Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Scenic City Trail Marathon 5/21/11 (Race Report)

On May 21, 2011, I completed the Scenic City Trail Marathon with a finish time of 5:50:23.

Photo courtesy of Sam Silvey Photography
The Scenic City Trail Marathon, part of the Rock/Creek Trail Series, takes place at the Raccoon Mountain Reservoir in Chattanooga, Tennessee and features single-track trails that are advertised on the race website as fast and forgiving.  The trail system of rolling hills circles the mountaintop reservoir twice for the full marathon distance and rewards runners with views of the Chattanooga cityscape and the Tennessee River below, an impressive electrical switchyard, and, finally, a massive rockfill dam that spans the western edge of the lake.  With just under 3,000 feet of total elevation gain, the Scenic City Trail Marathon is not easy, but the intensity of the climbs is lessened by multiple switchbacks and every section of the course is runnable.  

Every runner is an experiment of one, however, and even the trail marathons that are described as fast and forgiving can wreak havoc on the body under less than ideal peripheral conditions.  I would be attempting the Scenic City Trail Marathon just one week after my pleasing finish at the Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon on May 14 and I knew from past experience that residual fatigue can take its toll even when a runner feels fully recovered and energetic in the early miles of a race.  Assurances from veteran trail runners that the Scenic City was an easier course than that of Twisted Ankle did little to assuage my nervousness about attempting two trail marathons in two weeks.  The weather predictions for Scenic City Trail Marathon also warranted caution, since the race would take place in 88-degree temperatures on the first truly hot day after nearly two weeks of 65 to 70-degree weather that left runners poorly acclimated to the sudden heat.  Since I am a heavyweight runner, I was aware that the summer heat and humidity could stop me in my tracks during the final hours of a trail marathon if I did not plan adequately for my hydration and electrolyte needs.  As I enjoyed a pre-race dinner with friends in Chattanooga the day before Scenic City, I was looking forward to a fun day in the sun on beautiful trails, but I also remembered my slight brushes with heat exhaustion and borderline hyponatremia from my mistakes in past races.

I woke up in my normal compulsively early fashion hours before the race, drove to the starting area via a slightly eerie single-lane road along the top of the Raccoon Mountain dam, and enjoyed immersing myself in the vibe of pre-event excitement as I watched other runners arrive amidst the setup of race exhibits.  Rock/Creek always does an exemplary job with their trail series events and the mere sight of Rock/Creek vehicles, large inflatable finish line markers, outdoor company sponsor booths, and massage tents eased me into enthusiastic trail running mode.  When my friends from GUTS (Georgia Ultrarunning and Trailrunning Society) arrived and we relaxed in camp chairs by the road, time passed quickly as I encountered old and new acquaintances.  These events are not unlike family reunions for those of us who participate in multiple races and I was once again thankful for the familiar friendly faces that would keep me going through the trial of miles yet to come.

Photo courtesy of Wilderness Adventure Photography
The sun rose quickly over the mountain, though, and I was already starting to break a sweat as I lined up in the back of the pack at the start line during loudspeaker announcements.  I realized that the second lap of this double-loop course in noonday temperatures was going to be a beatdown and that, even as a veteran ultra-distance runner, I was about to take the first steps on a marathon course with the uncertainty of completion.

The first mile of the course consisted of a gradual uphill on a paved road to thin out the runners before the sold-out capacity race turned into the woods along a narrow single-track trail.  I spotted a group of friends from Marathon Maniacs and tried to keep an easy pace with them as we watched faster runners surge ahead on the pavement.  Even an intentionally relaxed runner can get ahead of himself, though, and I decided to take a couple of Galloway method walk breaks when I noticed that I was passing others on this initial stretch.  When I saw the slight bottleneck of runners as the course turned off the road, I slowed to a longer walk and took my time to get to the trailhead with the same end result.  The early mood was humorous and lighthearted, since we were all thankful to retreat into the tree shade from the open road.

The rolling hills of the Scenic City trail course began rolling out right away and I immediately fell into ultrarunning mode by power-walking the longer climbs while I talked with a handful of new friends who had recognized me from my race reports.  Since we were all running this event for the first time, the main subject of conversation hovered around the question of whether or not the trail terrain would remain as pleasant and unassuming as it was for these early miles.  The trail twisted along easy switchbacks over boulders and tree roots that claimed an occasional runner, but the course was not overly technical at this point and I thought to myself that I could run along sexy single-track trail sections like this all day.  When we briefly emerged out of the trees to cross an open powerline section that overlooked the city of Chattanooga to the east, I departed slightly from my cautionary trail running style to look away and enjoy the view a couple of times.  When I arrived at the first aid station at the East Overlook area, took a cup of HEED electrolyte drink, and moved on, I found myself ahead of most of the runners in the small group with whom I had kept company.  

Mile markers were placed along the trail on this initial stretch and the prominent psychological predicament of this race revealed itself almost immediately.  My fellow runners and I were all registering noticeably shorter distances on our Garmin wristwatches than the mile markers were indicating.  I was surprised to see my Garmin registering four miles when I ran by the Mile 5 marker.  I decided that the multiple switchbacks were causing the Garmin to register shorter distances with its point-to-point satellite measurements, so I decided to ignore the device as best I could.  Ignoring the Garmin on my wrist was not a difficult task as I continued to enjoy the scenery on the fun downhills of the course.  When the trail markers directed me onto a leisurely descending gravel road on the way to a large electrical switchyard that resembled a science fiction movie setting, I fell into my ideal trail running pace dictated by the mantra, “If it feels like working, then you are working too hard.”

The trail running did not feel like work at all on these gradual downhills and, even when I turned off the gravel road back into the woods for the trail switchbacks, the distance moved past effortlessly and I was surprised at how good I felt on the trails even on this warm morning.  I smiled and thought to myself that I was born to do this.

I then tripped over a rock and fell hard on the trail.  As I made a quick roll, stood up, and resumed running, another person behind me asked if I was okay.  I laughed and reassured him that I was fine.  I certainly needed to be more careful doing what I was born to do, though.

The terrain increased in difficulty as I made my way around the reservoir near the Raccoon Mountain Visitor Center.  Fortunately, the frequency of scenic views also increased.  While another runner and I made our way down a stretch that overlooked the beautiful Tennessee River, we agreed that we wanted to take longer looks down at the river, but the rocky trail would not allow for casual sightseeing.  

The toughest elevation of this trail marathon soon appeared in the form of multiple switchbacks where I could see several runners high above me.  Since I had recently realized that I was doing more nonstop running than usual this early in a long trail race, I was thankful for the opportunity to hike up these switchbacks and recharge.  My long-established trail race plan of eating a gel every half hour and an S-Cap once an hour was serving me well and I took advantage of the hill to down another gel.  When I reached the Mile 8.3 aid station shortly after, I refilled my Camelbak Rogue 70-ounce hydration pack for the first time, took another HEED drink, and started a mostly-downhill series of trails made more challenging by the increasingly technical terrain of rocks.  The trails were winding closer and closer to the large rockfill dam while, off to my right, I could still see occasional views of the Tennessee River valley.

Photo courtesy of Kim Purcell Pike
I soon reached one of the most fun sections of the course as the trail left the trees into an open meadow area at the foot of the rockfill dam.  I thought about the rumored end-of-the-world scenarios of May 21, 2011 and briefly hoped that these scenarios did not include disastrous floods from bursting dams.  I continued to leapfrog the same runners over and over as many of them raced ahead of me on the technical descents where my running style is more timid and alternately power-walked ahead of them on the switchback climbs with my deliberate uphill strategy.  I departed momentarily from my hill strategy by breaking into an easy run while a photographer snapped a picture of me from the end of a rock trail at the foot of the dam, then resumed power-walking when the trail climb turned into the woods.

Mental blocks can appear in puzzling ways and I experienced my psychological low point of the race after passing the third aid station.  By comparing trail markers and Garmin data, I had ascertained that my actual mileage was roughly two miles over the mileage displayed on my Garmin.  When my Garmin read 10 miles at this third aid station and I was informed by the volunteers that I was 11 miles into the race instead of the assumed 12 miles, the reality that I still had 14 miles left to run in quickly rising temperatures dampened my easygoing pace.  Although I had finished the first loop and was now returning to the easy trail terrain that I had traversed early in the race, this trail race now appeared tiresomely difficult. 

I rubbed dirt on my concerns and maintained my running pace on the downhills and flats of the trail.  I was invigorated by my realization that I was going to complete the first 14 miles of this race in less than three hours, and visions of a comfortable sub-6-hour race time danced in my head.  Still, the midday heat was really starting to bear down on me.  I remembered my overhydrated state from the 2010 Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon and decided to limit my drinking from the Camelbak to reasonably compensate for the temperature, instead of drinking too much and putting my sodium levels down below the danger zone.  With the temperatures climbing, I stayed true to taking one S-Cap an hour with adequate hydration of no more than 30 ounces per hour.  

I ran on the trails alone until I reached the East Overlook aid station.  I asked one of the volunteers to put three cups of ice into my Camelbak before refilling it with water and then hit the trails again with a handful of Gummi Bears for quick sugar.  As I ran, I could hear the ice water rattling around inside the Camelbak to cool the water.  Each time I took a sip from the hydration pack, I would blow the warm water inside the plastic tube back into the main bladder so that my first sip would be of the ice-cold water.  The small luxury of cold water from the Camelbak kept me moving for the next few miles, even as fatigue dimmed my bright disposition.  My black shirt, while not immediately apparent as a wise choice of summer running gear, felt pretty good with its loose fit and vented mesh.  

I smiled to myself again as I enjoyed running the gravel road descent on the way to the switchyard and remembered my comical fall on the trail at that point on the first loop.  The smiling did not come as easy the second time around, though.  I passed one couple of fellow runners and asked them how they were doing as I noticed one of them stop to catch breath.  When they replied that they were okay and then asked me how I was, I replied, “I’ll be okay when I reach the finish line.”  I was immediately ashamed of my wearied response and followed it up by reassuring the couple, “I’m feeling pretty good right now, though!”

My pace was slowing and my walk breaks were increasing, so I reached into my bag of mental tricks to pull me along the trail.  Fortunately, the view to my right soon opened up to reveal the Tennessee River once again and I remembered how fortunate I was to have the ability to run not just one, but two trail marathons in the month of May.  I thought back to early 2009, when I was training with my local Galloway group to run my first marathon, and remembered how none of the runners in my group believed me when I told them that I planned only to run one full marathon and then go back to running the more manageable distances of 10K races.  The Scenic City Trail Marathon would be my 24th race of a marathon-or-greater distance since March of 2009 and the realization that the impossible had now become routine gave my motivation the necessary shot in the arm to keep running when I could.  I was extremely lucky to be spending a beautiful Saturday on the trails with friends and my irritations about the heat and rocks suddenly seemed insignificant.

Spirit does not always translate to speed and I knew that I was in for a longer time on my second loop, but putting one foot in front of the other still felt good.  I arrived at the Mile 20.1 aid station to once again fill my Camelbak with ice water, but I rejected the Gummi Bears in favor of a handful of large orange slices this time around and turned down the HEED in favor of a cup of icy Mountain Dew.  I continued along on the rolling trail hills with my increasing walk intervals. When I drew closer to one runner who asked me the time, we were both overjoyed when we realized that we had a chance of a decent sub-6-hour finish time.  The idea of beating my finish time from the previous week’s Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon, despite the 20-degree rise in temperatures, shifted into my main goal.  

I was starting to pass runners with my steady pace, especially on the hill climbs.  One woman had passed by me before the Mile 20.1 aid station, but, other than that, nobody else passed me during the second loop of this marathon and I was managing to pass more people that I expected.  Each encounter with another runner gave me increased motivation as I would exchange pleasantries and then move along.  I ran down the trails by the rocky vistas of the dam, power-walked the hills, and finally made my way to the last aid station.  A volunteer informed me that I only had 2.4 miles left to go to the finish.

I was quickly winding down and the final 2.4 miles seemed like quite the task.  My legs were almost drained of their running ability, so I walked through most of the switchbacks.  There was certainly not a shortage of switchbacks at this point in the race and I grimaced each time a trail turn took me farther away from the general direction of the finish.  I could soon hear cheering voices from the finish area and the fact that I still had to zigzag back and forth over and over for another couple of miles just made me laugh at the insanity of it all.  The trail turned close to the clearing where I could see the huge inflatable finish line marker through the trees and hear voices from the cars where my GUTS friends were waiting.  I yelled, “GUTS!”, in that direction, but was not sure if anyone heard me.  The trail then took me farther away into the woods once again.  

I drew closer and closer to one runner with a white shirt, but was unable to completely close the distance.  We were both reduced to a fast awkward walk that made me think of Butch (Bruce Willis) and Marsellus (Ving Rhames) limping after each other with guns after the vehicle collision in the movie, Pulp Fiction.  We both passed two other runners and I complimented each of them on finishing a great race on a hot day.  I was pleased that I had managed my hydration and electrolytes in the high temperatures so that I could finish the race with no unhealthy consequences.  This race would go down in my history as a good training run for longer distances in warm weather.

After the eternity of trail switchbacks, I followed the runner in the white shirt out into the open for the final paved loop to the finish.  I caught up with this runner and high-fived him as I passed.  I was grateful to see my GUTS friends cheering from their tailgate camp chairs by the road as they snapped photos.  Kim, Amanda, and Aaron had all finished their half marathons and Leah had finished her full marathon, while John and Janice had both won age group awards for their marathons.  I waved, but increased my running speed as I noticed the white shirt runner catching up with me again.  I kept the distance and ran through the finish line.  I had finished the Scenic City Trail Marathon in 5:50:23 and placed 141 out of 175 runners.  

I accepted a cold electrolyte drink at the finish and comically searched for a trash can before someone took the cup from me to throw away.  A Chattanooga friend, Wendy, grabbed a pair of Smartwool socks for me as I congratulated two runners from my Atlanta Galloway group, Katie and Marlene, on completing their first trail marathon.  The runner in the white shirt that I had trailed in the final miles introduced himself as Dave and we congratulated each other once again.  I was happy to see Sarah, who had set a new female course record at this race, as she waited at the finish area with kind words for everyone.  A hamburger and Powerade both provided some good post-race calories as I returned to the cars where my GUTS friends waited.  I asked if any of them had heard me yell, “GUTS!”, from the trails and laughed when John told me that he had heard it, but thought that it was somebody yelling a curse word.

Two trail marathons in two weeks are now in the books for May 2011.  I enjoyed spending time with the GUTS crowd at Big River Grill after the race and then returned home to join friends for a 6-mile recovery run the following morning.  Sometimes, I feel as if I were born to go for long distances, but I am thankful that I can now rest for a couple of weeks to hit the trails again in June, including a return to Raccoon Mountain for the Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race.

Thanks to the Rock/Creek race organizers and volunteers for another fun event that captures the love of the outdoors in one of my favorite cities.  Thanks to my GUTS friends for the company and congratulations to all of the runners who braved summer temperatures to enjoy some amazing trail views.  

See you on the trails.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon 5/14/11 (Race Report)

On May 14, 2011, I completed my third Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon with a finish time of 6:19:15 and improved on my previous year's finish by over an hour.

The Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon can serve as a well-earned celebration of fitness for the prepared runner or as a harsh punishment to the poorly trained participant.  My previous two experiences at this race have landed on both ends of the spectrum.  When I ran the Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon as my first trail race and third marathon in 2009, I was well-recovered from my previous races and I ran on fresh legs to finish in 5:41:59 by using the Galloway run/walk interval method.  I crossed the finish line with a buoyant enthusiasm for trail running and with a belief that I was ready to take on the world.  The following year, I arrived at Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon with residual fatigue from a multitude of recent races and with a weight gain from undisciplined training.  These setbacks, combined with high May temperatures and my overconfidence that this race was “just a marathon” that I had already completed, resulted in a 7:26:31 finish time where I walked for two-thirds of the distance and arrived at the end bloated from borderline hyponatremia symptoms.  After sitting at the finish area for almost two hours with shaking hands and a shaken confidence while I replenished with electrolytes, I returned home, withdrew my entry for a 50K race a few weeks later, and took a few months off of long-distance races to put pieces back together.

With no small amount of apprehension, I drove to the start area at James H. (Sloppy) Floyd State Park in Summerville, Georgia on Saturday morning and prepared for my third trek on this course that ascends a ridge along the Pinhoti Trail section of the Chattahoochee National Forest.  As always with my races, I was looking forward to a fun day on the trail with friends, but I was also uncertain about whether or not this course would administer another physical and psychological beatdown.  I am pleased with my multiple long distance race finishes, but I still think of myself as a below-average runner.  I struggle daily with my heavy weight that can fluctuate erratically from month to month, I often make poor choices with nutrition before and during a race, I have a tendency to allow negativity to overcome my outlook when my body is fatigued, and I routinely finish in the back of the pack.  Fortunately, the fun aspects of long distance running outnumber the unfavorable moments even on my worst days and, in the same way that a mathematician enjoys puzzling over a theorem, I enjoy experimenting with different ways to maximize my running effectiveness.  The transition from a below-average runner to a good runner is a challenge that I continue to seek a solution to and I knew that my latest Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon would be no easy test.

A cool overcast morning greeted me when I arrived at the park and I enjoyed spending time with several acquaintances before Race Directors Becky and Jenn stood on top of a picnic table to announce the race start.  When I spotted Samantha and Lara, two runners who always seem to catch up to me halfway through ultramarathon races and finish ahead, I decided that it would be a wise strategy for me to run with them for the early miles and conserve my energy.  Never let it be said that I do not learn a lesson every now and then.  I was in good humor as I started in the back of the pack and leisurely ran rolling hills around a lake and through campground roads that thinned out the runners in the first couple of miles before we entered the trails.  Shortly after entering the forest, we would be climbing the infamous “Becky’s Bluff” that ascended 700 feet in a half mile to a ridge, so I enjoyed the “calm before the storm” effect of the initial easy miles.  The weather was noticeably cooler on this morning than the previous year and I hoped that the cloudy skies and occasional breezes would continue through the day.

During the first major uphill climb to the Marble Falls on the third mile, I heard an eerie pulsating sound that gradually increased in volume as I made the climb.  I immediately thought about the flying saucer sound effects from 1950’s science fiction movies, such as Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers or The Day The Earth Stood Still.  I had no idea what this day would bring, but I knew that an alien abduction would not help my chances of beating my finish time from last year.  I mentioned the pulsating sound to Samantha, who told me that cicadas were the likely culprits.  I remembered that 2011 was when a brood of cicadas in Georgia would emerge during their 13-year cycle.  

There is nothing like a steep trail climb to take a runner’s mind off other surroundings and the sci-fi pulsating sounds of the cicadas were briefly forgotten as we began to make our way up to the ridge.  The climb began with a seemingly endless trail hill that steadily increased in difficulty and, while this hill was still runnable, many of us in the back of the pack decided to conserve energy by power-walking.  We knew that the real Becky’s Bluff would soon greet us and, sure enough, we soon made a sharp left turn to see a sign warning us that steep hills were ahead.  Becky’s Bluff, in all its relentless glory, welcomed us with a nearly vertical view of the trail up the ridge ahead of us.  I have always joked that I know that a hill is truly steep when I can reach out in front of me and touch the hill that I am climbing.  Becky’s Bluff is that hill and it is a demanding exercise in tenacity that requires hands-on-knees-uphill strength, with the help of an occasional tree truck to grab for assistance.  Several runners were briefly resting against large trees, but I have found that the best way to make it up this hill is simply to keep moving, however slowly.  I was thankful for the torturous training of the Hogpen Hill Climb 17K race and the Mount Cheaha 50K race that I had completed earlier in the year.

At the top of the ridge, Lara turned to the left to complete her half marathon route, since she was preparing for a tough 50-mile race the following week, so Samantha and I continued to the right on our own to the Pinhoti Trail intersection of jeep roads covered with sharp gravel.  I was wearing the Montrail Mountain Masochist trail shoes after finding them much to my liking during my previous race, and I was thankful that they shielded my feet from the terrain.  We continued along this gravel road for the next couple of miles at a good pace by taking occasional walk breaks on some of the hills, and I stayed true to my habit of eating a gel every half hour and taking an S-Cap once an hour.  The flying saucer noises of the cicadas reached top volume from the trees along this stretch and I would not have been surprised to hear the robot from Lost In Space sound out the warning, “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!”   

We soon reached one of the most fun sections of Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon, a long technical downhill trail where I enjoyed greeting all of the faster runners on their way back up from the aid station (and there were a lot of faster runners ahead of us).  The temperature was steadily increasing, but the weather predictions of a 70-degree high reassured me that this race would not turn into the trial of sun and heat that I had struggled through a year before.  It is easy to get caught in the moment during the fast descent to the eighth mile aid station and fall on the loose rocks, but my footing held true and I made it down to the roadside aid station in one piece.  After refilling my Camelbak Rogue hydration pack with water, drinking a couple of cups of Gatorade, and grabbing a handful of Gummi Bears, I turned around and started  to climb back the way that I had come with Samantha following closely behind.  

The steady 1.5-mile hill climb on the way back to the jeep roads along the ridge demands patience, since it can drain the energy from an eager runner who reaches the top to realize that there are still 16 miles left in this marathon.  Samantha and I talked with a few other runners on our way to the top and, when we finally arrived at the gate marking the return to the ridge trail, I was relieved that I still had some energy left in the bank.  At this point of the race a year ago, I had made the mistake of waiting through the first nine miles without taking any S-Caps and had reached a point where I could only walk, so I was glad to have taken the necessary precautions to ensure adequate electrolytes this time around.  Samantha and I continued our comfortable pace along the roads and I commented that, as long as I was able to keep running, a faster finish time was a sure bet.

Photo courtesy of Robert Lewellen
We reached the 13.1-mile halfway point in just over three hours shortly after we left the jeep roads for the idyllic single-track trail along the top of the ridge.  A few minutes after we passed the halfway point aid station, I let my enjoyment of the picturesque ridge trail take my mind off my feet and I tripped over a small tree stump to take a rough fall to the side of the trail.  I stood up, brushed the dirt off my arms, apologized for Samantha for using the F-word in front of her when I hit the ground, and continued running.  I reminded Samantha that, when we saw a large Jason-shaped hole in the ground to the side of the trail on the way back, we would know that we were almost at the final aid station.

Samantha and I continued talking as we made our way through a few uneventful miles by walking the short uphills and running the downhills and flats.  I was starting to feel tired and, whenever I commented to Samantha that I was winding down, she assured me that I was running well.  I reminded myself to stay positive and I searched for ways to take my mind off my weary legs.  The well-wishes of other runners who passed in the opposite direction on their way to the finish were a big help.  We passed another aid station where I downed three cups of Gatorade and grabbed more Gummi Bears.  Since I was wary of overhydrating myself with water as I had during the previous Twisted Ankle race, I was careful not to drink too much from my Camelbak and I only had to refill the pack twice during the entire race.  I relied instead on the electrolytes in the Gatorade at each aid station.  

We soon emerged from the trees onto another gravel jeep road that would take us to the final turnaround at the mile 18 aid station.  Samantha and I caught up with Lynne, with whom I had run several miles of Sweet H2O 50K a month before.  On the series of rolling jeep road hills, we passed by a downed tree caused by the recent widespread tornado damage and I was thankful that the storms had not destroyed more of this area.  We reached the mile 18 aid station, excited to find slices of watermelon waiting for us.  I remembered my exhausted condition when I had rested in a chair for several minutes at this aid station last year and consumed too much water and watermelon to drive my body into a sodium shortage, so I refilled my Camelbak, took three watermelon slices, and immediately continued along the course.  

When Samantha and I reached the crest of the first hill after the aid station and resumed running, I sensed that she was picking up energy, so I told her that I would stay behind at my own pace.  I ran the downhill stretches at a good pace and kept her in sight until we both reached the top of the gravel roads and returned to the single-track trail for the final seven miles.  Samantha then ran ahead and would later finish the race almost ten minutes ahead of me.  

I was now on my own as I traversed the hilly single-track trail, although I would occasionally spot Lynne ahead of me when I turned a corner or crested a hill.  I was tiring and I felt overweight and heavy, but I was also grateful to have the energy to run the downhills and flat trails at this point in the race where I was barely able to walk a year before.  I soldiered on, with the Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers sound effects of the cicadas once again increasing in volume, and congratulated myself whenever I reached mileage goals on my Garmin drawing me closer to the 26.2-mile mark.  

The Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon is considerably less technical than many of the other trail races that I have completed, but it still has its share of insidious dangers and the pleasant ridge trails can be deceptive, as I had learned from my tumble earlier in the race.  Another hidden lesson presented itself when I stepped on an excruciatingly pointed tree stump and cried out in pain.  I limped for a few steps before continuing to run with a watchful eye on the trails.  The bottom of my forefoot was throbbing in pain, but I remembered a passage from Marshall Ulrich’s book, Running On Empty, where he overcame leg pain during his trans-America run by telling himself that his ailing legs were not his legs and that they belonged to someone else.  I told myself that my hurting foot was not my foot and that the pain did not belong to me.  This mental game, as comical as it seems, provided a small amount of reassurance that enabled me to remain moving at a decent pace.  I reached the final aid station, downed a couple of Gatorade cups, and started the long downhill to the campground below.

Photo courtesy of Robert Lewellen
I ran nonstop down the 1.5-mile trail back to the campground road, being careful not to let the race live up to its name by blowing out one of my ankles on the tricky rocky sections near the Marble Falls.  I was definitely reaching the end of my endurance chain for the day, but I realized that I had a good chance of taking an hour off of my previous Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon time and I was pleased to be in better condition this year.  My hands were not swollen to Stay Puft Marshmallow Man size as they were as a result of my unbalanced hydration and sodium intake a year ago, I had not had to loosen my Garmin wrist strap, and I was still able to run for long stretches with occasional walk breaks.  In all fairness, though, I give full credit to the cooler temperatures and I do not doubt that this race may have eaten me alive once again had the temperatures been in the high 80’s as they were during the previous race.  

My happiness with my race performance reached a new high when I passed a couple of runners just before reaching the campground.  The satisfaction of passing thinner “runner types” during races, despite my weight, may be childish at this point, but it still brings a smile to my face every time.  I ran around a campground road, taking short walk breaks on the small hills, and enjoyed the cheers of a couple of camper volunteers as I turned one corner.  When I emerged from the trees by the campground lake and saw Lynne on the trail not far ahead, I tried my best to work through my fatigue to close the distance between us.  

I remembered the concern of other runners and volunteers at my exhausted appearance at the finish a year ago and knew that I needed to run strong and put everyone’s mind at ease this time.  I ran across the wooden lake bridge with a smile on my face and, high-fived a friend, Sean, as I reached the end of the bridge, and accelerated to a near-sprint in the final yards to cross the finish line in 6:19:15 with a placement of 100 out of 122 finishers.  I had beaten my previous Twisted Ankle time, 7:26:31, by more than an hour and, more importantly, I crossed the finish line healthy and happy.  

I grabbed a couple of Powerade bottles and a banana while walking around the finish area to congratulate other runners who had finished and remained at the park.  I thanked Samantha for helping me achieve a smarter pace this time around and thanked Race Directors Becky and Jenn for putting another fun Twisted Ankle race together.  

A year ago, I had finished the Twisted Ankle Marathon almost in tears, I was unable to run for several days, and I had questioned my ability to run future long distances races.  This year, I woke up at 5:00 A.M. on the day after Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon, dressed in my running clothes, drove two hours to north Georgia with The Replacements blaring from my truck stereo, and completed the 3-mile Warrior Dash race through muddy water, under barbed wire, over a 20-foot wall, over cargo nets, and over two fire pits, as a post-marathon recovery run.  I am still striving to make that transition from a below-average long distance runner to a good long distance runner, but, in the general scheme of things, I am happy with my weekend.

See you on the trails.