Monday, March 1, 2010

Keep It In The Bag

Mom, Dad, and I headed out of Blacksburg around 11 AM for the Talladega National Forrest with absolutely no qualms about leaving the cold, snowy and windy Blacksburg tundra.

So on the ride down to Alabama I was thinking over some of my mistakes and lessons from the last race. Number one, be mentally prepared. Check. This marked one year of ultra racing for me and my favorite race to date and I was psyched to go back and work for a little redemption from last year when my IT band locked up. So good, I'm already on the right track with learning from my mistakes of last year and to add on luckily pops had rented out a cabin for the whole family to stay in so I would not be bunking in my Nissan Stanza for the night. Two goals down and we're not even out of Virginia on.

Following the 8.5 hour car ride we arrived at the top of Alabama, just as I remembered it from last year and the cabin was amazing. Stopped by packet pick up real quick and eagerly dumped all of my new goodies out on a bed in the cabin . . whats this? Montrail Ultra Cup? Why is this race listed on this sticker? Well, ends up that I did not realize that the Cheaha 50k this year would be part of a competitive series held by one of the #1 trail running shoe companies. That means, yes, a big step up in the competition. Quick pasta and chicken sandwich dinner and off to bed to get some rest for the 5:30 wake up. EARLY in the morning I realized I had fixed another goal from last race. Not by charging my cell phone and setting all 28 alarms, but rather by bringing Mom along (she woke us up at 5AM because we forgot to bring the cream cheese for bagels), love you Mom.

Moving along to the race. We showed up to the trail head about thirty minutes before the start. There it was the Mount Cheaha 50k sign that you start under and don't see again until your at the top of Alabama. I stretched a bit and tried to stay warm in the car (starting temp was about 35 degrees) until 5 minutes before the race start. The race director came over the speaker and told front runners to move to a suitable position because immediately after the start the trail funnels everyone into a single track for about 3.5 miles. The picture above (thanks to my sister for all the awesome photography over the weekend!) was taken just before the start right after this announcement. The cool part about the photo, the 9 people you see in front ended up coming in within the top 15 places, just goes to show that everyone knew exactly what they were capable of!

Onto the race already!!

There is no better way to start a race in Alabama, in the beautiful Talladega National Forrest, 10 miles from the not so beautiful Talladega Speedway, than with the sweet sounds of Lynard Skynard. Yes, to start the race they blast Sweet Home Alabama. When you hear the music, boy you better start runnin. I tore out in front as usual but feeling alright and came down into Aid Station #1 at 3.5 miles running just in front of two guys. Here starts the climb, aid station #1 to aid station #2 is in my mind one of the hardest parts of this race and it comes at you quick. I decided to drop back my pace and not even attempt to keep up with the two guys that came through the aid station with me, they were running at a phenomenal pace. A good choice, one of them one the race with the closest person behind him coming in over 30 minutes later. Congratulations, Dane Mitchell. I took it very easy between the first and second aid station as to not burn out all my energy as I had the previous year but I did give up a few places and was running in 5th coming into aid station 2.

Oh no...Aid station 2. The marker of the start of my least favorite climb of the whole day. I decided to power hike the section and gave up two more places. Now running in seventh I started getting a bit bummed...last year I had run in first until mile 19! Well there's no room for negativity in an ultra and the last thing you can do is try to compare races, EVERY ONE IS DIFFERENT. I got to the top of the climb and it was game on. Having studied my elevation charts before the race, the next 15 miles of the race were the fun runnable trail that you have to take advantage of. I decided to try to hold my place and it worked pretty much all the way from mile 9-19.

Dreaded, heinous, mile 19. I started feeling a cramp coming in my hamstring and decided to stop to stretch. Here's where I learned my biggest lesson of the day. Never in an ultramarathon, can you drift off and let your mind wander, or you will pay the consequences. Well it happened, my mind was wandering and instead of stretching my hamstring I stretched my quad...totally wrong muscle. From standing on one leg i put my left leg back down to the dirt and the second it hit the ground so did I. You would have though I got hit by a shock wave I fell so fast. I really don't even remember falling. This had only happened one other time in my life and it has to be the most embarassing moment of a race. I was lying, face up directly in the center of the trail, praying, that the number 10 runner was not going to come around the last turn. Well after relaxing and having it cramp up two more times, there he came. Once again though this is why I love this sport, the guy didn't laugh, didn't run right on by, he paused and said . . you aright? you need a GU? Knowing I'd be ok in a minute or two I waved him on by but the cool thing about this sport is that I have no doubt if that guy and I had been fighting for first and second place he would have done the same exact thing.

Coming out of the cramp I made the best decision to date in any race that I've run. I decided to sit back and take it easy and walk to aid station #4. Being an all downhill section . . I can't describe how hard it was letting ten runners breeze by without wanting to at least just try to keep up but I held strong to my plan and walked it in to mile 22.5 hoping that my leg would be rested enough to compete the last 9 miles.

Leaving aid station #4 I picked up behind a super nice guy that was running at a pace I felt like I could handle and decided to stick with him for now, soon enough though I ended up in front of him after he took a few steps down a wrong trail. Then I saw another guy ahead in a white t-shirt and thought "maybe I could slowly catch him?" Learning my lesson with not letting my mind wander off I took careful attention to each step I was taking as to not irriate my cramped leg again. One mile down the trail, I was passing a guy in a white shirt. I kept on truckin. We reached mile 25 where you come out onto a dirt road and yet again I saw a black shirt, a quarter mile up the road. By the end of the dirt road, I was passing the black shirt. I have NEVER passed someone in an ultra before, this was a huge accomplishment. Up until now its been RUN RUN RUN really hard in the beginning and between miles 20-30 people come passing by me as I'm walking trying to recover my energy. I came into Aid station #6 in 14th place with 3.5 miles left and Dad told me two guys were only 2 minutes ahead. How would I fare on BLUE HELL?

Blue hell is a section of trail at mile 29 that is 900 vertical feet in one mile. Hands down my favorite part of any ultra that I have ran to date. I ended up passing three people in this mile reaching the highest point in Alabama feeling more accomplished then I have in any race. The third guy I passed ended up sprinting by me in the last mile of the race, and cheers to Marcus, it was a heck of a sprint to the finish with you.

Final time and place. 5:17:52. 12th place. 48 minutes and 10 places better than last year

The Cheaha 50k once again holds its place as my favorite trail run, much of this to do with the excellent organization of Todd Henderson. A race will always reflect its director and I have no doubt that the Cheaha 50k will continue to grow bigger and bigger over the years so thanks again for a great race Todd and all the volunteers all the way from the EMS and the Ham Radio to the Virginia Tech Hokie Alum at aid station #4. Hokie Nation!

Here is a link to all of the other lovely pictures that my sister took of the race and park!
And another link to the race results!

Totals on the Day -
Miles = 31.1
Time = 5:17:52

Thanks Mom, Dad, Hannah, and Mark for being a great support crew and motivators! Mark, looking forward to having you out there next year :-)

Cheers to Dane Mitchell for an AMAZING time of 4:00:25 and for smashing the course record by 30 minutes!

Congrats to DeWayne Satterfield for setting a new PR for himself on the course as well!

1 comment:

  1. i look forward to these every week haha this week was the best since in the picture you are repping the sigma kappa shirt haha love it