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Mt. Cheaha 50K (2/22/14)

Posted February 23rd, 2014 at 07:43 PM by Black Spurs
Updated February 24th, 2014 at 05:11 PM by Black Spurs

Mt. Cheaha 50K
(February 22, 2014)

The Mt. Cheaha 50K runs from Porter’s Gap (around mile 68 of the Pinhoti 100) to Mile 40ish at Mt. Cheaha State Park, the highest point in Alabama (2407 feet). They threw in an out and back and a sadistic zig zag single track at the top that brings you close to the finish and then takes you away to make up the distance. I would argue with anyone who says the course is short; I would agree with anyone who suggested it is long. This race is as hard, or harder, than most 50 mile races that I know about.

My goals were simple. I wanted to: (1) Finish the race. (2) Learn that portion of the Pinhoti course. (3) Deal with some difficulties along the way. (4) Use what I have learned over the years through experience and from others to overcome any difficulties and be able to accomplish goal 1. (5) Enjoy a day in the beautiful woods of Alabama. I can say without hesitation that all goals were accomplished, 3 and 4 maybe a little more than I really wanted.

Around 7:30, we started the race out of Porter’s Gap. We immediately entered the single track trail with some stop/start, run/walk type of activity that happens with all races of this nature. Eventually, we settled into a pace that was comfortable. I was right behind a man I had been introduced to the night before at the pre-race dinner/briefing. Mr. Dan was knowledgeable of the course and was helpful to me in this first section. We had a fair climb pretty quickly, and Mr. Dan said we were “about to make up some time.” And he was serious. We topped the rise, and we rocketed down the next 1.5 miles, passing people like we had business at the bottom of the hill. We made it to the first aid station at Chandler Springs about 5 minutes ahead of schedule. Mr. Dan said, “You take the good running when you can get it because we will be walking soon.” He was right. Average pace here was a little over 12 minutes per mile, which was good considering the slow start and initial climbing.

Mr. Dan and I quickly went through the aid station. I grabbed some gels and headed out with Mr. Dan. I started up the mountain, and I never saw him again for the rest of the day. The next three miles were mostly climbing. I trudged up those climbs with my hands on my quads, which seems to work well for me when climbing. I knew there were some rocky sections here, and though the rocks beat my feet up pretty badly, I rolled on through those sections pretty quickly. I probably went a little too fast here. But, I got to the top and rolled on down the next hill into Clairmont Gap, which is where I made a fateful error that insured goal 3 would be met. Average pace here was about 12:25, which was very good considering the climb on the front end of the section. There was some good running here, though. And I made up for the climbs with some running on the back end.

Clairmont Gap is 8.5 miles into the race. I was feeling fine, but I was aware that I was a little behind on my hydration. I made sure I drank well there, and I ate. The next aid station was about 7 miles away. I walked out of the aid station with a handful of Endurolytes , two gels, and a 20 ounce bottle of HEED. I had another 16 ounce bottle of water, and I had 70 ounces in a hydration pack in case my two bottles were used up. About a mile down the trail, I realized I had not taken as much from the aid station as I needed to for this section. I started hitting some rocks pretty hard in this section. They were under leaves, large, and unstable. It is very easy to get injured in this section. I also knew I would run low on calories. I started to take in more electrolytes and water, and I was trying to spread my calorie intake out a little more to a gel every 45 minutes, interspersed with whatever calories I was getting from HEED. I knew I was getting behind because the hills in this section, coupled with the rocks were taking a toll on my energy levels. Plus, it was warming up quickly.

Despite my efforts, I began to cramp severely at around mile 13. My quads were quivering. I stopped and stretched for a moment, took some electrolytes and continued onward. The climbs started to hurt a bit here, but I was still running the downhills pretty well. But, more difficult rocks showed up here than in the last section. It was very difficult to get a good pace going. I used the walking parts to drink and take in electrolytes, knowing that I could get through this with a little patience. It took 1:41 to navigate this section, about 15 minute miles, slow. I made it to Adams Gap, mile 15 and stocked up on salt, carbs, fluids, coke, water, cookies, and oranges.

This section is short out of Adams Gap, 3.5 miles. Average pace here was tough. It took 59 minutes. I had some sloshing in my stomach and got nauseated. I backed off the fluids to let that adjust, but I was struggling here. My average pace dropped to 17 minutes. I was in trouble, but I just kept trying to eat and drink when the sloshing stopped. I knew I could turn it around. This was, strangely, exactly what I wanted.

I rolled (stumbled?) into mile 18.5 at Hubbard Creek and laid down for a minute, or five. Here, I just started drinking and talking to folks while I laid there. Then, I got up and started eating. I filled my bottles with water and grabbed some Endurolytes, oranges, and some chocolate chip cookies. I climbed a short hill and started running a little better, but I was still slow. Then, I had to start walking and drinking again. I just started pouring the water to myself with Endurolytes and those cookies. Then, I took another gel or two. The first three miles of this 7 mile section was slow. I arrived at a creek crossing at mile 22. It was really pretty, and I sat on a rock. My feet were hurting; I had a hot spot on my right foot, and my poor quads were screaming. I took my shoes off and put my feet in the water. No blister, it just hurt. I guess from miles of rocks. I remember being thankful that I chose to run in the Peregrines instead of the 110’s. Finally, I just submerged myself in the creek up to my waist and sat there. It felt great. I was in no danger of the cutoffs, but I was losing lots of time now. I got back on the rock and put my socks and shoes on before crossing the creek. Now, that hot spot seemed a little worse, but my quads felt great.

Since there was no blister, I had nothing to attend to at this point. I trudged up yet another climb, and life started looking better around 23 miles. Somewhere along this section, I crossed a road and saw a bunch of CrossFit people waiting for their folks with a maul and a semi truck tire. I don’t know what that was about; for no good reason, that annoyed me. I started running again for long stretches. I started passing people; I started making up time. However, I had an average pace for this section of about 17:50 per mile. I did stop a lot to stretch, soak, lay down… The last two miles of this section probably had the most beautiful areas I have ever seen. Big, giant, open woods could be found to your left, and a river with multiple sections of waterfalls that were just amazing on the right. I knew things would come back to me if I just did what I needed to do.

Somewhere after mile 22, I ran with a guy from Montgomery, AL. It was his first ultra marathon, first trail race. He was worried. We ran together for awhile, and he said he was concerned about cutoffs. I told him that if he could run this pace and walk steadily when necessary he would finish with plenty of time. That seemed to lift his spirits. At this point, I was feeling good and picked it up a little. I came into mile 25, grabbed some more oranges and decided to go back to HEED in one bottle and water in the other. My nausea was gone; my spirits were up. And my legs were feeling good. The next section was run at about a 12:50 pace. So, I was back in business. Too bad we had to stop at 50K, seriously. I was feeling strong again.

I reached the bottom of Mt. Cheaha thinking that this last section couldn’t possibly be as bad as some of the stuff I had already come through. I was right. The climb is 900 feet in less than a mile. That means it is steep. I ran up to the bottom with a girl who barely made it last year. I asked her if she was having a good day or a bad day. She said it was a great day because she was an hour earlier to this point than she was last year. I passed her and started climbing. The bottom section is mostly some gnarly roots with some large rocks interspersed, and it is steep. The higher you go significant sections of rocks exist that are difficult to climb. I moved hard up the mountain, grabbing a couple of small trees along the way to help me up. Yeah, it is that kind of hill about ¾ of the way up. As I got close to the top, I noticed the boulders were much larger, and it was more difficult to step up to the next foot hold. Quads began to cramp a little bit at this point, but it was easily controlled by stopping and bending my leg at the knee. Twice, I almost lost my grip on a tree and went tumbling backwards. But, I made it up to the top and ran on into the finish with gas left in the tank. Although I was feeling good, I was at that point in the race when one odd move can bring on a muscle cramp.

The time for the 50K was 7:53:27, which is slow. But considering that I did not do much to train for this race, I am happy with it. I am happier about the fact that I was able to meet each goal I had for the day. It was essentially a long training run to familiarize myself with one part of the Pinhoti 100 course that I did not see. I left with a great deal of confidence about my future efforts on the trail when November comes around. Thanks for reading.
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