Monday, March 1, 2010

Mt Cheaha 50k 2010: Race to the Top of Alabama

Jill Perry and I after finishing

Race date: February 27, 2010, 7:30am Central Time
Place: Talladega National Forest and Mt. Cheaha State Park, south of Oxford, AL
Surface: dirt, rocks, pine straw, pinecones, steep rocks, several wet creek crossings, little dirt road, little pavement
Trail: Mostly single track
Elevation gain: reportedly 7000'
Quality of course and race= TOP NOTCH!!!!
Years in Montrail Ultra Cup= 1 (and many more, I hope!)

It was with relief I came to Alabama from the High Country of NC on Thursday before the race. After weeks of treadmill and road shoulder running-due to inaccessibility of trails and dirt roads due to accumulated snow/ice I got to bask in the sun and “warm” environs of eastern Alabama. Though I had not planned to leave until after work on Thursday, the weather again closed schools and I made it off the mountain, after stopping for a swim and stretch out in Boone, NC by noon.

The drive was uneventful, even Atlanta, which I hit right at 4:30, was not too bad from the perspective of this native New Yorker… Traffic was slow, yet still moved on the northern bypass. I reached Oxford, AL sometime during early evening, while there was still plenty of daylight. The exit I was on had many hotels and I wanted to find a good rate (I thought $50.00 a night for 2 nights that included taxes would be a good deal). At The Jameson Inn I asked the front desk clerk for what I wished and he readily obliged me. I was set with Internet, breakfast/coffee/fridge/micro so I could prepare my meals in room.

I spent most of Friday resting and exploring parts of Talladega National Forest. A 30 minute out and back run on the race course gave a taste of what to expect and driving to bib pick up Friday afternoon, gave some more hints to the ridges and drainages in these small, yet steep, wintry mountains. This day I spoke with Montrail teammate Jill Perry a few times. She was dealing with lots of snow in upstate NY and might be challenged to get to AL. Yet, alas after delays and being “bumped” I spoke with her around 8pm just as she was leaving Atlanta for Birmingham. Whoop! I’d get to see Jill again and meet her husband Vincent if only for a little while before race start.

I don't know how accurate this profile is...I found it on the web...

The next morning, an enthusiastic, yet travel-weary Jill and I hung out for a bit and I met her husband Vincent and his traveling companion Paul. Since this is point-to-point course, we left our vehicles at the state park and were bused 35 minutes south to Porter’s Gap, the course start.

The race started in the trailhead parking lot promptly at 7:30am with the blaring music of Sweet Home Alabama-a rollicking way to start a run to the state’s highest point. Runners were on an “honor system” to seed themselves appropriately since we started straight out on narrow single track. From my place about 15th from the front, it seemed folks made good decisions. There was a front pack of fast boys and a few singles. Dink Taylor-usually a fast boy was still in recovery mode after a recent 100. (He did not tell me this –I over heard much of his conversation with Jill during the first few miles) Dink and Jill ran together and I came and went following them, catching them on the downs and falling back on the ups.

A beautiful course!

I was thrilled with the opportunity to see views and run along ridges. The day was perfect-mostly sunny, light wind, about 28 degrees at 7:30am, with warm upper 40’s later on. The course and environs reminded me Lots of Uwharrie 40 miler in NC. Rocks, roots, wet feet, relentless ups and downs. This course had much contouring as well with at times some interesting, bordering on exciting footing for those that weren’t paying close attention. We also got to duck under/vault and sneak around several downed trees. All in the spirit of a trail run, I misjudged one vault and wound up with an impressive abrasion on my left knee for not going high enough. Another trail souvenir. 

I discovered later I wasn't the only one not to jump high enough!

It was a joy to run this day! I appreciated the warm weather, snow/ice free trails and rolling with the terrain. At one point, around 12 miles in, one of my running companions who I’ve been acquainted with for years wanted to know if I was injured-as usually I was far ahead of him. I did not realize this. I told him I wasn’t hurt-just a little out of practice pacing myself on a 50k trail run and I was aiming for steady. Yet, truth be told, I was feeling stronger as the miles passed.

Up and down and around, little leaping, slipping on pine straw, splashing through creeks. Gathering liquid and nourishment from the helpful aid station volunteers, following little flags as we adventured along. A couple miles after Aid Station 3 I saw Jill and eventually caught up. We chatted for a few seconds. She reported she was okay, just in a lull and tired from the previous day’s travel. We wished one another well and continued our own paces. At aid station 4, one of the volunteers, Ken, told me he is a friend with my former boss, Bradley McNeil who was principal of Ashe County High School and lives in my town. I like and respect Bradley very much and was buoyed by this connection.

From roughly mile 22 to “the road section” I was in trail running heaven concentrating, yet it wasn’t all consuming, then the road presented itself. Don’t get me wrong. I like roads and grass and tracks and treadmills anything I can run on. I used to only like trails-yet after being hurt several times and finding the value of training on mixed surfaces-I do have an appreciation for all. The road was long and straight and uphill. I told myself this was going to be a good break for my muscles and a way to run steady for a few miles. I tried to pick out a good song from my mental play list to play in my head to keep up the energy on the road. After 2 tries I wound up with an acceptable one: I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack (I have a “dance” version in my running list). This helped maintain happy, hopeful energy slogging up the road. Then I caught sight of a runner in white ahead of me and didn’t need the music anymore. I found a rabbit!

Entering the final aid station, I saw the white shirted runner dart into the woods. Again helpful volunteers supplied me with Heed and ecaps and I grabbed a peanut butter square and darted off. The “darting” didn’t last long for either of his. Shortly we found the section of the course commonly referred to as Blue Hell. This is a steep section of the trail marked with blue markings. It is steep, necessitating using hands to help oneself up in places. The runner in the white shirt-I asked his name, yet do not recall it, he and I marched in line, up up, up! Reportedly some 850’+ feet of climbing in ½ mile. I was grateful the day was dry, as scrambling over these rocks in a rainstorm would have taken 2x as long.  The route took us underneath a rappel site and finally into the developed area of the state park and onto the summit. The course ended with about a mile of single track on the “Mountain Express Trail”, dumping us out around a corner from the finish line in front of Bald Rock Lodge. I finished in a CR time of 5:09:41 with “white shirted runner” prob’ly less than a minute behind me.  I had enough energy left to click my heels once-yet otherwise I felt pretty worked-yet happy to feel good and find a 1st place finish!

Jill came in 5:29:00. She appeared sprightly as always, yet the stresses from the long day previous and sleepless night obviously took its toll. Sally Brooking, 53 and experienced Cheaha runner came in at 5:47:46. The top men appeared well before all the females with course shattering…Dane (super crazy fast guy) Mitchell 4:00:25!!! DeWayne Satterfield 4:36:22 and Alex Darth, 4:39:22! Yikes! Go guys go!!! Full results to be posted at soon.

Mt. Cheaha 50k is now on my list of favorites…On Saturday I fondly referred to it as “East Coast’s Way Too Cool”… They are not really alike, yet are the same distance, same running season and now both part of MUC. Both:
  • have very runnable terrain w/ plenty of ups and downs.
  • have a version of “Blue Hell”, where tenacity and patience often overtake fitness.
  • have a fair number of aid stations (WTC =5, Mt C=6)
Finishing times are Way faster w/ WTC…yet terrain more rolling and wet and precocious w/ Mt Cheaha.

I am an “east coaster” and by realities of $$$ and time constraints tend to do most my racing within a ½ day drives from where I live, yet to be fair, I have sample a number of mid-country and west coast runs. Yet, I can say, this run is superbly executed and designed. There are small parts you curse and larger parts where one celebrates their privilege of being alive. Come to Alabama to discover more of who you are!
Thank you to all volunteers, race director Todd Henderson and staff from the USFS and Alabama State Parks, you have a high quality event tucked away in those Alabama mountains!

Sunset on Mt Cheaha 50k 2010 eve


jenn said...

Congratulations Annette!!! WOOOO!
I ALWAYS love reading your race reports!! :o) I'm so glad you had such a great time and a good race. I have to say, I'm a tad bit envious of the races ice and snow free environs.. :oP

if you can ( and your schedule allows), you should come run beth's "tacky leprechaun" 24 miler on the AT with the Iron Mtn trail runners march 13th!! meeting at the caboose in damascus! st patty's day celebration post run! ( and just like the name suggests you must dress like a tacky leprechaun!)

take care!! hope to see/run with you soon!!


Sophie Speidel said...

Nicely done! Thanks for the excellent race report---it sounds awesome to have been able to run on DIRT and trails with no snow. And it sounds like you are feeling good and healthy! Wooo-hooo!

Rick Gray said...

What a day. You ran fast and came away with 1st place win and a course record to boot. But most of all, it sounds like you had a wonderful run. I am so happy that you continue to come back and are remaining injury free. Sounds like a wonderful race and a great place to run.

Sara said...

Congrats!!! & to the CR!! Awesome race! & of course- great race report. I so enjoy reading such details about your experience & the details of the course!

Jill Perry said...

Annette, you always write so well and sure covered this race to an exact...and yes, I did say the word "lul"...amazed you caught that as you flew by! So proud of you wonderful Annette!

Spurgeon Hendrick said...

Wow. My knee is now famous. LOL! Annette, it was a pleasure meeting you last weekend. Congrats on the CR!