What a difference a year makes! Last year, I ran this race for the first time with my son, Nathan. He is a Navy helicopter pilot, and he drove through the night from Jacksonville, FL to run the race. He was able to catch an hour or two of sleep in the back of his vehicle before the start, but his tiredness may have helped me finish in front of him by about 30 minutes. This year, I haven’t run a race since January because of COVID, and Nathan is deployed on the USS Philippine Sea somewhere in the Middle East.
I have trained well this year, but there is no substitute for actually racing. Initially in March I kept training, but due to nagging issues I took a few easy weeks. Since May I have trained well, but I haven’t done many very long runs (30+ miles) this summer. I still feel good, and I have done a little taper for this race. Of course, the taper was going well until my hockey game six days ago found my team with only eight skaters. So, I skated very hard that night, and my legs might not be as fresh as they could be. Regardless, the point of this race is training for future races.
The start is staggered—every minute 10 runners begin the race. I am in the 11th group of 10 runners, and we start at 7:41am. The weather is cool in the 40s with clear skies. I think it should be a great day!
Mile 4.9 59:35 (12:08 avg./mile) Edwards Point
I wear my mask for the first 20 yards and then stick it in my pack. I am in the vicinity of a couple of runners, but never for long. The start is actually nice as last year there was a lot of jostling during the first couple of miles. Not so this year as I settle into a good pace. I hit this first aid station right on time. There is nothing except water and PowerAde at this aid station, so I don’t even pause as I pass through and continue on down the trail.
Mile 8.2 49:15 (14:55 avg./mile) Mushroom Rock #1
This section is more technical than the opening section, and as mentioned above, my legs are not as fresh as they could be. It seems that my race rust is showing in my slower pace through this section than last year. I am over three minutes slower than last year. This aid station has pre-packaged food—mostly small bags of chips. I grab a bag of potato chips and proceed to run down the hill out of the aid station.
Mile 14.2 1:40:13 (16:42 avg./mile) Indian Rock House
My slower pace on the technical trail continues for this section. Actually this section is one of the hardest (if not the hardest) of the course. There are a couple of climbs and two stream crossings. Usually, there are bridges across both of these streams, but the bridge over the second stream was washed away a couple of weeks ago. However, the water in the stream is low enough that I am able to cross the stream without getting my feet wet. Regardless, my time for this section is almost eight minutes slower than last year. Still, I am enjoying the day on the trails and getting a great workout in for my legs! I grab another bag of chips at this aid station—this time Fritos as I quickly pass through the aid station.
Mile 16.7 38:15 (15:18 avg./mile) Snoopers Rock
I eat my bag of chips and make my way quickly to this next aid station. This section is not too technical, and it is more downhill than up. This is roughly the same time I had last year, and I hope this loop back to the Indian Rock House goes quickly. I don’t grab any food at this aid station as I didn’t finish the bags of Fritos very long ago.
Mile 19.4 59:05 (21:53 avg./mile) Haley Road
Unlike the last section, this section of trail is definitely more uphill than down. I am working hard to try and keep people from passing me. Last year, I ran this section six minutes faster. So, it is a hard, slow section, made even slower this year. My lower legs are really feeling the fatigue. I do manage to pass a runner or two on the last uphill section leading to the aid station. I refill my Camelbak at this aid station. The aid station worker has a pitcher in his hand that looks like water, but it has a little blue tint to it. Apparently, the pitcher had just a little bit of PowerAde in it.
Mile 22.8 50:10 (14:45 avg./mile) Mullins Cove Parking
Leaving the Haley Road aid station, I try to keep pace with a couple of other runners around me. I am still running okay and am mostly keeping up with two of the runners around me. However, when we enter the rock garden section, I slow down more than my fellow runners, and they leave me behind. I focus hard on my foot work and keeping upright. My goal is to not roll my ankle. I do well in that regard, and soon another runner and I reach the Mullins Cove parking area. I grab another bag of chips and drink a small cup of Coke. I am hoping a little caffeine will help me keep the pace going. My pace on this section was only 31 seconds slower than last year, so this was a good section for me.
Mile 29.3 2:12:22 (20:22 avg./mile) Mushroom Rock #2
Leaving Mullins Cove parking area, I smoothly and quickly get back to the Indian Rock House. Now, it is a straight shot back towards the finish—I just have to retrace my steps from this morning. A routine for this section occurs: a few runners catch up to me. I listen to their conversation until they pass me. Then they quickly leave me behind. I don’t think I caught any runners on this section. Rather, it feels like I am drifting backwards in the field of runners. While I am struggling to make good time, I am enjoying myself out here on this trail on such a beautiful day. It is peaceful, and I am working hard. My legs start to think about cramping before I make this final climb back up to Mushroom Rock. I relax and steadily push each foot in front of the other. I get to the aid station just before another lady coming up behind me. I grab a cup of Coke and push out of the aid station quickly before she does.
Mile 31.2 16:17 (8:34 avg./mile) FINISH
I walk out of the last aid station and get about a minute of walking in before I hear the lady starting to run behind me. I am not going to let her pass me without a fight. I start my running and push the pace as much as my cramping legs will allow me. In my effort to prevent her from passing me, I catch and pass three other runners. By the time I make the final turn onto the paved road for the last few hundred yards to the finish, the lady is nowhere to be seen. I push hard to the finish, not to improve my time, but rather to look good.
Official Finishing Time 8:25:12
138th out of 223 starters (4th of M50-59)
Last year when I finished, Martha was waiting for me, and I figured Nathan would only be about 15 minutes behind me. It turned out that he was 32 minutes behind me. This year, Nathan is deployed somewhere in the Middle East, and Martha stayed home as she wouldn’t have been able to go to any aid stations. I manage to collect my complimentary beer and burrito, and then find a nice patch of grass to sit down and eat. My final time is 32 minutes slower than my time last year, and it is 45 seconds slower than Nathan’s time last year. It would have been a fun race if he were here.
I definitely had a lot of trail racing rust to knock off my legs. My hockey game last week also didn’t help anything either. However, this was still some great training. Other than a few bumps, abrasions, and sore muscles, I am no worse for wear. Hellgate is going to occur, and I need to focus on getting myself ready for that annual tradition. In preparation for it, I am going to run the Natchez Trace 50 miler on November 7th. Until then…
Never stop running,
DarinReturn to Darin’s Running Page.