Promoter Susan Donnelly is excellent. Strives to serve. I made a remark last year about coffee at the start...so this year she brought me some Starbucks instant. She was going to truck in boiling water but I did just fine with my Coleman micro camping stove.
We went out in the dark at 6:30 am. It was headlamps and go. Course markings were excellent, even improved over last year, and we needed it. A heavy leaf cover sometimes obscured the trail and one needed to search for the ribbons and small orange flags. This year, weather was perfect with sunny skies and highs around 70. Roaring water crossings at last year's event were mostly dry rock beds in 2010.
Due to insurance restrictions, this race is a "no headphones" event. I was a bit reticent over that, but must state that time seemed to pass well, in some cases faster, than with headphones. I recently read that elite athletes tune into their bodies and seldom use headphones and players, while less than serious runners will use headphones to dissociate. I got in touch with myself big time on this course.
Met a cool guy named "Bub" from Illinois. We ran together some of the first half. Bub told me he had a nervous stomach and had to empty out at almost every race. Sure enough, I saw him on the road section prior to the turnaround ejecting breakfast.
Race winner Brad Adams had the right stuff. He notched the event win in 4:54. We saw him on the course way before we reached halfway; he must have had 7-8 miles on us by then. He was running casual, erect and it all seemed effortless. Of course he's 32, which puts a bit of margin on his side of the equation over old master competitor.
I took a bittersweet approach to this race. Lucky to be there, sore IT band still prevalent, so I went out completely relaxed and at just a tick north of hiking pace. I figured 5 hours to half, hike it back, and make it with a few minutes to spare over the 10:30 cutoff. I headed into the grassy field and grabbed a playing card (each runner takes one to prove you went the distance) then headed back. Within 60 seconds I played this math in my head:
4:13 to half = 8:30 finish = faster second half = carve off 30 minutes = sub 8 hour race.
That's when all the fun went out of the day. I started to race, my body labored, and I felt fatigued and hanging on. The downhills pounded my legs to pulp. But I raced on, looking for that big finish. I messed up the return leg for the sake of speed. The clock ticked and I pushed. I popped out of the final woods section, took a right and ran the path through the park to the finish. Seven hours, 51 minutes and all was good. Glad to finish and be off my feet, 21st out of 31 runners. That's all I had on that day, or any future day.
Race co-promoter and course marshal Rob Apple told me in a post-race debriefing that they were looking for "people who know what they're doing." The race required a 50K qualifier and it's well known this event can take twice one's usual 50K time. The course, out and back on the Cumberland Trail, is remote with limited road crossings. Getting a rookie off the course would be a major undertaking.
The post race party was excellent. More pizza that 30 hungry ultrarunners could eat and good conversation and just plain hanging out in Cove Lake State Park. The Tennessee mountains are a beautiful place to race.
So that may just be it for my racing season. I'm happy and satisfied and thanking God once again for another year. It could all end, who knows when. Take a peek at my events list at right - that's as good as it's going to get.
More to come soon. I did my 18 mile mountain bike ride Sunday and another 90 minute run today. The fun never stops.