Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Chattooga 50K - Beauty, Humidity & Southern Sweet Tea

This is my 2nd official Chattooga 50K ultra thought up by race director Terri Hayes.  This is the third of five ultras that she will host this year.  The course explored some different trails this go around.  Instead of beginning at Burrells Ford and running down the Chattooga we started at Cherry Hill Recreation Area.  From here we ran a 7 mile out-n-back on Winding Stairs Trail then ran 2.7 down to the Foothills Trail on Big Bend Trail.   The remainder of the race was close to last year with the exception of some new steps installed by trail volunteers along the Chattooga.  Nice!

I was excited to have my mother driving up with me to help volunteer at an aid station and cook burgers for the runners.  I was late picking her up on Sunday morning and I started our trip off about 20 minutes late.  We gulped down some coffee and drove Hwy 11 through the dark mountains until the sun began to rise at 5:20 AM.  I've never seen the sun rise at 5:20?  What is this Alaska or something?  Weird!

We saw a small black bear eating trash on the side of Hwy 11 near Walhalla.   That was neat to see, but I knew we didn't have time to stop for photos.  We took a quick break in Walhalla and drove quickly up the mountain to Cherry Hill Campground.  We were cutting it close with 10 minutes to spare before the race started.  I felt bad getting my mom there so late to volunteer, but she did great.  She knows how to cook and I know how to eat.  Either way - you can't lose!

Allison H. and mama cooking some great food for us to the right!  As always, BIG THANKS to all of the great volunteers who spent their day helping hot & stinkin' runners!  I never take for granted the privilege of running 10 miles through the wilderness to find a table stocked full of ice cold drinks and a buffet of food.  That is trail magic and volunteers make it happen.

Ultras are more like family reunions after only a year of running them.  It is so much fun to lineup at the start with so many friends and familiar faces.  So much raw energy waiting to run wild through lush & rugged terrain.  Here is shot from the start line.  Weeyz, Brian, Dan, Mike, Aaron, Charles, Psyche, Sean B. Byron B., Sherri, Dave, Sam, Thomas, the list goes on and on.

I was in the mood to run and the first 3.5 miles were just perfect.  Downhill & flat sections with roots, rocks, stream crossings, mud, and runners everywhere.  The lead back broke away quickly and I settled in with Weezy D. towards the back of the lead pack.  The first seven miles of trail was ran on a trail called Winding Stairs.  There are really not many stairs on it, but it seemed like a fair name for the trail.  Lots of switchbacks & very lush/tropical vegetation.  Here are a few shots of the first seven miles (Winding Stairs Trail).  Thanks to Brian, Ma, Sam, and others for the photos...

At 3.5 miles runners turned around and headed back up the trail...
This is around mile 5.  I'm climbing out of the valley...

I'm running with several guys through this stretch and it's nothing but fun & games for seven miles.  We laugh about trail stories and lots of other topics as the miles tick by.  Before we know it the first aid station of the day is waiting for us around 7.5 miles.

Sam supplying aid to some runners at the first aid stop....
Susan & Rob get a late start...
After this aid station the trails takes you across Hwy 107 and you turn right onto the trail into the woods.  This trail is called "Big Bend" because it takes you 2.7 miles down into the Chattooga Gorge and ends at the big bend in the river.  With 7.5 miles down I was feeling invincible.  The air had just began to get that thick southern "soup" feel to it, but it was still relatively cool in the shade of the forest.

About five of us ran the Big Bend trail together.  Brian took a nasty fall on one of the slick footbridges, but bounced right back up and kept running.  If you ever hike or run along the Foothills Trail be very careful on the bridges.  It seems like they are always slick.

After about 10 miles of running the pack separated even more.  Wayne and I were running at a nice pace and everything went quiet for about 30 minutes.  It was nice to just hear myself breath in rhythm with the movement of my feet.  We quietly took in some of the most beautiful & remote trail running that South Carolina has to offer.

The next 7-8 miles carries you over exposed rugged cliffs  that tower hundreds of feet above the powerful Chattooga River.  Man made stairs have been set into the sides of the trail and in some places they are so steep you can nearly use them as a ladder.  One false step and you could be in big trouble.  The roar of the river and the technical terrain just carries you off to another time.  I imagined being chased by Indians up and down the river.  Of course, they would catch me in reality, but not in my trail dreams!

Ok, I snapped out of my Indian trail dreams with about three miles left in the Chattooga section before the next aid station.  Wayne and I were being very careful to stay on course.  We double checked blazes on the trees several times and I looked back at them so I would have a clear reference on the return trip.

It is starting to get very humid at this point in the race and sweat is just pouring off of me.  We climb out of the Gorge and cross Hwy 107 again to find another aid station. 

Jill and Allison with the setup!
Runners filling their bottles....

Dan is such a rock star - Posing with his kids on the trail!

Chad was about 4 miles ahead of me, but still managed a smile...
From this aid station we ran downhill for 2 miles to a bridge and then turned around and ran back up to the aid station.  The run got tough for me during the two miles back up the mountain.  The humidity began to take its toll and the trail was like a steam bath.   Only, I could not lay it and relax, I had to keep moving!

Wayne is clearly pulling me along at this point in the run and I asked him twice to take off at his own pace.  He refused to do so and I tried to stick with him as much as possible.  He is such a talented runner.  I was watching him run downhill fast, power hike uphill, and then blaze through the flat sections.  It took everything I had to keep up with him and he even stopped to wait on me a few times.

When we reached the aid station again I felt horrible.  I wanted to get sick because my stomach was sloshing around like a washing machine full of laundry.  I tried to "make it happen" a few times, but nothing happened.

Wayne declared into my face that we would be motor-boating through the final 10 miles and I did not share in his excitement.  I told him that I was feeling crappy and he did the right thing by not playing into it.  Like I said, he is a smart runner.

So we headed off into the final 10 mile technical section of the Chattooga.  It's amazing how different this section looks running it from the opposite direction.  The river vistas are different and the hills that you easily ran down become massive and you try to pull yourself back up them.

I was ready to get sick just as we ran up on Susan & Rob going in the opposite direction.  I've never been running that fast 23 miles into a race.  Maybe we weren't really moving that fast, but I felt like we were flying.  Susan snapped this photo as we ran by.  I'm so glad that I didn't have to get sick in front of them.  Weezy assured me that everything was fine to just keep moving.  Those sweet little trail lies can just make your day.  It's amazing how much power is in a friend's voice during an ultra.  I imagined that I looked pasty and white, but again, just shut up and keep running.  The more you run, the sooner you finish.  The sooner you finish, the sooner you get to sit down and drink Sweet Iced Tea.  Oh man, Sweet iced tea!?  That sounded so great!  The burgers and sweet tea had become my new motivation.  Wayne kept me entertained with random stories and I lusted after Iced Tea.  I wanted to see a cup full of ice with tea spilling over the side.   I kept nibbling on some gel packs and sipping water.  Forward movement was key.
We finally made it to the Big Bend Trail intersection which meant only 2.7 miles to go until the finish.  "Only 2.7 miles" at the end of any ultra is a lot.  Much of this section was uphill and we ran it.  We power hiked some, but we just ran and ran.  Once again, the conversation faded into the rhythm of the run.  I knew we getting closer and closer to the finish, but each sharp turned left me wanting the finish line more & more.  Sweet Iced Tea baby!

We finally exited the forest onto Hwy 107 and had about a quarter mile to run into the finish at the campground.  It felt so great to be in home stretch.  At this point a part of me wanted to keep running because I didn't know what my body was going to do when I could stop.  Who cares at this point.  Sweet tea is waiting!

We finally ran out of the woods and could see the finish line.  Wayne jumped out in front and I was pacing behind him.
We get closer and closer.  I can see Beth, Ma & the kids and I'm already feeling better....
A few more steps to finish!
Whew, finally made it in around 7:50!  Abby gives me a hug...
Finishing an ultra is surreal.  People are clapping, your body is exhausted, but your mind is having it's own party.  Everyone is invited...
At this point I'm thinking wow, I ran that race hard.  I wonder what my body is going to do when I sit down?  So I eased up on the back of my car.  Wow, I didn't feel good at all.  Someone hands me that big cup of Sweet Iced Tea and I devoured it.  Then another, then another, then another....

Then it hit me like a tidal wave.  I had to jump off the car and rush into the woods.  I was sick for about 10 minutes.  Just hanging onto a tree and sending many of the day's calories back into the earth.  It was one of the best feelings that I had all day.  When it was over I felt great.  I drank some more tea, had a burger and hung around the finish line watch other runners come in.

Finally, some elevation information.  One runner's watch measured over 19,000 Ft. of climb.  I'm not sure how correct that is, but I seemed to feel every foot...


  1. Wooo! Congrats on the finish! Love those pics, too. You can see how humid it was!

  2. Nicely done, Jason! Another well-written report. Humidity can take a toll, but you pushed through it.

  3. Awesome report Jason. Thanks to you and Weezy, I enjoyed the day. btw- you mom hooked me up with a great burger afterward!

  4. Wow. Impressive Jason. Also enjoyed looking at the pics. Maybe I'll make it down to Chattooga next year :-)

  5. Awesome! Loved the pics and the write up ... well, I could almost smell you stinky runners from here :) Kidding, but seriously, I felt like I was running it with ya. Way to go, buddy. Congrats!!!!!