Monday, September 24, 2012

Georgia Jewel 50 Mile Race

I stood at the finish line at 14 + hours and kept saying, "I never thought this would be so hard."

Of course, ANY 50 miles of running is hard, but this was a total shock for me.

I will go into more detail about the race, but first let me say how impressed I was by Karen (Race Director) and all of the volunteers who made this happen.  Everything flowed smoothly from picking up my bib number to finishing the race.  The trail was marked with perfection and the aid stations were plentiful.

On top of all this, the trail was beautiful.  I was expecting a run through some small wooded hills with a few decent views, but I was totally wrong.  A big part of this 50 miles ran on top of ridge lines which gave a constant overlook of some stunning valley views.  Then the mountain top views after the climbs were outstanding! 

I had originally planned to run the 100 miler, but decided to drop down to the 50 as a training run for the Pinhoti 100 miler in November.  Now I can't wait to go back next year and run the 100 miler at the Jewel!

Ok, the race....

The host hotel is only about 2 minutes from the start line so it was nice to have a little extra "sleep in" time on Saturday morning.

Me, Weezy, Bo, and Christian decided to make this a "bro run" and take on the challenge together.  We lined up at 6 AM to begin the race in the dark with a 1.5 mile climb up a paved road to the trail.  This was a well thought out start because it allowed all of the runners to spread out into their own pace without congestion.  The 35 & 50 milers both started together.  100 mile runners had the privilege of starting at 4:00 AM.

At the 1.8 mile mark the course throws you into some rocky & gnarly single track which runs along a ridge for about 3 miles.  It was beautiful to run through here and watch the sunrise over my right shoulder.  Christian had motored ahead of us, but the three of us set into a very easy pace as it begin to get light.

I loved that the course was setup with unmanned water stops in between regular aid stations.  This kept runners from waisting a lot of time and gave you just what you needed without carry a lot of fluid.  I made it through the entire course comfortably by carrying just one 20 ounce water bottle and a small 5 ounce slur mix shooter.

We ran along at a very "chill" pace for the first 23 miles and I laughed several times about the trail being so easy.  I stopped laughing at mile 23.1.  50 mile runners were doing 25 miles out, then turning around and coming back.  Around mile 23 the trail takes you up this crazy long & nasty climb to the top of a mountain.  I didn't really get too beat down on the climb, but the trail quickly earned my respect and attention.

We caught up with Christian through this section and the four of us spent longer than normal on top of the mountain enjoying the incredible views.  I was a little jealous at this point that I wasn't running the full 100 miles because those runner got to explore 25 more miles before turning around.  Next year!

Of course, the climb back down the mountain was much easier and it was nice to see where all of the other runners were in regards to the course.

The climb up and over to Snake Creek around mile 31 was the toughest on the course.  It was moderately steep and went on for nearly 2 miles.  Plus it had gotten much warmer during this part of the day and that beat us down even more.

Yea, like a stumbling idiot, I took down a ham & mustard wheat wrap.  Then ate another wheat wrap.  Then threw down about 6 cups of coke and handfulls of candy.  I thought I was gonna blow like a gyzer going up the next climb and told Bo that things were not good.  He ran on ahead - smart dude.

It eventually got better after about a mile.  Man, I'm glad I didn't have to lose all of that food.  The 100 milers would have had a mess to deal with on their way back the next day  :]

The climb went up & up from the aid station and I felt better.  I felt very controlled with my breathing and climbing rhythm so the new training must be working out some.

Weezy decided to call it a day at the mile 34 aid station and the three of us continued on.  I briefly considered pushing the pace, but stuck to my original plan of just trying to stay consistent and saving the hard running for Pinhoti in November.

We were happy to see Bo decide to push the pace and move ahead.  He was running his first 50 mile ultra and I believe that he could have finished 100 miles out there.

I'm glad I did decide to stick to my steady running plan cause' it was cool to run with Christian for a while.  He is normally miles and mile ahead of me in an ultra, but due to his recent health issues he was pushing to just finish this tough 50.

Surprises always happen during ultras.  It suddenly looked like I could be caught in the woods without a light.

I left my headlamp with the volunteers at the mile 10 aid station earlier that morning just in case I needed it for the return trip where I would pass through again at mile 40.  It was looking like I may indeed need to use it to finish, but they had sent them back to the start!  I panicked for a minute, but then decided that I would just pick up the pace a little to make it out to the road where I could easily finish in the dark.

I ran with Christian up through the next 5 miles and then decided that I better pick up the pace to make sure I was outta the woods before dark.  He did have his light, but it is nearly impossible to safely share one between two runners.

I'm so glad that it worked out this way because I arrived at the road about 30 minutes before sunset.  Just in time to sit on a huge rocky overlook and catch one of the most amazing sunsets that I've ever seen.  I reflected over the day as I watched the deep purples & orange creep down behind the blue mountains on the horizon.  This had ended up being one of the best days I had ever spent as a trail runner.  Great friends, awesome trails, and being part of something much bigger than myself.

Christian and I took the paved road down together to the finish for about 1.5 miles carefully dodging traffic at dusk.   As always, the finish line couldn't have looked better when we finally made it in.

I guess there is no need to say that I highly recommend this race to any lover of gnarly trails in the mountains, but I do!  I cannot wait to go back and hit the hundo next year.

This was an absolute perfect training run for my 100 miler at Pinhoti.  I spent 14+ hours on my feet and was able to get right back into solid training after one day of rest.  Plus, it re-kindled the fire to go out and give it all in November.  Just what I needed.

Congratulations to Bo Millwood for blasting through his 1st 50 miler.  You made it look easy man!

Here is the garmin info if you're interested.


  1. Oh yeah! It was a blast to share a small part of that Keown Falls climb with you, Wayne, Bo, and Christian. That put a big smile on my face during a rough time. Here's to the toughest, most brutal ultra that I've ever finished. You get some serious coolness points, Jason, for kicking those last ten miles without a headlamp.
    Way to get it done!

  2. Ill def have to do this at some point. Great report man

  3. I need to put this one on the "to do" list.

    thanks for the excellent report

  4. Ditto on the to do list. Sounds like you had a good day!