Jason Green was the RD of this 1st annual event and it was too inviting to pass up in my training for the GA Jewel 100 later this month.
I really appreciated the Musgroves hosting us at their house and cooking a perfect pre-race dinner the night before. The after dinner shenanigans weren't too shabby either. Synchronized dancing and chainsaws. Good times.
Here is a brief description of the race from the event's website:
"50 mile and 50KM races designed to help runners achieve a new distance and allow veteran runners to run a speedy time or tune up for upcoming fall events. Both races utilize a variety of relatively easy trails, including weaving single-track and broad open fields, as well as narrow trails along the Chattahoochee River. With moderate hills and trails, the course is designed for fast times and for those looking to try their first trail ultra."
I originally signed up for the 50K thinking that a 50 miler this close to my 100 was a little too much, but was swayed into the 50 miler since everyone else in our group was running it. More miles, more fun, more trail time...it all made sense on Saturday night before the race.
As it always seems to be, I found myself pinning my bib number on 30 seconds before the race began on Sunday morning and I actually broke a sweat by just doing that. This was the thickest air of the summer.
We've had a terrific cool & rainy summer in South Carolina with unusual low humidity. This was one of the few days I can remember it actually feeling like summertime in the south.
It looked like about 200 runners lined up and started the race as the RD gave us some final instructions and sent us on our journey.
Me, Joe, Bo, Tiana, Katie, Annie, and Rachel were all running in a pack. The hills were fairly small in the beginning, but we ran most of them for the first 4-5 miles. I noticed that I was losing a TON of sweat and felt like the pace was dangerous, but I really wanted to run with everyone else. I kept pace, but it was uncomfortable on the running climbs.
It was lots of fun to chat with Rachel some and even Tom who I had the pleasure of running my 1st ultra with five years ago.
My first mistake/surprise came at the aid station. There was only water and no food or salt. Luckily I had brought along about six S-Caps and I took my first two. I've seen this often in ultras and I should have been prepared with some nutrition.
I began a high fat / low carb lifestyle of nutrition three weeks ago and I was testing it out during this run using a supplement product which helps your body burn fat for fuel instead of mainly carbs. One benefit of this method is that you don't have to eat as much since your body is supplying the fuel. I just didn't have a clue how adapted my body was to this yet or how much I needed to eat.
In hindsight, with the weather being brutally hot, I should have just loaded up with carbs and ran like I always have, but that makes way too much sense. This was not the day for a learning laboratory. No, instead lets play "Electrolyte Yahtzee" and see how long it takes me to fade away into oblivion.
It didn't take long. By mile ten I began to get really dizzy. I had just went through the 9.5 mile aid station with the entire group of friends. I ate a salted potato, a little watermelon, and just got some water. I complained about them not having ice, but they actually did. I was just having a hard time focusing because my head was already screwed up from the heat. I was sweating so hard my visor looked like rain was pouring off the rim.
The next stretch of trail is beautiful and takes you alongside the river. I really began to fall apart through here and get ill. I took my supplement at the 3 hour mark, but it did nothing for me. I believe that is because my electrolytes & nutrition was nearly depleted.
After vomiting twice and dry heaving I sent everyone else on their way and stayed behind. This really put me in a dark spot because I was not faced with the task of trudging 20 more miles along to finish the 50K. My hopes of making the 50 mile cutoff were gone.
I sadly watched my friends scurry ahead up the trail and I started looking for water to get into. If nothing else, I've learned during an ultra, when everything goes to crap just stop and start over. Pushing only compounds problems and can land you in the hospital if you're not careful.
After another half mile of a druken stagger I plopped down into a refreshing creek that was about 1 foot deep, but very cold. After wallowing in this wonderfully cold slop for five minutes and cooling down my first task was to check my vitals. I counted about 3-4 heat beats even 10 seconds and that is very low for me. I believe that the heat and lack of nutrition had somehow caused my blood pressure to plummet.
As I laid in the creek playing doctor several runners passed by asking if I was OK. I actually laughed a few times and thought, "how can anything about this be OK?!" Some of them looked as bad as me, but none of them joined in the festivities.
After 15 minutes I pulled myself out of the creek and managed to at least walk normally for a mile or two. At this point the trail opened up into full exposed sun I began to feel delirious. Any hill climbing would cause me to nearly faint & black out. I found myself holding onto trees at times to keep from going down.
I thought the next aid station was at mile 15.5 which would be the turn around point for the 50K runners, but it actually ended up being closer to 18 miles. These next three miles were a big blurr. I remember seeing Tiana coming back down the trail from the turn around and just managing to mumble to her. I laid down by a small stream and drank from it like a dog. At this point the pride was gone, it was all about getting to the aid station and dropping from the race.
It seemed like nearly every runner would come by me saying, "they have ice pops at the next aid station." I just wanted a truck at the next aid station to take me home!
The trail finally took me out into a residential neighborhood and I was certain that I was off course. I still saw course markers, but that meant nothing to me at the time. I figured some neighborhood kids probably just put them up as a joke. Who cares? I thought if I could find a swimming pool in here I was getting in. Man, I'm glad I didn't find that pool. That would have probably ended in cuffs.
I followed a hard top road and then a gravel road forever. The sun & humidity were just hideous through this section. There was no where to hide from it beating down on my head. Jason Green was called all sorts of interesting names through this section.
I finally made it to the turn around at about mile 18. I had never felt this horrible during a 20 mile run. I didn't drop right off the bat, but went to the aid station and got some ice cold Coke and ice. I followed that down with some salty chips and oranges. I laid in the shade for about 30-45 minutes and began to feel a little better.
I felt like I was in a house of mirrors at this point. All alone and looking back at past races where I had hit low points. Every direction I looked in my mind showed different ways I had figured out how to finish. Many of them were brutal and I have permanent scars, but they are the ones that I will forever cherish. I remembered how it felt to just quit and give up at a race, Sitting alone at the finish line watching runner after runner finish so excited to finish their race while I was nothing but a quitter.
I'm not sure that it's ever worth giving up hours of agony for a few hours of comfort knowing that you will give up the personal glory of finishing a race.
I had left my family for a portion of labor day weekend to come down and run this race and at that point it hit me that I would find a way to finish it. I don't quit anymore. I may miss cutoff times or get injured where it's impossible to run, but there was no way that I was taking that bib number off until one those two things happened.
I will always respect fast runners who race and drop because they don't want to ruin themselves for another event, but that's just not who I am. The beauty is in the suffering.
I stood to my feet and looked at my watch. I had about 8 hours to make it around 14 miles back to the finish. My plan of attack was to slowly walk all of the exposed sunny areas (like I had another choice!) and get into every source of water that I could find to stay cool.
I felt just as bad & hot on the first four miles of the return trip. I stood amazed as a runner would occasionally come flying by me. The contrast of feeling great & feeling doom was overwhelming. I had to put my mind somewhere other than here so I started forming shapes with things in the forest. This would only last for a few minutes and I would just daze off into some ultra funk where there are no more thoughts.
I've learned to be comfortable at this point even though my body & mind may not be. I've learned that this is normally rock bottom and things will get better if you take care of your body and keep moving. Even if it's only 1 mile per hour. Just keep moving.
As I reached mile 20 I was completely spent. I laid down on the side of the trail and began to hear thunder in the distance. It was so peaceful here. A cool wind was beginning to blow and the leaves above almost seemed to be cheering me on as they clapped through the summer heat.
Then it began to rain. Then it all got better.
God unleashed buckets of rain and the temperature must have dropped at least 10 degrees. The wind began to blow and humidity seemed to vanish. I took another dose of my supplemental mix with some protein and within 30 minutes I was actually running! I put together a 4 mile stretch of nearly all running as I approached the final main aid station.
To my surprise I ran upon a guy who had completely cramped up and was surrounded by others on the trail. He was wrapped in a space blanked to help keep him warm and emergency personnel were already arriving on the scene. I spent about 30 minutes waiting to see if I could help get him out, but they sent me away. I realized how fortunate I was and that my day could have really been much worse.
I ran into the final aid station with food and had a very strange, but awesome food combo. I ate a chunk of watermelon, then dipped the rhine in peanut butter, then salt. These calories kicked in and I had the best stretch of running for the entire day.
It was so cool to finish the course along the lake and hear everyone partying at the finish line. It caused me to push harder so it would be over. I finally hit the pavement for the final quarter mile into the finish as was greeted by a nice round of applause as I crossed the finish line in about 9:30. Most runners would never be proud of a 9:30 50K time, but I was grinning like a cat the whole time.
This was a special race for me and just what I needed before heading into these fall hundos. I have a solid plan of nutrition that was learned the hard way. HUGE thanks to Jason and his army of volunteers who stood in blazing heat and thunderstorms for us to go for our goals.
I still can't fathom how Annie, Katie, Joe, Bo, Rachel, and some others pushed themselves past the 50K turn around to go after the 50 miler. I heard only about 40 runners out of well over a hundred did that which was incredible.
Possibly the most exciting & touching moment of the weekend was seeing Bo & Rachel finish the 50 miler together. This was Rachel's 1st 50 mile finish and I'll never forget the look on her face.
I couldn't have asked for a better weekend.