I actually slept sound the night before the run, but did manage to get us lost on the way to the race. My buddy John and I were planning on running together for the day and we ended up having to start the race about 25 minutes late. We were both a little anxious about missing the start, but it may have helped us settle into our pace quicker. Just chill and enjoy the day!
I was having a tough time keeping my eyes off all of the beautiful scenery for the first eight miles. I have done a lot of backpacking around the southeast, but I have to say that this is one of the most beautiful areas of the country that I have ever seen. Sandy beaches, rugged cliffs - it really has a little of everything. I would guess that about half of this section was runnable for someone with my limited experience. It was still fun to swing off the branches like a monkey and hop downed trees while maneuvering through the more technical areas. It took us nearly three hours to reach the first 10 mile aid station . Those were some rugged 10 miles!
Terri Hayes and her volunteers continue to spoil us with great aid station stuff. I would even eat from one of these stations if I was not trail running. John and I were having a lot of laughs heading up to this first station which seemed to take a while to arrive at. "Three hours for the first 10 miles? What?!" We must have said it twenty times. We were both thrilled to see that little white tent in the middle of no mans land. I was especially glad to see that pack of cookies and little round sugar things! We spent about five minutes gathering up goodies and decided it was time to get back to the run and finish the first half which takes you down to Oconee State Park.
The stretch from the ten mile aid station to the turn around point at mile sixteen made for some perfect trail running. Mainly soft pine straw and very few rocks roots. Just when you think the Chattooga is being too nice to you it throws in a nest of hornets just for fun. We came to a small wooden foot bridge and three runners were standing in front of it like they were getting ready to run across it at the "right" time. If we had not already heard over ten other runners say "bees ahead" then we would have thought they were out of their minds! We both ran across the bridge as fast we could without getting stung, but I know that the majority of the runners did get hit at some point.
At the sixteen mile turn around point John decided to take himself out of the race due to severe foot blister issues. He had them between his toes and about everywhere else of the foot you could imagine. His foot actually looked like a piece of watermelon, but it was too early in the race to start having those weird thoughts! I wanted to get back on the trail as soon as possible from the turn around to try and pace with some other runners. It took me about four miles to finally catch up with some other people. My head starts doing crazy things when running alone in remote wilderness. I always enjoy these times :}
I reached the final aid station which is ten miles from the finish is good condition. My legs were a little fatigued, but not too bad overall. I had no idea how much water and fuel I was going to need over the next rugged ten miles. I ate what I could at the station and filled the camelbak up to the brim with fluid. I had a feeling that the run was really just beginning here and was I ever right!
Let the madness begin! I was cruising down the mountain from the final aid station. The day had turned out to be incredibly beautiful and my spirits were soaring. I was surprised how different the trail looked coming back in the reverse direction. There were even better views of the river and some distant views of the surrounding mountains. Around mile 29 I discovered that all of my liquid had been guzzled down and I only had a few espresso beans left to eat. I knew this could spell disaster for me because I count on extra food/drink at this mileage to keep my head clear. Soon after this I began to 2nd guess myself and wondered if I was still on the right trail. I did a few 100 yard circles looking for trail markings when I should have easily known that I was going the correct way. Thankfully I stumbled upon three other runners and were able to navigate to the end without a lot of problems. I was comming close to the finish on the edge of dehydration and I was so hungry I thought I was going to drop. All that I could think was "This better be the final mile." Finally, in the distance I heard people clapping and cheering and I knew the finish was right around the corner. BBQ sandwich bliss! The race director's son is a chef - how sweet it that!?
The Chattooga 50k was the hardest physical challenge I have ever finished in my life. There were times in the final four miles when I thought I may just collapse, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I learned to carry a little more food/water than I think I will need and never underestimate the boost that another runner can give you on the trail. I think I finished in about 9:10, but not sure yet as the results are not posted.
I can't wait to do it again next year. Next up - Landsford Canal 50K July 18!