Thursday, March 1, 2012

2012 Mount Cheaha 50K Trail Run

Another report from the Mount Cheaha 50K trail run. But this year in a different capacity for me and Clan Kennedy! After the reverse double stunt last year, I decided that there was little else I wanted to accomplish on the course. Love running the trails, just not much up for grinding through this tough, rocky 50K these days. So instead, we volunteered this year. Matthew, Andrew, and I were in charge of the Hubbard Creek aid station at Mile 18 of the course, the remote site not located on a paved road. Along with the help of Ken Weatherman and his son, we had a swell time in fine, sunny weather. We even made a weekend trip out of it, staying overnight in the Bald Rock Lodge at Cheaha State Park. I must give a shout-out to race directors Todd and Jamie Henderson for putting on such a great event. They do such a wonderful job of turning a tough 50k race into a whole event: from arranging the amenities of Bald Rock Lodge at Cheaha State Park, the transpo necessary for a point-to-point course, great aid stations, plus post-race chili party on Sat evening. Not enough good things I can say about this pair: good, good peoples.

We left the house just after 6am on Saturday. The XTerra was full of aid station equipment borrowed from Dink Taylor (of Fleet Feet Huntsville and the Huntsville Track Club), including tables, coolers, chairs, a tent, etc. After a stop for coffee and snacks at Starbucks in Oxford, AL along Interstate-20, we drove up to Cheaha State Park. Made a quick stop at the park store to fill up the water coolers around 8:30am, then met up with Ken and headed for the aid station site to be set up by 9am.

Since the race started about 45min late, we had plenty of time. So got the tables, coolers and food arranged, then was playing catching with the boys. Chilly this morning, but plenty of sunshine that promises to make a pleasant afternoon. Our ham radio operators arrived around 0930 and we had a plenty-good BS session going.

The first runners arrived just before 1100, with trickle of folks through noon. Then it got quite busy for the next 90min as the major volume of mid-packers rolled through. Most were quite gracious and moving well, just needed some water and/or HEED before pressing on the Lake Chinnabee 3.6mi away. It started to wind down about 1330 and the last 50 runners struggled to keep steady running as the afternoon appeared. I would say the back-half of the pack needed the aid station far more than the first half, the relatively short 3.5mi legs could take upwards of an hour for the slower folks.

Matthew was a champ through the crush time, slicing up oranges, making PB&J sandwiches, opening cans of soda to start de-fizzing them, etc. Glad to have him there. Andrew was less interested in helping, but did call out every runner as they emerged from the woods: "Look, it's another runner! It's number [fill in the bib #]!" Which continued to be cute even after almost 200 runners. We finally got just about everyone through about 1400 and began packing up the aid station. Left a little water and food for co-Race Director Jamie Henderson, she arrived about 1430 and called it a day. Bless her heart, still had a smile on and enjoying the day. I crammed the boys in the back seat, let Jamie sit in the front, and headed up to Mt Cheaha and Bald Rock Lodge.

We dropped Jamie off, found a place to park, then wandered inside with the boys. They immediately grabbed a slice of pizza and some junk food. I mingled in the crowd some and jawboned. Then I took the boys for a walk down the boardwalk to Bald Rock Point and let them get a look of the valley below. They saw all the rocks up there, so went jumping around on those. I stationed myself at the end of the boardwalk overlooking the Bald Rock precipice and just prayed no one fell off….

Ventured over to the observation tower and let the boys take in the scenic view from the Top of Alabama. Gorgeous day, 50 miles of visibility. Of course, the boys looked at it for 30 seconds and then climbed back down, shouting at each other and fighting the whole way! Oh well, I appreciated the view. Managed to get them to stand still for a photo at the tower. We went back to the lodge near sunset, I let the boys grab some toys from the truck and head inside. They had earned some vegging out upstairs after a full day outside. I chatted with Will and Emily Ansick, bunch from GUTS folks, Dana Overton, and others while we watched the final runners get to the finish line. We also gave Dana a ride back to her truck down at Adams Gap before she headed home.

Todd graciously handed over the keys to one of the lodge rooms that had been left vacant by one of the runners heading home, so I stuck the boys in there for the night. I took the boys in the kitchen to show the food offerings: chicken noodle soup, pizza, and pasta dish. But Andrew opted for a plate of Doritos as his dinner, and Matthew made a big PB&J for his. Why not? It's the weekend with Dad, gotta flex a little! Matthew spent some time getting the fire in the lobby going, then helped Jeff Bryan with the dining room fireplace. After sunset and last light, I took the boys down the boardwalk in the dark, let their night vision adapt, and walked out to the overlook and valley below. By now it was about 7:30 and fully dark, but great visibility, so we could see lights all the way to Talladega and Birmingham. They really enjoyed that.

Got the boys cleaned up back at the lodge and into PJs. They wandered around the lobby and main dining room for a bit, Andy cute as hell in his pajamas. But then he sat down on the couch with me and it took all of about five minutes in front of the fireplace for him to fall asleep. Long day for that kid! I put the boys to bed and headed back into the main room. BS'ing with Todd Henderson and a group of GUTS folks. It is a pleasure to see the easy social atmosphere of that team, always a good time hanging out with the Atlanta ultrarunners. Marty Coleman shared a fine craft IPA brew with me, talked some shop with Sally Brookings and Todd Henderson about details of putting on ultra and trail races. Todd had another abandoned room available downstairs in the lodge, so I called it a night about 2200, cleaned up and went to bed.

I woke at 0600 the next day, pulled on my clothes then went upstairs to check on the boys. Both were still sleeping, so I went into the dining room and began helping with the clean-up process in there for an hour. Matthew woke around 0645 and got dressed, Andrew up around 0700. We sat by the fire in the lobby enjoying the early morning and conversation with some of the stalwarts who were also awake already. We helped pack up the trailers with race gear, talked with Todd and Jamie some more, and headed out about 0830 for Oxford. Took the boys for a good breakfast at Cracker Barrel, whereupon a hungry Andrew destroyed two big pancakes and one of my biscuits, while Matthew took down 3 pancakes, eggs, sausage, and OJ. $36 lighter in the wallet, we headed up US-431 on the drive home. A good weekend for me and the boys.