This year has been a year of firsts for me. (Not bad for a 50 year old!) Every time I accomplish a new challenging task, I think, it can't get any better than this. My first marathon, my first ultra, my first 8 hour run. This race did not disappoint either. It was my first trail ultra, I was expecting to be tested both physically and mentally, and I was. And when I crossed the finish line, once again the thought that crossed my mind was, "It doesn't get any better than this!"
When I got to the race start it was dark with a light rain. Susan Donnelly gave us last minute instructions, lined us up behind the bicycle that would lead us down the paved path to the actual trail part of the course and we were off. I quickly established myself at the very back and settled into an easy pace. Within a mile we were on single track and starting our way on the Cumberland Trail. I think that running in the dark with a headlamp actually helped me out. I couldn't see far enough ahead to see the massive climb. All I could see was the next several yards, and anyone can climb 10 yards. After about 45 minutes I could hear the workers at the first aid station cheering, they could see my headlamp working its way up. The aid station workers were all fantastic, I think the volunteers at this race outnumbered the runners.
The next section was the steep climb up Cross Mountain. As it was still pretty dark, I didn't feel overwhelmed by the 2000' climb in the next 2.5 miles. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I remember a lot of rocks stairs, log stairs, slipping, and my glasses fogging up. One interesting side note, in these conditions my glasses were a very effective heart rate monitor. Every time my heart rate got above 160, my glasses would fog up. This section took me about 1 hour and 15 minutes, and boy was I glad to get to the top.
The next section was listed as 1.6 miles, but I think it was a little bit longer. I don't remember much and it took me about 33 minutes.
Now we come to what I call the middle section. It was 6.5 miles between aid stations. Initially downhill with some runnable sections, stream crossings, technical running. Then it was uphill and we turned off the single track on to an ATV trail that climbed the second major climb of the course. There were several runnable sections, but I found that my lack of trail running held me back. I was very tentative, especially on the downhill sections where I could have made up some time. It was on this section that I added about a mile to my run. The trail came down to a stream, then turned left to cross the stream. I failed to make the left turn and continued straight ahead. I was now on what I think was a jeep trail that was very flat and fast. I remember thinking about all the time I was making up flying down the road. After about 5 minutes, I started thinking, "wait a minute, I think this is too easy". I looked for trail markings (the trail was very well marked, I don't think you could go more than 50 yards without seeing some kind of marking) and didn't see any. Then I looked down for muddy foot prints (I was at the very back, remember, and there were always muddy foot prints to follow) and didn't see any. Oh crap, I missed a turn. I got out the course description that I was carrying with me, nope, this wasn't on the course description. So, I turned around and ran back. When I got to where I went wrong, I saw that not only did I miss about 4 red streamers and flags, I also crawled over not one, but TWO logs that were placed across the wrong way that I went. So, I crossed the stream and continued on my way. I almost started beating myself up about the lost time, but then I said to myself, "hey, look at the bright side, the way back is going to be one mile shorter!" I was about halfway through this middle section when the winner, Byron Backer came racing down the trail. I think his DNA should be tested, because I think he is part mountain goat. He won with an incredible time of 5:26. As I moved up the ATV trail, I started to see the other runners coming down, and by this time I was asking variations of the question, "Am I there yet?" Finally I could see the heads of the aid station workers about 30 feet directly above me, I remember thinking of asking them to lower a rope to help me climb the last bit to the aid station. This middle section took me over 2 hours. I guess I did cause some consternation while I was on my little detour. Sweeper Rob had passed me while I was off course, so when he arrived at this aid station and I hadn't been through yet, they started wondering what had happened to me. So when I arrived, I could hear shouts of "She's Here!"
Finally we got some "rest" from the technical up and down workout. This next section was on a gravel road and then through a meadow to the turnaround point. Near the turnaround was the highlight of the run. A huge mama elk was in the meadow for the entire race, just standing there watching the crazy people run through her territory. I would guess I passed not more than 50 feet from where she was standing. This easy 4 mile section took about 50 minutes.
The return took me just about as long. Even though it was net downhill, my tentative inexperience running trails kept me from making up any time. There was never a time where I felt that I couldn't do it, but there was a question of how long it would take me. Sweeper Rob Apple saw me looking at my watch a couple of times and he told me not to worry about cutoff times, but I still wanted to make a good showing. Finally, I got to the paved greenway into Cove Lake State Park, and knew I would finish. I actually started choking up with emotion at this time as I looked at my watch and saw that I had been accomplishing "relentless forward motion" for more than 10 hours, longer than I had ever done before. Then at last, I saw the finish line and the crowd cheering for me! I felt a fantastic sense of accomplishment as I crossed the line (even though my finish line photo may not look like it). Susan congratulated me and handed me my finishers award, an awesome SIGG water bottle with the race logo. Then, I got not a congratulatory handshake, but a big hug.
Post race refreshments included pizza and soda and I got to talk to some very experienced ultra runners and get advice on future races and training.
All in all an awesome experience, everything I was expecting and then some.
Now, how did I do with goal accomplishment? Lets review:
1. Don't get eaten by a bear. Check
2. Don't get gnawed on by smaller mammals. Check
3. Don't get bitten by any reptiles. Check
4. Don't get shot by over-anxious hunters. Check
5. Don't get lost. I'm going with a famous historical Cumberland Trail dude by the name of Daniel Boone and say I wasn't lost, just bewildered, Check
6. Don't fall down more than 3 times. There were a few times on some steep climb places where I slipped and did a slow lowering of my center of gravity, and a couple of times I pitched forward and caught myself with my water bottle, but I never did a full velocity fall on my knees or butt, so I'm saying Check
7. Don't break any bones. Check
8. Stay hydrated and electrolyted. Check, I think this is my strong suit, I was able to eat and drink the entire 10 hours and never had any stomach issues.
9. Successfully accomplish peeing and maybe pooping in the woods. Missed this one, I didn't have to stop once for bodily functions.
10. Run (or at least shuffle fast) into the aid stations. I missed this goal at one aid station, the one that had an almost vertical climb to get to.
11. Smile at the aid stations. Check. I couldn't help but smile at the loud cheering reception I got as I approached each aid station (being the last person may have had something to do with it).
12. Thank the aid station volunteers. Check
13. Stay positive. Check. I think this is my second strongest asset.
14. Make all the cutoff times. Nope, I did make the turnaround time, but my inexperience on downhills kept me from making the next two.
15. Finish within the 10 hour time limit. Nope, although the official time limit was increased to 10.5 hours.
16. Finish with a smile. Check (even though the picture looks like a grimace, trust me, its a smile!)
17. HAVE FUN! Check, CHECK, and CHECK!
Now for everyone that has stayed with me this far, here are some pictures courtesy of Van Young and Ray Smith.
OK, I don't have the technological skills to post their pictures on my blog, but you can see them here and here. Please go take a look, the course was absolutely gorgeous.