Sunday, April 13, 2014

Leatherwood Mountain 50K

"There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud." - Carl Sandburg

When I had told my ultra running friends I was running Leatherwood, those that had ran it the year before would always reply in the same manner. It was like I had announced I was having my first colonoscopy. "You enjoy that" they would say, with a wry smile. I had heard the stories. Unrelenting climbs and mud along some Godforsaken horse trails in the tiny town of Ferguson, NC. A real suffer fest. Being raised Catholic, I feel as though I can suffer along with the best of them. My knees are also in pretty good shape despite years of prayer in my younger days.

  I had made the very tactically sound choice of staying in a hotel the night before the race, rather than camping out near the race site. Good thing, too, because when I awoke race morning a nice steady rain was falling! It was about a 20 minute drive to the race start, and I was there in plenty of time for the 8am start. There were two other race distances. The 50 miler, which started at 7am and the 10 miler, that started at 9am. We gathered under a canopy, got some last minute instructions from the RD's Mark and Tim, then 50 of us schlepped off at the start of the 50K.

 The 50K course consisted of two loops. the first about 16 miles long, then the second one around 14 miles or so. We started out on some paved road, then got onto some "jeep road" and began our initial ascent. Conditions were not that bad along the jeep road, and soon I had fallen in with my friends Charles, Kelley and Lynne as we entered the single track section of the trail. This section was much more sloppy than the jeep road, but gave us a little taste of what was in store for us the rest of the day.
Soon after this, Charles bounded off down the trail leaving Kelly, Lynne and myself slipping and sliding along the single track. I pulled ahead of Kelley and Lynne for a bit, then they caught up to me as conditions along the trail declined rapidly. Every step became an adventure. The steep downhill sections you could literally "surf" the mud. The climbs were a different story. You had absolutely no traction. It was at this very juncture we knew we were in for a long day.
 It was also around this time that Kelly, myself and Lynne made a pact that we were going to stay together for the entire race, help each other and try to have some fun. A majority of the trail was not runnable. Even the flat sections were tricky because of the now ankle deep mud. The rain came on and off. We staggered, slipped and stumbled our way in to an aid station. A volunteer announced we were a third of the way through the race. We had been out on the course for three hours already. Somewhat stunned, we asked the man what mile we were at. Mile eleven!  Holy shit! 11 miles in three hours. At this point I was wondering if I was going to need a headlamp to finish!
  We soldiered on. We were actually having a good time. It had become comical. Poor Lynne could not stay on her feet. At one point Kelley was behind me when I heard her begin to cackle hysterically. I turned around to see her clutching a tree, desperately trying to maintain her footing while attempting to get up this hill. It was nuts!
 We finally managed to complete the first loop. The last portion of the loop we had been running with this kid Jared, who had come from Ohio with a bunch of other runners. When we arrived at the main aid station at the completion of the first loop, Jared announced he was calling it a day. We were stunned. Kelley tried to convince him to go out with us for the 2nd loop, but he said he was done. Lynne used the bathroom, Kelley drank a half can of PBR, then we headed out for loop number two. We were determined to finish this effing race!
  Loop two was hauntingly similar to loop one, a series of unrelenting climbs, slick downhills and flailing arms. I had somehow gotten ahead of Kelley and Lynne again as we came off the trail for a bit of actual asphalt road running heading into mile 21. Our friend Angela was manning the aid station at mile 21 and it was good to see a familiar face. We stayed on the road another mile before we had to cross a creek. The creek was where Kelley and Lynne caught back up to me. I was standing at the bank of what now appeared to be a fast moving river, with no guide rope, just a sign with an arrow pointing to another sign with an arrow about 20 feet across on the opposite river bank. I stood there pondering just how I was going to ford this "creek", wishing I had paid more attention to Bear Grylls when he had his " Man versus Wild" show on Discovery Channel.  Slowly, methodically, we made our way across the slippery rocks, through the strong current, and across to the other side. Kelley did take a bit of a spill, submerging herself about chest deep into the water. The cold water actually felt GOOD on our feet and calves, and briefly washed off large amounts of mud from our shoes. 50 feet away from the creek, however, and it looked like we had never rinsed off.
 We staggered through the marathon distance at around the eight hour mark, and Kelley turned to me and said "We are gonna make it!" We seriously were worried at one point that we would need a  headlamp to finish. (Which none of us had with us)
  We kept slogging our way along and became ecstatic when we saw the tennis courts and the paved road that led to the finish. Just as we were about to leave the trail, Lynne, who had not cursed all day despite numerous falls, caught her arm on a pricker bush. "You F*c*er!" she shouted as Kelley tried not to laugh too loud at her misfortune. We ran through one more patch of mud (where Kelley almost ate it!) and came to the finish line. We had survived! Of the 50 starters for the 50K, only 35 finished.

Bringing it home!

 10.5 hours on the trail. I really have to thank Kelley and Lynne for the company. I am not sure I could have finished without them! I am sure our laughter is still echoing through the hills of Leatherwood Mountain!

Big thanks go out to RD's Mark and Tim for putting on a great and challenging race! 

Trail Buddies!

My poor Balega Socks!

My Gear for Leatherwood 50K:

Salomon XT S-Lab 5 shoes
Balega Socks
Ink n Burn "Lust" shorts
Brooks Long sleeve base layer
GenerationUCAN Tech shirt
Ultraspire Hand Held and Spry Vest
Salomon S-Lab Light Jacket

Race Nutrition by GenerationUCAN
Hydration by Elete Electrolytes
Thanks to Red11Sport for keeping me "safe and unchaffed"!