Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cumberland Trail 50K Race Report

This is way late, sorry!

Two years ago, I ran the Cumberland Trail 50K as my first trail ultra, at the time it was the most difficult and rewarding race I had ever run. Guess what? Nothing has changed in two years!

I drove up to Cove Lake State Park north of Knoxville the day before to pick up my packet and say hi to RD Susan and the rest of the gang. Then I checked into the Hampton Inn which was less than five miles from the start and grabbed some dinner.

Race morning arrived with perfect conditions. Cool temperatures, clear skies, and lots of masochists ready for some trail fun. It was still dark when we started, so after a quick briefing, we were sent on our way down the bike/running path. I quickly established my normal place at the back of the pack and after a couple of minutes, Leonard Martin joined me, having gotten a bit of a late start. We talked about not missing the initial turn onto the single track and easily saw the well marked turn. I'm very cautious when it comes to running trails in the dark, so Leonard soon pulled ahead and I was on my own.

About five minutes later I hear footsteps coming up behind me. These aren't fellow back-of-the-packer footsteps, these are fast runner footsteps. I step aside to let him pass, thinking it was another runner who had gotten a late start. Then I heard more footsteps and soon dozens of runners were passing me. What was going on? Apparently, the lead runner ran right by the initial turnoff, and since it was dark everyone just followed the headlamp ahead of them. Leonard and I were far enough off the back of the pack that we weren't following anyone and were actually in first and second place for about a mile. This was the first and probably last time I held the lead in an ultra.

Sunrise and the first aid station arrived quickly, but this meant that the climb up Cross Mountain was next. There is no false advertising about this course. From the website, part of the description reads: "The race takes you on a challenging, out-and-back route on the rugged New River section of the Cumberland Trail. This section crosses the high point of the trail, Cross Mountain, at over 3000’. Be prepared - this course could take up to twice your PR for a 50k. The climb up Cross Mountain is steep and will be slow." According to my Garmin data, my pace on this climb was 26 minutes/mile and my heartrate the highest of the entire day. The best way I can describe the climb to non-trail runners is to get on the stair-master, climb two steps at a time, and continue that pace for an hour. Oh yeah, and throw in slippery wet leaf-covered rocks and stream crossings while you're at it. I had to laugh at one point, I had passed a gal on this climb and looked back after a particularly brutal section. She was just standing there, looking at the section with an incredulous look.

At the end of the climb we were rewarded with another great aid station and a short, more runnable section. Then came the longest section between aid stations. It is over 6 miles and has a nasty climb on a very rugged, rutted, slippery "jeep trail". I use quotation marks, because I sure wouldn't want to drive a vehicle up that road. By this time the gal I had passed on Cross Mountain and passed me again and I was back in my familiar spot. After a final steep climb in which a rope would have been helpful, there was once again a welcome well-stocked aid station.

Next was the easy peasy section. Susan gave us a two mile gravel road and meadow trail section to recover a bit from the brutal climbs. Two years ago a big mama elk had camped out in the meadow and quietly observed all the crazy runners traipsing across her home. Unfortunately this year she didn't show. I soon reached the turn around spot, picked up my card to prove I had gotten there, and started back. I was about 15 minutes ahead of my pace from two years ago. On the way back, I saw Rob the sweeper and said hi and that I hoped I wouldn't see him too close behind me.

The downhills on the way back were almost as slow for me as the climbs were. The footing was treacherous in spots with the wet leaves and rocks and the descent down Cross Mountain was only a minute/mile faster than the climb had been. As I arrived at each aid station on the way back, I announced to the crew that the pre-sweep sweep had arrived and that Rob would be by shortly. I finally crossed the finish line in 9:50:26, DFL once again, but 26 minutes faster than two years ago.

If you are looking for a trail race that is both challenging and rewarding, consider putting this race on your calendar. It is very difficult, but the generous cutoff time makes it doable. In fact, there have been only three DNFs in the three year history of the race.

Thanks Susan for the incredible experience.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Ok, first of all, I owe you guys two race reports.

Second, I went to the grocery store today. The only thing worse than going to a grocery store the day before Thanksgiving is going to Walmart the day after Thanksgiving.

To add insult to injury the twelve year old checkout gal asked if I qualified for the senior discount!

To tide you over until I finish the race reports, I finished the Cumberland Trail 50K DFL, but my time was almost 30 minutes faster than it was two years ago. I DNFed the Javelina Jundred, but I did get a buckle for completing 100K.

Hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pre Cumberland Trail Thoughts

First an update on the final Hinson Lake 24 Hour Run results. I covered an official 86.49 miles, a PR by over a mile and good for 6th place female and 20th overall out of 254 runners. The amazing Mike Morton ran an incredible 163.9 miles without a crew or pacer, less than two miles short of Scott Jurek's American record.

The Cumberland Trail 50K

Two years ago I ran this as my first trail ultra. I had run a couple of road 50Ks and had run a trail half marathon and thought it was time to step up. I had met RD Susan at the Hot To Trot 8 Hour Run earlier that year and as I was drinking wine and browsing the internet I saw that she was going to direct her first race. With a couple of glasses of wine clouding my brain, I thought, cool, I'll run this as my first trail ultra.

The next morning I went back to the website and read the route description. Oh. My. God.

There is over 8000 feet of climbing with the climb up Cross Mountain being 2000 feet in just 2.5 miles. That is a relentless 800 feet/mile for 2.5 miles.

I finished that race two years ago in a time of 10:16 and DFL.

Fast forward to this year.

I had an opening in my schedule this month and thought to myself, self, let's run the Cumberland Trail 50K again. I didn't even have the excuse of having drunk too much wine this time.

After my "hilly" trail 20 miler yesterday I thought I would revisit my Garmin data from two years ago. Oh. My. God. My average pace up Cross Mountain was a whopping 28 minutes/mile! My average heart rate during that climb was 161. For me, that is like 5K heart rate. Oh yea, I'm going to have fun next Saturday.

My goal is to beat my time from two years ago, we shall see.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hinson Lake 24 Hour Report

I have been putting off this report waiting for the official results, but I have some free time now so here it goes. I'll provide an update once the results are official.

This is the first year I ran at Hinson Lake and it quickly became one of my favorite events. (I am getting way too many favorite events on my list.) First of all, the entry fee is only TWENTY-FOUR dollars. For that $24 you get better swag than you get at a big city marathon.

Plus you get all the food you can eat, all the water and Gatorade you can drink, and all the ultra comraderie you could want for 24 hours. That's $1 an hour, I'd like to see a Competitor Group marathon with an entry fee of 3-5 dollars.

The course consisted of 1.52 mile loops around Hinson Lake. The path is sandy gravel with several wooden footbridges. There was one "hill" which was a couple of hundred yards long and maybe 15' gain in elevation. It was raining a bit at the start and as I was waiting in my car, I saw southeastern ultra good guy Bill Keane walking by. I lowered my window to say "hi" and he offered me one of his Pat Pending Green Powered Digital Lap Counters.

There is one drawback to the design, the operator needs to remember to move the ring from one finger to the next after each lap, which does become difficult around 2-4 AM.

The race started promptly at 8AM and although it was a bit crowded at the beginning, everyone quickly settled into place and we were on our way. There were a lot of GUTS and Darkside running cult members, so there were a lot of people lapping me that I knew.

The volunteers were all fantastic and the aid station was stocked with just about anything you might need. It seemed more like a picnic with some running.

That is not to say there weren't some incredible performances out there. Mike Morton put on a phenomenal display of athleticism. With the heat index approaching 90 degrees, Mike kept on pounding out the laps. Even with his superior effort, he took the time to encourage us plodders every time he passed us. One of the main reasons I wanted to wait for the official results is that I'm pretty sure he got within a couple of miles of Scott Jureck's American 24 Hour record. It was amazing to watch him run and I swear he picked up speed after 4 AM.

As I stated in my last post, I was going to attempt a PR. It was very humid so I started slower than normal, but I was able to maintain my pace for much longer. In my previous 24 Hour runs, I ended up walking most of the night, but this night I was able to run about 2 - 2.5 minutes out of every 5 minutes. I think this also helped reduce the severity of blisters. It took me 15 hours, but I did eventually make the leader board (I also had to stop and get my camera to take this picture).

At about 4 AM I asked the scoring table how many laps I needed to do to cover 85.5 miles (previous PR was 85.25 miles). I looked at the time remaining, my current pace, and how many laps I needed to do. Doing the math in my head, it was apparent that I would not make my PR. I decided to mosey along the next lap, change my socks one last time, then keep moving and get a nice 82-83 mile training run for the Javelina Jundred in November.


As I passed the timing table again, I saw that I still had 4 hours to go. I had misread the time by an hour on the last lap. Well crap, (I mean yea!) I can still make that PR, but I have to pick up my pace back to where it was. So I put my big girl panties back on, maintained the pace I needed, and ended up with an unofficial 86.4ish miles, a new PR!

I'll update this with my final mileage and the amazing Mike Morton's mileage when the official results are published.

I had an awesome time, and I hope to return again and again.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

An Update

At the risk of jinxing myself, I have to say that my running has been really coming together the last couple of weeks. Ever since I DNF'ed Rocky Raccoon back in February, my running and races have not been where they were last year. I had a couple of nagging injuries that didn't keep me from running, but that did keep me from performing to my (albeit mediocre) potential. The injuries also kept me from putting in the miles I was putting in last year.

Well for some reason or other, all that changed about three weeks ago. The last two weeks I racked up my highest two training weeks (without a "training" ultra) ever, 71 and 84.5 miles. I also picked up my speed. Yesterday I ran a tempo run that seemed way too easy, my heartrate was the same as my easy run heartrate was just a month ago. Today I ran a trail run 6 minutes faster than I did last week, even with the temperature the same and the dew point higher.

I was just about ready to attribute my slowing down earlier in the year to getting older (which I still am), but this is giving me hope that there may still be a PR or two in my future.

The Hinson Lake 24 Hour Run is in just nine short days and yes, I'm going to be shooting for a PR!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I'm In!

Remember last year when the Boston Qualifier whiners were complaining because it sold out in eight hours or so? Well I squeaked into Umstead this afternoon. It sold out in THREE MINUTES!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Darkside Labor Day 26.2 Mile Fun Run

The cult I belong to (Darkside Running Club) puts on three free marathons for members every year. They are held on New Year's Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. The club supplies the water and Gatorade and the runners bring a box of cookies or bag of chips for the community aid station. Just as at previous events, I saw a lot of folks I knew and met a few folks I hadn't met yet.

The race started at 7 AM ish and fortunately the temperatures had cooled down quite a bit from earlier in the week. There was a bit of rain though, mostly in the form of drizzle, but the rain did get a little heavier for my last of five loops. There was a race for last place as a lot of runners were either doing this as #2 of a double marathon weekend or as part 2 of back to back long runs. One group of gals was doing a 30 second run, 30 second walk Galloway variation. That's a little too short for both the run and the walk for me. By the time you get to running speed its time to walk and vice versa. I used the Galloway method myself, but with 3.5 minutes running and 1.5 minutes walking. I managed to finish in a time with a 5 in front, 5:56. I took it slow and easy on purpose with the Hinson Lake 24 Hour Run coming up in three short weeks and was happy with how my legs treated me.

Final note to self: Never ever EVER run a marathon or greater without prepping with Desitin, especially if its raining.

That is all.