The weekend of September 6th 2014 marked a bitter/sweet weekend in the sport of ultra running for many runners. It would be race director Terri Hayes' final event to ever be held in South Carolina. She has since moved to Florida and is now hosting races there. http://www.ultrasontrails.com/
Out of the 72 ultras that I've ran, 17 of them have been Terri's races. My first ultra was her Buncombe 55K in May 2009. She taught me how to run a 50K, then a 40 miler, 50 miler, 100K, and finally 100 miles. I spent hours with her out on the trails asking her questions and soaking in all of her years of experience that I could take in. She is one of the biggest reasons that I run ultras today and I will always be grateful for her unique, low key, and mainly fun events.
The final running of the Chattooga 50K was to be a celebration run as it ended her series in the state. I headed up to the race alone early around 4:30 AM and started running in the dark at 6:15. I instantly found myself lost in all of the race memories as my headlamp showed my feet were to land down the trail.
It was an emotional start to a run that would prove to be a tough one. With 100 degree heat indexes forecasted and my four month break from running I knew that I had to be smart and make wise decisions. I still got a little choked up thinking about all of the great friendships and runs that had taken place on this very trail over the years. It made the first 7 mile out-n-back stretch go by quickly and I found myself pouring sweat as the sun was completely up.
Terri surprised me with a mobile aid station around mile 8. I was prepared to run it fully self supported, but I was more than happy to take some ice and soda from her before heading into the remote & treacherous 10 mile Chattooga River stretch of the run.
I made great time running down the river while temperatures were still in the 80s. The river gorge provided spectacular views and cooler temperatures down near the water.
There were only about 10 other runners out for the race and I was one of the few taking on the challenge alone. As I past the 15 mile mark of the run I was excited and surprised to still feel great. I kept a nice even 13-14 minute mile pace navigating over beds of roots & rocks. I always feel like a little kid playing in a big tree house during this stretch of trail.
I made the turn back to the finish around mile 18 and headed back up the Chattooga River section starting to feel weary. The temperature began to soar and I was pouring sweat. The final 6 miles of the run are a big blur to me. I remember seeing a few runners who had gotten off course that I was able to get going in the correct direction. Also a young boy & girl who were lost out hiking.
With three miles to go from the finish I plowed into the river like a big grizzly bear. I was so hot that the cold mountain water didn't even feel too refreshing. I laid there on my back for a few minutes under a small water fall and let the cold current breathe some life back into my beat down body.
I slogged back up out of the river looking like a swamp creature and stumbled onto the trail for the final three mile push. Shoving a handful of ginger snaps into my mouth, I hoped for enough energy to make it out alive. For the first time in years I wasn't sure that I was going to survive this run.
I became very dizzy and kept having to lean on trees to gain my composure and balance. I just kept drinking water and moving forward at any pace that my body would allow.
At mile 29 with two miles to go I felt a huge blister pop on my right heel and it sent pain racing through my entire body! This was just the jolt that I needed and I began to run because a longer stride meant less pain & steps.
I finally crossed HWY 107 back into remote civilization and finished the final climb of the course into the campground to finish. There were no spectators at the finish, no T-Shirts, no medals, or prizes. (Ok, Terri did surprise us with a medal!) Just a few spent runners and Terri waiting to congratulate whoever was able to stumble in and finish. I've come to love finishing races this way and once again got emotional knowing this would probably be my final finish to one of Terri's races.
I ended up with a 8:50 finishing time which is a great for the shape that I was in. I want to thank Terri Hayes for this event and the many many others that she has put on in South Carolina. We will all miss you and thank you for helping us learn how to survive in this crazy sport. I will always be proud to be called one of "Terri's Runners".