Monday, June 21, 2010

Chattooga River 30 Mile Night Run - Foothills Trail

Night running is fun & challenging.  Especially on a Friday evening after working all day & week.  I have made previous post about Friday evening being my least favorite time to run.  It just seems like my natural time to wind down and rest for a long run/race on Saturday or Sunday.  On the flip side, it presents the perfect time to push your body & mind when you are tired.   A great training tool & simulation of running the night portion of a 100 miler.  Running thirty miles from Whitewater Falls to Oconee State Park provided this great opportunity.

The Logistics:If anyone is interested in doing this section as a run, hike, or backpacking trip this information may help.  Our group met at Oconee State Park and setup camp before the run.  This ended up being a great idea because we didn't have to do it in the dark when we finished running.  We then drove several cars towards Whitewater and dropped two aid station vehicles.  One at Cheohee Road and one at Burrell's Ford Road.  It was great to have our aid locked inside a vehicle so we could be sure that it would be there upon our arrival. 

I think we ended up beginning the run from the gravel parking lot at Whitewater Falls around 7:15 PM.  Seven of us headed west towards our destination at Oconee State Park.  The group consisted of Dan, Charles, Dave, Chad, Sam, Psyche, and myself. 

The first few miles went up from Whitewater.  I'm guessing that we probably climbed about 1,000 feet.  There were several stunning overlooks back towards lake Jocassee and the surrounding mountains.

It began to get dark near the Fish Hatchery and everyone put on their night gear.  The trail from Fish Hatchery to Burrell's Ford was very nice with several runnable sections.  Charles took a fall just before this section that would leave him with a nice take home prize....

The first aid drop at Burrells Ford came quickly.  Almost too quickly.  I didn't want this run to go by so quick because I had been looking forward to it all week.  We all refilled our fluids and ate some quick snacks here and tried to get in the right mindset to face the technical Chattooga River section.

I GREATLY enjoyed this section.  My mind began to take me back to previous adventures through this section.  Some with backpacks, day packs, no packs, but all with great friends.  I found my running rhythm which was interrupted quite often by roots, rocks and hills that were too tricky to run over.  It felt surreal to hear the mighty river raging below the trail as I scrambled through the night.  The headlamp provided a 5 foot circle of light in front of me, but my senses were heightened by all of the beauty around me.  I stopped a few times to quickly turn my light off and loop up at the stars over the river.  It was so dark you could nearly taste it.  The stars were painted all across the vast expanse of sky and a crescent moon seemed to be smiling down at us.  It felt great to be alive. 

As we climbed away from the Chattooga River towards our next aid drop I slammed my head into a tree that had fallen at head level across the trail.  I was still buzzing from the great experience along the river and all of the sudden ***BAM*** my head connected with the timber.  At least the tree smelt good.  I was focused on the trail in front of me and not even paying attention to objects at eye level.  The collision broke my headlamp and glasses.  Both of which I was able to repair after the run.  I was left with a few small cuts across my face, but nothing too bad.  These things happen.

By the time we crawled out of the river gorge I was getting sleepy.  It was around 2:45 AM when we hit the final aid vehicle which meant we had about 5-6 miles left in the journey.  I ate a big banana muffin at the car and refilled the water one last time.    This final section was much easier than the rest of the trail.  There were lots of runnable downhill sections and the few uphills were not too long.  My legs and body felt great, but my head was drifting off into zombie land.

We finally reached the western terminus of the Foothills Trail at Oconee State park around 4:00 AM.  This picture was taken in complete darkness:

Charles, Dave, Psyche, Dan (Thanks Psyche for all the pictures)

It felt great to be finished, but we still had another 1/2 mile to go on pavement before reaching the campsite.  Every ultra run seems to have these little "extras" to make you remember it more.  It was nice to zone out running on the pavement and not have to worry about footing while we finished up. 

I enjoyed running such a beautiful trail with an amazing group of people.

This was a special run for me because it marked my completion of the entire 77 mile Foothills Trail.  I have been running/hiking different sections for 16 years and I have finally traveled the entire trail in segments.  I drifted off to sleep in the tent with many old & new Foothills Trail memories dancing in my dreams.

I'm looking forward to running the entire 77 miles at one time in July.


  1. And I thought "head-bangers" were heavy metal I know it's trail runners also! Nice summary and good work finishing your last section of the FHT..I KNOW you're ready for July 24!

  2. Great report, Jason! Looking forward to joining y'all one of these days.

  3. That's quite an adventure! Glad you all made it out alive with only minor injuries :-)

  4. That was really an adventure! I am getting very STOKED about the big event!!!!