I am just back from a quick trip to the Chattooga to search out some information concerning the 50k. Lynnea and Aster joined me on the trip and we arrived at our campsite around midnight Friday. A quick sleep and breakfast and we were at the trail head for the first steps of the journey. Finals arrangements were made and Lynnea wished me good luck as I headed out with fresh steps and fresh thoughts to discover what was to be out there on a Saturday morning on the Southern Foothills trail.
I was feeling really good early and trying so hard to hold back. I was planning on running sections 1, 2 and 3 of the 4 that will be run on the 7th of June. This would amount to 22 miles of 32. The trail would down through rhododendron and pine as well as the light filtering foliage that the Chattooga seems to harness perpetually. There were a few short and steep climbs and descents but for the most part it was slow and technical running through 3 miles. The watch said I had run this section in 27 minutes and so I was feeling good about the progress to this point, hoping to meet Lynnea at Aid station #1 in 90 minutes. The trail zipped down to and back away from the river several times and around 65 finally climbed back away from the Chattooga and began the long long climb to Hwy 107.
Over the next 36 minutes (about 3.5 miles) the trail worked around a number of ravines mostly climbing with some shorter downhills on the far end of longer, wide open ridge lines. In here there was some amazing running and a good number of small waterfalls. I met a couple of older gents on their way to go fishing and we exchanged pleasantries. I was certainly stating to feel the ongoing climb and foolishly beginning to press the climb as I was losing patience by mile 9. Finally I could hear a car on Hwy 107. I had been fooled earlier by a water fall...
Lynnea was there as planned and was with a large group of people to my surprise. These nice folks were spending their Saturday doing trail work on the Foothills trail. To their credit the conditions were really clear and extremely runnable compared to what I read from last year's race. There were no obstructions or even large down trees to climb over or under. A this first aid station (race day #1 and #3) I took some gel and refilled bottles to head on to Oconee St. Park. I told Lynnea this may take 60 minutes rather than the originally planned 54 minutes. To this point I was really having to press to make the 9 minute pace (including pit stops along the trail for various reasons).
I headed out for the next 5.5+ miles and was feeling quite fresh despite the previous climb at the end of the first 10.5 mile section. The trail quickly darted downhill at a very runnable grade on a soft leaf covered surface with some sections of even more gentle pine needle padding. This downhill plummeted for about 2 miles with a couple of flatter sections mixed in before climbing back up the other side of the water shed. This climb was much shorter and less aggressive leading to mostly flat and rolling sections of trail leading to Oconee St. Park. Lynnea arrived just as I emerged from the terminal end of the Foothills Trail. I ran this portion in about 50 minutes and was feeling like I could run forever, a million times more fresh that at the 10.5 mark. Obviously I take about 16 miles to get warmed up. I did however know that the return would be an uphill climb and could take as mush as 60 minutes to complete. I set off on the final leg feeling fresh mentally and feeling a little less fresh in the legs... within a mile I had my one fall of the day, failing to lift those knees enough and catching a root on a relatively wide open sections of trail. I plopped down, bruised the hip, got covered in Earth and lay their for a moment enjoying the day. I had a laugh and off I went. "pay attention!" I scolded myself with a small chuckle. In another 1/2 mile I came upon the second and last trail traffic of the day. A few mountain bikers pulled aside for me as they were getting into a short climb. I put in a short burst up the hill to get away from the trail tag game and disappeared down the small and smooth downhill ride over the next mile or so. After a short climb and descent I came to the base of the final climb of the day. This was the test. All the previous steps of a Saturday morning and of this training cycle were to be tested at this point. I slowed my pace, back the effort and through the anxiety of future conditions out of the realm of the mind. This would be a process of the current and next steps and nothing more. Maintaining the momentum of the mind to overcome any message from the body.
The clock stood at 40 minutes and I knew that as long as I kept "running" I would be at the car and done for the day in a measly minutes. Each time I felt my body rushing with anxiety I forced my mind to slow, breathing deeper, cutting down the stride and simply sensing the smooth movements of a seasoned and trained runner. At least that was what I was trying to convince myself of. The reality was that I felt, physically, like a first day off the couch beginner trying to run an over-ambitious 5k PR. I was at the stage where I realized I had no fitness and the attempt was rather foolish but stubbornness would prevail and I was to continue this insanity. So I pushed on and on. I reached one mile to go at 48 minutes in... now the game was to run a 12 minute mile and hope the hill down. But this climb continued, levelling for a few step, turning a corner a spiking uphill again. This climb 'seemed' much more aggressive than the end of the 10.5 mile section as it just never ended. I was tired and trying to recognize where I was on the trail, but it all looks the same in this mind state. The next trick was to just run up the damn thing until I was stepping downhill to the car. A few minutes later the hill gave way having proved its point.
I reached the car and stopped running. The great reward was felt, my legs would not stop moving, the pendulum continued in the quads, the phantom of the past 3:30 and 22 miles of hilly terrain... Despite the hell-acious final climb I did feel that with a more conservative start and a less aggressive climbing technique I could run the entire 50k in about 5:30... this is not so much a goal just an idea to wrap my head around over the next five weeks. This may prepare my brain to keep on for this period of time and an additional 10.5 miles.
The quest's banking account is growing deeper by the week, this was a large deposit and come June 7th will pay off in a big way. One more long run to complete, going 24 miles. A few more tempo runs which will probably be run a little bit more aggressively at this stage in the training cycle. This was a great time at the Chattooga and we were fortunate to receive beautiful, cool weather. If race day is anything like this then all involved will be blessed. Though, thunderstorms passing once an hour could be pretty cool too!