Saturday, February 27, 2010

Mount Cheaha 50K 2/27/10 (Race Report)

On February 27, 2010, I successfully completed my third ultramarathon, Mount Cheaha 50K, with a finish time of 8:32:58.

The Mount Cheaha 50K takes place on the beautiful mountain trails of Cheaha State Park in Alabama and concludes with an incredibly steep climb up Mount Cheaha, the highest point in the state. I had reserved a bunk at Bald Rock Lodge, where this ultra race finishes, and, as I drove up and down the steep roads through Cheaha State Park, scenic views of the wilderness below me gave me a taste of what I would be in for the next day.

I was excited about competing at Mount Cheaha, but my personal expectations for this race were dismal, due to some setbacks with my level of fitness approaching the event.
- During a training run at Kennesaw Mountain a week before this event, I had slipped on gravel while descending some stone steps and twisted my right knee at a strange angle during the fall. I had limped about on the knee for the past week and, while the knee had improved significantly with rest, ice, compression, and elevation, my right leg was still not functioning at its best.
- Over the past year, as I have trained for and competed in multiple marathons and ultras, I've gained almost 40 pounds due to “rewarding myself” too much after the physical demands of long distance training runs and races. Three weeks ago, I regained control of my weight by reverting back to a strict low-sugar diet that had served me well for my 185-pound weight loss four years ago. I also scaled back on my weekly running mileage in favor of StairMaster workouts with a heartrate monitor. As a result, I had lost 10 pounds during the past three weeks. Although this rapid weight loss was an immense psychological boost, the drop in weight left me feeling weaker during my runs. After a few recent 5-mile runs, I had been feeling the same fatigue that I would normally feel after a 10-mile run. The best thing that I can possibly do for my overall running in the future is to lose more weight and be lighter on my feet, but the short term disadvantage is that training for ultramarathons while losing weight is like trying to ride two horses that are moving in different directions. Going into this Mount Cheaha 50K, I was aware that my race performance would suffer and, as I continue to lose weight over the next few months, I'm expecting my finish times for future races to suffer as well, but the reward will be an improved running fitness for the long term.
- Since March of 2009, I had completed my first five marathons and two ultras, so the dreaded “Runner Burnout” was probably inevitable. After my previous ultra, the Atlanta Fat Ass 50K in January, this burnout hit me in full force. I made the sensible choice to use this as an opportunity to achieve my above-mentioned weight loss by scaling back on running mileage in favor of StairMaster workouts that help me lose body fat in a shorter time. Despite the success with the weight loss, my confidence in my long distance running was still suffering.

With all of this in mind, I told anyone who would care to listen that my one and only goal for Mount Cheaha was to simply go as far as I could go during the race before being pulled at an aid station for failing to make the time cutoffs. When people asked me if I had a time goal for Mount Cheaha, I simply laughed and told them that I just wanted to finish in 9 hours (the cutoff limit for the race) and that I would consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to accomplish that.

I established two rules for myself regarding this ultramarathon. The first rule was that my primary mission was to have fun. I was going to treat this as the vacation day in the woods that it was and nothing more. My second rule was that, if I was to be pulled at an aid station for failing to make cutoff, I would have no regrets and I would use the DNF (Did Not Finish) as a lesson to prepare myself better for future ultras.

The person who inspired me the most to begin competing in ultramarathons is a runner named David Ray, whom I met at the Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon last year and quickly befriended. David Ray's race reports, which are often comedic, show the real joy that can be experienced by participating in these races. A few months ago, while we were discussing an ultra race on Facebook, David Ray gave me the most valuable advice that I've ever received with respect to this sport: “The only pressure is the pressure that you put on yourself.” This advice resounded in my mind in the days before Mount Cheaha 50K. For this race, I resolved to have fun without putting pressure on myself.

I'm not normally a fan of big “carbo load” pre-race dinners, but I decided to take advantage this time, with the hopes that a pasta meal after weeks of low-sugar dieting would give me a spike in energy for the following day. My shaky confidence in my own running abilities prior to this race was compounded somewhat when I first stepped into the Bald Rock Lodge dining area for the pre-race dinner on Friday night. I sized up the other runners and observed that everybody else was in near-perfect physical shape. Since the Mount Cheaha 50K is part of the 2010 Montrail Ultra Cup series, the room was full of the best of the the best, many of whom were wearing finisher shirts from previous 100-mile ultras and such. I felt out of place in this room full of ripped, confident runners and I just knew that I was going to get completely owned at the race the next day.

Thankfully, my unease quickly turned into excitement as I sat to eat dinner with a couple of friends and listened to a veteran Mount Cheaha runner, Wayne, as he described the trail. I remembered Wayne from months before, when I volunteered at the 75th mile of the Pinhoti 100 along these same Cheaha mountains back in November and saw him as the third runner to pass through the aid station. Wayne is a strong runner, but he's also incredibly modest and friendly in the way that many of the greatest ultrarunners are. I also enjoyed catching up with friends from the local trail running group (GUTS – Georgia Ultrarunning And Trailrunning Society) that I'm part of.

The Race Director Todd, also put me at ease with his pre-race address to all of us at the dinner. Todd had taken all steps to make this race a fun, family-atmosphere experience and his enjoyment of the sport resonated.

After the pre-race dinner, I returned to my room at Bald Rock Lodge, where I would be sharing four bunks with complete strangers. Two runners, Rob and his girlfriend, Misty, had already arrived and, within minutes, the three of us were talking about trail running as if we had known each other for years. The other runners sharing the bunk had been delayed in their flights and would arrive in the middle of the night after we had gone to sleep.

On the morning of the race, I woke up before everyone else in the room and quickly went into the bathroom to get ready. As always before my ultra races and long trail runs, I covered my feet in baby powder to prevent blisters. Anticipating the wet water from stream crossings, I also applied Vasoline to my toes and heel before putting on double-socks (two pairs of quick-dry Balega socks). I wore a pair of compression shorts to prevent chafing and put on a pair of regular shorts over these, since it's against Guy Code to wear compression shorts by themselves. A long-sleeve compression shirt with a short-sleeve technical shirt completed the outfit.

One of my debates with myself, up until the very morning of the race, was whether or not to wear long running pants to keep myself warm in the early hours of the morning, when the temperatures were still in the 20's. I ultimately decided to go with shorts, because I knew that the temperatures would quickly warm up into the 50's later on. My decision proved to be a wise one and it may have well been the factor that led to my successful completion of the race. I had brought a ragged sweatshirt and an old useless pair of gym pants to wear for the bus ride to the start that I would simply throw away after we arrived at the trail head.

For this race, I had decided to carry two Nathan handheld water bottles so that I would have plenty of water between aid stations and not be plagued with the dehydration problems that I had experienced during the Pine Mountain 40-Mile Trail Run in December. I also wore my Nathan HPL 028 Running Vest, which always invites comments of ridicule since it looks like I'm wearing a bra. The comfort and convenience of this running vest, which has two front compartments to store my energy gels, Sport Beans, and Succeed S-Caps (electrolyte caps to prevent cramping) and a back compartment for my two knee straps (just in case) and a small pouch full of Band-Aids and toilet paper (also just in case), make the comments worth enduring.

At 6:00 AM, all of the runners boarded two buses that transported us on a 40-minute drive to the starting point of the race. Most of the fellow GUTS runners and I boarded the second bus, a local prison bus! I immediately felt like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. The ride though the mountains in a prison bus compounded the rugged aesthetic of this race. Instead of participating in an out-and-back loop race, as I had done with my previous ultras and trail marathons, I was aboard a prison bus that was taking me to an unfamiliar spot 31 miles away from the Lodge and it would be up to me to find my way back. Secure in the knowledge that, if I ever have children, I'll be able to tell them that I rode in a prison bus, I happily enjoyed this trip to the race start.

At the race start, I quickly got rid of my throwaway warm sweatshirt and gym pants to be hit full force with the freezing temperatures. Misery loves company, though, and I was surrounded by fellow runners who were antsy to get moving and warm up in this cold weather. Thankfully, the sky was almost clear at that point and we knew that we were all in for a beautiful day of running. In recent years, the Mount Cheaha 50K had been besieged by rain, flooded streams, and even snow, so I knew that I was fortunate to experience this race in friendly weather.

Most races start with a gunshot into the air or with a Race Director saying, “Go!”, over a microphone. Mount Cheaha 50K wasn't like most races. The “starting gun” for this race was the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Sweet Home Alabama” being played over loudspeakers. When “Sweet Home Alabama” started to play, the runners went through the start line banner into a single-track trail in the woods.

Since the first mile of Mount Cheaha 50K consists of a narrow single-track trail along hillside ledges, the faster runners are frantic to hit the trail first to prevent being stuck behind slower runners. Respectful of this dilemma and in possession of no illusions about my place among my fellow runners, I started in the very back of the crowd and, along with the more casual ultrarunners, I spent the first several minutes of this race simply walking the trail behind a crowded line of participants.

After the first mile, we began the first major ascent of the ultra, climbing 400 feet in less than a mile. Since I'm not able to run as fast on trails as most of the Cheaha runners, I tend to enjoy the simplicity of the uphill climbs. On a steep uphill, the pressure to run is non-existent and I simply get to turn off my brain and power-walk, one step after another, up the mountain. It was on these ascents that I felt the benefit of my repeated StairMaster workouts over the past few weeks. At the top of this ascent, I was greeted by grand mountain boulders and views of the surrounding landscapes. At this point, I started running behind Jo Lena, a runner whom I had remembered from the Pine Mountain 40-Mile run two months earlier and who proved to be an excellent pacer for the first half of this ultra.

The descent on the other side of this first climb was a fast, exhilarating downhill run on some of the most accommodating single track that I've ever run on. I felt like I was running on a bed of pine straw and, although mindful of potential objects to trip over, I threw most of my caution to the wind and took advantage of the trail to put some distance behind me early on. This was exactly the type of trail that I love to run on and I felt my insecurities about this race evaporate. This easy downhill ended on a road that took us to the first aid station just after mile 3. I talked with a girl who had raced just behind me on the downhill and we joked about getting the fast downhills while we could as we reached the aid station. All of my fellow ultrarunners repeatedly advise me to eat at each aid station, even when I don't feel like eating. Since I always feel like eating, this comes easy to me. I refilled my water bottles and downed a chocolate GU gel from the aid station table.

Although I had followed my strict low sugar diet for three weeks to great success, I had made the pre-race resolution to eat whatever I wanted at these Mount Cheaha aid stations, because I would need every bit of the energy from the sugary foods. The result was a glorious day on the trails where I felt like I had a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory every single time I arrived at an aid station. M&M's, chocolate GU gels, gummi bears, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies (which I avoided for the most part, for fear of the effect on my stomach), bananas, orange slices, and salted pretzels. The next day after this ultra, I would return to business as usual with my low-sugar lifestyle, but I was going to fuel up at this ultra and I was going to fuel up well.

After the first aid station, I fell in with a small group of runners as we left the jeep road to make the second severe ascent, a 900-foot ascent over the next 3 miles that was complete with false summits where I would believe that I had reached the top of a mountain only to turn the a corner and see more climbing ahead of me. I took it in stride with my customary power-walking of small steps that I've gotten to down to a science.

Some other runners and I soon arrived at a jeep road that made an uphill ascent around a corner. Although the temptation was there to break out into a run, the consensus with everyone present was that an uphill was still an uphill and that it would be more economical in energy terms to power-walk. Just because I was walking didn't mean that I couldn't walk fast, though, so I picked up the pace to a fast 4 mph power-walk pace and managed to catch up with a few other runners along this stretch. When the jeep road began to turn downhill, I broke into one of my fastest running stretches of the entire race, caught up with two other runners, Charlene and Jay, and talked with them as we sped down the easy road to the second aid station.

After the second aid station, as I began the next uphill ascent with food in my hand, a small group of other runners, Jo Lena, Luke, Jay, and a few others, walked behind me and we quickly established a rapport as we joked about the hills. As we rounded the top of one ascent, a picturesque view unfolded in front of us and we all commented on how beautiful the wilderness looked from our height. We made our way up a small stretch of boulders that reminded me of the cover of Led Zeppelin's Houses Of The Holy before finding an easier single-track where we were able to speed up to a run.

The next few miles of running were some of my favorite moments of this race. The four of us, Jo Lena, Luke, Jay, and I, were able to run at a comfortable pace along a ridge where we could look down to either side to see the trees far below. When I had started trail running during the previous year, this ideal stretch of trail was exactly the sort of mental image that attracted me to the sport and to be able to run in a scenic area like this was rewarding and rejuvenating. I commented to the other runners that I felt like one of the characters in The Lord Of The Rings films as we ran atop this ridge surrounded by never-ending wilderness. This was a moment that will stay with me for a long time and bring a smile to my face.

The terrain soon became rocky and more technical, so I wasn't surprised to hear runners behind me take tumbles as they tripped over rocks and tree roots. Each time, we would all stop to ask the fallen runner if assistance was needed and, when the runner jumped back up unhurt, we resumed our comfortable run pace. As one runs farther on technical trails, the onset of fatigue can be insidious and, as I've learned from my past, a continued propensity to trip over rocks is best remedied by slowing down. I slowed to a power-walk and told the runners behind me that they were welcome to pass me and keep running. All three runners seemed perfectly content to stay behind me and follow my pace, though, so we continued along walking over the “rock garden” stretches of the trail and occasionally running when the terrain permitted. Charlene, with whom I had run earlier on the fire road, remained a couple of hundred feet ahead of us and I joked to the other runners that I was persistence-hunting her by keeping her in sight the entire time. Jay, who was from this area and who had assisted in marking the trail with the orange sprinkler flags that were planted to the right of the trail along the whole ultra, assured us that this tricky rocky terrain would not last forever.

We arrived at the third aid station, where I was happy to see Philip, a local GUTS runner who had completed the Pinhoti 100 months earlier, and Joel, a local GUTS runner who had run with me for the first two laps of the Atlanta Fat Ass 50K ultra in January. After this third aid station stop, I parted ways with the three runners who had accompanied me earlier and we all settled into our own paces. I soon caught up with Joel, who informed me that he was having trouble with a blister. We ran together for a stretch and then I outpaced him as I found some other runners to accompany.

The stream crossings began along this stretch. I intended to cross the first stream by jumping from one rock to another, but my foot slipped into the water on the very first rock and I threw caution aside as I simply bounded through the water to the opposite bank. My feet were drenched, but the Montrail Hardrocks that I was wearing are quick-draining trail shoes and, within minutes, my feet felt completely dry again. I did feel blisters start to develop at this point, but there was nothing I could do at the moment, but keep moving. I fell in with a couple of runners who had passed me earlier in the race and, when one of them told me that this was his very first ultra race, I showed my respect. It took some courage for him to sign up for Mount Cheaha 50K as his first ultra.

After the fourth aid station, Joel caught with me again and I slowed down to let him get some Band Aids out of the emergency pack in my race vest so that he could treat his blister. At this point, I was also reunited with Luke, who had run with me earlier on the trail ridge. I asked if he remembered Joel, who we had both just passed, and, when he said yes, I told him that Joel was going to catch up with us again before the race was over.

Luke and I stayed together for the next several miles, as the trail alternated between stream crossings and ongoing hillside ledge trail sections. I had my one and only fall at one stream crossing along this stretch, as I slipped on mud at the stream bank and landed on a large rock that pierced the small of my back. Luke expressed concern, but I assured him that I was fine and we kept going across the stream. At this point, I had been running and walking on hillside ledges for most of the race where my left leg facing the hill drop was always lower than my right leg, which was constantly elevated by the camber of the the ledge trail. As a result, the fatigue in my right calf was becoming increasingly unbearable. Luke and I soon reunited with Jay, another runner from our close-knit running crowd along the ridge, and we benefited from his descriptions of the trails ahead that he was experienced with.

In order to offset cramping, I resumed taking S-Caps every hour. Tony, an accomplished trail runner from the GUTS group, had advised me months earlier to bite down on the S-Cap tablets before swallowing them to break the capsule if I felt like I needed to feel the effect of the S-Caps sooner rather than later. I followed this strategy of biting the S-Caps apart and, when the terrible taste of the contents within the tablets hit me, I would take several sips from my handheld water bottles to wash the tablets down. More often than not, I would then eat some of my watermelon Sport Beans to counter the taste of the S-Caps.

We came upon the largest stream crossing yet, where a photographer stood on the other side to document the various exploits of runners in their attempts to cross. Jay and Luke went to a rocky area 20 feet upstream where they could cross without getting wet, while I simply walked through the water and made heavy splashes to get from point A to point B with a minimum of distance. I said hello to the photographer and we all continued along our way.

When Luke, Jay, and I reached the fifth aid station, we were relieved to be temporarily free of the increasingly oppressive camber of the ledge trails. Joel caught up with me again at this point and soldiered on ahead. I spotted some baked potato slices at this aid station and gobbled them up, as the starch appealed to me at this point. I've learned from my previous trail experiences that, if something looks particularly appetizing at a trail race aid station, then it's probably because my body is craving that very thing and that it's what I really need to eat. After this aid station, Luke and I proceeded up a very pretty stretch of trails with boardwalk crossings next to overlooks above some amazing waterfalls. Even at this point in the ultra, when we were over the 20-mile mark, tired, and both joking about how we needed divine intervention to transport us to the finish, we were still able to appreciate the beauty of this creekside trail.

We reached the last of the big stream crossings and, as I was wading across, I slipped between an underwater rock crevice and started to fall, but caught myself with both hands in the water. Unfortunately, I had a handheld water bottle in each hand and these bottles had both been completely submerged in the stream water. I arrived on the other side and joked to Luke that I was probably going to come down with Giardia poisoning, since I now had two handhelds with the nipples both covered in stream water. I made a quick effort to dry the bottle nipples off with my shirt, but then resumed running. After a short stretch, I took a drink from both water bottles, Giardia be damned. The temperatures were warming up at this point and I needed to hydrate more often. Having learned from my mistakes at Pine Mountain 40, I was relieved that I was suffering none of the effects of thirst or hunger that I had experienced at that race. I had finally gotten my hydration and fuel intervals down to where I needed them.

Luke and I passed by a large group of hikers, most likely a troop of boy scouts. I cheerfully said hello to them and told them that they were hiking well as I ran past, even giving one kid a high-five. As an ultrarunner, I wanted to set a good example and look like I was having the time of my life on this trail so that these kids might someday be inspired to start running ultras on their own. I grinned on the outside, while feeling tortured and tired on the inside, but the mission was accomplished. Luke and I caught up with another runner, who told us that his friend whom he had been running with had recently dropped out of the race. This runner stayed with us for the next several miles.

After a long stretch of running along tricky technical ledge trails, Luke, Jay, and I emerged onto a dirt road at mile 25 where we could see runners in the distance ahead of us. Since this was a relatively flat road that went on for the next mile and half, I had anticipated that I would be able to easily run this stretch and make up for lost time spent power-walking uphills. My body had different plans, though. Soon after I started running with the small group of others around me, I slowed down with the rest of them and we all resumed our power-walks. My body had sent me a clear message: it was finished running for the day. Once again, though, I sped up my power-walk to a 4 mph pace, outdistancing the group I was with so they would occasionally break out into a run to catch up with me.

At this point, I was concerned about cutoff times. A volunteer at the previous aid station had assured me that I was 25 minutes ahead of cutoff time and that I was doing fine, but I knew that I was not doing myself any favors with my inability to run along the dirt road and I didn't want to be pulled at the last aid station before the climb up Mount Cheaha.

As we proceeded down the dirt road, we were just a mile or two away from the famed “Blue Hell”, the 900 foot/0.5-mile steep elevation that would take us up the side of Mount Cheaha to the top of the mountain close to the race finish. I was apprehensive about the climb, but I was also excited to try it and I was terrified about the possibility of being pulled at the aid station just below the Blue Hell ascent for failure to make the cutoff time. Blue Hell was the defining characteristic of Mount Cheaha 50K and I knew that I needed to at least give this daunting elevation a try in order to get my money's worth for the ultra.

The only thing between me and Blue Hell was another mile or so of roads that I was having trouble running on. I reached the top of the small ascent of the endless dirt road stretch and, with Luke and some other runners close behind me, I turned onto a paved road that lead to Lake Cheaha, where the last aid station would greet me. This paved road had several downhill stretches where I was finally able to run, at long last. As I turned one corner, an expansive view of Mount Cheaha greeted me. I looked up at the boulders near a metal tower at the mountain top and knew that I was going to have to make my climb along that steep ascent.

With other runners close behind, I ambled into the last aid station in a pavilion alongside the lake. After filling up both handheld water bottles and eating a couple of cookies, I asked if I had made the cutoff time. The volunteers told me that I was doing great and that there was no stopping me now. I went on ahead and, temporarily, left the other runners at the aid station as I followed the orange sprinkler flags to the foot of the mountain.

Knowing that I would need the use of both of my hands to make this climb, I took advantage of two straps along the top of my Nathan race vest (“man bra”) by unbuckling the holder straps of my two water bottles, running them through the straps of the race vest, and re-buckling them. My two water bottles were now securely attached to the front of my race vest, where they hung just below my face so that I was able to take a sip of water whenever needed, but still have free use of my hands. Just as I was finishing this adjustment, Luke, Jay, and a couple of other runners caught up with me and we began our Blue Hell ascent together.

Blue Hell gets its name from the blue trail blazes that mark the sharp ascent of this mountain. There are no switchbacks and there are no flat stretches. The blue blazes take the runner up 900 feet through tree roots, boulders, and potentially dangerous technical rocky stretches while a vast landscape of trees opens up below.

Our Blue Hell adventure began with a steep, but not insurmountable, climb up a trail covered with thick tree roots that we had to step up onto with giant strides. In previous weeks, I had taken to exercising two-foot step-ups after long distance runs to get the feel of how such a stride would affect me after I had already run a long way. The benefit of these workouts was now fully realized. Jay caught up and climbed slightly ahead of me, but we both passed a couple of other runners and kept climbing, and climbing, and climbing, and climbing...

After a very brief respite where Jay and I were only walking a slight uphill, the real oppressiveness of Blue Hell took hold as we entered what can best be described as a boulder field. The blue trail blazes and scattered orange sprinkler flags led us up massive rock and between elevated crevices where we had to use both hands to grab trees or other rocks to pull ourselves up the mountain.

Strange as it may seem, I found myself enjoying this steep stretch of Blue Hell. I'm not as fast as the other trail runners and I'm not agile on downhill technical stretches that smaller trail runners can bound down like fleet-footed deer, but I can climb when I put my mind to it. The climb is uncomplicated, because I am never uncertain about how I need to run or at what speed I need to be pacing myself. Running was completely out of the picture on Blue Hell and the simplicity of my task appealed to me. I climbed and enjoyed the satisfaction of looking down at the view behind me to know that every long step up to the top of a boulder brought me closer to the finish.

I knew at this point that I only had 2.5 miles or so left to go and that I had one hour to complete those 2.5 miles before the 9-hour cutoff time for the race finish. With a newfound confidence, I picked up my pace on Blue Hell and, when Jay saw my energy rush, he let me pass him on the rocks. I said hello to a small group of hikers who were rappelling down a huge boulder and they all complimented me on looking strong.

I reached the top of Blue Hell, but the climbing was not over. As I unbuckled my water bottles from my race vest and once again strapped them to my hands, the orange sprinkler flag markers led me to a paved road that made a sharp ascent to the top of the mountain where a metal tower awaited. I walked intently up this road to the top, where I could hear the loudspeakers from the finish line a couple of miles away. When the paved road turned back into trail, I broke out into a brief run along a flat easy trail before slowing to a walk again as the trail became more technical. I was excited to be close to the finish, but I knew that the rocks along this area of trail would be unforgiving if I tripped and fell in my tired state of mind.

I kept power-walking along several switchbacks of relatively flat technical trail as the sound from the loudspeakers rose in volume. Another runner caught up with me and passed me just before we both reached the final pavement run to the finish line. I walked down a small hill to the pavement and, after some onlookers beside the road told me I was close, I broke into a run all the way to the finish line. In past trail races, I've removed my race vest (“man bra”) before the finish line, because I don't like the way that it looks in photos. I kept my race vest on this time, though. It had served me well.

I crossed the finish line at 8:32:58, just 27 minutes ahead of the 9-hour cutoff. I picked up my finisher's technical shirt, then went inside, where I was greeted by cheers from the fellow GUTS runners in the dining area. I was hungry beyond belief, but I wanted a shower first. I retreated to my lodge bunk room, took a quick five-minute shower, dressed in comfortable street clothes, and returned to the company of the other runners, where pizza and cake were waiting for me. I sat down with them and waited as other runners continued to reach the finish line behind me.

Most of the GUTS runners had finished an hour or two ahead of me and most of them were dressed, showered, and getting ready to go. I'm always astounded by my fellow runners in this group and am constantly looking to them for helpful advice and motivation. Of all of the GUTS runners who completed Mount Cheaha 50K, I was the last one in the group to finish. Somebody needed to have the “in the rear with the gear” representation with GUTS and, on this day, that person was me. Still, I was happy to have risen above my insecurities and lack of conditioning to exceed my expectations at Mount Cheaha 50K.

I was worried that I was going to have an embarrassingly painful time at this ultra and that I would probably not finish. Instead, Mount Cheaha 50K proved to be the most fun race that I've ever competed in in my life. I've got my scratches, scars, and soreness today, but I feel better than I ever have on the day after an ultramarathon and that's a good sign. I suppose that the best cure for "Runner Burnout" is to have a fun race like this to remind me of the joy of the sport.

See you on the trails.


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