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Thunderbird Trail Half Marathon (Re-visited)

Posted October 8th, 2013 at 05:39 PM by Black Spurs

Yesterday, October 7th, I decided to do two things: take a day off to go up to some of my favorite trails in the Homochitto National Forest, and sign up for the Mt. Cheaha 50K mountain race in February of 2014. It has been a long, hard few months at work and personally. Nothing bad has happened, but it has just been busy: buying a house, selling a house, new rules with the Dept. of Ed., etc., etc.

On Friday, we were fortunate enough to close on the house we have been working to get all summer long. So, I spent the weekend getting some things taken care of around the new place. I was planning to do 15 or 20 miles on the trails Monday morning, and I figured I was in for a chore considering my lack of mileage throughout the summer. I have been running all summer, but it has been a lot of short, fast running of no more than nine miles at a time. As I pulled out of the driveway yesterday morning, I was compelled to keep on driving to St. Francisville to run the Thunderbird 1/2 course. I ran that race last year as a last minute impulse after a complete meltdown at the Pinhoti 100.

It just hit me that the course there at the WF Sports Park is similar to the Pinhoti 100/Mt. Cheaha 50K (Cheaha is run on the same course as the Pinhoti 100, except that Cheaha is 31.1 miles and runs in reverse from Porter's Gap to the top of Mt. Cheaha). Last year at Thunderbird, I had a horrible run if you just look at the time, but it was a good run in that I got my act together and finished strong, winning my age group. Nevertheless, I was disappointed in the time: 2:32. I did stop and drink vodka, take pictures, fell down twice, dealt with heat, etc. But still, a 2:32? Come on!!!

I stepped off at the trail head and started running the course. I just took it easy and figured I would look at my watch when I got to where the first aid station was in the race. I got there about 10 minutes ahead of the time I made it there during the race. I made the first loop in 56:30, thirteen and a half minutes faster than in the race. Hmmmm. I refilled my hand held water bottle, grabbed a pack of peanut butter crackers, and rolled out for the second loop. I stopped for about 1 minute. I was feeling fine, which surprised me because of my low mileage.

I made it back around to the first aid station site for the second time about one minute short of my first loop. I was still feeling good. The back end of the loop is where the trail puts the hurt on you, or at least it does for me. The hills are not long, but they are frequent and steep, just like the first 40 miles at Pinhoti. And there are lots of twists and turns, which also slow you down. I walked each steep climb with purpose,focused on reaching the top without expending energy pointlessly. And each flat and downhill was run as quickly as I could run it. Again, I felt great throughout the entire run. I resisted the urge to look at my watch; I just focused on running.

Once I reached a deep ravine, I knew I had a bit of a technical downhill to run before I could burn it up on the flat area that runs a mile and half or so along the creek bottom before climbing back up to the trail head. Before I knew it, I was back to the power line where I could see the top of my truck. The second half of the run was 42 seconds slower than the first. I finished this run with plenty left in the tank, and I could have run a 50K without too much trouble yesterday. I really enjoyed the pace; it was hard but comfortable.

I fully intend to use this run as a benchmark for training as the new year approaches and Mt. Cheaha looms in the not to distant future. On that day, I want to take my time and enjoy the mountains to get a good idea of what those miles will look like at next year's Pinhoti. I wish I could have given Pinhoti another shot this year, but it was not possible to get the training in with my schedule this year. Although, based on yesterday's run, I could have thrown in a couple of nice, long runs and maybe been okay.
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