Saturday, May 12, 2018

Dark Sky 50: May 12th, 2018

For Jessica's 40th birthday I took her to Chicago for the weekend where we stayed in a nice hotel, ate some good food, and seen the acclaimed musical Hamilton.  She asked what I wanted to do for my 40th birthday and I chose to run a 50 mile race in hot and humid Tennessee while staying in a cheaper-ish cabin.  Sounds great, right?  We left work early on Thursday and road tripped down through Ohio and Kentucky on interstate 75 south.  About 60 miles from the Tennessee border google maps had us get off the freeway and we would be on Kentucky back roads for the next two hours until we reached our destination just over the border.  Our cabin was about 4 miles past Pickett State Park campground and we decided to stop at the state park because my friends Ron and Chas were there and we had a few beers with them.  Chas hauled his very large camper down there and was telling stories of white knuckling it for about 20 miles of winding roads, tiny lanes, and no shoulder.  I am not sure how he managed to do that because there were a few spots that were even tight for my car.

It was still kind of early since we switched to Central time. The state park was right on the line between eastern and central time zones so our cell phones kept switching back and forth when we could get a signal and this was confusing but amusing at the same time.  Chas was also running this race and using it as a training run for Mohican 100 which is in June.  He was very fit from all the training he did and I was somewhat trained but nowhere near his level.  The forecast was set to be in the mid 80s and very humid and we were definitely not use to that after the long Michigan / Ohio winter but we had all the necessary gear to combat the heat.  Also, Ron and Jessica were going to crew us and they are both straight up rock stars when it comes to crewing so I was not too concerned about the pending heat.

After hanging out for a little while we ventured down the country road to the campground where our "full service cabin" was located.  The area was extremely dark because there is hardly any light pollution in this area as no major cities are close.  In fact, this area is one of the top 20 darkest places in the U.S. and known for its excellent star gazing.  Thus the name of the race: The Dark Sky 50.  We pulled into the campground and entered our cabin for the weekend.  It had quite the old cabin type smell and was pretty outdated but those things were not a big deal.  Then Jess flushed the toilet and we heard water bubbling in the shower and the kitchen sink, uh oh!  It was going to be very hot and humid this weekend and there was a large window unit air conditioner in the cabin but unfortunately it was sitting on the bedroom floor and not in the window!  We had a long drive and were tired so we decided to just go to bed and deal with all the cabin issues in the morning.  Upon waking up the next day we made some coffee and were relaxing in the small kitchen when we noticed a few bees had made their way into the cabin.  I walked up to the nice campground bathrooms and ran into Traci, the owner, and I told her about the issues.  She agreed to knock some money off our amount due plus give us some free ice and said she would get her husband over to fix the plumbing later that evening.

We relaxed outside at the campground all morning hoping to not get stung by all the bees flying around us.  Then we gathered some things up and drove around to find a store where we stocked up with some gallons of water etc.. Then we drove over to the state park and chilled out with Chas and Ron for a few hours before going down to pick up our race packets.  I had parked in a empty campsite next to Chas's spot and the people who reserved that empty site pulled up to it.  I apologized for parking there and moved my car.  We ended up walking with them down to packet pickup etc..  Turns out those people were none other then elite ultra runners Liz Canty and her husband Luke Hough!  Very cool they showed up to run a small non publicized second year race in the middle of nowhere.  Jess and I went back to the cabin and cooked some potatoes along with preparing everything else for the race the following morning.  We were able to get into bed pretty early but I didn't fall asleep until probably 11:00 or so.  Then I was up off and on throughout the night, basically just antsy and ready to get the race started.  The alarm went off at 4:15 central time and I quickly got ready for my 50 mile adventure.  We grabbed some of our free ice and met Chas and Ron at the state park.  We got down to the start line and off we went but little did I know my whole race plan was going to hell.

Early miles, feeling good and morale is high!
The beginning was a 2.7 mile loop and an aid station back at the start line (according to the runner's manual).  The next aid station was not until mile 9.3.  My plan was to drink as much of my water bottle and tailwind bottle as I could on the first loop and then fill up for the 6.5 mile stretch to the next aid station.  Somehow there must of been some flags moved or pulled in the first loop because we were back at the start line after 2 miles and I didn't see the natural bridge or the arch that we were supposed to run by.  We followed the flags the entire way and the whole field of runners ran the same route as us so something definitely got screwed up and it was not our fault!  There were some really cool rock formations and nice scenery in this Pickett State Park loop.  I stuck to my plan and downed a lot of my water and tailwind mix but when we got back to the start line there was no water or anything put out for us.  Not sure why they advertised that as an aid station if they were not putting water out there.  I knew it was going to be a hot day so I wanted to stay ahead of my hydration plan.  Essentially we had to go the first 9.3 miles of this race without any aid or water but I guess that's not the end of the world since it was the beginning of the race.  I knew I would not be ahead of hydration because of this but I should be able to maintain without issue, right?

Awesome views from high up on the ridge line
We were winding around this huge gorge on single track trails with some really great views.  To say this area is awesome would be an understatement.  At some points you have sweeping panoramic views of large foothills and huge rock formations.  What an awesome place to have a race!  The scenery took my mind off the fact that I was not following my hydration plan.  After all of the awesome views we dropped down into a dense forest where we did a major river crossing, they even put up a rope and I am glad they did because I slipped on a rock under water and almost bit it but the rope saved my fall!  Then we followed the river for awhile on single track trail, this was all pretty technical because there were tons of rocks and roots.  It was hard to get a good running rhythm when a lot of the trails were not too run-able.  I was happy to reach the mile 9.3 aid station which was every bit of 10.5 miles into the race.  This was an unmanned aid station that only had one large water jug and one large jug with tailwind / water mix and this was in the middle of the woods, I am not even sure how they got them back there.  I filled up one bottle with just water along with dumping my own Tailwind powder in the other bottle and topping it off with water.  Off we went and did a bunch of gradual climbs up to the next aid station where Ron and Jessica were waiting for us at mile 13.1.  It was starting to get hot out and they hooked us up with with our ice bandannas and also we each took an extra water bottle because it was a 7.7 mile stretch to the next aid station.

Dense forest, getting super hot and humid!
I wanted to get some extra water in my system right away when we left that aid station so I drank my extra water bottle within the first mile of leaving.  We had a very reasonable pace going up until this point.  I was letting Chas lead because I didn't want to mess with what he needed to do for his training.  He and Ron were simulating the first two loops of Mohican 100 by doing all of the aid, nutrition, and shoe / sock changes etc.. which I thought was genius.  Also, the fact that it was hot and humid out made it the perfect Mohican 100 training run.  I was just along for the ride and hoping that I could hang on since I was not in peak ultra shape.  I had a really good 50K at Trail Marathon Weekend two weeks prior and was hoping to replicate that performance but some things you are about to read changed the course of that plan for me.  Chas and I both drank all of our water within the next 7.7 mile stretch because it was getting very hot and humid out.  We got to the next aid station at mile 21 which was also just large jugs sitting in the woods.  So glad to finally get some more water!  Chas pushed the button on the spout of the cooler and guess what, no water!!  So thirsty and Tailwind was not sounding good but they did have some of that in the other jug.  We both filled up our bottles with the warm ass tailwind.  The sodium in the tailwind was just making us more thirsty for regular water.

Crazy Ass ladder we had to navigate down
The heat was really starting to get to me at this point because my energy level went from hero to zero around mile 23.  The trail led down by a river with cold water and I jumped in to douse my head with water to cool off.  Chas did the same and he was ready to push on but I needed some more time in the cool water so I told him to soldier on!  I was glad he did because he was doing well and I didn't want to hold him up plus I knew I would be slowing up for the rest of the race.  All I could think about was getting to the aid station at mile 27 so I could get some damn water!  The next 4 miles were slow and brutal as I was dying of thirst but I eventually stumbled up to the aid station which was another one out in the middle of the woods!  They asked me if I wanted some Tailwind and I quickly replied NO, just plain water PLEASE!  The guy felt bad but informed me they only had a half a pitcher of water left and he put about a third of a bottle in and said e had to save some for the other runners.  Wait, no water at mile 21, no water at mile 27, and we have four more miles to the next aid station?!  I kept my cool as I knew there was nothing I could do about it.  It was not the volunteers fault so I didn't say anything to them, just walked out of the aid station.  I was surprised that race management was so irresponsible about having water on the course especially when the weather was so hot and humid.  It's a huge issue of safety, I can see running out of food etc.. but with no water someone could of gotten hurt.

Random cool rock shit you see on the course
The next four miles were very tough with no water, I knew that my crew Jessica and Ron would be at mile 31 and would take good care of me so that kept me going.  Also, most of this section of trail went along a big river with cold water so myself along with a slew of other runners were randomly jumping in the water and soaking ourselves to stay cool.  I have to admit, I was seriously considering the risk of giardia and guzzling a bunch of that river water, it looked clean and refreshing but I know someone that suffered severely from this bacterial born illness and it just was not worth the risk.  As I was coming down a big hill I finally seen the aid station and Ron and Jessica were right there to meet me.  They were yelling they had PLENTY OF WATER as Chas informed them I would be thirsty!!  It was nice to sit down and reset a bit.  Jess and Ron told me about this crazy hike they had to do in order to get down to the aid station and found some craft beer at some lodge that was down there in the woods.  I was glad they were able to have some fun as they were out there waiting on us all day and it was nice to get my mind off the suffering that I was experiencing.  I thanked them and the volunteers at that aid station and with two bottles of ice water I set out on the next 5 mile loop getting a bit of a second wind.  I got back to that aid station and they had almost ran out of water there but were carrying another jug up as I was there.  Phew!!  I don't think I could of handled it if they didn't have any water.  The next aid station was mile 38ish and Jessica helped me change shoes ans socks.  I put on a brand new pair of Altra Lone Peaks and Ron was laughing that I was going to roll the last 12 miles with new shoes on.  In fact, I scuffed them up a bit just so I didn't look ridiculous!

Chas popped the cork a little early!
I got to the next aid station around mile 43ish and finally starting to get hydrated I decided I should probably eat something.  They were making grilled quesadillas and that just sounds really good for some reason.  It tasted great, although it probably was not the best choice, but since I only had 7 miles left I didn't care!  The trail went into a really steep downhill back down to the river.  I crossed the river again and once again my feet were wet.  Since I was in the rivers all day my feet never really dried out until my shoe and sock change at mile 38.  Oh well, only another 5 miles or so and this trainwreck would be over!  The thought of food, a shower, and multiple beers helped me kick in the after burners.  I ran with a group of people who were also finishing this race up.  Jess pulled up next to me in the car on this mile or two section of road we had to do before finishing.  I came down the final stretch and was super happy to see Jess, Ron, and Chas there cheering me on.  Chas completely dominated that race ad he still had energy left in the tank which was a tribute to all the hard training miles he had put in this year.  After getting a bite and cleaning up we sat by the fire at Chas's campsite with his family, drank many beers, and had a lot of laughs.  It's always such a great time hanging out with those guys and I hope we have some more adventures in the near future!

Post race, let the party begin!