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"It's the real thing"

That's the quote from venerable 100-mile runner Wes Fenton, who was working the first aid station at the Cumberland Trail 50K in Tennessee last Saturday.

It was the real thing alright. No kindergarten games at this event. We pushed hard through the dark hours and made that first check at the 5.5 mile mark in 2:14. I knew a tough day was ahead.

The course, designed by Susan Donnelly and Rob Apple, had it all. Rocks, rain, primitive bridges, waterfall crossings, climbs to 3000 feet, then descents to 1400 feet and back to 3000. And at the turnaround point, the race organizers arranged to have a wild elk on the course! Try to find that at most of your local 5 and 10K's.

The race about did me in. Missed a turn leaving Cove Lake State Park off the start and lost about 30 minutes, then got off course again (all this before sunrise) when I made a climb up the wrong trail. Finally got back on course and made the halfway point in 4:47. Not much margin in a 10-hour cutoff.

So, while I was resigned to houring out, I kept plodding forward. However, the return leg of the course gave back more than it took. The terrain offered much more descending than climbing, so we moved at a better pace.

Byron Backer (dude looks like Freddie Mercury) won in an amazing 5:26. A long time after that I stumbled across the finish line in 9:10. Though I was near the back, my day was complete. I hadn't done a technical and tough ultra in almost five years. So, this was a true test of perseverance.

I feel thankful to be part of the ultra community. It was great to see old friends Rob and Susan and to commend them for bringing this event to the sport.


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