Humidity and bee stings... October in the South.
Hands down Rock/Creek puts on some of the best races in the South, if not the country. Everything from the expo, pre race dinner, accommodations, swag/giveaways, to the downright near perfect organization of the races.
Matt Johnson (runner from Mobile) and I decided to car pool up to Chattanooga on Friday to catch the expo. We walked around the expo and put our names on every piece of paper we saw with the hopes of winning something worthwhile. Won nothing. I did walk away with enough water bottles that even that Waterboy himself, Bobby Boucher, would salivate over. Oh, and enough stickers to paint the back window of my car and become the "please look at the rad, extreme life I live and I'm obviously funny because of all the witty bumper stickers I have" guy. Yea... I long to be that guy. It was good seeing some faces I've not seen in awhile. Phil (Pearl Izumi rep from Asheville) had a booth set up, Sean "Run Bum" Blanton, Erin Hannen, and Keith Mcabee to name a few.
After the dinner we headed over to the soccer fields to set up camp. A middle-high school near the start/finish area were gracious enough to allow us to set up camp on one of their spare soccer fields. After the cheerleaders and band stopped with the rah rah rah team spirit piece, the world became still and I was laid back under the stars with a beer in hand... the good life.
Woke up to a text saying "You breakfasting?" After spending a few minutes trying to figure out the devil device that wouldn't spit out my coffee (aka - Keurig), my dark roast was ready for consumption. Muffins and coffee... these are just a few of my favorite things. Relaxing conversation was thrown into a spin when Matt mentioned that we should probably start getting ready since the race started in less than 45mins. You would think with all the technology and all updates that a certain company makes you go through... that the least your "smart" phone would do would be to update time as you traversed time zones. No... no it doesn't.
Race time. The gun sounds and we're setting off. The first few miles were paved/gravel road for the most part. I came into the race with intentions of running it hard and fast, so I tagged along with Phil since he was shooting for roughly the same time goals. We opted not to stop at the first aid station. Close to 350 runners were on the 50k course, so I really wanted to try and get as close to the upper half as possible so I wouldn't get caught in the cluster. Felt strong going as I came through the second aid station at Suck Creek Rd. I was in a group of 4 as we all left out of Suck Creek and started along a beautiful scenic ridge line. At mile 7.6 we saw a swarm in the middle of the trail. Ugh gnats. I thought gnat season was over?!? Good thing they weren't gnats. Yellow jackets. A sharp pain on my inner thigh provoked a few obscene words that I threw down the steep ridge and into the Tennessee River. I looked down to see 4 more yellow jackets glued to the front of my shorts. After the swift removal of these unwanted visitors, I carried on... grumbling for the next mile about how painful that sting had been.
I rolled into Indian Rock House aid station at mile 10.6 for a quick refill. I had just enough time to grab a banana and top off my water before Phil slapped me on the ass and darted down the trail. Onward! We followed a Runners Roost girl for the next few miles. Worst form ever. It was absolutely terrifying to watch this girl run. Her ankles were literally rolling and hitting every rock she crossed. She took 3 massive spills (this was just the time I spent running with her) but she bounced back up and continued without hesitation. I can't hate though... she went on to win the women's 50k.
I still felt fantastic as I cruised into Haley Road aid station at mile 16.8. I was on pace for a new PR. Everything was fine and dandy. I started the climb out of the aid station and felt a little twinge in my inner thigh. No worries... happens all the time. Well, it got worse. Never full out cramped but had to continuously stop and stretch. I battled and battled to get back up to race pace. It didn't matter what I ate or drank... I just couldn't recover.
At Mullens Cove I made the executive decision to stop racing it hard. I trail run because it is something I love to do and it is enjoyable. If this was my first year of trail racing, I would have powered through and tried to kill myself to finish strong. Wisdom comes from experience. I knew if I powered through and tried to continue racing it hard, I would probably get hurt and this would mean taking time off from being on the trails daily... and I WOULD HATE THAT. So I slowed everything down and decided to enjoy the last half of the race. Best decision ever.
I laid back and put it on cruise control. A good amount of runners passed me when I slowed things down. Now in the past this would have bothered me. Being passed in the late stages of a race is like blood in the water. Shark eyes would have taken over and kill mode would be initiated. I let it go. I was in a good place and really having a good time at this point. Erin and Sean passed me at the top of one of the climb. She was looking strong and still had a huge smile on her face. She was in second and not too far behind the lead female.
I don't care if you are a drinker or not but in every race there is a "beer moment". A moment where you just want nothing more than a cold beer. This always happens to me... without fail. That moment came at mile 22. I hopped off the trail for a quick water release and quickly started back on the single track goodness. A few minutes passed before I felt a sharp pain from inside my shoe. SON OF A BEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!! Sting number two. A yellow jacket had stowed itself away. Ugh. The euphoric feeling was gone. Pissed. I just wanted this to be over now.
I was still highly irritated when I arrived at Suck Creek aid station the second time, but that quickly diminished after seeing the smiles of all the volunteers. Volunteers make races. Anyone who volunteers for these ultra events are special people and I honestly don't think they realize how much they affect the spirits of the athletes. From the bottom of my heart... thank you guys for everything you do. You truly are amazing people.
I left Suck Creek happy again. Happy to be able to spend my entire Saturday morning frolicking in the woods... doing what I love to do. I made the climb up to the final aid station. I turned the corner at Mushroom Rock and I could hear the aid station volunteers. "What can we get you? Water? Heed? A beer?" Surely this was a mistake. I checked. I was still completely coherent. I yelled up the hill. "Are you serious about the beer?" A big smile came across the volunteer. "Absolutely."
With 26.8 miles of rugged trail completed and roughly 5.2 miles to go, I was handed a PBR. This was fun. This was trail running. I chatted with the volunteers as I enjoyed my cold beer. The beer moment became a reality long before the race had ended. I thanked the volunteers for the beer and headed out to finish up the day.
6:04 (51/343). Not a terrible day by any means. It wasn't my best and it wasn't my worst... but I had a blast! Met some new people that I will now be seeing in a few weeks up in the Carolinas, saw some familiar faces, and ran some gorgeous single track. Another amazing adventure in the books.
Big congratulations to Erin for her second place finish! And to Matt... who wanted to leave with a battle scar... you got some buddy!!
I guess it's time to finish up my last cup of coffee and go out and enjoy this beautiful Sunday. Maybe sneak in an evening run and work some of this soreness out ;)