Welcome! The intent of Anecdotes from the Trail is to share my experiences while trail running or racing (occasionally on the road too.) And to feature other trail runners and their accomplishments. You may see the occasional gear review or even contest. Please visit from time to time. Happy trails!

Monday, October 3, 2011

"Where's my f@#king water bottle?" Stump Jump 50K 10.1.11

Coming into the finish at the 2011 Stump Jump 50K. My friend Robin right on my tail. (photo by checkpointphotos.com)
I was standing there in front of Signal Mountain High School surrounded by hundreds of other trail runners anxiously waiting for the Stump Jump 50K to start, when it hit me. "Oh shit! I left my hand held in the car. Crap!" Immediately my mind was racing. "I still have my phone. I could call Stacy (my wife) and ask her to come back.", but that was not a realistic option. Stacy had dropped me off twenty minutes earlier and was well on her way back to the hotel. Besides, by the time she made it back, the race would have started. What was I going to do? The thought of running the whole race without a handheld passed through my brain for a nanosecond, but it was shot down faster than it made its way through my grey matter. There's no way I was going to run 31+ miles on rugged trails through Tennessee without my water bottle. I don't care how many aid stations the race had set up or how amazingly perfect the weather was turning out to be (40's for the start, sunny and no humidity...yes, perfect). I looked around and several of my friends were already in the start group. Others were milling about, minding their own business. Then I saw the Zulu Racing trailer and thought that maybe my buddy, Mike, from Zulu would have a water bottle.

Tim and me before I realized, "Where's my water bottle?"
(photo by Jeff B./Rock Creek)
I jogged over and caught his attention. Imagine it as he's trying to make sure everything is ready for 700+ trail runners to cross his starting mats, I'm bugging the guy for a freaking water bottle. "Hey Mike, you gotta help me out buddy! Would you happen to have an extra water bottle laying around?" He didn't even hesitate and quickly got on to the business of finding me one. He said, "Hold on. I think I may have one in the car." He trots off. There's only minutes left for the race to start. Maybe less. he soon comes back with what would make my day, a cheap, giant 30-something ounce water bottle. The thing looked like a baby bottle on steroids, but I couldn't have been more excited. Mike asked, "Will this work?" Without even thinking twice I said, "Hell yes! I'll take it." I gladly took it from him and he went back to do his thing while I jumped in line to do mine. Luckily, there was already about a third of the water bottle filled with what I hoped was water (it was).

Runners at the start.
We got through the announcements with Diane Van Deren wishing us all luck and we were off. I didn't care how my first few miles would go. I was just happy to have saved a potential catastrophe. The 11-milers and the 50K runners were split off within the first quarter mile while a helicopter flew over head assumingly filming the start. Soon after, all of us 50K runners were on single track trail behind the high school. I knew these first few miles well from having run the race last year and also from having run stage 3 back in June of the Rock/Creek Stage Races. It's a mostly downhill jaunt to what's called Mushroom Rock. Everyone was finding their own groove as we made our way down. I was thinking of a couple of friends of mine who were running their first 50K, but more on them later.

In last year's race, I went out feeling good and even made it to about mile 26 with thoughts of breaking 6-hours. But the reality of the return climb of those last five or six miles just took it out of me along with the warmer than usual temperatures that day. Today's forecast promised for better results, but I still decided to go conservative for the first half of the race. At the first aid station, just before the steep descent after Mushroom Rock, I filled up my Frankenstein water bottle about two-thirds full. I didn't want to fill it up all the way, because it would weigh a ton. Making my way down, I shifted the bottle from one hand to the other, trying to determine which one was more comfortable. It wasn't going to matter. I soon learned that during some sections of the course, I would have to carry it like a football. Yep, the ultra-trail runner version of the Heismann pose.

We came to the suspended bridge and remarkably traffic was light. There weren't many runners with me crossing the bridge. There were some campers hanging out nearby next to a fire sipping on their morning coffee and I can only assume that they were less than amused with the hundreds of people that were ruining their "one with nature" morning. Oh well! I conservatively walked the climb after crossing the bridge and made my way down to Sucks Creek and the next aid station. Refueled on a banana and some Pringles and continued across Sucks Creek road, up some stairs and then up the single track towards the bluff. This is by far my favorite part of the course. Once you make it to the bluff, you have these amazing rock outcroppings jutting out of the ground to your right and a fabulous view of the valley below to your left. I'm sure if you read my blog report from last year's race there is a similar sentence in there, but it really is beautiful. I found myself running with a couple of other runners and we would stick together until the mile 10 aid station.

Some of the leaders early on.
(photo by Jeff B./Rock Creek)
There were a ton of family and friends waiting at this aid station and you could hear them a good half mile before arriving there. Plenty of cowbells and cheering. It was pretty nice despite not having anyone I knew there. I didn't waste much time at the stop. I refilled my giganto-bottle again, grabbed a few apple slices and took off. I was determined to keep up my nutritional intake for this race, so I was also supplementing my aid stop grazing with GU Roctane gels every 45 minutes or so. I was feeling pretty good!

Leaving the station, I caught up with another runner who seemed to already be having some trouble. He was walking the uphills, but not in a purposeful way, so much as in an inefficient, "wheels are beginning to fall off" kind of way. I passed him for a moment, but then on a decline, he flew by me and the next guy in front of me like a man on a mission. I thought that was weird and I also figured that there was no way he was going to maintain that pace. Sure enough, about a mile later, we both passed him and I never saw him again. A short while later, I heard a thud like the ground shaking, followed by an "ah, mother f@#%$#r!" I wondered if that was him and that maybe he had fallen and hurt himself. I would never find out. Meanwhile, I fell into the same running pace as this guy from Wisconsin and we were soon joined by another runner, Andrew, from Franklin, TN. We stayed together until the mile 16 aid stop and made good time together. We started chatting and it really helped the miles go by. Both of them had never run this race before and the guy from Wisconsin was running his first 50K. I warned them to save some in the tank for the last five miles. We got to the aid stop and we got split up. Leaving the stop, you have to go up a major climb before settling back into some very runnable ridge line trails and before hitting the dreaded, so-called Rock Garden around mile 18. I had started the race with gloves and arm sleeves, but had taken them both off earlier. However, the wind was blowing pretty good and it was chilly, so I put the arm sleeves back on.

I made it through the Rock Garden and soon came out at the mile 19 aid station. I looked at my watch and I basically had two hours and fifteen or so minutes to finish this thing in less than six hours. I felt good and I knew that if I could just keep my pace for the next few miles, I would only have the two big climbs after Sucks Creek to deal with before the finish. I left the station excited about my possibilites and went on down the trail. I ran much of the next section by myself, which was fine by me. I did pass a couple of guys and that just helped my confidence. About a mile before reaching Sucks Creek again, Andrew and a female runner started catching up to me. I thought I could stay ahead and so I picked it up a bit. Not a good idea! At one point, I had to pick myself up off the ground and fetch my 'football' water bottle that had landed a few yards ahead of me. I had tripped on a root or something, but luckily it was on a soft portion of the trail. No rocks, phew! Anyway, it wasn't long before those two definitely caught up and we made our way down to the road together.

Once back at Sucks Creek, it was just about a 10K left, but with some mean climbing still left to do. Last year, this is where it started falling apart for me and I was determined to not let it happen again. I walked the climbs, but I didn't lose pace due to fatigue. I kept it steady and purposeful. I made it up and over the first climb and quickly found myself crossing the suspended bridge again. Just Mushroom Rock left. I was certainly feeling it at this point, but I wasn't drained and that again boosted my confidence. I once again kept a steady walking pace up towards Mushroom Rock. The female runner that had been behind me earlier on the descent into Sucks Creek passed me and I would only see her again briefly at the next aid station. One foot in front of the other, I just kept chugging up the hill. I saw Mushroom Rock and was happy to hear the chatter at the last aid station. They had beer! It was Stroh's, but who cares. It was beer! I had a shot of that and some other goodies and looked at my watch. I had about 40 minutes or so to get it done under six hours. I better get a move on.

Me, my finish medal and my hilariously, extra-large
water bottle.  I couldn't have done the
race without it.
The last few miles of this course feel endless. I felt decent and I was keeping pace just fine, but it still seemed like it was taking forever to get this done. I did manage to catch a couple of other runners, but I was also passed by a few as well. The last little bit is on the XC trails of Signal Mountain High School, so it's pretty manicured. I came out to a road crossing and one of the volunteers there said there was only .8 miles to go. Liar! It was much longer. I kept looking at my watch. 5:55, 5:56, 5:57...there was no way this was only .8 miles left. Finally, I came out on the last bit of road and I knew I was almost there. I did get passed in that last half mile, but only by one other runner. As I made my way into the finish, I almost missed my wife and a friend cheering me on. I looked up at the race clock and saw 6:03 and change on it. Oh well, I tried, but I ended up with 6:03:33 officially. Not bad at all. It beat last year's time by nine minutes. So I was happy! I got my medal and some grub and kissed my wife. Then I high fived the guys from Zulu Racing and thanked them profusely for letting me borrow the water bottle. I would have been miserable with out it, even though it was awkward and it weighed a ton.

Jessica and Amanda with their finisher's medals.
Next I pulled up a camper chair with my wife and others, a cooler full of beer and we cheered other 50K finishers on while waiting for Amanda and Jessica to finish their first 50K. It was fun to see everyone coming in and it was also a good time catching up with other finishers. It was really good to see some fellow GUTS runners, Sean O., Robin, Wayne, Jason (read his race report) and Joel. As well as some fellow Twitter runners like Tim, Cathi and Dan (good sharing a beer with ya, Dan). Amanda came through at 8:29 and then Jessica made it in 9:22. Both of them smiling. I was very happy to see them finish and I was proud of their accomplishment. Here's Jessica's race report.

I really enjoy the Rock/Creek races. Stump Jump 50K has to be one of the most beautiful trail courses in the country. If you have stumbled upon this blog and are contemplating running it, I highly recommend it.

What's next for me? Another visit to the Pine Mountain 40-Miler in December. Stay tuned. Cheers!