Here is my race report from the Lake Martin 50 Mile Endurance Run:
I spent the week prior to the race glued to weather.com in order to get an idea of what this race would have in store for us. Earlier in the week it called for thunderstorms on Friday with a clear day on Saturday but as the weekend drew closer the thunderstorms started creeping into Saturdays forecast as well. As of Friday night at the pre-race dinner, it was pretty set on thunderstorms throughout the morning until about 10 am and then clearing up the rest of the day. Well, 4 am came and it had yet to start its downpour. I got ready and finished packing and handed off all my bags to David who wanted to get them packed up in the car before the rain hit. So we get loaded up and on the road for the one hour trip from the hotel to the course. Practically as soon as we got in the car it started raining. Before we even made it out of the parking lot, the lightning started.
Pretty much the entire drive to the course it was pouring. As we turned onto the road that would finally bring us to the start, the rain started to fade and then stop. Not really knowing what was going on, I checked the radar and indeed the giant thunderstorm that was heading toward us all week had split into two cells with a narrow band between them and we were just on the other side of that band. No more storms! Woohoo!! Well, almost. The rain from the previous day combined with the downpour of the morning made everything a slopy muddy mess. We parked in the dirt lot and as soon as I stepped out of the car and heard the squish of my shoe, I knew it wouldn’t be pretty. I squished my way to the toilet which already had a line in front of it and proceeded to wait my turn. I headed back to the car to fetch my drop bag and David and head back to the horse stables which served as the Race Headquarters/Start/Aid Station/Finish. It was still pretty chilly so I left my rain jacket on despite it not really raining anymore. I also made the decision to run in my Altra Olympus shoes for the first leg of the race thinking that I would wear them while it was still wet out and then have my Salomons to change into when things started drying up.
Well the start was pretty anti-climatic with a barely audible “mark, get set, go” coming from the front of the crowd. The runner next to me asked “did he say go?” just as the herd started to move forward to which he replied “I guess so”. The initial pack looked almost drunk as runners where juking and dodging trying to avoid ruts in the road where water had collected in the false hope of keeping their feet dry. We rounded the stables and started heading up the long gravel road toward the restaurant where our turn off was. ¼ of a mile into the race and someone was walking … then another … then another … then practically the whole pack. The hill was not that incredibly steep but enough so that I really didn’t feel like killing myself in the first ½ mile so I trudged along with the pack. We made our way to the top and the pack began to thin a bit as the first runners started running and the walkers behind them waited a step or two before following. We immediately went down a steep gravelly/sandy cart path that required you to really throw your weight back and hit the brakes the whole way down (unless of course you wanted to bomb it down in which case you would probably roll like a hedgehog right off into the woods when you take a tumble) At this point I was becoming increasingly aware of pace and how I really should NOT be going out fast and forcing myself to slow down. As all the other runners started getting into their running grooves, I noticed the runner beside me happened to be the same runner from the night before who said this was his 95th 1oo mile race. Oh no!!!! I AM going too fast. There is no way someone like him would be going at what SHOULD be my conservative pace. So I reevaluated my effort level and decided to continue on. Shortly after, we turned into the woods and all hopes of being able to control pace were soon dashed.
The moment we took the right hand turn onto the singletrack, we realized the jockeying around to avoid the water earlier was not really worth it. The trail itself was covered in water. Many runners tried hopping back and forth trying to avoid it while others just slogged their way through. Either way, the pace slowed to crawl. Even if I HAD wanted to go faster, I would have had to pass pretty much the entire pack of runner ahead of me in order to do so. So instead, I settled in and continued our muddy inchworm through the woods. There were all sorts of dangers to be had on this trail. There was sloppy mud … the kind that your foot sinks into and won’t release your shoes without a loud “sssssqqqqquueeeeeshk”. There was slippery mud … and this kind liked to hang out on the slopes and cambered sections of the trail. And there was a combination of the two …. the kind that sends your foot shooting out from under you only to realize it is firmly suctioned in place to the ground. And just so I don’t leave anyone out, there were the muddy bogs. Standing water that was several inches thick with several more inches of mud under that. Overall, fun stuff. And that does not even BEGIN to tell about the stream crossings. I would conservatively estimate the number of stream crossing to be about 30 over the course of the 50 miles. These were actually nice because they helped to rinse the mud off the soles of your shoes and also helped moisten the mud under your foot to allow it to shift around to a more comfortable position.
Around mile 5ish, the singletrack opened up to a trailhead parking lot where I took advantage of a bench and took my shoes off and emptied them of their contents which included copious amounts of mud and sand. I made the realization there that our inchworm was not as long as I supposed it to be. My initial pack continued on without me and I did not see but one other runner come up from behind me as I was cleaning my shoes. After my shoes were back on, I continued down the trail and within just a few minutes I was caught back up with my inchworm. I decided to take a new strategy. It seemed that no matter how fast or slow I was going, I would eventually be limited by the speed f this group. So I decided to take my time and enjoy myself. If a climb was even remotely difficult, I took a little extra time walking it. If I saw something picturesque, I stopped and took a picture. I was caught back up in 45 seconds. This is not to say they were going slow, but there were multiple places that practically REQUIRED walking and extra care and when a pack of 10-15 runners hits a place like this, the whole train comes to a grinding halt letting me catch up. After the first aid station at the top of Heaven Hill and 8 miles in, things changed.
I am not a lingerer at aid stations. I am usually out in 2-3 minutes if it even takes that long. I checked out with the volunteer in charge of keeping up with bib numbers and I was on my way yet again, this time, sans inchworm. I felt lighter and more free without a group around me. I didn’t have annoying chatter about things I had no idea what they were talking about. It was like running with a very loud booth of people next to you at a restaurant where they have their own very closed conversations going on. Now it was just me and the woods …. and that guy running up ahead a ways …. and the guy behind me several hundred feet. But most importantly, we ran quietly. We ran some relatively dry singletrack before another wide stream crossing and then a bit more dry singletrack and then came the carriage paths. The carriage paths consisted of a very fine crushed gravel, sand, clay mix. They were red like georgia clay and initially I thought they would stick to my shoes and be slick like clay but once you started running on them you realized they were quite nice. It was like a VERY soft asphalt. No slipping. No sliding. I LIKED this. My pace quickened a bit and I felt like I was actually making up some time lost in the slop. There was a guy who I had met earlier who was running the 100 and I began running with him on the road. We kind of stayed similarly paced throughout the entire first big loop. We made our way back up to the Heaven Hill Aid station at mile 12ish, and once there he had the first shot of Jack Daniels with his Coke. It was apparently a big deal because there were cameras out and an announcement made that every runner who takes a shot, one of the volunteers had to take one. That rule couldn’t have lasted THAT long because it was only about 10:00 am and the bottle wasn’t THAT big. So again, I take off from the aid station early and again, I am alone for a bit. The third leg was back to the muddy slop. Not much exciting except that it was about 5 miles worth of the Swamp of Sadness.
The next aid station was the Stables at mile 17ish (where the start and finish are) and also where David was waiting for me. I felt terrible because he had asked before the start how long it would take to get back up there because he would be waiting for me. I had mistakenly miscalculated and had told him over an hour earlier. But he was there waiting, camera in hand. I unloaded a few things from my pack like my rainjacket and made the decision to keep running with my Altras because, even though they were soaked, they were comfortable and there was no point in dry shoes on this trail at all because they would just get soaked in the first 5 minutes anyway. So again I was off but this time behind a new pack of runners who were all apparently running this as their first 100. We slipped and slid our way down the trail and the group started to break apart a bit. I ended up running with one of the group for a bit and had a good conversation about how these hills were a bit more than what he was used to living on the coast. We kept the same pace for a bit until we hit some good dry ground and a good downhill run. Downhills are my favorite and I tend to pick up quite a bit of time on descents. So there I am, screaming my way down this descent, juking left, stutter stepping right, flying over the exposed rocks, hurdling the downed trees when I get to a sharp turn with a steeper descent and hear a “Careful!” from half way down. I tried to scrub my speed but I was going too fast … I rounded the corner and hit the slick mud with both feet and skied my way down the descent before catching a tree and stopping. Both the runners tiptoeing down the mudslide moved over and let me pass with a slightly embarrassed smile and a quick “thanks” and then down the trail I continued. The trail continued up and around the banks of Lake Martin. I could hear other runners from the other side of the cove so it was pretty clear where the trail was going to ultimately take me. By the end of the cove I had caught up with my Jack-drinking friend from earlier and we continued on around the lake and up to the stables to finish out our first 25 mile loop.
Back at the Stables, I grabbed some Advil (from my drop bag), turkey sandwiches and some Coke then said a quick goodbye to David I was back at it again … same route as the first loop. Slowly up the gravel road, then down the steep carriage path when suddenly I heard a “Georgia Death Race!” from behind me … I turn around and say “excuse me?” And the runner I had just passed coming down the hill said he recognized me from the Georgia Death Race where I had volunteered a couple weeks before. He was like “Yeah you were at the top of that giant hill. I remember” ( I was assigned to direct runners off of the trail and down a 1000 foot descent to the aid station at the bottom where they then turned around and came back up and I directed them on down the trail) It turns out he was running the 100 and somehow had the mistaken impression that I was running this as a last minute “pickup” race. We chatted for a bit while on the carriage path but once we hit the woods, I left him behind. I didn’t see him again until as I was leaving the Heaven Hill aid station and he was just arriving and that was the last I saw of him. While I was there I did see the the overall female winner who was 4 miles ahead of me. (she only had 12 miles to go and I had 16) The second time on the dry singletrack and carriage paths went smoothly except for a quick stop to let the air out of my hydration pack. I had let the aid station volunteer fill it and he didn’t squeeze the air out and the sloshing was driving me nuts. Coming back into the aid station for the 4th and final time, I was starting to feel a bit fatigued and just “off”. I ate a PB&J sandwich and drank some ginger ale and off I went yet again. This time, about 2 miles into the slop, I started to feel nauseous. I tried to keep going but I ultimately stopped on the side of the trail trying to throw up (unsuccessfully I might add). After a few dry heaves, I decided to trudge on. Coming into the Stables aid station for the 3rd time I was feeling pretty bad. I looked for David but we had mistimed my aid station stop and he was off taking pictures of part of the farm. I grabbed some water and took off for the last time before I would finish. The last 7 mile loop was quite possibly the closest to hell on earth as is possible. I was still somewhat nauseous but now I was getting the added pain of my Exercise Induced Asthma burning my lungs. It hurt to breathe. I had taken my medication before the race but I am assuming that the 12 hours of running was just too much for the medicine to overcome. Either way, I was now running on exhausted legs, tired from slipping and sliding all over the trail all day, lungs that burned with every breath I took and a belly that felt like it wanted to pack up and leave. Yet I trudged on. I walked FAR more than I want to admit but always moving forward. Finally about a mile from the finish I managed to get a text off to David letting him know where I was and as I came up the home stretch, he was there waiting for me with his camera. I cannot describe the relief I felt upon crossing that line and hearing “Congratulations! That’s it! You finished!” and when asked “Are you sure you don’t want to go back out for another 50 and get 100 miles in?”, my exhausted laugh and “HEEEEEELLLLLLLLLL NO” was enough to bring laughter to the whole aid station. I had finished! I am a 50 mile ultramarathoner! And when David made his way in and asked if there was anything he could get for me, the only appropriate answer I had was “a quick death” (which he politely declined) After crashing exhaustedly against a stable door and peeling off my shoes, I was fully expecting my skin to peel off with my socks seeing as how they had been wet for almost a full 12 hours. Yet when I pulled my Injinji socks off of my toes, they looked almost perfect. Sure, the insides of both my shoes and socks were muddy. Yes, my toes had some “wet skin puffyness” but no blisters, no sheets of skin falling off, and no discolored toenails. I was shocked! After cleaning up a bit, I hosed my shoes and socks off and started to pack things up. I was offered a bowl of chili which I eagerly accepted because my body felt like it NEEDED food but as soon as I took the bowl and smelled it, my nauseau took over and I couldn’t eat it. I gave it to David and I sat staring at the ground for several minutes. We finally got everything packed up and started for home when I urgently had David pull the car over where I promptly threw up out the passenger door. Feeling slightly better, I managed to fall asleep for about 10 minutes until we pulled into a gas station where I threw up yet again. This apparently appeased the stomach gods because I was able to sleep the rest of the way back to the house. After a good nights sleep, I woke up STARVING. My body cannot move, but I can certainly eat (and write race recaps)