Somehow I managed to enter an event before the largest rain soaking of Summer 2017. There’s crazy flooding all over this region and I thought it was a great idea to drive 140 miles in the pouring rain and sleep in my truck in the pouring rain and then do a long trail running race in the pouring rain. Needless to say, the drive that should have taken 2.5 hours was almost 3.5 hours. I slept in my truck bed but my camper top leaked so that was kinda damp and I woke up about every hour. Poor me. I’d do it all again.
It’s interesting that the entry price for the marathon and 50 miler were the same, but due to the timing of an upcoming 50 miler that I am training for, the marathon worked better in my training plan because it could replace a long run and push my effort. After being sick for the past several weeks with lyme disease, I wanted to race again now that I had begun the lovely antibiotics last week and was actually feeling a ton better. I hate ticks.
When I awoke for the fourth time at 3:00ish I considered that I could have just run the 50 miler because they were going to start at 4:00. The marathon went off at 8:00. The marathoners had to be shuttled from the Blue Knob State Park to the start of the Lost Turkey Trail whereas the 50 milers do an out-and-back on the same trails.
The bus was a little late picking us up, which I expect was from the insane fog on top of that mountain. And it was still raining. At first I could not even find the tent to pick up my packet at 5:30 even though I was only a hundred yards from it. The roads were barely visible and several us missed the turn into the parking area. It was the craziest, thickest fog I had ever seen.
I had raced from Blue Knob State Park before at an event called Rock n’ the Knob. The climbs were a little more epic than western PA and northern WV offer so I wanted to come back to have that extra challenge. The last time it was super foggy and a little drizzly but nothing like the drenching of the prior 24 hours.
Exiting the shuttle bus we had about 30 minutes until race start time. The rain slowed and seemingly stopped. I removed my Gore-Tex jacket, stuffed it in my pack, and put on a lighter shell. Normally I don’t carry two jackets but I don’t normally run in a hurricane either. But with just a moment to go before starting, the sky decided to begin another downpour. The race director fired a starting pistol. Only it didn’t fire, it… clicked. Fitting for the past few hours.
The first couple miles of the course were full of standing water. Being on a plateau, the water just sits and doesn’t drain anywhere. Plus it was still raining pretty heavily. My inner ankle began aching a little from the increased demand on my tibialis posterior tendon that comes with rock hopping and trying to run a little more gingerly on the slick or unpredictable deeper grass. I actually started to welcome the deep puddles as they would briefly override the ache.
I had three runners in front of me through this several miles of new squishy swampland. Even though the initial mile section is rocky and more technical, many of the early miles are wide, nontechnical grassy paths. There are a ton of intersections with other trails and roads throughout this course, so you really have to pay attention to avoid missing the turns. Finally, after much hoping, the trails started to feel a little more technical and that helped me pick off a runner.
I began passing the suffering runners from the 50 miler who were running the opposite direction. They were actually a really nice indicator from afar on whether I was still on the right trails. It looked like only about half of them even started and I know several people bailed from the marathon too.
At the first manned aid station, Buffalo Road, mile 9, the race director tells me the next runners are two and five minutes up. Being of the opinion that the first guy went out way too hard and the second guy probably did too, I figure there’s a good chance of closing that gap down. I was counting on the later steeper inclines I saw on the elevation profile to work in my favor.
Eventually we get to a really long section of old pea gravel covered access road. I suppose it is still part of the Lost Turkey Trail but it is not technical at all and lasted nearly two miles. It felt like a road race because it was ever so slightly downhill and I felt like I could really open up. Being so flattened, it reminded me of running across an old coal strip mine, only without the acid mine drainage.
As I approach the next aid station, I see the runner who was previously two minutes ahead of me. Fantastic. I felt decent and spent just a few seconds in the King’s Field aid station so I could monitor his position. I tried to use the descent to my advantage but I couldn’t seem to see or catch that runner. Strange. Well that’s because he took a brief wrong turn just past the aid and I just didn’t know it until the next aid station.
I told those aid station volunteers that was the longest descent I had ever run and they thought it was funny, apparently because the race is known for crushing people. Beef jerky in hand I started up the really steep section of trail from Burnt House around mile 17. Lunge. Lunge. Lunge. Work it. Work it. Feel the burn in that booty. Uh huh. Uh huh. These are all things I say to myself on these climbs and are clearly one of my biggest and best performance enhancing secrets. Actually, I was thinking “who the hell puts a trail straight up the side of these steep ass hills without switchbacks.”
I notice my low back aching a little more than usual. I blame my inability to strength train for the past several weeks because the stinking lyme disease did something to my muscles that made them really easy to strain and become sore for days, which I had to learn the hard way multiple times. I hate ticks.
Perhaps it is somewhere in here where I recall running a ¼ mile section of the softest moss covered trail ever. I felt like I was committing a crime but I’m guessing it must be pretty resilient or it wouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Then, if I remember correctly, after getting to the top, a section of trail begins that seemed a little like someone just hung some ribbons along the hillside and figured running a group of people over it would eventually make a trail. It was super narrow and sometimes not benched at all so the mud on the off camber would just make you slide sideways down the hill toward what would surely be instant death. On one of steepest sections I had to climb through the limbs of this downed tree. I fell down there a little thanks to those pesky 50 mile runners who had come through and torn up the wet trail and smeared the tree in mud.
You won’t believe what happened next! Through some miracle of the human spirit, I kept on running. Because this is a running race, dammit. There’s no time to lie on the ground and bemoan the existence of mud. I realized this course becomes increasingly technical as it progresses.
Around mile 21, I approached Bob’s Creek, which I had seen in photos because of it’s unique overhanging cable “bridge.” It looked serious in the picture. But in real life I looked at the water and thought “that doesn’t look very deep.” Yeah, the muddy liquid was moving a little quick but I just stepped down into it and walked across, the water never going any deeper than my mid-thigh. I suddenly felt a little cheated, because I was imagining on the bus ride that this thing would have to be deep and fast today. I would surely have to cling to the cables above raging rapids. And if I fell in I would have to swim while being swept downstream for at least 50 yards. Other runners on the bus were even talking it up. If only I could have texted some frowny faces to someone who cared.
Just after I crossed “Disappointment Creek,” another serious climb begins. Real serious. Welcome to the final part of the event: the uphill lunging contest. About ¼ mile up the climb I spotted the runner in first place. Time for the arm warmers to come off (because I wasn’t wearing boxing gloves - this is a running race). And they were just going to slow me down anyway because of their poor aerodynamics. Past experience has taught me that uphill lunging contests are all about aerodynamics.
He caught a glimpse of me and I could tell he was probably more interested in just finishing at that point. Mostly because he said, “I’m just going to move at a snail’s pace” and immediately started screaming “Why me! Why me!” Well you can never really trust these trail runner folk because many of them are actors so I lit the afterburners and lunged my way up that climb at record lunge pace.
My lateral calves began cramping a smidge on the next descent and my left big toe was not happy but lucky for me there was soon an aid station known as “Lost Children” at mile 24 where I guzzled a bottle of miracle pickle juice. Here the race director provided her encouragement because she knew I had worked my way up to the front. Despite less than ideal conditions she was doing a really thoughtful thing by bouncing from one station to the next to encourage us. The volunteers were super encouraging too.
At this point the sun is coming out and it’s suddenly a beautiful day. Too little, too late Mother Nature. Don’t even try to talk to me right now, I have a race to finish. Here begins the final uphill lunging contest challenge of going from 1800 feet to 3100 feet of elevation just so that you end up back at the Blue Knob Ski Lodge to eat a hamburger. Nearer to the top, the trail has a long section of rock stairs placed for your enjoyment. No longer can you define your step length because the steps do it for you. One less thing to worry about. For some reason I began grunting and snarling more than usual during this final piece, perhaps to demonstrate my manly dominance over the puny and weak mountain.
The race director cheated and drove her car up the much shorter and smoothly paved road to the top of the climb but she did greet me at the finish line after 4:15 of running with a sweet custom turkey call so that I can find that darned lost turkey.
Results are here.
- 4 Gu gels
- 4 bananas
- 1 bottle pickle juice
- 4 Gu chews
- 2 pieces beef jerky
- 1 Rice Krispies Treat
- 2 electrolyte tablets