Race check-in was smooth with lots of runners (87) from all over the Southeast. It was great seeing my friend Terri Hayes (RD) again as we had little time for talk with all that she had on her plate as Race Director. I chatted with a few of the runners as we shared stories of past races. Running conditions were perfect with a clear blue sky, cool temps, and the trail was in excellent order. Terri gave her trail brief and off we were. I told myself to just take it easy and don’t race if I wanted a chance to complete this thing. This was the first time I used my Polar HR monitor in a race just to remind myself how much I was working myself. The first 8 miles was on Great Wall (GW) loop which is shaped like a flat bottom bowl. The first 2 miles of GW is a fast downhill section which forced me to ignore my thoughts of taking it easy (so much for my original plan of taking it easy). I was towards the front of the pack as a small group of 3 cruised at a good clip. I checked my HR, from time to time, and I was going too hard and fast for my fitness level. The two other guys knew each other (from NC) as they exchanged a few jokes at the other. Then they started to ask me questions about the course so they could strategies their plan. I had no problem sharing because I knew I could not hang long. We powered up the other side of the bowl shaped loop at a good clip and into AS #1 to top the tank off. I took a little longer in the aid station and the two NC guys took off. Next was the Deep Step loop which is only about 6 miles long but more challenging elevation change. At this point I was feeling really good, and was wondering if my body remembered how to run long, and all I had to do was enjoy the ride. It felt great to be running on the trails with woods on both sides and soft pine needled under my feet. This is a mountain bike trail with plenty of roller coaster type terrain which made it interesting. I was half way through the loop when two ladies and a guy went flying past my like it was a 10K, as they chatted about how beautiful the course was and fun to run. I was thinking wait until later and see if you are still singing the same theme song. I caught up to the two NC guys and stayed a short distance behind as we completed the loop and into another AS. I topped off my bottle, another gel, handful of pretzels, and ready to continue this perfect day. I looked over to the side and stretched out on the ground was one of the ladies, and the other two, that went flying by me. Next loops were Brown Wave and Skinny, which are combined in a figure eight pattern, and the flatter of the other loops. As I cruised down the trail I was thinking I’m almost halfway done with the race and surprised how good I felt considering my lack of endurance training. My stomach was a little upset because of what I tried for breakfast, but I wanted to experiment with some different stuff to see how my body would handle it. I would never do this for a longer race, but this was just the right distance to try something new. This might just turn out to be a really good day, and so glad I made it to the starting line. I’m not running as fast as usual, had a few close calls in rolling my ankles (week from not running trails as of late), but everything is going better then expected.
Funny how quickly things can change from good to bad. After a few more miles behind me, my stomach really started to become more of an issue, and I had to slow my pace down to let it calm some. Then I could feel my quads getting a little tight as if the early stage of cramping. I told myself to keep a level head, use my experience, and work out my issues. I finally made it to my families AS, and my wife was a little worried because of how long it took me. She said this was shorter then a long training for me and was surprised to see me so late. I told her what I was battling, and was degrading fast. She said just hangout for awhile and let your body regroup before going back out. I had a couple of Tums, sipped some water, and took another S-cap. Gels and food was not an option! Time to get back out on the trail and get some miles behind me! Now I was only coming up on the 20 mile mark and moving at a snails pace trying to keep my legs from cramping up, and loosing everything in my stomach. Maybe I should have listened to that voice inside of me that said don’t race yet! A lot of self doubt started to creep inside as I examined my situation and started to wonder if now I could finish this race. This started to feel like mile 80 of 100 – What’s going on here! Time for that talk with myself, remind myself I’ve been in a lot more pain and in worse condition, and still faced further distance then this entire race. Just keep moving forward, suck it up, and things will turn. It was a slow section but I finally made it to the last AS before going out on the final loop (Great Wall in reverse direction).
I arrived at this race undertrained physically and mentally, made the classical mistake of going out too fast, experienced every high and low a race could offer, and battled back to feel victorious in the middle of the pack. What an incredible day – Now this is what I call living. A little less trained and I may not have finished, a little more trained and it would have felt like just another race. Not a fast time, not a top ten, no PRs, but I really felt great afterwards knowing I pushed my limits in a race that made for a memory of struggle and accomplishment. A small victory over that little voice that said don’t do it!
Thanks Terri Hayes for a great race, and all the hard work you dedicated to give ultra runners 5 incredible races in the Southeast. You are truly amazing for all you do.