Elite runners were calling this race “Mile for mile, the toughest on the east coast. And possibly tougher than Leadville.” That says a lot about how tough this race was. And in it’s first year. A sign of things to come.
The journey started Friday night as I left right from work and headed up to Leatherwood Mountains (Ferguson NC, in the Appalachian Mountains) for dinner. We ate with all the other runners as guest speaker Jennifer Pharr Davis. (Record holder for Fastest woman to hike the Appalachian Trail) spoke about her trials and tribulations on the Appalachian Trail.
It was a buffet style dinner in the stable turned cafeteria with, you guessed it, pasta being the main course. We got our fill of food and then headed to the hotel. It was about a half hour drive. Once we got to the hotel, it was time to lay out all our gear and make sure we were ready to go in the morning. Then it was bed time. Of course I didn’t sleep much. Tossed and turned all night in anticipation for the big day ahead.
At 5:00 AM the alarm goes off. Of course I was already up before that, excited and nervous about the long journey I was about to embark on.
We arrived at Leatherwood Mountains about 6:20 AM. The race wasn’t going to start until 7:00 AM, and there is no such thing as warming up for an Ultra. That’s what the first 5 miles are for. So we had plenty of time to kill. We got to look at the mountains we would be climbing. We didn’t get to see them the night before. They don’t look so big when you’re not climbing them.
7:00 AM we line up and off we go. The Race Director warned us that the first 7 miles was the toughest part of the race. He wasn’t kidding. The trails never seemed to stop going up, up, up, up. And just when you thought you were about to turn a corner and level off or go down hill, it went up some more. And they were steep trails. This was not just a trail race. This was a Mountain Race. Some of the trails were sooooooo steep that you could almost reach out touch them with your hand as your were climbing them.
The Race Director originally said 10,000 + feet of elevation change. I’m pretty sure it was much closer to 15,000′. A look at the Elevetion Chart will tell you how tough the day would be. Luckily, we couldn’t ask for better weather. It was about 40 degrees at the start and it was only supposed to get up to the low 60’s. Perfect for running. And it rained the day before, which made it much more tolerable for those of us blessed with Pollen allergies, but also made some of the downs treacherous.
I was doing well for the first lap. Lap one was 25 miles, lap two was 15, and lap three was 10. I got a great opportunity to run with a legend, Charlie Engle (Thanks again Charlie, you are truly an inspiration). You can see him in “Running the Sahara” on Netflix or “Running America“. I ran with him for the last 5 miles of Lap 1, and got some great tips. Also, that will give you a good idea of how well I was doing. He finished the race in 2nd place. So anyway, we finished the first 25 miles in 4:40. I felt pretty good considering how challenging the course was. About 5 miles into the 2nd lap, I was running out of juice. Up until this point in my short running career, I had only completed one 50K, so I had no idea what to expect. I hit the bag drop and decided to change my shoes and socks. I took about 10 minutes to rest and eat as much as I could stomach. The aid stations were awesome. They had PB&J, crackers, potato chips, salt tabs, pretzels, M&M’s, Gummy Bears, water, heed, BACON, etc. They were well stocked. Absolutely AWESOME. And the volunteers were incredible.
So after a ten minute break, my legs felt great again, and I was off. We would run the “Lollipop” loop and head back to the aid station again. The loop was about 7 miles. That would leave approx 4 miles back to the start of the 3rd loop (36 miles behind me at this point for those not keeping up). As I was resting at the aid station, my friend Derek Oliver would catch me, and drag me away from there. But I needed that. I was hurting pretty bad at this point. I managed to stay with him for about the next 3 miles and couldn’t hang with him any longer. It was at this point, that I knew completing 50 miles was not in the cards. The 40th mile was the longest mile of my life. My Quads were absolutely destroyed, making the downhills dreadful. I had to turn sideways and shimmy down the hills. My jog was reduced to a slow shuffle. It was all I could do to try to get to the Start/Finish area.
Upon my arrival, as I’m walking with my head down, the volunteers and family members were cheering me in. I made it to the Check point and told the Race Director I was done. It was actually embarrassing, but a smart move. If I would have gone out for the last ten miles, I would have been risking major injuries. Not worth it. He offered me a pint glass (for the finishers). I turned it down, and told him I would be back next year to earn it. And I will. I plan on destroying that course next year.
I completed 40 miles of a mountain race in 8:30:00, which is not bad, but it is UNFINISHED. I’m not happy with my DNF. See you next year Leatherwood.
If you are an Ultra Runner and think your a BADA$$, this race is for you. This race will sell out quick next year, so be on the lookout.
22% Drop Rate on the 50 Miler. They also have a 50K and 10 Mile option.
Hope to see you there next Year.
The ICEdot Crash Sensor attaches to a helmet and notifies emergency contacts of a crash and your location. Buy Yours at ICEdot.org.