Two weeks ago I ran the Georgia Jewel 35 mile ultramarathon race, an extremely tough and very technical trail race, with a dead f’ing last (DFL) time of 17 hours. Of course the best way to recover from one tough ultramarathon race is to run a second, slightly less technical, trail race two weeks later, the Bull Mountain Epic 50k.
Actually the Bull Mountain Epic 50k, hosted by the Dahlonega Ultramarathon Association(Dumass Events) and Dahlonega Mountain Sports (DMS), registration resulted from my brother’s decision to try his hand at running an ultramarathon. As I mentioned in my last post, the only other time he has ran anything greater than a half marathon involved a 140 mile combination of swim, bike and run at Iron Man Chattanooga years ago… and not much since.
The 50k and 100k started at eight in the morning on Saturday so my brother and I decided to camp out at the start/finish line the night before. I am not always fond of sleeping on an air mattress in humid muggy conditions before a race, but the chance to sit around and chat with my brother and running friends, won out. Of course not having to wake up earlier than six in the morning did not hurt either. This turned out to be a great decision and Friday night involved several beers, some scotch and great conversation as we sat around chatting with the race directors and a few of the other runners.
Loop 1- Race start with Rollercoaster Trails
One of the great things about this race is that the course consists of three separate ten to eleven mile loops, each loop finishing back at the starting parking lot and my car where I could setup a personal aide station.
As the sun came up I enjoyed a lazy morning, spending time getting ready to run and socializing with my brother and other runners.
At eight in the morning we were given final instructions and sent off to follow the first loop, eleven miles of rolling terrain. As I got moving and fell into my rhythm, my legs slowly started to loosen up. I could feel a bit of burning coming from my right hip, lingering damage done by the Jewel two weeks prior. I pushed on, heading for mile eleven and the main aide station without too many issues, just a bit of growing hip and knee pain. I figured if I could get into the next lap, I would not quit at the third lap, just had to keep pushing and moving forward. Most of loop one, while beautiful proved uneventful fun single track trail.
Loop 2 – Up Bull Mountain… AKA the Technical Loop
As I pulled into the main aide station I found my brother sitting there cheering runners in, wearing street clothes instead of race wear. Turns out an injury he received while training had removed him from the race after finishing the first eleven mile loop. I commend him for showing up and trying. To most, ultra-marathons prove daunting, few sign up.
After getting myself fueled with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I hugged my brother and said my goodbyes,I knew hanging around for another several hours would not be entertaining and he would shortly leave. I was glad he was there to see me complete that first loop. I still had work to do, over twenty miles remaining including the long slow climb and the technical trail of the second loop.
Taking the trail starting loop two, the thousand foot climb proceeded gradually, with frequent ruts and gullies for trail, nothing like the boulder fields and steep technical terrain from the Georgia Jewel course to weeks previous.
I got into a good rhythm, eating gels and strupe waffles, running and speed hiking based on terrain and how I felt. A constant thrumming in my right hip, both knees and the balls of my feet occasionally reminding me of the effects of my race two weeks before. I kept moving.
Unlike the race before, I stayed on top of my nutrition and kept a steady stream of caloric intake all day, eating at all opportunities. Similar to my last race I started to feel exhausted and spent three to four miles into the second loop, about fifteen miles. In my last race I would have sat on the trail edge and regroup for a minute, but this race I planned to handle this better and just slowed my walk and pushed on. This worked, the only time I sat was at my car aide station at the completion of each loop.
As I ran further, along loop two, the sun began to play tag with some grey rain clouds. With two miles to reach the aide station and five to finish the loop, the rain clouds won the game. At first the rain gently cascaded down from the sky, cooling me down. Eventually that light rain turned into a late summer downpour, lasting for an hour. The rain transformed the trail into a muddy slippery mess. I was soaked but cooled. The rain brought new challenges, clothes rubbed different and new chaffing spots would emerge. Regardless of the rain, I persisted onward to the aide station.
When I finally arrived at the aide station I saw my friend Joy, a little boy and his mother, all manning the station. It was so great seeing a friendly familiar face as I progressed to drip with wetness. I joked, asking if they had soap, there was little I could do about the rain, so I aimed for a bit of levity. After downing my usual glasses of soda, some PB&J’s and refilled my flasks with water and ice, I said my thanks and headed off. The rain wound down and I had two miles of mostly downhill to finish the loop. 23 miles down, only one loop remained.
Loop 3- Time For A Swim
At the main aide station I ate my usual PB&J with several glasses of soda. I also downed a bottle of iced black coffee, something new for me to try during a race. I changed all my clothes and reapplied lube then headed out as quickly as possible, I had three miles to the next aide station and then seven to the finish.
The final loop for the 50k starts on the same trail as the first loop, for about a mile. From there, the final loop shares the end of the first loop for two miles up to the aide station. I knew the terrain I would be on for the first three miles of this loop, mostly nice runnable downhill and very few climbs. So I pushed as much as I could with twenty three miles on my legs. Later I found out that my predicted pace, for which I’m often consistent, had me at that last aide station thirty to forty five minutes later than when I arrived. I was moving well when I hit the magic 26.2 and the final aide station.
Seven more miles to the finish and darkness settled in. For the second time in two weeks I found myself running for a race finish line in the dark.
I kept eating and moving, running whenever I could at my slow late race pace, always moving forward. I tried to stay in my head with any means necessary, working hard to ignore the numbers of the remaining miles and time.
The last seven miles to the finish line had two water crossings. The first being wide and calf deep. The second proving more difficult. It was a wide crossing, about foot or two diagonal across. Scanning the surface with my headlamp light barely penetrated the depth of the flowing water. I had no clue the depth of this water as I plunged in, the first step sinking knee deep. With each additional step the water climbed further up my thighs, eventually hitting the top of my leg, The coldness of the water felt good and numbed my sore legs. The depth obviously aided by the earlier rain shocked me a bit, but I utilized the refreshment of the cold water and kept moving closer to the finish line.
With two miles remaining, the single track briefly dumped out into a gravel forest service road. I noticed a headlamp following behind and called out to the runner, figuring it would be one of the first 100k runners. To my delight and surprise, the light belonged to my friend Joy who had earlier manned the aide station towards the end of loop two. She had gone out for a night run on the third loop, eventually catching up with me. Instead of passing, she followed behind, chatting and distracting my thoughts from the remaining distance to the finish.
With a mile remaining we entered onto the final single track trail. I pushed to keep moving, to get to the finish line while Joy and I chatted. At one hilarious moment she started singing silly songs, made up and nonsensical. It lightened my mood, forcing a tired smile. Being a slow, struggling, back of the pack runner, I rarely run with anybody this late in a race. Having someone to share that final mile provided an amazing experience.
After fourteen hours and seventeen minutes I crossed the finish line completing my second DFL ultramarathon finish in two weeks. What a challenging two weeks of ultramarathon racing! Might be time for a break….
Til Next Time…