I spent the week in Colorado with temperatures ranging from -1 to 16 degrees. When I ran on Wednesday morning, the temperature was -1. Now, I am in Talladega, Alabama (or close to it) where the temperature at 7am is 65 degrees. The race is going to start in 30 minutes, and the only question is whether I start with a shirt on or off. My son-in-law, Ben is running this race as well, and Amy is crewing for us. I asked Ben last night if he wanted to stick together, and he said it would probably be good for the first half, just like we did in October at the Paris Mountain 50k. As this is Ben’s second ultra, this is a good idea. Just before the start, we chat with Caitlin, who is a former roommate of Amy’s. She says she is going to take things really easy today. I also make the decision to take off the shirt as it doesn’t feel cool at all.
Mile 3.3 35:54 (10:53 avg./mile) Chandler Springs
Ben is in the lead right from the start as Caitlin and I follow behind. Within a couple of miles, Ben has worked his way quickly around other runners, and Caitlin and I lose sight of him. Surely, we will catch up to him soon enough as he settles into a good position. When we get to this first aid station, Ben is nowhere to be seen. Caitlin and I press on thinking that we will catch up to him at some point—sooner or later. Despite the fact that Ben is well ahead of us, I have run a quick pace for this section. My goal today, if it doesn’t get to hot, is to try to average between 12- and 13-minute miles.
Mile 8.5 1:05:34 (12:37 avg./mile) Clairmont Gap
I continue to lead as Caitlin is content to follow behind. Another runner, who is running his first ultra, is also tagging along behind. I manage to dial back the pace nicely, and I am happy with my pace given the conditions. Speaking of which, it is already feeling warm. I don’t know how warm, but when the breeze is not on me, it feels very warm. At this aid station, we see Amy, and she says Ben is about 7-8 minutes ahead of us. I drink some chocolate milk as well as some Conquest.
Mile 14.9 1:39:48 (15:36 avg./mile) Adams Gap
Caitlin and I along with a couple of other runners make it down and through the most technical trail portions in this race. The rock gardens are such that walking is necessary at times to keep from injuring myself. At one point I catch a toe and go down, but mostly unscathed, I pop back up and continue leading the small pack. Then around 12 miles or so, I finish a downhill section and realize that I need to slow down. There is no breeze in this valley, and I am roasting. I let Caitlin and several others pass by me. I watch them pull away, but know that if I am going to survive this warm weather, I need to slow down to keep from overheating. At the aid station, Amy has already left since she needs to keep up with Ben. The aid station workers are telling us runners that it is seven miles to the next aid station. At first, I think I have missed an aid station or something. So, I ask, “Isn’t this mile 14 aid station?” Yes, it is, at which I reply then we only have four miles or less to the next aid station, not seven.
Mile 18.4 1:08:32 (19:35 avg./mile) Hubbard Creek
The wheels are coming off as I continue to slow my pace. I think I feel okay, but it is just so warm that I know I cannot push the pace like I want to (or could in cooler weather). Scores of runners have passed me by, but there are a couple of runners that are moving as slowly as I am. At the aid station, Amy is here with more chocolate milk and Conquest. I also take the opportunity to sit down. Amy says that Ben is 27 minutes ahead of me, and Caitlin is about 10 minutes ahead of me at this point. Earlier, I was thinking that mile 18 would be the point at which I picked up the pace to see if I could catch Ben, but now I know that unless he blows up, I will be finishing behind him today. After drinking chocolate milk and Conquest, I grab a couple of PB&J sandwich quarters.
Mile 25.3 1:48:48 (15:46 avg./mile) Silent Trail
After the refreshments, I settle into a good groove. This section has several stream crossings, and they are good for cooling off a bit. It feels like I can push a little, but I know I need to save that for the end. Instead, I methodically make steady forward progress. Somewhere on this section, the race clock passes 6 hours. The previous two times I ran this race, I finished in 6:40 and 6:44. This is obviously going to be slower than 7 hours, but the question is how much slower than 7 hours? At the aid station, Amy has again moved on before I get there. I grab a couple more PB&J sandwich quarters and refill my empty Camelbak. I also drink two cups of Coke. It is time to see what I have left.
Mile 27.9 32:35 (12:32 avg./mile) Lake Cheaha
Leaving the last aid station, I feel ready to push it to the finish. I run most of this section and pass a couple of runners. It is now time to really kick things in and get this race done. At the aid station, I grab another cup of Coke before heading towards blue hell.
Mile 31.1 1:04:12 (20:04 avg./mile) FINISH – Bald Rock
Blue hell is the name of the trail that climbs Mt. Cheaha. The trail is marked by blue blazes, and climbs 1,500 feet in about a mile—hence the moniker. I vow not to stop on the climb and manage to work my way around another couple of runners. As I near the top of the blue hell climb, my leg muscles begin to rebel. First it is my right calf muscle. I ignore that and keep pushing. Then it is the left calf. Finally, the upper legs start to cramp, both on the insides and backsides. By the time I have finished the blue hell climb, my legs need a break, but there is still about a mile and a half to go to the finish. All of the runners that I passed in the last few miles come back by me as I am still moving forward, but only in a technical sense that I am not actually standing still. I stagger into the finish with Ben sitting there already showered and changed.
Official Finishing Time 7:55:23
112th out of 228 entrants (31st of M40-49)
It was a very ugly day for me today, but I guess I can take solace in the fact that I did persevere and finish no matter how slow it was. Ben was 50 minutes ahead of me at the end. My legs recover quickly once I allow my body temperature to come back down. The heat cramps were intense, but I worked through them, deep within my pain room.
Ben and I are both entered into the Bull Run Run 50 miler on April 7. This will be his first 50 mile race, and we will see how well he makes that transition. Until then…
Never stop running,Darin
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