Trailer Trash


Cheaha 50k race report: 31 miles of mist, mud and wet feet (Read 52 times)

    garmin data (hope this works)


    The short version:
    Mt. Cheaha 50k, ~31 miles, 7000 ft elevation gain, several creek crossings (one with a rope assist), one crazy climb/scramble. I figured I could make it in 8:30, maybe 8:00 if the stars aligned and everything was perfect. Tons of rain in the days before the race made for really wet conditions. Despite the wet sloppy conditions, fast felt easy and I completely surprised myself with a 7:34 finish (unofficial, I saw 7:33Tight lippedx as I crossed).


    The really long version...
    Last May I tried a 50k, a nice easyish 3.4 mile loop course, on very little running training (mostly just trying to go long on the weekend) and lots of cross training. I DNF'd just before hitting 24 miles, though I was really done somewhere around mile 18. My legs just couldn't take the beating and by the end I was reduced to a 45 min/mile hobble. I wasn't tired, actually felt really good aside from the incredible pain in both legs from my knees down. And I realized that despite being in great shape, I needed to actually RUN if I wanted to be able run. Crazy. Who could have guessed that one??

    So I started trying to run more. My training through the fall sucked. I sprained my ankle in September, got nice and sick in October and then again in November. After Christmas I was able to quit my part-time job working 20 hours a week loading trucks for Fed Ex and miraculously found I could run a lot more. January and February saw my highest ever weekly totals (averaged ~45 miles/week, including the taper and race).

    My plan this time was to keep my long runs to a reasonable proportion of my weekly miles, try to run as many days as I could and get in a mid week longer run. Long runs were almost all on the race course (hilly and technical). Weekday runs were on local trails, sometimes hilly and fairly non-technical. I also did walking repeats up a powerline cut by the local trails to get ready for the climb up Blue Hell.   

    I was feeling confident I could finish, but had no idea how fast. The plan was to just go out and run when the running was good, walk with a purpose when I needed to and see what happened. When I added up the time it took to run the course (in short segments) during training with a little guesstimating on the 4 miles I had not run, the result was 7:55. So, I had this time of 8 hours that kept teasing me, if the trail conditions and weather and everything else went perfectly, I thought it might be possible to see 8:0X at the finish line. I figured 8:30 was a more realistic goal. And really my main goal was to to be able to run the approach to the finish line feeling strong, preferably before the 9 hour cutoff.

    I tapered for two weeks. The first week was more of a taper than intended. My right leg/ hip had some sort of nervy pain thing going on when I tried to get in a last short long run two weeks before the race and I bailed after 3.5 miles.

    The day before the race I went up to Bald Rock Lodge to help set up and work the packet pick up. It was nice to meet a lot of the runners I'd be sharing the trail with the next day.

    The morning of the race I woke up and it hit me. I was about to run 31 miles, twice as far as my average long run. I must be crazy. There was no way I was going to make it. But I had a friend, Jack, coming to pick me up who was going to spend the day going from aid station to aid station to cheer me on carrying a bag of stuff I might want, so I couldn't chicken out. I have never been so nervous before a race. Of course I have also never put so much into training for a race. Correlation?

    It was 45 degrees at the start with a projected high of upper 50's (I don't think it ever got over 55). It was overcast and foggy but not raining. The line of cars parked at the start magically appeared out of the mist as we drove down the highway. I had a jacket, but decided to go with a light vest over a tee-shirt. I was wearing my one pair of shorts which have never caused chaffing (though I still applied body glide), my thick smartwool socks (on long runs my feet seemed happiest in these) and my Montrail Mountain Masochists (who had been resting for a couple of days to prepare them for their coming ordeal). I used my Ultraspire Fastpack... a bit of over kill storage wise but I really like how comfortably it carries my water bottles and all the pockets on the front. On technical trails I don't like carrying bottles in my hands. I need my hands! At some point I need to find something smaller to use for races. For food, I had a flask with one pack of Hammer Sustained Energy and 1 pack of Perpetuem mixed to make a paste, and my friend was going to mix up a second batch for me at the aid station a little before the halfway point. I knew the aid stations would have Hammer gels, and planned on using those as well. I find the gels give me more of a mental boost, if I am feeling a little low than the other stuff, but can leave me feeling hungry after a few hours if that is all I have. I also carried some s-caps.

    I lined up about 2/3s of way back. And then Sweet Home Alabama came on over the speakers and we were off. We ran 50 ft or so then came to a complete stop as we hit the trail. The start was slow. No need to worry about going out to fast. The run, walk, run, pause sequence lasted for the first couple of miles. Every time there was water on the trail, someone would come to a complete stop so there was a lot of accordion action going on. And there was a lot of water on the trail. By the time I got to the first aid station both feet had been completely submerged (which I am not going to keep mentioning... just imagine that every other sentence contains some comment about running through more water). Every once in a while someone would pull off to the side and we'd all pass. And eventually we were moving more consistently. I was actually pretty content to run along just following the people in front of me. It was a little weird having conversations with people's backs and with the random voices behind me.

    After a bit of a climb and a nice downhill section we got to aid station 1, Chandler (3.3 miles). I was surprised to see that I had made it in 45 minutes which was exactly how fast I ran it in training. I ran though this aid station. The next section basically climbs for 3.5 miles with a few short downhill sections mixed in. The dirt road to get back to the trail wasn't too steep so I ran that knowing I'd be doing a lot of walking shortly. When I hit the trail I tried to convince some folks behind me to go ahead and pass since I was going to be walking a lot, but they declined and we all fell in behind another group. At first I felt like the guy at the front was doing too much walking and I briefly thought about passing, but we were actually making good time. I think we were running faster than I would have had I been alone, though I felt totally comfortable with the pace.

    The last half mile going up was on a very washed out dirt road, so everyone was sort of doing their own thing. Then we hit this nice long downhill stretch to aid station 2: Clairmont Springs (8.5 miles in). At this point I am 10 minutes ahead of what I thought was an absolute best case scenario. But I felt like I was taking it easy, so I tried not to worry about it. I filled up my water bottles here, and got rid of the vest.

    A steep switchbacked climb followed by a run along a rocky ridge with a nice panoramic view of the cloud we were still running through was next. At this point I was more alone on the trail. I could see the people ahead of me at times and sometimes fell in with other runners for a while. Finally I made it to the part I had been dreading. It's about 3 miles of evil rocks. But today.... something clicked... I was able to move pretty smoothly through the rocks and then way too soon I get to Aid Station 3: Adams Gap (15 miles in). I am now 25 minutes ahead of my best case scenario. And I'm starting to wonder if I had misjudged what I was capable of or if I was about to crash hard. I got my flask refill (I hadn't quite finished the first). Spent some time looking over the food offered. Nothing really looked very appealing, so I grabbed a couple more gels and took off again.

    More rocks at the start of the next section. I was starting to feel some lower GI distress. Something like a combo of really bad gas and bloating and feeling like my guts wanted to cramp. I started switching more often between running and walking. Too much running at once aggravated things. I also started feeling vaguely hungry so I started sipping a little from my flask every few minutes, instead of a larger portion every 30 minutes, and drinking more water. I got to aid station 4: Hubbard Creek, passed off my water bottles to be filled and wandered down the road looking for a nice bush. I was hoping that I could lighten the load a little and ease my guts but it was a no go. I grabbed a few saltines and an orange slice and headed back out.

    The next section starts with one of those perfect single track downhills for a little over a mile. But I quickly caught up to some guys who were going a little too slow. I wanted to  pass them. But was a little worried about how fast I had been moving so far and ended up spending the entire downhill section debating with myself whether or not I should pass. The downhill did work wonders on my guts though... I fertilized a handy bush and felt better (at least for a while). After catching back up to the group ahead of me I passed them, then hit another downhill section leading to the biggest of the creek crossings. I'm really glad there was a rope there. It always surprises me how much force moving water can manage to exert on my legs. But with the rope I was able to navigate through the rocks and not get swept off my feet. It was about upper thigh deep (on me at 5'4") most of the way across. To get to the next aid station there was an out and back that was basically one quarter mile long puddle. I enjoyed myself immensely splashing down right down the center of it!

    At Aid Station 5: Lake Chinnabee (22 miles in, 3 miles past my longest recent long run distance) I am still 15 minutes ahead of my best case scenario and feeling strong but apparently I am not quite all there mentally anymore. One of the aid station workers asked me what I wanted and I just stared at her for a while trying to comprehend. I didn't know this before the race but this aid station was not open to the public, so I didn't get to see Jack and turn down the change of socks and shoes I had thought I might want at this point.

    The next section was spectacular or rather would have been had my lower GI issues not been seriously plaguing me. It climbs alongside the creek we had just crossed, passes a bunch of waterfalls and assorted pretty scenery. But I had to stop and find cover 3 times! And cover wasn't always easy to find. Really glad I had a well stocked supply of TP. So the running here was a little frustrating. I'd run for a a few minutes, walk until my guts calmed back down, repeat. At one point I had to come to a complete stop to wait out a bad cramp. After about 3 miles the trail hits a long, straight mostly uphill gravel road. There were a bunch of cars parked along side the road, spectators and crew, who couldn't get into the Lake Chinnabee aid station. So I did eventually get to see Jack again.

    I caught up to someone while running down this section of road and we ran/ walked together for a while. I started playing games with myself here... just run to that bush or that sign then you can walk for a bit. Running was becoming mentally harder. I wasn't hurting, it was just hard to make myself keep running. Next up was a mile+ section of pavement and within a couple of minutes my right knee started tightening up. So I mostly walked it in to aid station 6: Lake Cheaha (mile 28). As I am leaving the aid station I see that 6:45 has passed, giving me 1:15 to make it the 3 miles up Blue Hell and to the finish line in under 8 hours and I really start believing I could see a 7Tight lippedx on the finish line clock. Once back on the trail, I find I can run again, though that is short lived as it soon get REALLY steep. One final stop in the bushes and I start climbing, and climbing. This section is really pretty awesome. No need to even consider running. Just walk with a purpose and try to follow the flags and blue paint along the crazy twisting path through the roots and boulders. Found one guy trying to go off the wrong way (it really did look like the trail should go up and to the right, but the flagging took a hard left and was a little hard to see). I was pushing pretty hard climbing this mountain and felt a little nauseous for the first time. But all those fast hiking repeats up a steep and rocky powerline cut must have payed off because I felt really strong.

    I made it to the top of Blue Hell faster than I expected and realized I actually had a shot at a 7:30 finish. But the knee was still not cooperating. So I just walked as fast as I could up the trail then road to get to the highest point in Alabama. Back on trail again and I am grinning like an idiot because I am almost there; I can hear the music playing at the finish line. Ignoring the pain in my knee I'm running again. I pop out onto the road to the finish line, turn a corner and there it is. 7:33:XX as I cross and get my finishers plaque. From the very beginning, when I started training for this race, my real goal was to be still running strong as I crossed finish line. And I did it!

    I didn't say much about the aid stations because they seemed about perfect to me. I'd show up, someone would tell me how awesome I was looking, someone would take my water bottles, someone would ask me what I wanted from the food table... you get the idea. It was really easy to get in, profusely thank the water bottle fillers who kept having to chase me down to give me back my bottles (oops) and get out.

    I ended up eating about 70-80% of 2 packages of Sustained energy and 2 packages of Perpetuem, 5 gels, 4 saltines, an orange slice and 3 s-caps. So something like 150-200 calories an hour I'd guess.  

    Right after crossing the finish line I am standing around chatting and both of my calves start trying to cramp up. So I just slowly wandered around for a while, probably looking like a decrepit 80 year old. Actually, I likely looked more like a senile decrepit 80 year old since I was still grinning like a fool. Eventually I felt like I could manage to change clothes without cramping up. My feet were pruney but unblistered. I had survived unscathed.

    Today, I'm feeling a little sore, minor doms in pretty much every muscle in my body. My inner thighs are the worst. I went for a "run" that was more of a walk with a little recovery jogging throw in and felt ok.

    So far, I'm not feeling any post race blues, just really excited see what maintaining this new to me 200 miles a month will bring.

    Final Comments:
    Running more works. Though my intestinal issues may be partly to blame on only running up to 5 hours (and that only twice). I don't think I was dehydrated. And I think I ate about the right amount. I am hoping they are just growing pains and that my body will figure out how to adapt.
    Tapering makes me faster.
    I can trust myself when trying to find the right pace. What feels comfortable and sustainable really is.
    Race day magic rocks!


    Awesome race! I totally recommend it.

    Pinhoti 100: Finished :D


    Faster Than Your Couch!

      Great race, congratulations on finishing way below your expected time!


      Thanks for sharing the RR, I enjoyed reading it. Considering your health history the months before the race, you really nailed that race.

      Perhaps the intestinal trouble was caused by the unusually fast pace over the long distance. I get that sometimes, but over time, the body adjusts somewhat.


      Have a speedy recovery!

      Run for fun.


        Congratulations on your 50K finish!  Smile Thanks for the RR.

          Congratulations, Lynde!   I finished Mount Cheaha 50K in 7:54:55, so you beat me by over 20 minutes.  Great performance on some wet and slippery trails out there.


          Blue Hell was not too bad for me, because I could simply turn my brain off and climb.  What got me was the rocky, slippery section between the second and third aid station.  The creek crossing with the rope was a blast!


          My own race report is forthcoming, but I was sadly out of shape due to getting over an IT band injury, and that cost me a lot of time.  Still, I managed to beat my previous course record at Cheaha by 15 minutes, so it's all good.


            Awesome!!! Way to go!!!!


              Jason, I am guessing you are the Jason I met at Bald Rock Lodge Friday afternoon. We were helping to move stuff in from the trailer.  I thought you looked vaguely familiar but I didn't connect the dots until after the race. I've really enjoyed reading your race reports.

              I felt like the last 3 miles going into AS3 all the way to AS4 were the worst in terms of evil unstable wet rocks and annoying climbs. I actually enjoyed the rocks along the ridge after the climb out of AS2. They make me feel all agile (though I am not). That's awesome you beat you previous record! I've been running those trails a lot recently and Saturday was probably the worst conditions I have seen.


              FTYC, I think I was able to get in just enough running through the fall to be able to get in some really good training from December on. So I guess it all worked out. I can't wait to see what I can do after several more months of training. I hadn't really thought about the faster than usual pace possibly causing my GI issues, since it didn't feel faster than usual, but you're right, it was both faster and 2.5 hours longer than any long training runs I had done. So, a few growing pains are probably to be expected.


              I am still on cloud nine and likely being a little annoying, walking around all day with a silly grin on my face talking to everyone about how awesome it was! Hopefully I will still have some friends left by the end of the week Joking

              Pinhoti 100: Finished :D


              Dirty Girl

                Nice run and race report!

                i am always amazed at the kind of elevation you people can run!

                i ran a 50k in MD on Saturday that had about 4000ft elevation and that was enough for me, lol.


                Enjoy your runners high as long as it lasts!!

                congrats again


                 4/13 Bull Run Run 50 miler- DONE!

                Le professeur de trail

                  7000ft plus of ascent? That's a pretty good amount.  Sounds like you did well.  Congrats.  I am sure it feels well to do better than your expectations.


                  Thanks for sharing.  I too enjoyed reading.

                  The incarnation of peacefulness and patience



                    Jason, I am guessing you are the Jason I met at Bald Rock Lodge Friday afternoon. We were helping to move stuff in from the trailer.  I thought you looked vaguely familiar but I didn't connect the dots until after the race. I've really enjoyed reading your race reports.


                    That's me!  I enjoyed getting there early to help the Hendersons out, because they're the friendliest people on Earth.  Thanks for the kind words.


                    I should have my race report up in a day or two.


                      Nice job, Lynde.  Way to beat you goal time.