Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Chattooga 50k Race Report

Terri Hayes is a firecracker of a little ultrarunner and every year she puts on the South Carolina Ultras on Trails Race Series. The series consist of five races that are free of charge, Terri does accept donations to offset her expenses. In the world of sky rocketing road marathon fees, this is a welcome change! At the urging of The Sean and Psyche, I emailed Terri to see if there were any slots left. The races are capped at 74 runners; this one was full. Luckily, there were a few drops and I got in! Just recovering from my first 50k at Sweetwater, I continued to log miles and planned on running it "just for fun" (If that is ever the case...)

Holly and I drove up from Atlanta and found a hotel room about 30 miles from the Cherry Hill Recreation Area, where the race was to begin. We drove over Saturday evening to scout out the place and meet a few people. As I drove into the campground I immediately spotted The Sean and got out to talk to him. We also meet Jim and his wife Jade, this would be Jim's first ultra. Not longer after that, Terri and Psyche came back from a course-marking trip. (In hindsight, this is really funny; I think I will let Psyche explain it though...) After meeting Terri and Psyche we hung out in the campsite for a bit before calling it a night.

Arriving early Sunday morning, my plan to run easy was quickly dashed and I had visions of "PR's" dancing in my head. The usual suspects were milling around and after a short briefing from Terri, we were off and running. We started on a 3.5 mile out and back on the Winding Stairs Trail. I fell into a line mid-pack with some great characters. Jim was leading us down the 1000 ft decent, while Lil Wheezy and Jason Sullivan were keeping our minds off the task at hand with some light banter. Some of this "banter" is not fit to print, let's just say we had fun going down the trail...As we were getting close to the bottom, the leaders were coming back. The Sean looked comfortable in second place. Hitting the gravel road we began our climb back out. The return trip took a little more energy and I slipped off of the back of the line.

Reaching the first aid station at about 6.5 miles in, I refueled and crossed over Hwy 107, entering the Big Bend Trail. Not long onto this trail we were blazing down some rooty, single track. As I approached the first wooden bridge the runner 20 yards ahead of me yelled back a warning that the bridge was slippery. "Okay, thanks!" Yup, then I wiped out on the bridge. Landed square on my left side and blasted the cap off of my water bottle, 15 feet into the creek. DOH! luckily It hung up on some branches and I was able to retrieve it and save half of the water in my bottle. We were told to only drink the creek water if we treated it; I did not carry anything to treat it.

I spent the next ten miles by myself, Allowing the morning to unfold, taking in the beauty of the forest. I ran several miles along the Chattooga, listening to the serenade of it's beautiful song. As the temperature slowly rose, I was coming close to taking a dip into the cool water of the river.

As I began to climb away from the river, the quiet of the forest began to wear on me, I did not hear or see anyone for miles. A lot goes through your mind when you are out in the middle of a national forest all by yourself, especially after you learn this is where they filmed "Deliverance".

Then I turned a corner and running right towards me was The Sean. He looked cool and comfortable. Man was he a sight for sore eyes. He asked how I was doing, I told him good now that I saw him; I thought I was off course. He assured me I was going the right way and wished me well. After that, I did not see another runner for over ten minutes ~ He was cruising!

As I climbed out of the trail, back to Hwy 107, I saw the familiar sight of Holly's car. Ha! My Sweet Boo was at the 2nd aid station! Out of water from my earlier mishap, I refueled, grabbed some food and head out for a 2 mile out and back. As I entered the station Jason and Wayne were leaving; It was my goal to catch them and run with them for a while. Those last ten solo miles were tough and I didn't want to run by myself. I caught them at the turn around and we ascended the next two miles back to the aid station together. Since this section between aid stations was so short, I made good use of it and drained both water bottles in attempt to get my hydration back on track.

Pulling back into the aid station we all must have looked refreshed because the volunteers commented on how good we looked. I remember Holly looking at me and saying "You are doing really great!" I stuck with those guys going back onto the Foothill Trail and must say, I really enjoyed running with them. Wayne kept us fired up, even taking time to talk a little shit to the trail markers. I was like a rubber band stretching out on the climbs and snapping back on the down hills. As the climbs grew longer, my band eventually broke and I was dropped.
I tried to keep them in sight as long as possible; I eventually looked up and they were gone.

They disappeared into the distance somewhere around mile 24. I was prepared to finish alone but was secretly hoping someone would roll up on me and we could run in together. I drained my second water bottle around mile 26 and still had not been caught from behind. I caught occational glimpses of Wayne and Jason on the trails above me, giving me motivation to continue "moving forward" Somewhere in this mile I made a critical navigational error (Yes, I got lost) I found myself going straight up this runoff. it was so steep I had to concentrate on every step and I had stopped looking for trail blazes.

Interestingly enough, before starting mile 27, I had decided to run that mile for my father. I had a few chats with him on the climb and drew strength from his example. My dad's mile took me 33 minutes, he always gets his money's worth. Reaching the top of this gut wrenching climb, I discovered a road. Wait, there is not supposed to be a road here. We were never to go on a road! FML! What did I do?!?!?! No?!?! Do I need to go back down that hill? What if this is right and I go back down only to have to come back up again? How about I just sit her until someone comes and gets me??? I needed to push forward. I began to backtrack looking for a blaze, when I came across an intersection I remembered from the morning. Do I go left or right? Let's go right. Being back on trail, I was rejuvinated and running strong, albeit downhill. 1/4 mile in I see two runners coming toward me? Huh? They tell me I am going the right way but that makes no sense. After a short discusion ("We are going this way!"), I decide to follow them. At this point, my pace is terrible and I cannot hang onto them. Without fear, I know I am going in the right direction and keep moving forward. I continue to work my way through the final couple of climbs and come back to Hwy 107. A quick left turn and I am soon on the road to the finish.

As I look in the distance, I see the most beautiful woman in the world. (Standing next to her is my wife. J/K) My sweet boo is holding the clipboard at the finish line, recording times. Every runner dreams of being greeted at the finish line by their loved ones, this was no exception. Without saying a word, we both knew what we had gone through over that last ten mile stretch. Thank you for being there.

Speaking of thank you...THANK YOU to all of the volunteers at the aid station and the finish line, as runners we get to enjoy our love of this sport, but without those people behind the scene, it would not be possible. Special thanks to Terri for putting on this great event!

On the car ride home, we had this great discussion about getting out of your "Comfort Zone" I pushed myself to the edge with muscle failure and dehydration. I was forced out of my comfort zone and into that dark place I don't like to see. There was a point where I was longing for the comfort of my bed, wrapped up in my blanket. Instead, I was forced to push through, see that the dark place isn't that bad, it will not last forever. It is hard to put into words, but everytime I go into that place, I come out the other side a little stronger...as long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other; one step at a time.

Final numbers per Garmin:

Now that I am familiar with the course (and some areas around the course) I look forward to running this race next year...maybe with The Sean...


Julie said...

Hi Thomas,
Holy crap, I am in total awe! You did awesome:) You just finished a 50 K!! Thanks for an enjoyable race report with great pictures....you know how much I like pictures:) You looked great even after the race! I love how you call your wife your sweet boo:) It is great having family support on the course. Congrats!

Carolina John said...

Rock on bro. Well done. The trails in SC will ruin you for other runs. You pulled out some strength and courage, and did fantastic. be proud.

C said...

Dang, dude, you rock! Well done.

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

WTG, P. Escargot!

Too bad you didn't meet up with that banjo-totin' South Carolinian inbred, though. You obviously wanted to.

O sure, your mouth may've been saying No No No, but your eyes are all "Yes, Please!"

Especially in that last photo.

Better luck next time.

Kathrin said...

Great job! Congrats!

Psyche said...

Awesome! I know what you mean about the comfort zone- "What's on the other side defines you."

Can't wait for next year! Revenge of the Rookie!!

Al's CL Reviews said...


Jason said...

I enjoyed reading the report & great job getting back on course. You looked strong from the very first mile. Hope to see you out there again soon!

MCM Mama said...

Great job! I'd totally freak out if I got lost. Way to keep your head on straight.

Anonymous said...

That is just awesome! Very scary thought of possibly getting lost, though- and very easy to do on a lot of trails. You kept your cool and made it through! Congratulations!

The Sean said...

Great work out there. This is a course that tests you in every way. Those rough spots seems to be all of reality when you are in them, when they are over though they seem as real as being on the moon.

Here's to being on the moon.

The Boring Runner said...

GREAT report!!! Loved all of the pictures. And you had a really good time too!!

I've been wanting to run a trail race for a while now, but getting lost seems to be a common theme amongst all of the reports that I read. I'm not sure that I could deal with the stress of running MORE than I thought that I should

Turbo Photographs said...

Nice work!!! Don't you love Wayne? He just has a way of making people feel good and knows how to have fun. Congrats on a well run 50K!

I hope to be back out there on the trails soon :)

Anonymous said...


Anne said...

I think you've crossed some invisible threshold when you decide on the fly to run a 50k - and certainly after you retain a sense of humor while falling on bridges and hiking up the wrong trail.

Hone said...

Yep. Your turning into a certified ultrarunner! Congrats and loved the report.

Jim said...

Thomas, it was great meeting you two at the race. When Doug and I came into the campground we saw you up ahead of us and I was surprised since you were about two miles ahead of me at the bridge turn around. Now it all make sense.