This race was not in my plans, not even a week ago, when I was running a 100k. But Daran called and said she was flying in to run the 50mi and wanted me to join her. She even talked Lauren into going, and she hadn't run anything beyond a marathon. Granted, Lauren made a point she was just running for a bit and had no intentions to run the whole thing.
And so we began our day with bibs 1, 2, & 3, pouring rain, and loads of mud. I tell Daran to get after it if she wants to hit her sub-12hr desire, but I have no plans other than to do as best my body can, starting on already tired legs. I figure, with Lauren running, she can hang with Daran for a bit, while I have time to shake out the rust. They’re both gone before we’re 2 miles in, and thats about when I run right out of my shoes. I'm slogging through a long mud hole, when my foot slips completely out of one shoe. Before I have time to react, I'm out of the 2nd shoe. In stocking feet, I turn around and go fishing in the mud and the dark for my submerged shoes. They'd already filled with mud and water, so it takes a moment to pull 'em out, rinse 'em off, and put 'em back on, while many others splash by. This time I pull the laces just a bit tighter, double knots, and continue to plow right through the middle of the mud bogs.
It’s dark under the pines and heavy rain clouds, but it’s not cold. The rain jacket is a waste of extra weight. I thought it might keep me a bit warmer should it keep raining, but the rain backs off, so it's worthless. After the initial mile long strait away, its endless turns. At the long bridge, we go strait across, leave the park and enter the National Forest. Right turn, up and down a few rolling muddy hills, then back into the park, followed by two more rights. And this is pretty much how it goes for the next 2 miles, turn after turn, mud followed by mud. By the time, we approach the Nature Center aid, the sky is getting light enough, that I decide to ditch my headlight, jacket, and buff. I shove the non-essentials in my jacket pocket and hang the jacket on the aid station tent. If my timing's good, maybe I'll use the light and jacket again later.
I connect with Joel in the early morning light as we slip & slide down to Amy's Crossing. This is the beginning of the long 3 mile out-n-back to the Highway gate on a very muddy jeep road that rolls a good bit. With the sun up, albeit under a heavy cloud cover, we get a chance to see who are all the other people in the race. I walk each wave to the crest and run down the other side as it rolls underneath, maintaining my casual easy rhythm from Amy's Crossing to the Highway Gate aid station. Lauren surprises me by coming up from behind, when I assumed she was in front with Daran. She had to make some adjustments at Nature Center, so now she is with me. At one time, this road was a long bed of rock. But nature has reclaimed the road and turned it back to dirt, and today it is mud. Granted, there are bits that are firm and clean enough to run, but mostly it's a lot of dodging about from one messy slog to another.
Returning from the Highway Gate is much the same as it was going out and reaching Amy's is always a good reference point, mostly because we leave the nasty ol jeep road for the easier to run single-track. The forest floor is covered with a prodigious amount of pine needles, which softens each foot strike and confuses the sounds around us. The tree cathedral has the feel of something majestic or magic. Joel, Lauren, and I talk a little, but mostly we skim along the forest floor, dodging roots and mud holes, and careful with each very slick bridge. My effort is easy, comfortable, unforced, and I wonder if it's the same for the others. I wonder if they aren't going slower than they should just to run with me. I'm still feeling last weeks race and want to be careful so I can continue for the entire 50 miles, so I'm being much more conservative than usual. Typically, I'd be pushing much harder right now, early on, and fresh. But, I skipped the fresh start already.
We pop out on the Dam access road and make the turn onto the perimeter road leading to DamNation aid. This part of the jeep road is nice and clean, no mud, relatively strait and slightly downhill. My GPS matches the expected distance at 9.6mi and its 8am, so we're doing well for not pushing the pace. The next long out-n-back is another 9mi or a pinch under, but I call it 9 for simplicity’s sake, so I expect to be back here in another 2 hours. This next section used to be a big loop, but now its one long out-n-back on the same single-track, all the way to the big bridge. It's a twisty-turny snake of a route, riding the crooked edge of the lake's perimeter. My favorite part of the course is beautiful in its remoteness. There's more roots and bridges here than elsewhere. With over 4 miles to the big bridge and all the variety between here and there, it's stimulating enough to keep me spun up. The old route was voided when the bridge at the first turn was picked up and destroyed during last winter’s tornado, pieces strung between swamp and canopy. We’re forced to the right where we pass another two misplaced bridges, sitting in locations that make no practical sense unless you knew they'd been picked up and moved by a monstrous wind tunnel. After the meaningless bridges, we cross two new bridges that allow us back around in a loop to where we had meant to go before the original bridges had blown away. Feels as if I'm in a giant toddler's sandbox. Back on the main perimeter single-track, including mud and roots, we keep along the fenceline until we get to the old cutback.
It's a half-mile hump over to the levee, then left onto the twisty-turny muck and mud, sand and root. I have some fun here, picking up my effort a bit, just because all this makes me feel better. Daran passes us going the other way, an hour ahead looking strong. Joel and I are talking and carrying on about a whole lot of nothing, but I notice Lauren is starting to lag behind a bit. She never intended to run the entire race and we did talk about the easy way out by the long bridge, so I can only assume this might be on her mind. At the aid station, Lauren tells me she's taking the quick way back, so I tell her the specifics and she heads home and done. Joel and I turn back. Somewhere along here we connect with Ian of Fort Worth, so the three of us head back, and make good time until I trip and go flying. I land hand first on a root and roll up on my back. I think I can roll over and back onto my feet, but end up with my feet strait up and my back in the mud. The boys help me back up, but the hard banging about on my knee keeps me from going right away. It’s only seconds before the knee-throb settles out and I can run again, but then I begin to feel my hand. I have a poke hole and some blood on the meaty part of my palm at the base of my thumb. It begins to throb as I run and worse when I hold my water bottle in that hand, so I take a few Tylenol and that does the trick. I stop hurting completely.
The three of us are having a raucous time joking and laughing about everything from me busting my ass to the mud stomping through each bog, which carries us all the back to the giant's sandbox and DamNation. We’re 18 or so miles in and roughly 4 hours, so even with the goodbyes and falls, we seem to be on a decent time table. We're 7 miles from the end of loop and I'm feeling pretty good about that. Running from landmark to landmark is working well for me today, avoiding any thoughts of the bigger distances. Hell, I'm just running to the next aid station and then decide what to do when I get there.
Its easy going from DamNation to Amy's, then up the root chute to Nature Center for 3 more with less than 4 miles to the loop end. Having gone through this section in the dark early this morning, I'm curious to see what it looks like: the place where I ran out of my shoes, the route through the National Forest, and all the turns. I know so much of it already, but the inside-out route is a half-loop inside another half-loop, so hard to tell what's next. The strait-line wide-cut jeep road through the National Forest is simply a rolling bog of mud, and the bridge is slick with all the mud drug in off the trail by hundreds of muddy shoes. The final long strait-away from the long bridge to the finish is kind of nice knowing it’s the shortest route to the finish. Joel and I are without Ian now, and we talk about hooking up again before heading out on loop two. He heads off to the left while I head right towards my truck and personal aid station.
Lauren’s here now and helps me with what all I need, bringing quesadillas while I change clothes, and patching my feet after I wash all the sand off. Last thing I do, is take my pack. When I head back over to the station to find Joel, I can’t find him. Somebody runs over to check the shitters and another looks in the tents, but I tire of looking and waiting, so I head out. Same trail we did earlier forward and reverse, so its all very familiar, except for the runners going in every sort of direction. At Nature Center, Jon Perz, waiting for his wife to come in, walks with me for a little. I turn at Amy's and head up the mud road. I don’t see Daran, so she’s cruising, at least 3 miles ahead. I do finally see Joel. He's ahead of me with Ian again. He must have left long before I did, so I was looking for nothing back at the start. I did take 30 minutes to get my feet and all else right, so a good many people had passed by while I was fussing about. I begin to catch and pass some of those people who had been behind me, all but Joel. He and Ian are going faster or at least, even with my effort, because each time I see him at the out-n-backs, the difference is about the same. As much as I’m disappointed we aren’t running together, I’m happy he’s doing well, and he’s also providing some motivation.
Back to Amy's and into the single-track woods, I realize its near 3pm, so we've got another 3 hours of light, enough to do the big Far-Side loop for certain. I make the turn at DamNation without picking up anything other than some Ginger Ale. I also hear for the first time that Daran’s having some problems: IT band, shoes too tight, or something of that sort. I begin to wonder how she’s dealing with it and start looking for her, hoping she’s ok. I snag my arm on some saw briars, which paints in blood some lovely calligraphy on my forearm. The blood mixes with the incoming mist, creating some gnarly looking red tattoo of red swirls. I get through the sandbox, the levee cutover, and then the single-track before I see Daran. I’ve closed on her some, but she’s still a good ways ahead, walking now, but in good spirits. She keeps on walking while I keep rolling in the opposite direction. I reach FarSide at 4pm, seeing Joel and Ian just before arriving, still maintaining the same gap. I turn for home and the final 11 miles feeling pretty damn content. I certainly wasn't confidant today, but it's beginning to look like it might happen.
Rolling back into DamNation is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, the last time I need to see this landmark today. I love this aid station and I'm glad to be done with it. The Rockhoppers who manage it, are the most wonderful of people. Its 5pm and even in my depleted state, I suspect I might reach Nature Center before sunset. It's all the motivation I need, however trivial, to put my mind in a mode to not relax just yet. The further I get before dark, the less trouble I’ll have to muddle through afterwards. The new goal: get as far as I can with whats left of the light. Within my own mind's view, I'm working hard, but from outside perspective, I'm sure the effort appears rather pathetic. I know I'm not moving fast, but it could be worse. I tick off the landmarks as I goodbye each one: Amy's, the root chute, and then Nature Center.
Its 5:50pm when I pass Nature Center for the last time. More than a little pleased, I make the first turn, then the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. Its 6:10 before I turn on my headlamp. Five minutes later, I enter the National Forest and slog through the muddy hills to the bridge leading into the park. The last mile is sort-of strait away, but more than anything else, its the most direct route to the finish. I feel as if I'm running now, and willing to bet it doesn't look like running. I make the final cut through to the powerline, s short riser, then I see the finish and hear it too. I cross in 6:45pm. Having already cared for Daran and got her comfortable, Lauren now takes care of me. Daran had finished 30 minutes earlier with Joel in between the two of us. Life is good!
aid miles runtime mile-gap time-gap / miles runtime mile-gap time-gap
nc 3.92 0:51 3.92 0:51 / 29.29 7:17 4.10 1:18
hg 6.68 1:28 2.76 0:37 / 32.05 7:56 2.76 0:39
dn 9.63 2:06 2.95 0:38 / 35.01 8:41 2.96 0:45
fs 13.95 3:09 4.32 1:03 / 39.38 9:49 4.37 1:08
dn 18.32 4:16 4.37 1:07 / 43.77 10:57 4.39 1:08
nc 21.26 5:02 2.94 0:46 / 46.79 11:48 3.02 0:51
s/f 25.19 5:59 3.93 0:57 / 50.66 12:45 3.87 0:57