Chatooga 50k is a tough run that is all about the execution. If you manage things well, then the race will go well for you. (However you define “well” of course).
It seems that like many ultras, this one is totally capable of biting you in the ass. Quick summary of the course: 3.5 miles down (drop a 1000’ or so), 3.5 miles back up. Aid station. Then 10 miles without aid, rolling hills, quite a few of these miles by the Chatooga River (apparently, ‘Deliverance’ was filmed there). The trail is rocky with several roots, pretty technical. After 10 miles, the next aid station, followed by 2 miles out (mainly down), 2 miles back (mainly up – strangely), then back the way you came for 10 miles to the finish.
So, here is how I think you can screw this thing up. The first 3.5 miles, this is where you can start to bollox things up. It is fairly easy running, all down hill – none of it really steep though. You can really push the pace. You can get to the bottom of the trail, and feel great – so great that when you turn around at the bottom, with visions of perhaps a PR in mind, you start to climb back up the hill. If you really want to fuck things up, then you run it hard. So, the end result of the first 7 miles, the beginnings of southern fried quads with a side of trashed calf muscles. Add a touch of dehydration into the mix, and you have the potential for disaster. Now you have 10 miles to go with no way to refuel, and you can only rehydrate with what you can carry (supplemented by Chatooga-Mineral-Water), the heat picks up, by the time you get to the aid station at 17 miles or so, you are totally bolloxed. This is essentially what I did last year – sure I finished, but the last 5 miles were pretty bloody miserable – it was a pretty spectacular meltdown).
This year, not so. I have learned a lot about “trail miles”, and “mountain trail miles”, so I knew just how slow it could be, I had course knowledge. Also, this year, I had a wonderful pacer for the whole race – Lady Sarah The UltraPup. I left Wilbur at home this time, his paws were a little sore from running in sand at the May Madness 50K, plus there was not going to be nearly as much down time for him to cool off during this race. So just Sarah and I. And she truly was awesome.
So, running down the hill at the start, I felt myself going just a little faster than I wanted, I stood to the side of the trail and let everyone pass me by. I learned as I headed back up after the turnaround that I wasn’t quite DFL, but close, there was just one other person behind me and a couple who started 15 minutes late. I wasn’t bothered in the slightest. I was executing well.
At the aid station, the volunteers were simply wonderful. They pampered Sarah, offered her snacks and a bowl of water, which she gratefully accepted, they didn’t leave me to fend form myself either, they filled my bottle, fed me to get me ready for the next 10 mile stretch. Here is the trick here. Slam a couple of Gatorades while waiting, eat something (even though hunger is not yet an issue, fill up a water bottle, and make sure the hydration bladder is filled up, and you will get through the next 3 hours or so without aid. Again, this stretch is all about taking it easy. Dehydration can easily become a factor if the effort levels get too high. The aid station at 17 miles is such a wonderful sight when you eventually get there.
In my case, I felt very good at this point. Sarah was trotting along as graceful as she always is. But it was only just over the halfway point. The next 4 miles were uneventful, and to be honest fairly easy after the last 10 miles stretch. I enjoyed hanging out with Susan and Cliff. Turns out Susan and I have run many of the same races – I remember her from Javelina, and more recently from a brief conversation we had while I was pacing at Miwok a couple of weeks earlier. It the relative smallness of the UltraWorld always surprises me. You enjoy a few minutes chat with someone on the West Coast, and see them at a small race in the South.
After the 4 mile out and back, back at the aid station, it is time to get ready for the 10 mile stretch back to the finish. Again both Sarah and I were pampered. After filling everything up, snacking up, it was time to head out for the last unaided 10 miles. This is where all my earlier caution paid off, I still felt good, even though the heat had picked up some. This is where I slowly move up the field (not that I really give a crap about exactly where I finish), but it was good to feel strong, knowing that it as because of all of my earlier decisions. Certainly there was a reasonable amount of carnage, that I passed!
One thing I noticed – Sarah is a bit of a racer. 99% of the time when we were running, she ran at whatever pace I was running at. Never pulling on the leash. That 1% of the time though, that was when she could sniff that someone was ahead of us. She pulled a bit at the leash, would get a bit of a serious look and put her head down. Oh, she absolutely wanted to go faster. Once we had gone past, she would relax.
At 28 miles, Sarah was in virgin territory. She had run 26.2 a couple of times, 27.43 at the NC Fat Ass, and 45k at May Madness. She took every opportunity to have drink when we crossed streams or passed the river. She was running a smart race too
With three miles to go, you turn away from the river, and basically have a very gentle climb to the end of the trail. I was beginning to tire at this point – but hey, it’s a 5k, and any fool can run a 5k.
The road, and the place where the aid station was situated at 7 miles, signals the end of the 10 mile solo stretch and is the sign that you are about 1/2 mile from the finish.
Just before the line, I let Sarah’s leash go and let her sprint to the finish. She truly looked as fresh as when she had started.
Mind you, as soon as she got in the truck to head home, she was out like a light!
I would like to put a shout out to Terri Hayes, this is a wonderful race which is just funded with donations, terrific scenery, definitely challenging and staffed with wonderful volunteers.