2019 is a year for several ultras for me with the first being the Rut Rogue 40s 40 miler. This event has a host of distances from a 40 mile relay to a 40K, 50K, and the 40 miler. The government shutdown affected this year’s running but thankfully the RDs (Laura and Nathan) were able to make concessions and get a different venue at the last minute. Normally run on the Wine Creek/Turkey Creek trails in Modoc, SC; I was looking forward to the race. In all my time living in Augusta, I only made my way out to the Wine Creek/Turkey Creek trails once and I was excited to get to race on them. A couple weeks out from race day, an email came out about the location change to the Bartram Trail along the Georgia side of Lake Thurmond. My initial response was “UGH! I hate Bartram Trail!” I even considered dropping from the race but I didn’t. As a race director that was once affected by the government shutdown, I fully understood why the change needed to happen and I wanted to support my friends. As I was thinking about it, I last ran on the Bartram Trail in 2016 at the now-defunct Bear Blaster 50K+ and I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember exactly why I hated Bartram Trail.
Coming back to the Augusta area to race is always a pleasure. I get to see so many people that I’ve shared so many miles with over the years. On top of that, there was a large number of Columbia area runners attending the race too. It was cool to mix both running communities that I belong to, as well as, meeting new friends out there. As with most trail events, it is not unusual to see a handful of those infamous Harbison Trail Runners club shirts. Read the back and put two and two together to understand why they are infamous.
The race was delayed slightly and after last minute announcements and prayer from Laura, the 40 mile runners were off.
The First 4 Miles:
These were very fluid for me. Faster than what I planned but I felt good and stuck with it. I was leading a small group of runners, all of whom I know from either running with or them running one of my races. So the conversation centered around races and the such. The first aid station was just after the 4 mile mark and manned by a couple familiar faces which was nice.
The First Three Falls:
Mile 5.6 I completely wiped out on a #ToeSnake. You know what a Toe Snake is, right? Those hidden roots that just jump up and bite your toe. I fall, rolling to my side. No worse for the wear. I jump back up and keep going. The second fall happened shortly there after, this time I lost my footing on some mud and just went down. Again, no issue and I was able to jump right up and keep going. I get to the West Dam turnaround/aid station at ~8.5 miles feeling great and seriously trying to figure out why I disliked Bartram so much. After eating a few salted potatoes and chatting with Erica for a couple minutes, I head back to the start/finish area.
I hit the 10 mile mark at 1:52:47. Publicly, I stated my only goal was to have fun and finish within the cutoff. Secretly, I broke the race down mentally as 4 10 mile segments and my goal was to clock each 10 mile segment at or under 2 hours. So, I was ahead of my curve.
Fall number three happened at ~10.5 miles. I was turning from Bartram Trail onto the Lake Springs loop. I was thanking the volunteer that was there to act as a course monitor and was oblivious to the root that I hit. I rolled, landed on my back and just laid there looking up at the sky laughing. The young lady asked if I was ok, to which I replied that I was. The rest of the way back to the start/finish line was uneventful and had me questioning why I disliked Bartram as much as I do.
Petersburg Aid Station (Race distance 18, my Garmin Distance 17):
I come into the Petersburg Aid Station only 2 minutes behind my 2-hour plan. I eat and drink some fluids while Kent Kronowski fills my UD bottles back up for me. Kent was a welcomed site at the aid station. The miles I’ve shared with him are some of my favorite memories. I mean there are aliens at FATS, right Kent?. Kent is the person who convinced me to give trail running a try way back in 2010.
I take off heading towards the Pine Knoll turnaround and quickly remember why I disliked Bartram…Petersburg to Washington Rd is my least favorite trail section anywhere. It’s not well maintained, too many steep whoop-de-doos and runs more like an obstacle course than a trail.
As I approach mile 18, I’m still feeling great! Of recent, I tend to struggle with tight calves and surprisingly they were not bothering me much. My watch sounds for the mile 18 split. I glance down to see my split pace. Right as I look up….BAM a stupid toe snake got me. This time, the trail is in such a condition that rolling wasn’t an option so I fell forward and let my legs catch the brunt of the fall. Catch it they did! Both knees landed on an exposed root with my left knee squarely hitting a root knuckle. The pain was immediate! I looked down expecting the worst but saw that it was just some small cuts.
“Whew!” I think to myself. I get up and try to collect myself. When I straightened my leg, the pain was extreme and deep. I tried to move forward but I made it 10 feet before having to stop. Just then Sally Sauer ran up, asked if I was ok. I said yes and urged her to keep going. She was followed by Margie and Lawton Hair. Both stopped completely to ensure I was okay and even asked if I needed them to help me back. I declined the offer and told them to keep their race going. They ensured I had a phone so I could call someone if I needed to and went on their way.
I started moving forward and before long I was able to trot, then run a little but my pace was slow at best. Mile 20, I was 24:23 minutes slower than my 2-hour split goal. Still moving forward though!
Abandoned Gazebo Aid Station (Race distance 25, Garmin distance 23.5):
As I’m coming up to the abandoned gazebo, my knee is starting to really hurt…especially on the downhill sections. From memory, I know that the section after the gazebo into Wildwood Park has a lot of undulation, which means my knee is not going to be happy. I consider dropping there but I am still doing the math in my head (anyone else do math while running to help focus?) and I know I can pretty much walk it out and still finish under the 11 hour cut off. I keep going.
Just ahead and after mile 24, I’m disappointed by the sheer amount of clear cutting being done in the woods leading into Wildwood Park. The trail is no longer recognizable and if it weren’t for the race arrows, I’m certain everyone would’ve gone off-trail. My pace is also trailing off big time. At some point in this section I start seeing the 40 mile front runners. Tracy McKinnon was well in the lead still looking strong.
Pine Knoll Aid Station (Race distance 29.5, Garmin 27.55):
Once in Wildwood Park, I made the decision to drop at the turnaround aid station. My knee is killing me and is swollen pretty badly. On the forest road, David Sauer catches me and walks with me for a little bit before he takes off, effectively putting me in DFL. NOW, I’ve never been DFL in a race and I seriously contemplate to continue on at the turnaround to get awarded the DFL award. I was calculating my current time vs. the average pace needed to finish in 11 hours. I needed a 16:30 overall pace to finish in 11 hours. At the turnaround, my average pace was a 14:30 at that point, I still had ample time.
I decided to stick with my plan to drop. I have other races planned. We’re getting married in March. I want to be able to keep running as injury free as possible. Graciously, Erica drives me back to the start/finish line after her and the other volunteer clears the aid station.
When I get back, Luke Smith is the first to see me. In true ultrarunning fashion, the first thing Luke does is snap the below picture:
Luke and Sally both help get me situated. I open my post-race recovery fluids (because you know, beer isn’t allowed at the trail head). The recovery fluid of choice was Steel Hands Coffee Lager. I took a 6 pack of this with me, with the intent to share and share I did. I drank only 1 of the 6! Shortly thereafter, Joe Smith, a.k.a. F3 Wilson from the Greenville area finished his 40 miler. Tossed him a can of the previously mentioned recovery fluid. Joe returned the favor by handing me a Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing IPA. We (Luke, Joe, and Nick from Cincinnati that Luke ended up know) hung out telling battle stories as we cheered on the remaining finishers.
There is no running community quite like the trail running community. All for one and one for all perfectly sums up the mentality of the trail runner. From fellow trail runners volunteering their day to support the runners, to runners willing to stop their race to ensure you’re okay, to runners helping to get you situated even after they run their race. Many people wonder why I stick to mostly trail races and this is why. Aside from the challenge of the distance, the camaraderie among the trail runners is far more appealing to me than the road running community. Sure I train mostly on roads due to when I have the available time to train but my preference will always be the trail and ultra community.
There is this little event we have planned for March 30th. I get to marry Jenny. Talk about being one lucky dude!
Then I’m directing the Harbison 100/100K on April 13th/14th.