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Oak Mountain 50K - 8K; Brooks PureGrit toned my butt

Water fall just before the 14 mile aid station
I fake a smile at the finish of my 42k event.
Had quite a day at Oak Mountain 50K.  The event was held is the most-excellent Oak Mountain State Park near Birmingham, Alabama.  The park boasts over 50 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trail with solid infrastructure such as camping, picnic areas and of course a runner's most important asset - bathrooms.

Here's a link for the park:

Seems like I got dropped off the back like a hot rock only a mile or two into the run.  Terrain was mighty tough through the first 1/3 of the race and it was slow going for old master man.  Wasn't sure if it was in my head or in my body.  Just didn't have the push I needed.  Good grief I'm down to 153 pounds, 3.5% body fat and I'm the speed of a slug.

Since the pack sorted me out and put me in the rear, I clicked on my Zune and engaged an enthralling audio book called "Etta"...on the woman who dated the Sundance Kid and robbed trains with Butch Cassidy and the Hole in the Wall gang.  Great turn of the century stuff, so I jogged alone and listened. 

I got mixed up at one point around mile 12 and saw the trail either veer left up a sharp incline, or continue straight.  Most of the blue markings were up the I climbed.  I crested the top in about .25 mile, ran a bit more, then realized all was silent around me.  I doubled back and came upon a trail sweeper for the race (bad sign meaning you're one of the last runners on the course) who told me I needed to continue forward, with some apologies for the markings. A while later I climbed across rocks below a waterfall, came to the aid station at mile 14, and was told I was 12 minutes away from the event cut-off.  Seems it took two hours for the last six mile section. I then did a six mile loop and returned to that aid station at mile 20.

From there, things get a bit sketchy.  I clearly followed the proper path out of the aid station down a road and then right onto marked trail.  I ran with another entrant, who was wearing Hoka's, for a bit and we came to a t-turn; I had been at that spot before on a mountain bike but on this day we needed to know the 50K route...and didn't.  Another runner told us he had trouble at the same spot the year before and to go left.  We did and soon found more course markings and continued on.

I ran alone for the next five miles or so and then came upon people on the course telling me "you're almost there!"  I thought that five to go wasn't exactly the finish line but then came upon a parking area and the race was over!  My Garmin was showing 25.89 miles and looking at my time of 6:31, it was possible, but not probable, that I had completed the course.  I got that sick feeling that so many times accompanies an illegitimate run.  After a bit of food I packed out and that afternoon, sent an email to the race promoter disclosing my concerns.  No way I want to take a finish slot on the results sheet and displace another runner who EARNED the finish. Most important is to let him know I did not intentionally cut the course.

Let's move on from my detoured race event and talk a bit more about the Brooks PureGrit.  I was concerned wearing the minimalist footwear in a 31 mile event with tough terrain, but I wanted to be cutting edge and popular like everyone else, right?  Wearing the PureGrits was a different ultra experience.  The upside is feeling the surface beneath your feet.  I must admit that running on pine needed covered dirt was an epiphany, with the softness of the needles finally revealed.  The downside is rocks, roots and adverse surfaces.  These shoes don't offer the protection and stability of Brooks Cascadia, my most common choice for ultras.  So I slammed my toes and ripped a few toenails loose in the name and promotion of minimalism.  

It also surprises me that when most everyone discusses the transition to minimalist shoes, it's all about footstrike.  Doesn't anyone want to talk about the fact there's less shoe, less cushion and that means more impact and shock?  I don't care what part of your foot hits the ground first, I was getting a lot more jolt with the PureGrits.  To that end, I have developed a new minimalist running form; instead of the extended and lengthened body, I get into a micro crouch, keeping a tiny bit of bend in my legs that serve as shock absorbers.  It's the pitter-patter of my big size 13's hitting the trail, with just enough spring in the legs to compensate for the lack of cushion I'm used to.

Also, how many runners can maintain perfect stance and footstrike for a 50K (or longer) trail run? Sorry folks but I'm 55 and I get tired.  I get into my ultra shuffle later in the race and all the pretty is gone.  Good for you if you hop like a bunny the entire distance, but I'd posit that most won't be able to hold form. So get ready for the impact of the minimalist shoes to bite you.

As part of adapting to the PureGrit stride, an interesting by-product was produced.  I felt a slight twinge in my butt on the way home, then woke up in the middle of the night in butt cheek agony.  It felt like each side of my posterior had done 500 stomach crunches...the muscles were ravaged!  I got up, popped an Aleve, and attempted to get settled back into sleep.  Kim Kardashian will tell you that Skechers will firm your behind but Master Competitor is here to tell you that PureGrits on a hard trail run will make your rear end like stone!

I may never know where I lost a section of the Oak Mountain 50K, but in the end it's just another chapter in my ultra book.  It's a great way to spend a day and I'm once again happy that the Lord let me live to run another day.


  1. I love my Pure Grit for all the reasons you mentioned, but I still use my Cascadias on the really gnarly trails.


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