekking poles to do some final gear testing before Tahoe. As expected, I resorted to mainly coke for the last couple of hours of the race. I stuck with the Mont-Blanc trail shoes, currently my favorite ultra trail racing shoe from Altra paired with Merino CEP socks. All of my choices were spot on with the exception of my choice of shorts and built in liners. I'm changing to a linerless short couple with a separate baseliner to try to avoid chafing issues, that have unexpectedly crept up in my last couple of races. I also intend to try some different lubes as moving for 72+ hours in hot/cold/wet climates can create serious havoc on your feet and nether regions.
Race morning was fairly uneventful. Jeff was kind enough to make coffee for our entire crew and I ended up shuttling us the mile from the campground to the shuttle bus pickup near the finish line. We arrived at Camp Morganton at 7AM as expected, giving me time to chat and just relax and consider my plan for the day. I was 5 weeks out from the Tahoe 200, so while I didn't want to cause any damage to myself, I did feel that I could push a little, if the day required it. As we all lined up at the starting line for some final words from the race director, I started scanning the field of runners around and ahead of me. I only recognized a couple of them. Either way, I figured I'd line up somewhere near the tail end of the first 10 runners off the start line. That plan had been working well all year, so I stuck with it. 
The race started at 8AM sharp and we all took off down the road leading out of Camp Morganton. The first 2.8 miles are all on an asphalt road with the first of many climbs starting just after the first mile. I ran almost all of that first 2.8 miles, but quickly started to hike the climbs once we passed the first aid station and entered the trails. After all, the plan was to simulate my Tahoe 200 race, so pushing on the hills was not a good plan. As it turned out, the day felt slightly warmer than expected, so I had no choice but to slow down on the climbs to minimize overheating.
I quickly lost sight of the race leaders and most runners around me, but would fall in with the eventual third place female runner, Shannon Howell. We ended up running together until about mile 48, when she flew in and out of the aid station while I tended to some minor issues. She would end up putting 20 or 30 minutes on me over the final 8 miles, but I was by no means taking it easy, especially for the final 5k to the finish. Nothing like felling like you're being chased down by another runner over the final miles of a long race to put some fire under your ass. 
While I was pushing pretty hard for the final 3 miles of the race, I ended up having do dial it back a little in the earlier miles. This race has some serious elevation change and while the early climbs are longer and less steep, the Duncan Ridge Trail section is all about short and steep climbs and descents. This is where the warmth and humidity of the day finally caught up to me. I started to get pretty hot on the climbs and had no interest in overheating. I was staying on top of my fluids and nutrition and my Spring gels kept my energy level. That coupled with SCaps and plenty of fluids ensured that I did not encounter any muscle cramps.

Slowing down the pace on the climbs prevented the redlining I was fearing, but I'm not gonna lie, the Duncan Ridge Trail never has been a favorite of mine. I prefer long steady climbs over short and steep stuff. However, this had to have been the best weather I have experienced over the course of 10 years of racing and running in this area. As a result, I was able to snap a couple of images from along the course. The pictures in this race report are image grabs from the video clips I took during the race.

I made it to the final water stop just before dark. I put on the headlamp and readied myself for the final 3.8 miles that mainly consisted of a climb back to the state park and the finish line. While I had only been passed by one runner after the first 8 miles, the eventual female winner, I wasn't quite sure where I would end up in the overall standings. I was pleased to find out that I ended up as 5th overall male finisher with a finish time of 13 hours 39 minutes, two and a half hours faster than my first stab at the Cruel Jewel 50 Miler in 2015. It will probably be a while before I get back on the DTRT, but I won't say never this time, I learned that much. Thanks to the awesome race volunteers and RDs for putting on another perfectly executed event. Find the 2022 Cruel Jewel 50 Mile race results here.

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