Fortunately for me, I got to link up with Eric Charette and Eric Schotz and the packet pickup, fresh off their epic Run Across Alabama for Elliott a month prior. I also got to meet Christy Scott from Huntsville, and it turns out we both have 4th grade boy in the same elementary school. We all headed to a local Italian place for the traditional pre-race pasta dinner.
Race morning I was up at 0500, grabbed my gear and headed out. Crossing the hotel parking lot at a humid 80deg pre-dawn signaled the challenges of the morning to come! The race started at 0630. The course make a 1.6mi loop on the blue trail before coming back to the parking lot in 14min. There I grabbed my water bottle (didn’t need it until then) and was surprised to find myself in about 8th place, far from the norm for me. The rest of the race consists of 4 loops on a 7.45mi course winding about the park.
The trails had their good and bad points. On the good column was the complete lack of rocks, tons of shade, and no major climbs. The only real obstacles to contend with were a lot of tree roots and about a dozen ditches to jump into and then climb back out of; some were a foot deep, others were 10-12’ deep with 50-60deg slopes to climb out. On bad column was the near-total lack of any straight piece of course to get a running rhythm. I’d bet there wasn’t but 100m of straight-line trail the entire morning. Constant turning, weaving in and around the trails and between trees. Which is a ton of fun, but I ain’t gonna be chasing my 50k PR out here!
Moved steadily on the first loop to complete in 1:15 (now 1:29 elapsed), and then the second loop in 1:16 (including 5+min break at my XTerra). At the midpoint I had to sit down to change shoes and socks, strip off shirt, etc. All were soaked in sweat from the heat and humidity, and the turns created a blister-under-callous on my right foot. I swapped into a pair of Montrails I had as backups, but I may have been better off sticking with the road shoes I was wearing.
I felt fine through the third loop, pushing fluids (40+ oz) and fuel hard (nearly 500 cal) in the 1:15 it took the make it. I was pretty happy with the even splits to this point, still jawboning with other folks on the course as I was beginning to lap some folks. Posture and form were still good, but starting to get a little sloppy in some spots so had to concentrate on keeping it clean and light-on-feet. I rolled out of the parking lot at 4hrs even for the last loop, knowing I would slow down on the last loop as the heat-humidity controlled to work their magic. Sure enough, I tripped and fell not once, not twice, but three times before I got halfway through the final loop! But I hit the final aid station, tightened up my concentration and got a higher tempo rhythm going again to get after the final 3 miles. Luckily, I felt pretty well from there on out, and completed the final piece of the course without any falls in 1:20 for a total time of 5hr 20min and 7th place (out of 38 finishers in the 50k, don’t know about DNFs). It was just shy of high noon and estimates were now about 100+ on the heat index. Alas, I had a very nice blood blister under a callous on my right foot that would require minor surgery at home later that night to remove, as well as a nasty blister on my heel caused by the Montrail shoes (those things need to go). I had toyed with the idea of pressing on to 40mi (maybe even 50mi) if I felt good through 50K, but decided to go out on a high note and call it a day.
Eric Charette and Eric Schotz put in a darn fine race, finishing 1-2 in 4:07 and 4:11 respectively. Kudos to them for hammering it out in the heat and humidity, though they suffered some bruised and bloody toes for their efforts!
So my thanks to the Hampton Inn for their ice machines, because I took a cooler full of it that morning and now was rubbing handfuls of it over my neck, chest, and legs to start cooling down! I thought about imitating Kathy Youngren and sitting in the cooler with a bag of ice over my chest, but not sure if I would have been able to get out. And my thanks again to the Hampton Inn, for after a quick shower they allowed me a late check-out and I headed for home.
After farting around south Memphis trying to find a Quiznos (that’s what I was hungry for, but my by Google-BB application gave me two bad locations before I finally found one on third try), I headed into Mississippi. But the adventure is not over yet. I don’t get over to Memphis that often, to decided to take a detour from Corinth, MS and head up to the Shiloh National Military Park just over the MS-TN state line. Because I’m a National Parks nut (105+ stamps and still going), I deemed it a worthy side-excursion. There I pulled out my mountain bike and cruised the 12mi battlefield tour on two wheels (instead of by car), learning about one of the bloodiest events of the Civil War and where Gen. US Grant and a host of other Union Army leader began to experience real success against the Confederates in the western front of the war. The mtn bike ride was good, as it warmed up my now-stiffening knees and made the remaining drive home a little more comfortable.
The drive home from there was long and frustrating through back roads of lower TN over to I-65; in hindsight, I should have gone south back to US-72 at Corinth, but my wandering genes kicked in to see something different. Trust me, not much to see on US-64 through Southern Tennessee! Arriving home around 8:30pm after an adventurous day, Matthew (my 9yr old) asks incredulously, “Daddy, did you really run 31 miles in that heat today? You’re crazy.” Got to hand it to the kid, calls ‘em likes he sees ‘em.