Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Feet Don't Fail Me Now - Duncan Ridge 50k

Reasons I signed up for the Duncan Ridge 50k:

1.       I love the north Georgia mountains

2.       The DRT is one of the hardest trails in the South

3.       Could possibly get to hang out with my Georgia trail peeps

4.       To keep me from running Pinhoti 100

While the stated 1-4 reasons are all fantastic reasons… #4 is the MAIN reason behind the DRT 50k sign up. I spent most of the sticky, hot, humid Alabama summer in a boot and recovering from a terrible case of plantar fasciitis. I knew if I was going to bounce back from injury… I would need to be smart and gradually ease back into training/racing. So I decided against Drake’s “zero to a 100 real quick” approach and instead decided to go with his “started from the bottom” approach…
Instead of hopping right back into longer distances... I decided to enter some shorter distance races and slowly build back up… like the Ridge 2 Ridge 21 miler

PC: Karen McDonald

And the Autumn Equinox 16 miler…


Before tackling my first long race back at the Rock/CreekStumpjump 50k

PC: Mark Macknight

Running injuries are tough. They break you physically but I think even more so mentally. Running for me is more of a lifestyle than a hobby. By no means is it the center of my life… but it is a major part of my life and brings me lots of joy. When you are accustomed to doing something almost every single day and then physically can no longer do it… it can be depressing. Thankfully I have an amazing support group made up of friends and family that kept me positive throughout the process and kept me from going crazy… I mean it’s not like I went crazy and started cross dressing as a French maid or anything like that…

Well... maybe the cross dressing thing did happen... but who doesn't like dresses?

PC: Beau Beard

Though I feel like I could have finished Pinhoti with my current fitness level… I just don’t think it would have been an enjoyable experience. And to be honest… I had a freakin BLAST crewing/pacing Sam and Ali at Pinhoti this year!

PC: Chulwon

The week before DRT50k was really relaxed. I was excited because this was the first time since March where I didn’t have any sort of nagging issues or pain going into a race. I did a few short runs around Montevallo to keep the legs loose…


 With an extremely peaceful sunset/night run up to King’s Chair on Thursday…


I decided to take a half day off work on Friday so I wouldn’t feel rushed. Before heading off to the mountains…  I made my way over to the FARM  to be a part of a video shoot they were doing.

PC: Beau Beard

After a few short takes… my part of the video was complete and I headed onward to Georgia to settle in for the night at the Hiker Hostel.


It was so great sharing laughs and drinks with Bradford Poppins and Jason Green. It had been far too long since I’ve seen these guys. We discussed Jason's  Yeti 100 that he directs along with various other trail related topics. Eventually the conversation came to a close and we all headed to bed.



There’s just nothing flat or easy about the Duncan Ridge 50k. The only way to describe this race is ruthless. Jason was kind enough to illustrate a step by step guide of how a runner’s race typically goes…


For the first few miles you’ll be singing and laughing as you gallivant along the single track. After climbing +2000ft over the next 4 miles up to Coosa Bald… you’ll probably feel a little bad and some may want to even purge their breakfast. By the time you start the return trip on the DRT… you’re calf muscles will be aching pretty bad. Once you make the awful climb up the backside of Coosa… you will see a can of gasoline and book of matches resting on Coosa Bald. At this point of the race… runners are encouraged to go ahead and soak their thighs with the Super Unleaded Octane 93 gasoline and strike a match. This is 100% guaranteed to be a more pleasant experience than the next 4 miles. Once your quads are completely trashed… shuffle the last 3.5m to the finish line for beer.

I got out of my car at Vogel State Park and stepped into a bitter cold morning. The temperature was just below 40 degrees and was only supposed to warm up to a little over 50… but the wind was piercing. I went and grabbed my bib number and said hi to my friend Ceci. When I got back to my car I saw Ben Gray. We chatted for a few minutes and he introduced me to a guy named Sean who had just crushed his first 100 miler at Pinhoti a few weeks earlier. As I started packing my vest for the race I heard a familiar voice call my name from across the parking lot. “Hey whats up hello?!?!” It was Violeta! The last time I saw V was when we crewed Brandi to her Fat Dog 120 finish up in British Columbia. I gave her a hug and we caught up on each other’s lives for a few minutes before we started talking about race wardrobe. Thankfully… she persuaded me into wearing and bringing along a lite long sleeve Patagonia base layer just in case things got slow moving and cold.

PC: Deborah Williams

I stood around talking with Jason for a few minutes before making my way over to the starting line.

PC: Deborah Williams

After a few words from the race director… we headed out along the asphalt on our adventure. I went out with the lead pack so I wouldn’t get bottle necked and stuck in a conga line. Before I knew it… we were already coming through the first aid station at mile 3.5. Although I was sure the wind would pick up and be cold for the climb… I still removed my long sleeve base layer as soon as we left this aid station since I had planned to keep a steady push up Coosa. We had a solid group as we made our way up Coosa. I kinda laid back and just listened to their conversation for a while from the back of our little wolf pack. From a few of the discussions that took place during the climb… I gathered that a few of the guys were doing the 30k option and would soon break off on their own route once we hit the next aid station. We were greeted with a cold wind once we topped Coosa Bald. I had tweaked my ankle during a night run a week prior to the race… by no means was it bothering me but to play it safe… I stopped and tightened my shoes before I made the descent down to the Whiteoak Stomp aid station at mile 8.5. The ladies at Whiteoak Stomp were super sweet. I quickly filled my soft flask and grabbed a banana before heading back out onto the Duncan Ridge Trail. The next several hours were going to be the most difficult. The DRT is basically a roller coaster ride of steep ass, switchbackless, ascents/descents with little to no flat sections. My plan was simple: solid pace on the descents and hard effort power hike on the climbs. My plan worked. I ended up passing a couple of runners during this section. I eventually caught up to a guy from Asheville named Brandon. We shared an enjoyable conversation for a bit before I fell back into my pace. I wasn’t ready to push things just yet and wasn’t going to let someone else dictate my pace this early in the race. I settled back into my rhythm and took in the views. This race was one of the few times I had been on the DRT and actually had views. Usually my view along the DRT was concealed by fog, summer trees, or nightfall… so I was grateful for the alone time on this crystal clear day.

PC: Ceci Santos

As I started the long descent down to Mulky Gap aid station (mile 13.2)… I began already dreading making this climb on the return trip. That dread went away when I heard Sean cheering for me from down below. I quickly refilled my flask and grabbed a banana. Sean said I was only a few seconds behind the second place runner (Brandon) and wished me luck on the trip up to Fish Gap. Despite just meeting Sean for the first time before the start of the race… I already really liked him. He was a genuine cat. 

I slapped Run Bum’s Georgia Death Race sign as I started the climb out of Mulky Gap. I caught up to Brandon and we ran together for a bit. We met up with the lead runner (Caleb) as he was calmly jogging up one of the climbs. He seemed relaxed and steady. I knew there would be absolutely zero chance at catching him so after he passed and pleasantries were exchanged… he became none existent. Brandon asked if I wanted to pass and took advantage of his offer. I knew we were closing in on the turnaround at Fish Gap and wanted to get in and out really quick.

I was greeted with a familiar face at Fish Gap aid station (mile 15.4).


It took every fiber of my being not to ask Molly for a shot of Fireball… but alas… I left the bottle unopened and was in and out of the aid station fairly quickly. I started coming face to face with other runners as I started back towards Mulky Gap. Because of the double fisted banana halves… I gave a half assed/crappy high five to Run Bum as he passed by (no disrespect bro!).

In no time I was back at Mulky Gap (mile 17.6) chatting with Sean. He said the lead runner was about 25mins ahead. I had no intentions of pursuing this nonexistent figure he spoke of so I simply refilled my flask, said my thanks, ducked my head and started the hellacious climb out of Mulky Gap. I honestly don’t know which climb sucks more… the climb out of Mulky Gap or the climb up the backside of Coosa. I guess they both have their own special recipe for suck soup.

Since I had kept my energy and efforts at a pretty steady level all day…  I rolled back into Whiteoak Stomp aid station (mile 22.2) happy and relaxed. I refilled my soft flask with some electrolyte mix and grabbed another banana half before heading up the steep climb to Coosa Bald. I knew if I was going to keep my position in 2nd I was going to have to push it hard on the dreaded 4 mile 2000ft descent back down Coosa. I went ahead and apologized to my quads (for the record: it’s Wednesday and they still haven’t forgiven me).

I made good time down Coosa and thoroughly enjoyed the fun descent… but boy did I pay for it. My legs were trashed as I made my way in and out of the final aid station. The last 3.5 miles aren’t necessarily hard miles… but they aren’t easy. I kept a steady pace for the first mile and sang along to Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die”…

“Feet don’t fail me now… take me to the finish line…”

At one point… I even tried to hurdle a downed tree. The legs told me quickly that they didn’t completely appreciate the jumping gesture. I promised them there would be no hurdling the rest of the way in. Even picking up the legs past a certain point created muscle spasms. Though I was moving slow like day time drama… I finally popped over the road and back onto the final section of trail that leads into Vogel campground. Being less than a mile from the finish… and most importantly colbeer… I picked up the pace. I popped out onto the asphalt and was looking forward to coasting the last quarter mile to the finish line. Unfortunately… Sunshine wasn’t about to let that happen. I turned around and saw the 3rd place runner (Josh Cline of Florida) in practically a full sprint closing in behind me.


I forced my body into a sub 7min pace sprint until I reached the bridge leading to the finish. I fist bumped Caleb Denton (overall winner) as I crossed the line.

PC: Deborah Williams

6hrs30mins and +10,000ft of vertical gain later… I could finally stop.

PC: Deborah Williams

We all stood around introducing ourselves to one another and chatting about the race for a few minutes.

PC: Deborah Williams

Caleb had managed to take a pretty gnarly face plant dive into a rock right before the last aid station. He had a pretty bad cut along his eyebrow but still managed to set a super impressive new course record in 5hrs45mins!

PC: Jason Green

My body temperature was falling quick so I changed into some warm clothes before joining Jason and Bradford Poppins’ group for a beer. I set up shop beside my buddy Kristopher and listened in on his recent running adventure in Chile. We watched Ben cruise in for a huge 22min PR on the course!

PC: Kristopher Cargile

We are certain that if it wasn’t for the accumulation of salt on Ben’s face… he would have shaved off the necessary 57 seconds for a sub 7hr finish…

PC: Kristopher Cargile

It wasn’t long before Violeta came bounding in for a 2nd place overall female finish!

PC: Jason Green

I didn’t know a ton of people in the race… but I hung around for a bit to watch the ones that I did know finish. I’m glad I got a chance to sit down and talk with my buddy Kevin for a bit. We chat pretty regular through social media messages… but nothing beats being able to talk face to face. I also got a chance to see my friend Ceci! It had been years since the last time I had actually seen her!

PC: Ceci Santos
I said goodbye and snapped a picture with some of my trap crew before packing up for the long drive home.

Though my legs weren’t fond of the long drive back to Alabama right after a tough race… it was nice being able to sleep in and wake up to the wifey and Wobbles the next morning…

After a lazy coffee and bacon filled Sunday… we headed down to the in-law’s lake house for a relaxing evening. I took a nice, easy sunset ride along some of Shelby County’s finest country roads on the bike to try and loosen up my legs…


Maybe I’ll take Jason’s advice for next year…

“Run the 50k once and then just come back every year and do the 30k. That way you can just hang out and drink beer!”


“Run long, run wild, and howl loudly!”

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